Do Smart TVs Need Aerials? [What You Can + Can’t Watch]

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  • Post last modified:September 22, 2021
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If you’re considering upgrading to a newer smart TV, you might be wondering how similar they are to a traditional TV. One of the common questions that I’m asked about this is whether smart TVs need an aerial?

Yes, smart TVs need an aerial to watch live TV using Freeview. However, you can still watch catch-up TV and streaming apps such as Netflix by connecting your smart TV to the internet. You can also watch some live BBC channels without an aerial using BBC iPlayer.

Keep reading to find out more about the costs and limitations of each method and some tips to help you get started.

Do Smart TVs Need Aerials?

Yes, smart TVs need aerials if you plan on watching live TV via Freeview. However, you can still use streaming apps and on-demand TV without an aerial provided you have connected your TV to the internet.

There is one exception to this rule which is BBC. Using their BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds apps, you can watch or listen to most BBC TV channels and radio stations without an aerial. However, this does not include local channels and stations.

If you have a room without an aerial socket, you can use a portable indoor aerial to save wiring in a new socket.

Most indoor aerials are affordable such as this freestanding aerial that is best for a TV unit or this wall-mounted aerial that is ideal for wall-mounted TVs. You should always check that it supports Freeview for free over-the-air TV unless you have another provider in mind such as Freesat, Sky, or Virgin Media.

The below table shows which features require an aerial and which require an internet connection.

Requires an AerialRequires Internet/Wi-Fi
Watch Live TV (85 Freeview Channels)Stream Live BBC Channels via iPlayer
Listen to Live Radio (30 Freeview Channels)Catch-Up TV (All4, ITV Hub, UKTV Play)
 Streaming Apps (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+)
 Radio Apps (BBC Sounds, Global Player, Tunein, etc)
 Music Streaming Apps (Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music)
Browse the Internet Using a TV Web Browser App
Use Voice Assistants (If your TV has Built-in Alexa or Google Assistant)
Use Other Apps (e.g. Games, Productivity, etc)

Note: If you don’t have an aerial but still watch live TV via BBC iPlayer or watch on-demand TV via other broadcaster apps, you will still need a TV licence.

How Do I Connect an Aerial to My Smart TV?

Connecting a coaxial cable (also known as an aerial cable) to your smart TV is no different than connecting it to a regular TV.

Here is a step-by-step guide:

  1. Connect one end of the aerial cable to either the aerial socket (if using a loft or roof aerial) or to the aerial itself (if using an indoor aerial).
  2. Connect the other end of the aerial to the input on the rear of your smart TV as shown in the above image.
  3. If using an indoor aerial, at this point you should ensure it is plugged in and turned on.
  4. You’ll now need to turn on your smart TV and search for channels (known as tuning).

The instructions for tuning your smart TV will vary by manufacturer so I won’t go into detail here, However, it is usually found in the ‘Settings’ menu under ‘Channels’.

Refer to the manual that came with your TV for more guidance on this step.

What Type of Aerial Do I Need For a Smart TV?

A smart TV uses the same aerial cable as a non-smart TV. It’s called an RF coaxial cable and they are available in sizes up to 300m which is more than suitable for your average UK home.

Both an aerial and a smart TV have female sockets so you’ll need a male-to-male cable which means they have the male adaptor on both sides.

A review by How-To Geek found that there is little benefit in buying expensive cables like this so a cheap aerial cable such as this one will be fine.

How Can I Get My TV in a Room Without Aerial?

If you do not have an aerial socket in your room but you want to have a TV, you can opt for a portable indoor aerial. I recommended some good choices earlier in the article.

However, these will not be suitable for all homes because it depends on how good the reception is in that room. Alternative options for rooms without an aerial or indoor reception are:

  • Have an electrician install an aerial socket in that room connected to your existing loft or outdoor aerial.
  • Use an alternative service for live TV such as Sky or Virgin Media, these do not use Freeview aerials
  • Settle for on-demand and streaming services instead. You will also be able to watch live BBC channels via the iPlayer app but you won’t have access to other broadcasters’ live channels.

Which Channels Can You Watch Without an Aerial?

Can I Watch BBC on a Smart TV Without an Aerial?

Yes, you can watch all of the national BBC TV channels live on a smart TV without an aerial by using the BBC iPlayer app. It also has a nice feature to ‘Watch from start’ if you’ve missed the beginning of the show.

However, you can’t watch some of the local channels if you’re hoping for local programming such as news shows.

Can I Watch ITV on a Smart TV Without an Aerial?

No, most smart TVs do not currently have the option to watch live ITV channels without an aerial. This includes popular brands such as LG, Sony, and Android.

However, if you have a Samsung smart TV, then you are in luck because ITV Hub does have a live channels section on these devices.

Can I Watch Channel 4 on a Smart TV Without an Aerial?

No, you can’t watch channel 4 on a smart TV without an aerial. Although the All4 app has live TV on phones, tablets, and in your browser, the All4 smart TV app does not allow you to watch live TV.

However, you can get around this by streaming it on a laptop/PC and using a HDMI cable to mirror it to your smart TV.

Related Questions

Can You Watch Regular TV on a Smart TV?

Yes, you can watch regular TV on a smart TV. All smart TVs sold in the UK will have built-in Freeview and a TV guide like TVs you are used to. In addition, you’ll be able to access smart features such as catch-up TV and streaming services.

See my full guide to find out if you have a smart TV or regular TV.

How Do I Get Freeview On My Smart TV Without Aerial?

Unfortunately, it’s not possible to get Freeview on your smart TV without an aerial. Whilst you can stream some of the channels via broadcaster apps (e.g. iPlayer), you won’t have the full range of 85 channels and 30 radio stations that Freeview offers.

Can You Get Freeview Through Wi-Fi on TV?

No, although the UK has switched to a digital signal, you still need to connect an aerial to receive full access to live Freeview TV. However, some of the broadcaster apps such as BBC iPlayer do also offer live viewing via their smart TV app.

Is There a Freeview App for Smart TVs?

Yes, there is a Freeview Play app available on smart TVs, phones, and tablets. However, the app itself will not allow you to watch catch-up TV, it will direct you to the relevant broadcaster app such as BBC iPlayer, All 4, and ITV Hub. These apps all require the internet to use them.

Do Smart TVs Need Internet and an Aerial?

Yes, to access the full range of features, your smart TV needs both internet and an aerial.

The table shown earlier in this article explains which features use the internet and which use the aerial. You can still use your smart TV with just one of these, but you will be limited to certain features.

Can You Get a Non-Smart TV?

Even if you don’t have internet or you are concerned about privacy issues of a smart TV, most TVs sold in the last 5 years are smart TVs so you will struggle to find one without the smart features.

However, as long as you don’t connect it to the internet by putting in your Wi-Fi password or using an ethernet cable, then the smart features won’t be active and you can use it as a non-smart TV.

You will also benefit from the better video and audio quality usually associated with smart TVs.

Do Smart TVs Have Aerials Built-In?

No, smart TVs do not have an aerial built-in, you will still need one to watch live TV. However, like all new TVs, most of them do have Freeview built-in so you will not need a standalone Freeview box.


I have been building up my smart home since 2016 so I'm a bit of a smart home expert by now. On this blog, I share my favourite smart home devices that I've tested along with tips and tricks I learn by watching countless YouTube videos, scrolling through forums, and tinkering around with my own smart devices. I've always been a Google Home user but I'm starting to think Alexa might have the edge, what do you think?