How free over-the-air TV has built-in ‘parental controls’

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A little boy watches TV while holding the remote.

It has never been more difficult for parents to monitor what their kids are exposed to right under their roof than it is today. The litany of services many of us subscribe to for our entertainment, combined with unbridled access to the internet on so many devices in our home, makes it pretty much impossible to keep kids from experiencing things you don’t think they’re ready for.

But if you have been considering cutting down on your monthly bills by switching to an antenna to get over-the-air television for free, the extra peace of mind it gives parents over what their kids can watch is another thing to put into the “pro” column.

Today, most cable and satellite systems offer parental control settings, but they aren’t perfect. Plus, with basic cable channels opting to air totally uncut movies and shows with content that used to be limited to premium channels like HBO, it’s tough to know which channels are even teen-friendly.

The ‘Parental Controls’ Of Over-The-Air TV

That’s where over-the-air TV can be a concerned parent’s best friend. Unlike cable channels and streaming networks like Netflix and Hulu, OTA TV is moderated by the Federal Communications Commission.

So, if you switch from cable or satellite to an antenna, you’re naturally opting for a lineup of channels that is more kid-friendly than what you previously had. It’s true that violence and light adult language can be regularly viewed on the broadcast networks, but anything above a rating of TV-14 is rarely ever seen on them and almost never before 10 p.m.

While censorship was always optional and self-imposed for cable channels, it’s required by law for the networks you’ll find on OTA TV, including ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and PBS. The whole reason these networks are free to watch in the first place is that the airwaves they use are owned by the American public and regulated by the federal government. The FCC has rules in place regarding what can be said and shown on these networks, with the rules being slightly relaxed from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., during the so-called “safe harbor” hours.

What you do get with the content on OTA TV are many of the most popular shows and virtually all of the top live sporting and entertainment events every year. From weekly NBA, NFL and college football games to the Academy Awards to “Dancing With the Stars” and “The Voice,” you’ll be able to watch them with your antenna.

Plus, you’ll save some serious money when you make the switch. The average cable package costs $217 per month, which is a whopping $2,604 every year. Initially, streaming subscriptions like Netflix and Hulu seemed like they would be cheaper options (averaging $5 to $18 a month). But now, the average household has eight streaming subscriptions, so you could end up spending $1,728 annually!  

What You Need To Switch To OTA TV

Ready to start watching free over-the-air TV? First, take this short quiz to find out which antenna is best for you. To make it easy to get started, we’ve put together two bundles of recommended equipment for watching free TV, including OTA DVRs that let you record and pause live TV.

If you live in an urban area or nearby suburb:

Antennas Direct ClearStream Eclipse Amplified TV Antenna

$64.99 from Amazon

This highly-rated indoor antenna is designed to receive frequencies 50+ miles away from broadcast towers. It easily grips smooth surfaces like walls or windows for optimal placement to pick up as many channels as possible.

Recommended antenna if you live in a far suburb or rural area: 

Antennas Direct ClearStream 4V TV Antenna

$130.20 from Amazon

This powerful antenna has a range of 70+ miles and can be installed inside, outside or in the attic. It has UHF and VHF multi-directional elements designed to deliver reception in remote areas.

Pair your antenna with an OTA DVR to record your favorite shows:

Ditch the costly subscription fees, but keep the cable capabilities (record, pause, rewind and fast forward) with an OTA DVR device. Here are the products we recommend:

If you have an external hard drive sitting at home collecting dust, consider these options as cheaper alternatives. Simply connect your antenna and portable hard drive to these Tablo DVR devices and you’re ready to go.

  • Tablo DUAL Lite: Equipped with built-in Wifi, it lets you position the antenna and DVR for the best signal reception.
  • Tablo QUAD: Record up to four OTA channels simultaneously. This model connects to your router rather than your TV, giving you the option to stream live TV to any device.

If you need to purchase a portable hard drive, we recommend USB-connected portable hard drives (USB 2.0 or 3.0, 1 TB to 8 TB in size). These are the ones we recommend: WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive and the WD 2TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive.

 

Getting Started With OTA

The best antennas recommended by experts in the industry to get the most out of your OTA experience.