Will You Need a Digital Aerial for a Smart TV?

Are you planning to buy a new smart TV but you’re not sure if it’s compatible with your old aerial receiver? Not sure how you’re going to connect to digital TV?

There’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about aerials out there. Even aerial manufacturers made a few mistakes marketing their products, which created all kinds of problems.

In 2012, during a process called the digital switchover, all-analogue terrestrial TV broadcasts in the United Kingdom were moved to digital. Previously, everyone used analogue aerials to receive TV channels. Analog was good enough, but the quality suffered over distances, and interference from external factors, such as weather, and other frequencies, could ruin the reception.

Nowadays, since analogue has been abandoned, most TVs don’t support analogue signals any more, everything moved to digital, which is far superior. But what happens if you have a new TV with an old aerial and vice versa?

Do I Need a Digital Aerial for a Smart TV?

Yes. To watch Freeview and digital TV at the best possible quality, you need a digital aerial with at least a wideband receiver. The wideband receiver will allow you to receive all channels that are within range, not limited to a certain selection.

The good news is an old TV aerial, one that was connected to the analogue stations, can pick up digital signals too. You might not have to upgrade to a new aerial. However, if your TV reception is spotty and has issues, installing a new aerial could solve the problem (more on that later).

What you need to know is that all aerials can pick up digital signals. The problem is less about if it’s digital or analogue but build quality and features.

For example, Newer aerials will be equipped with filters that block outside signals from interfering with the broadcasts, something analogue aerials don’t have.

Types of Digital Aerials

There are lots of different types of digital aerials, in all kinds of shapes and sizes. For the sake of simplicity, here are two of the most common types of aerials:

Wideband

Wideband digital aerials are recommended because they are designed to receive all channels that are within range. These are often referred to as “Type T” or “Type W” aerials, and they’re both the same. If you’re looking to upgrade your aerial, I highly recommend looking for one that is wideband. These are also usually a little larger than the other variations and are usually installed on roofs.
Grouped:
Grouped aerials are designed to capture a certain set of broadcasts, usually advertised by specific TV companies. These targets a specific frequency range and nothing else and they’re usually a bit smaller than wideband aerials.

Indoor & Portable

These are the smallest of the bunch, and you can find indoor aerials that look like microphones, or even sheets of paper. These are designed for home use to improve digital TV reception such as Freeview and whatnot. Indoor aerials are the smallest and cheapest, but other electronics in your home could interfere with the signals, such as Wifi networks, smartphones, and whatnot.

To summarize, here’s a quick list of things to look for in digital aerials:

  • Wideband (Type T, Type W)
  • Easy to Install
  • Price
  • 4G Filter

And others

Overall, most aerials will pick up TV station signals better than built-in tuners, and there are plenty of decent options to choose from.

Best Digital Aerial

Are you looking for product suggestions? Here’s one that fits the bill.

Labgear LAB450T


The Labgear LAB450T is a solid outdoor wideband digital aerial that will receive all digital channels within range. Lightweight and portable, the LAB450T is very easy to install and you can use it almost anywhere, some people place it in their lofts.

The aerial also has a 4G filter to protect from mobile network interference, so you can always expect a clear and crisp signal. It works great for Freeview too. For the price, it’s hard to beat, and you can install it on your own with no problems, the steps are relatively straightforward.

It also has a swivel, so you can easily adjust it to get a stronger reception. Before you buy a new aerial, make sure to double-check if you’re in a Freeview area. Digital TV won’t work unless you’re within range.

Can You Watch TV on a Smart TV Without an Aerial?

You can watch a smart TV without an aerial via apps such as BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub without an aerial but you won’t be able to access Freeview or Live TV. You could also consider buying an inexpensive portable indoor aerial to unlock Freeview channels. Freeview Play is a recent service that will let you access Freeview via streaming but again here, you won’t be able to watch live TV.

Do You Need to Upgrade Your Aerial?

Even though an old aerial can receive digital broadcasts, other issues with your setup, such as faulty or loose cables from wear and tear, can cause reception problems. In that case, upgrading to a new digital aerial can greatly improve the quality of your TV reception. Most people have mentioned their old aerials only find a handful of channels, and after upgrading they suddenly got more than 100 to choose from.

To upgrade an aerial, either do it on your own or use a professional installer service. If you own your home and accessing the roof is easy, installing it on your own could be an option. However, if you don’t feel confident, I suggest hiring a professional.

The Bottom Line

To summarize, buying an aerial is a good choice if you are within range of a terrestrial TV broadcast station such as Freeview. It’s a budget-friendly way to avoid cable subscription fees, and, most of the time, you won’t need a top box or any other equipment. Installing an aerial is usually easy too.

Remember, every TV broadcast in the United Kingdom uses digital signals since 2012, so almost any aerial made in the last decade or so will work. The same goes for modern TVs. You won’t have any compatibility issues, that’s for sure. So if your TV reception is spotty, and you’re planning to buy a new HD TV, I recommend upgrading the aerial too.

About S. Santos

Tech columnist and tech blogger, audiovisual aficionado trying to keep up with the ever-evolving world of gadgets, home entertainment, and personal technology. If not fiddling with AV cables at home or in front of the computer, he can be found playing tennis or padel.

Leave a Comment