Free 4K from an antenna? These 2021 TVs from Samsung, Sony and LG can get it
NextGen TV, aka ATSC 3.0, is available in dozens of cities, but only a handful of TVs have built-in tuners. Here's the full list.
Geoffrey Morrison is a writer/photographer about tech and travel for CNET, The New York Times, and other web and print publications. He's also the Editor-at-Large for The Wirecutter. He has written for Sound&Vision magazine, Home Theater magazine, and was the Editor-in-Chief of Home Entertainment magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling novel, Undersea, and its sequel, Undersea Atrophia, are available in paperback and digitally on Amazon. He spends most of the year as a digital nomad, living and working while traveling around the world. You can follow his travels at BaldNomad.com and on his YouTube channel.
While pretty much every TV available can receive existing antenna broadcasts, only a handful of new 2020 and 2021 TVs have built-in NextGen TV tuners. They're available now or coming soon from LG, Samsung and Sony. Meanwhile a few more companies sell external tuner boxes, which are obviously a lot cheaper than a whole new television. Here's what you need to know.
If you're already in the market for a new TV, the easiest way to get NextGen TV is to buy one with the tuner built in. Here's every one we know about so far.
No TVs announced so far by other TV makers in the US, including Vizio, TCL and Hisense, have NextGen tuners.
Tuners and set-top-boxes
If you don't want to get a new TV, but still want to check out what's on the NextGen channels in your area, you'll be able to buy an external tuner. Right now, in these very early days, there are two options.
The Zapperbox M1 by BitRouter, a company that's been around since the early ATSC 1.0 days, is a traditional tuner with an HDMI output that connects directly to your TV. You can preorder now for $249, and they're aiming to start shipping in the spring. They also plan on adding, via a future firmware update, the ability to connect to network-connected storage devices for DVR functionality. Also in the works is to stream to devices on your network, like phones and tablets.
The HDHomeRun Connect 4K, available now for $200, is a little different. There's no HDMI output. Instead, it connects to your home network, and then anything on the network (including most TVs) can watch the content. Generally, if it can run then HDHomeRun app, available on Android and iOS, you'll be able to watch NextGen TV content via the Connect 4K.
Many of the NextGen TV features still aren't 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.
Also similar to those early HDTV broadcast days, there's not much content at the maximum resolution. Those early HDTV days had very little actual HD. The same is true now. There's still not a lot of 4K to watch. That's bound to change, especially since there is a lot more 4K content in general now than there was HD in those early days.
So if you're in one of the dozens of cities that have NextGen TV now, or will in the near future, and you're in the market for a new TV, the models above should let you check out what NextGen TV is all about.
Or at least, what it's about in these early stages.