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Do I Need a Smart TV to Cut the Cord?

The word is getting out about how easy and affordable it is to enjoy TV without cable. While there are a number of articles and guides on which streaming device and subscriptions to buy to replace your monthly cable bill, there is much less information on what kind of TV you need.

I’ve encountered numerous people that assume a smart TV is required to cut the cord. That isn’t necessarily the case. In this article, I’ll cover why you don’t need a smart TV and the details on what kind of TV is required to cut the cord.

You Don’t Need a Smart TV to Cut the Cord?

No, you don’t need a smart TV.  In fact, I advise against it.  Smart TV’s are TVs that connect to the internet and have software built in that allows the use of apps for streaming content from the internet. So why wouldn’t you want that?

Well, the software and interface are designed and built by TV manufactures like LG, RCA, and Sony. While those companies produce fantastic televisions, their streaming software is generally terrible.

Even if you find a decent one, at the rate streaming technology moves the “smart parts” of the TV will be obsolete in a few years.  I tend to keep my TVs much longer than that.  So what do you do?

I recommend picking up a streaming media player.  They are typically always priced under $100, and they are made by companies that have put maximum effort into designing a quality streaming device.

As for the TV, you can either buy one that isn’t “smart” or buy an affordable smart one with a quality picture and just ignore the “smart parts.” The important part is the HDMI connection as it’s the standard for getting a picture onto the TV from an external device.

An HDMI port

To cut the cord you just need to be able to stream video and/or capture over the air TV.  You don’t need a smart TV to watch Netflix, Hulu, or any internet streaming service. And the TV simply needs to capture digital signals to watch local broadcast channels.

Digital Broadcast Signals

While it’s possible to cut the cord without a TV antenna, I recommend and antenna to capture over the air TV signals. This will provide access to ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX, CW, PBS and numerous other stations through local broadcast signals.

These signals are in digital high definition and have a higher quality HDTV picture than what you are accustomed to with cable or satellite TV. However, in order for a television to interpret the digital signal, it must have a digital tuner.

Thankfully, laws were put in place to ease the transition to digital television in the United States. Therefore, any devices that receive over the air signals were required to have digital tuners as of March 1st, 2007. So if you’re television was manufactured after that date you should be set to receive signals from an antenna.

To be certain, inspect the back of your TV.  There should be some indication of it being able to receive a digital signal.  Look for labeling that says  “Digital Tuner Built-In,”  “DTV, ” “Integrated Digital Tuner,” “HDTV,” “ATSC,” or , “Digital Receiver.”  You can also check your owners manual, or look up the specifications online by searching for the TVs make and model.

Don’t confuse this with the antenna.  The tuner is required to be digital.  There are no “digital antennas.”  You can use one of those ugly erector sets that used to be on everyone’s roof, or you can opt for a stylish antenna if it’s being placed indoors. If you have an antenna handy it can also be used to see if the TV is digital ready. Connect it to the antenna port on the TV.  If the TV has a digital Tuner then local stations should come in.

If your television doesn’t have a digital tuner, then you have two options. Either upgrade your television or purchase a digital tuner for your television. If you decide to upgrade the only real requirement is an HDMI port which is standard on every TV I’ve encountered lately.

Bottom Line

  • Ensure your TV has a digital tuner. It can be built in or external.
  • Your TV doesn’t need to be smart. I find smart TVs to be relatively stupid compared to streaming media players.
  • HDMI connections make life easier. Otherwise, you may need to buy a digital converter box to work with modern streaming devices.

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Categories: Guides
Dennis Restauro :Dennis is the founder of Grounded Reason. He also hosts the Grounded Reason Podcast. Follow him on Twitter: Follow Dennis on Twitter

View Comments (16)

  • A well done article. I like the comment about smart TV's actually being stupid.

    I am interested to see if Samsung is using the Boxee box program on their TV's yet and how it is. I believe it was Samsung that bought Boxee with the intention of putting it into their smart TV's.

    • Thanks Bill! I prefer swappable components. I could see buying a Smart TV if it had a Boxee or Roku like functionality in regard to streaming, but the price point would have to be under what it would cost to buy a TV and a separate media player. I find Smart TVs that can punch weight with a today's streaming media players are in the 4 figures.

  • I have 3 smart samsung tv's and never had a problem streaming tv or movies over wifi. Maybe it is due to your internet speed? I have the highest that my cable company offers at 300mbps

    • Smart TVs stream fine. The problem is that they typically have clunky UIs compared to something like a Roku, Amazon Fire, or Apple TV. Also, while a 300 Mbps line is awesome, it's a bit overkill for streaming. We have a 50 Mbps connection and can run 5 HD streams on 5 separate devices with no buffering and still have responsive internet browsing.

  • Hi Dennis,

    Great site! Time-Warner Cable just increased my bill $30 for a total of $150 a month for cable and internet. This despite the fact I've been a subscriber for more than ten years. So I'm finally ready to cut the cord. I'm also planning to pick up an antenna to get local stations.

    I bought a 50-inch Vizio Smart TV last year, and I'm very happy with it. And it does have Hulu, Netflix, etc. So far, I have no complaints about the streaming quality. But will I see a truly noticeable difference if I invest in a Roku 4?

    • If you are happy with those services then there is no reason to upgrade. I would only recommending buying a streaming devices if you want a service that your Smart TV doesn't offer. Why spend money that you don't have to? I wrote this article more for those that don't have a Smart TV and think they need to run out and get one.

  • Thanks for the very simple professional information. It allows me to me an informed decision on buying whatever is needed to improve my television viewing options and equipment.

  • my house was once wired for Comcast cable. outlets in all room. can i tie into these outlets with a in home antenna from the source in the basement

    • It's possible, but I always recommend re-running the line. There are usually too many splitters that cause to much signal loss with cable installations.

  • I have a TCL Roku tv and purchased Terk Platinum Ultra Pro antennae. I have scanned but no channels come up. Why? I live in lower Oxford Township PA.

  • i want to cut the cord too! I have a non smart tv and hooked up a Roku I have the flat antenna and the hdmi do I need a converter box too?? and do I keep internet , and a Roku to watch my tv in the garage , thanks for the information

  • I have a Symphonic tv in the bdrm thats probably at least 15 yrs old. I havent looked at the back in a long time. I know ut has the rca hook up and an antenna hook up. I also have a nice Samsung Smart tv in the lvgrm. When I cut the cord, what all am I going to need ???

    • An older TV like that likely won't have a digital Tuner. So I doubt the antenna will work. You need one made after 2009.