How can you get a better guide when watching antenna TV?

Cutting the cord shouldn’t mean giving up something you really value. The whole point of cord-cutting is to make sure you’re only giving up those things which have no value to you. Your cable system may have 250 channels but if you only watch four of them, that’s not a value. They may offer a DVR with massive space but if that DVR is 99% empty because you stream everything, that’s not a value.

A good guide solution

One thing that nearly all of us are accustomed to at this point is a good guide solution. Grid-style guides have been part of cable and satellite for over 20 years at this point. We rely on them to know what’s on. Back in “the day” we’d look at a printed TV guide, but today that’s obviously not an option.

There are apps that can help you look at what’s on. One of my favorites is the TitanTV app which you can get for iOS and Android. That’s great, but you’re still limited because once you see something you like you have to put down the phone, pick up the remote, and manually tune the channel.

How most TVs handle channel guides

Until very recently, most TVs had little or no channel guide built into them. All televisions use the PSIP system which is part of the ATSC broadcasting standard used in the US. This system allows for several hours of guide data to come down as part of the digital stream. However, most TVs made before about 2014 only pulled “what’s on now.” This gives you some data about what you’re watching but there’s very little data about what’s coming up.

There’s also no grid-style guide, and that’s what you’re missing.

If you have a newer smart TV you will see that most of them now actually do give you a decent grid-style guide. Of course, if you’re jonesing for a new TV this is your chance — but it doesn’t seem like most people would pay hundreds of dollars just to get a grid guide put into their TV. Luckily, there are options.

Good: Converter box

Converter boxes were used in the ’00s to give older TVs a new lease on life. They tune digital channels, and output either a digital signal for a new TV or an old-school signal for an old-school TV.

When converter boxes were first made, they were so expensive that the government had to subsidize them. Today’s boxes are a lot less expensive and a lot more capable. Solid Signal is one of the few places you can still get them.

Pretty much every converter box has a grid-style guide built into it, as well as some sort of DVR functionality. This image above is from Channel Master’s CM-7004, one of the top-line models. It’s pretty much everything you could want out of a guide. You can even get more program info if you want.

Connecting a converter box to your brand new TV will give you a lot more functionality. It may just make your TV feel brand new, with a more sensitive tuner and a better remote. The good thing is that today’s converter boxes are so inexpensive that they’re worth a try.

Better: AirTV

With DISH’s AirTV Player, you get a converter box and so much more. This one box handles all the smart TV functions as well as the antenna function. You get a grid-style guide with over a week of data, and it’s probably the best I’ve seen in this sort of box.

It also gives you the ability to use DVR functions by simply connecting a hard drive. Like any cable DVR, it lets you set up “Season Pass” style recurring recordings. Less expensive converter box type devices let you record, but only by time and not by program name because there usually isn’t enough guide data to know what’s coming up.

AirTV Player is designed to run the Sling TV service which also provides national channels, but you can run it without that. It also gives you support for Netflix, Hulu, and other apps, but you don’t have to use them. If you only want to use this box as the most excellent antenna converter box ever, there’s nothing stopping you from doing that.

No matter what…

You don’t have to get a new TV just to get a better guide. Now if you want to get a new TV… that’s up to you.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.