Do you need an aerial for a smart TV?

Smart TV showing apps
Stream on: you can watch many channels without an aerial

Pretty much any television you can buy these days will be a ‘smart TV’, festooned with apps that let you watch various services. That has led many people to wonder if you need an aerial for a smart TV? The simple answer is no, but let’s explore the question in more detail.

Why you might want an aerial for a smart TV

You will still need an aerial to do certain things with a smart TV. For example, if the television has a Freeview receiver (most models sold in the UK do), you will need to connect an aerial to watch truly live TV broadcasts. (We’ll come back to watching live TV through apps later).

If you’re planning on recording shows on your television, you’ll also need an aerial so you can capture live broadcasts. There’s no means of recording programmes being streamed via BBC iPlayer, for example.

But if you can’t fix an aerial to your property (because your landlord won’t permit one, for example) or you simply don’t want to go to the expense of getting one installed, there’s plenty you can do with a smart TV that doesn’t have an aerial connected.

What you can do on a smart TV without an aerial

Smart TVs will connect to the internet, either via Wi-Fi or an Ethernet cord plugged into the back of the television.

This means you can use the various apps that come with the television to watch shows/movies/live TV without having to connect an aerial. That apps that are available for televisions varies from model to model, but the vast majority of televisions sold in the UK will support apps for BBC iPlayer, ITVX (ITV’s streaming app), All4 (Channel 4’s streaming service), Netflix, Amazon Prime TV, Now TV and many more.

These apps will allow you to stream content on demand on even ‘live’ television. For example, the BBC iPlayer app has a ‘channels’ section that allows you to watch what’s currently being broadcast across all of the BBC’s TV channels, and even go back to the start of the show and watch from the beginning, if you’ve got home midway through the middle of EastEnders, for example.

The reason I put ‘live’ in quote marks above is that streams often run a minute or two behind live. That’s not a huge problem for day-to-day TV viewing, but if you’re watching an England football match on streams, you might well hear the neighbours screaming for a goal or see one reported on social media well before you see it.

Do I need a TV licence if there’s not an aerial connected to my television?

Please don’t think not connecting an aerial gets you off the hook when it comes to paying the TV licence. If you make use of the BBC iPlayer or watch live on any other streaming service (including ITVX, All 4, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video, Now and Sky Go, according to the TV Licensing folk) you do need to pay for a licence. Sorry.

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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