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Want free 4K from an antenna? Here are the 2020 TVs with Next Gen TV tuners built-in

This year Next Gen TV, aka ATSC 3.0, finally arrives, but only a few models have built-in tuners. Here's the ones we know about so far.

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LG ZX series

LG

Free 4K TV over the air is rolling out this year all across the US. It's called Next Gen TV, aka ATSC 3.0, and it promises a revolution not just in resolution -- for the first time you'll be able to watch 4K via an antenna -- but in how you watch broadcast TV. Over 60 stations in 40 markets already are, or are planning to start transmitting before the end of the year.

Assuming you're in one of those markets, you'll also need something to receive the signal. If your antenna can receive HD now, it should work fine with Next Gen TV signals. Decoding those signals, however, is a different story. You're either going to need a new TV, or a new tuner for your current TV. Twenty televisions with built-in ATSC 3.0 tuners were announced at CES 2020 and they'll start shipping this spring (sorry, none will be available in time to watch the Super Bowl in 4K). No tuners have officially been announced so far, but we expect to hear something official soon.

TVs

The easiest way to get Next Gen TV is to have the tuner built into your TV. Conveniently, LG, Samsung and Sony are aiming to oblige this year with multiple models.

LG

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LG GX series

LG
  • ZX: 77- and 88-inch 8K OLED TV
  • WX: 65-inch 4K OLED TV with "wallpaper" styling.
  • GX: 55-, 65- and 77-inch 4K OLED TV with ultrathin profile.

These are all OLED and all relatively high-end. The mainstream-priced CX and BX models won't get Next-Gen TV tuners, and neither will any of the LCD-based (aka NanoCell) TVs LG announced.

Samsung

Samsung Q950TS 8K QLED
Sarah Tew/CNET
  • Q950TS: A bezel-less 8K flagship model in 65-, 75- and 85-inches.
  • Q900: Step-down 8K model without that fancy styling. 
  • Q800: Entry-level 8K model.

As of this writing, Samsung has only announced Next Gen TV support in its 8K TVs. None of the company's 4K TVs have Next Gen TV tuners.

Sony

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Sony X900H

Sony
  • X900H: 55-, 65-, 75- and 85-inch 4K LCD

Though no pricing was announced at CES, based on the technology and model number, these are Sony's midrange models, and should be cheaper any of the Samsung or LG TVs listed above. None of Sony's higher-end OLED and LCD TVs for 2020 will have Next-Gen TV tuners.

It's worth mentioning that while Next Gen TV can eventually support 8K, all anyone's discussing at the moment is getting 4K working. The 8K TVs on this list are here, most likely, because having a Next Gen TV tuner is a new feature, and new features are typically unveiled in high-end models. Sony's X900H is the notable exception.

It's safe to assume we'll see cheaper TVs with these tuners over the coming months and years. 

Tuners and set-top-boxes

Most of you reading this probably aren't interested in getting a new TV just for Next Gen TV. Nor should you be. If you don't want to get a new TV, but still want to watch free over-the-air 4K TV, you'll be able to buy an external tuner. There were a few companies at CES discussing set-top-boxes, though neither pricing nor availability were made official. We'll likely get more info along those lines at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) expo in April.

Zapperbox is one of those companies. It's working with BitRouter, a company that's been around since the early ATSC 1.0 days.

zapperbox
Zapperbox

Another company is Apollo, a company that works behind-the-scenes with public TV broadcasters. They're working on an Android-based modular system design.

The current market for HDTV receivers is quite small, so it's unlikely we'll see many big names in the Next Gen TV space, but we'll definitely see some. Next Gen TV is IP-based, making it far easier to send around your home network, so expect to see some novel approaches to the "tuner" concept.

One Media, a division of Sinclair Broadcast Group, had a tuner prototype at CES 2020. Interestingly, there was no HDMI output from the tuner. A standard RF "antenna" cable was the sole input, and the sole output was Cat 5 Ethernet. The connection to the TV was via an Apple TV box, seen on the right. The idea being once received and available on your network, you can watch live broadcast TV content from any device on your Wi-Fi, be it a tablet, phone, or your TV. The on-screen Apple TV menu, in this demo, showed the broadcast channels like you'd select Netflix or HBO.

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One Media's Next-Gen TV tuner prototype.

Geoffrey Morrison/CNET

Cord cutting and the 4K future

According to CTA research from last year, nearly a third of all households in 2018 had an antenna on at least one of their TVs, the highest since 2005. CTA estimates roughly 19% of households only have an antenna. For comparison, 24% have satellite. So there's a market here, one that seems to be growing due to cord cutting and other options, hence why so many companies and organizations are interested in Next Gen TV.

Many of the Next Gen TV features aren't yet implemented, but it's still quite early. Timeline-wise, we're in the late-1990s if we use the HDTV roll-out by comparison. Those early days of HDTV broadcasts were rocky at best, and weren't seen by many people.

While these initial products are a promising sign, don't feel the need to rush out and replace all your TVs. If a station "flips the switch" to broadcast Next Gen TV today, they're required to continue broadcasting an HD version for five more years.

If you're watch a lot of broadcast TV, and you're in one of the 60-plus cities that will have Next Gen TV this year, and you're in the market for a new TV, the models above should start shipping in a few months.


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why you shouldn't buy expensive HDMI cablesTV resolutions explainedhow HDR works and more.

Still have a question? Tweet at him @TechWriterGeoff, then check out his travel photography on Instagram. He also thinks you should check out his best-selling sci-fi novel and its sequel