How to Get Free Cable TV Legally and Not Pay for Cable
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After paying over $105 per month for DirecTV, we had enough and decided to find a way to get cable TV channels for free. Considering the shows we like to watch, we were throwing money away.
Once we decided it was time to cut the cord, we discovered it was easy to watch cable TV for free. You can get free basic cable TV with minimal effort.
If you are thinking about cutting the cord and don’t know where to start, this post is for you.
How to Get Free Cable TV
Are you spending $150+ on TV each month? Many people do because they believe cable companies offer the best value. That is not the case.
With the growth of streaming providers, you can watch live TV online for free or for significantly less than the average monthly cable bill.
Buy an HD Antenna
It’s simple to get free local channels. All you need is an antenna.
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Fortunately, the days of a clunky antenna on top of your roof are a thing of the past. You also don’t have to deal with rabbit ear antennas.
Today’s antennas are sleek and easy to install. Even if you’re not a technical genius, you can install an antenna in a few minutes.
With our digital antenna, we receive the following channels:
- Home Shopping Network
We also receive all the network channels. These include ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC. Digital antennas are the best way to watch local channels without cable.
We live in Omaha and receive almost 30 channels with our antenna. If you live in a larger city, you can get up to 100 channels. Visit AntennaWeb to see what channels you can receive from your home.
The site will also tell you which antenna will get you the best service in your area. These options are:
- Directional antennas
- Omni-directional antennas
You may need to buy an antenna that attaches to your roof or goes in your attic. AntennaWeb will help you determine which is best based on your location. You might get lucky and need one that stands next to your TV.
Directional vs. Omni-Directional Antennas
Understanding the two types of antennas isn’t difficult. Directional antennas are best when:
- There is a clear line of sight between the antenna and the tower
- The tower is too far away for a multi-directional antenna to be effective
- All towers are in a specific direction
Omni-directional antennas are meant to intercept signals in all directions. They are best when you don’t know where the TV signal is originating from. Regardless of the type, most antennas are relatively affordable.
HDTV Antenna Types
Depending on where you live, you will choose from three main antenna types. The antenna you need is based on your distance from broadcasting towers. The further away you are, the stronger antenna you’ll need.
Indoor HDTV Antenna
The best indoor HDTV antenna on Amazon is the XFTree. With a 200-mile range, this antenna should be more than enough for your needs. You also get built-in 4K capability.
*Related: Love the NFL, but want to ditch cable? Check out our guide on how to watch NFL games live without cable.*
Installation is simple. You can place the antenna on a nearby window or near your TV. After installation, you can watch basic cable TV and local channels.
Indoor/Outdoor HDTV Antenna
If you need to mount an antenna to your roof or place it in your attic, you want a higher-powered antenna. The ClearStream 4 Indoor/Outdoor Antenna is the best choice. It’s available on Amazon.
With a 70-mile range, you install the antenna where your satellite goes. You can watch basic cable after installation.
Outdoor HDTV Antenna
If you live in a wooded or remote area, you want a traditional outdoor HDTV antenna. You will mount this to your roof to get free cable TV.
This type of antenna is not as expensive as you’d expect. The 1byone Outdoor/Roof Antenna is one of the top sellers on Amazon. It has a 150-mile range.
How to Stream Basic Cable TV Online
Thanks to the growth in high-speed internet, it’s easier than ever to stream cable TV for free. You may have to get creative at times, but it’s possible to watch your favorite shows with minimal effort.
Without access to traditional cable, you may not know what’s on all the time. The best way to find out what’s airing is to use TV.com.
TV.com shows your local TV programming schedule. This way you know what is airing and at what time. The site also airs various shows.
What happens if you can’t watch a show when it airs? Several networks let you watch shows online for free.
Go To Network Websites
Most of the major networks and several cable channels make shows available online 24 hours after a show airs. You typically need to visit the homepage of the selected network to see if they let you watch shows online.
We do this regularly with CBS and NBC shows. Even if the website does not air current content, they may offer content from previous seasons. Those networks include:
You may not be able to get all the content you want, but you can get more than you’d expect.
What To Do About Internet Service
Cable companies like to bundle internet with cable by promising you’ll save money. That is often a lie. They know you need internet service, so they use it to keep you in a cable contract.
Doing the math is important, but it is possible to break the bundle and save money. If you want to get free cable TV legally, it can be done even if you cut the cord.
Read our guide on how to get internet without cable here so you can ditch your contract.
Stream Cable TV Online for Free
Getting rid of cable doesn’t mean you have to miss your favorite shows and movies. There are free platforms that offer thousands of shows and full-length movies. Here are a few top options:
Amazon Video is an excellent platform to watch free movies, especially if you’re an Amazon Prime member. Being a Prime member gets you free access to movies and all of Amazon’s original content.
If you’re not a member, you can try Prime free for 30 days. Amazon does offer a standalone video service that costs $10.99 per month. However, that price point makes it worth it to pay for Amazon Prime.
You can get free movies on Amazon, but the selection is limited.
Crackle is one of the best websites to stream movies for free. The site can offer a wide selection of newer and classic HD movies because it works with Sony Pictures.
You don’t have to sign up or install anything to use Crackle. Just choose a movie, click on the title, and start watching.
While you may need to watch a few ads at the beginning, Crackle is free and has thousands of movies.
Similar to Crackle, Popcornflix is free to use. You don’t need to sign up for an account to watch movies.
Popcornflix has a database of over 1,500 movies you can watch, from newer movies to classics. They even have a handful of TV shows.
Pluto is a free way to watch top cable networks and movies. You can find channels like TV Land, AMC, BET, and dozens of others.
The platform even has news channels. These include CNN and NBC News. However, it’s often curated content as opposed to live shows.
Read our review of Pluto TV to learn more.
How to DVR Shows and Movies
Cable companies love to use DVRs to keep you under contract. This tactic worked on me. I loved our DVR from DirecTV and thought I couldn’t live without it.
It’s possible to watch free basic cable channels and record them with a standalone DVR. The Fire TV Recast is a great option. It works with a Fire TV.
Like other standalone DVRs, the Fire TV Recast only records content from over-the-air networks. It won’t record content on streaming platforms.
Read our Fire TV Recast review to learn how the DVR works.
Devices Needed to Stream Cable Online
A lot of new smart TVs let you get free basic cable TV with little effort. They work well with digital HD antennas. Installation is as simple as a few clicks.
You can also access most streaming platforms directly from your TV.
If your TV does not provide access to the necessary apps, it likely has an HDMI port. You simply plug a device in the port to access a plethora of content.
Some of the top devices you can use are:
Devices have no monthly fees, but you will pay a minimal fee for the option you choose. In some cases, you might be able to travel with the device since you can use it on multiple devices. We’ve used the Amazon devices for several years and love their simplicity.
You can read our guide on the Amazon Fire Stick vs. Roku to learn which performs best out of the top two devices.
Top Streaming Options
Digital antennas and movie sites are terrific, but they may not be enough to replace all the content you want.
While they are not free, streaming providers make it possible to watch your favorite networks without a contract. They can also save you $50+ per month.
Here are a few of the best streaming providers to get cable for cheap. As a bonus, all options have free trials.
Hulu With Live TV
Hulu with Live TV is our favorite streaming service. The Hulu platform has original content. They also act as a streaming provider so you can watch cable without a contract.
If you want the cable experience, Hulu is one of the top Sling TV competitors to consider for your content needs.
After a free 7-day trial, Hulu with Live TV costs $54.99 per month. It includes the following:
- 60+ channels, including ESPN, HGTV, and more
- 50 hours of cloud DVR storage
- The ability to stream on two devices at once
If you don’t need live programming, you can choose legacy Hulu for $5.99 per month. This lets you get most content 24 hours after it airs.
Read our Hulu with Live TV review here for a full breakdown of the service.
If you’re not a sports fan, Philo TV is worth considering as a cable replacement. Philo focuses on lifestyle and entertainment content.
Philo costs just $20 per month after a free 7-day trial. It includes the following:
- 60+ channels, including Hallmark, HGTV, and more
- Free cloud-based DVR
- The ability to stream on three devices at once
Philo TV is among the cheapest options in the market. If you want to watch live sports without cable, Philo is not the option for you because they don’t carry sports networks.
Read our Philo TV review for a full breakdown of the service.
Sling TV is one of the oldest providers in the market. Dish TV is the parent company of Sling TV and offers one of the most customizable platforms you can select.
After a free three-day trial, the base Sling TV packages cost just $30 per month. Sling TV includes:
- 30 channels, including ESPN, HGTV, and more
- Cloud-based DVR for an additional $5 per month
- The ability to stream on up to three devices at once, depending on your plan
What sets Sling TV apart is their customization. They offer ten different packages you can add for only $5 per month.
It’s easy to cut the cord on cable and save money. Start by purchasing a digital antenna to get local channels. In most cases, a digital antenna is also the perfect option to get basic cable channels at no cost.
There are plenty of ways to get television content without paying significant money. If those don’t provide enough shows, you can supplement them with a streaming provider.
Even if you choose a streaming service, you’ll save $50+ per month vs. paying for cable. That can be life-changing money if you manage it wisely.
What do you do to watch your favorite shows? How much do you spend on content each month? If you still have cable, why haven’t you cut the cord?
John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.
Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.
Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.
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