It’s pretty simple to watch shows, movies and other video content on your phone. You can use your cell phone service or a Wi-Fi network to view free streaming services and apps like YouTube. But doing so can use up your mobile data or require access to Wi-Fi. So, under certain circumstances — like when you don’t have loads of mobile data available or are experiencing a power outage — you’re out of luck.
Only, maybe you aren’t.
With an affordable device called a digital TV tuner, you can turn your Android device into a portable TV that doesn’t require internet service.
What Is A Digital TV Tuner?
A digital TV tuner makes it possible to receive and display a digital signal. All TVs bought after March 2007 have digital tuners built-in. A digital TV tuner for a smartphone is an external hardware device that you can purchase and easily install. These tuners have a built-in antenna that can receive local over-the-air live TV channels free of charge wherever you go.
Tyler Kleinle provides an extensive overview of how digital TV tuners for phones work on his YouTube channel, Antenna Man. You can watch the entire video below.
Kleinle explains that there are several reasons you might want to turn your smartphone into a TV tuner.
“It comes in handy during power outages or emergencies. Many people don’t have a data plan or subscription to a live TV service to stream over the internet. A TV tuner on your phone is also great for camping or traveling to new cities to see what over-the-air tv is like in that area,” he explains. “Finally, this device can come in handy if you’re looking to reposition your antenna on your roof to find the best spot to get as many channels as possible compared to just mounting in a random spot and hoping for the best.”
He adds that converting an Android phone into a TV tuner is simpler than you might think.
How To Use A Digital TV Tuner On Your Phone
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a technology expert to install and start using a TV tuner for your phone. The devices are available with micro-USB and/or USB-C cables to work with newer and older Android phone models.
Some options include multiple antennas, including a smaller one that connects directly to the tuner when you are watching in standard conditions and a larger one that you can attach to a vehicle or place elsewhere if you are traveling, camping or otherwise watching television outdoors.
Check out these examples: one setup, from MyGico, is a high-definition television receiver that includes two different antennas and the connectors needed. It’s available on Amazon for about $25. Another option comes from Ciglow and offers three types of antennas, including an easily-portable bracelet version, for about $30.
The tuner will also have an app that you can download and use for better functionality. Some of the digital tuner apps also allow you to record live TV.
“I can assure you I did not have to do any surgery on my phone to get it like this. All I had to do was download an app and plug it in,” Kleinle shared in his video.
You may have noticed that Kleinle specified Android smartphones. Unfortunately, the only options currently available are compatible with Android devices. Because of Apple’s restrictions on third-party hardware, iPhones cannot use digital TV tuners at this time.
No other hardware is required, although Kleinle suggests connecting it to a larger external antenna if you have one available — but only when you first set it up. He states that doing so will pre-program market channels. If you opt to do so, you will need to purchase a micro coaxial connector (MCX)-to-coaxial adapter.
Once you perform the channel scan, you can begin watching live, local broadcasts on your phone.
It is important to note that because it has a very small antenna, your phone-enabled digital tuner may not pick up signals as smoothly as a standard TV antenna, especially if you are far from broadcast towers or if there are obstructions. However, a TV tuner on your phone is a budget-friendly option that can come in handy in many circumstances.