Do You Need a Cable Box with a Smart TV? How to Watch Live Cable TV Without a Box

watching Plex live TV services on a Samsung smart TV

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What To Know

  • Smart TVs don’t require a cable box due to their own operating systems and internet connectivity for streaming shows, movies, and live TV.
  • Free live TV streaming services and subscription live TV streaming options, alongside traditional antenna use, provide ample ways to watch live and on-demand content without a cable subscription.
  • A wide range of subscription-based and free video-on-demand services, like Netflix and Amazon Freevee, offer extensive libraries of content without needing a cable box.

In this guide, we’ll explore whether you need a cable box with your new smart TV and also show you how to watch live cable TV without a box, including both free and paid options.

Let’s get started!

Can You Use a Smart TV Without a Cable Box?

You can definitely enjoy your new smart TV without needing a cable box. 

Traditionally, cable boxes were used to convert digital TV signals into analog ones, making it possible for older TVs to display the content. 

Smart TVs, on the other hand, operate on a whole different level. 

They come with their own operating systems, like Android, Google TV for some models, Tizen OS on Samsung smart TVs, and WebOS on LG smart TVs.

samsung tv's screen when performing a cold reboot

What makes smart TVs stand out is their ability to connect to the internet.

This connection opens up a world of possibilities, allowing you to stream your favorite shows, movies, and even live TV directly over Wi-Fi. 

hulu app interface appears on a samsung tv

This means you don’t need a traditional cable or satellite connection to watch broadcast content on your smart TV.

While it’s still possible to connect a cable box to your smart TV, it’s not necessary for accessing live TV, movies, or shows. 

Coming up, I’ll introduce you to a variety of free and paid services that allow you to enjoy a wide range of content on your smart TV, including live cable TV, all without the need for a cable box.

What to Watch on Your Smart TV Without a Cable Box

Summary Table

Discovering what to watch on your smart TV without needing a cable box has never been easier, with a variety of services offering everything from live TV to on-demand movies and shows.

Note: The prices and availability of these services can change and might vary depending on where you live.

Always check the service’s website for the latest information, including any bundle deals or promotions they might offer.

Category Service/Option Description Price Range
Free Live TV Streaming Pluto TV Over 100 TV channels for news, sports, and entertainment. Free
DistroTV Wide range of live channels and on-demand content across genres.
Plex Live TV Over 130 channels covering movies, TV shows, news, and sports, with ads.
Use an Antenna to Watch Over-the-Air Free TV Antenna Traditional method to receive local over-the-air broadcasts without a cable subscription or internet.
Access local news, sports, and entertainment.
The cost of the antenna (varies)
Subscription Live TV Streaming Hulu + Live TV Over 90 channels of live TV, and access to Hulu’s on-demand library. $76.99/month
YouTube TV Live TV from over 100 channels, unlimited DVR storage. $72.99/month
fuboTV Sports and entertainment, more than 100 channels. $79.99/month
Philo Over 70 channels focusing on entertainment, lifestyle, and knowledge. $25/month
Sling TV Sling Orange and Sling Blue core plans, customizable packages. $40 – $45/month
Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) Netflix Wide range of movies, and TV shows, including Netflix original shows, with different plans. $15.49 – $22.99/month
Amazon Prime Video Included with Amazon Prime membership, a vast content library including Prime Originals. $14.99/month or $139/year
Disney+ Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic content. $7.99/month or $79.99/year
Hulu TV shows, movies, Hulu Originals, with or without ads. $7.99/month with ads, $17.99/month ad-free
Max (HBO Max) HBO content, Warner Bros. movies, Max Originals, with or without ads. $9.99/month with ads, $15.99/month ad-free
Free Video On Demand Amazon Freevee Free, ad-supported TV shows, movies, and original programming. Free
Crackle Selection of movies, TV shows, original content, and ad-supported.
Tubi Thousands of movies and TV shows with ad support.
Pluto TV Live TV channels and on-demand content, supported by commercials.

1. Free Live TV Streaming

Watching live TV without a subscription is now possible and increasingly popular, thanks to free streaming services supported by advertisements.

These platforms provide a diverse selection of channels, including news, sports, entertainment, and lifestyle, all without the need for you to spend a dime. 

For instance, Pluto TV not only delivers a variety of video-on-demand (VOD) content but also offers access to more than 100 TV channels.

pluto TV live channel

These channels cover everything from news and sports to entertainment, completely free of charge.

Another great option is DistroTV, a free streaming service that presents a broad spectrum of live channels along with on-demand content spanning various genres. 

DistroTV live channel

Additionally, Plex Live TV makes over 130 channels available at no cost, featuring movies, TV shows, news, and sports, although you’ll watch a few ads. 

Plex Live TV channel

These services are changing how we watch TV, making it easy and affordable to enjoy a wide range of programming.

2. Use an Antenna to Watch Over-the-Air Free TV

If you’re interested in catching your favorite local news, sports, and entertainment shows without a cable subscription or internet, using an antenna for over-the-air free TV is a great choice. 

Even though a few smart TVs have antennas built right in, most require you to connect an external antenna to pick up broadcast channels. 

select Live TV in TCL Roku TV

Here’s what you need to do: plug the antenna into your TV, use your remote to navigate to the TV’s settings menu, and look for the “Channel Scan” option. 

Once you start the scan, be patient until it finishes.

After that, you’ll be all set with access to any broadcast channels available in your area. 

a local channel is broadcasting on TCL Roku TV

For more in-depth information on this, I’ve written a detailed article that explores the topic further, read here to learn more.

3. Subscription Live TV Streaming

Subscription live TV streaming services are like the cable TV packages you might be familiar with, but they work over the internet and you pay for them every month.

These services aren’t just about watching live TV channels; they often include cool extras, such as the ability to record shows and watch them later using something called cloud DVR (Digital Video Recorder), which means you store your recordings online instead of on a physical device.

Let’s look at a few options:

Hulu + Live TV costs $76.99 a month and gives you more than 90 live TV channels. 

Plus, you get to enjoy Hulu’s library of shows and movies that you can watch anytime.

Hulu live TV sign-up now screen

YouTube TV has a monthly fee of $72.99 and offers live TV from over 100 channels. 

A big bonus is that you get unlimited space to record your favorite shows, so you never have to worry about running out of room.

Youtube TV Sign-in screen

If you’re really into sports and entertainment, fuboTV might be up your alley. 

The basic plan starts at $79.99 a month and includes more than 100 channels.

fubo TV sign-in screen

For those looking for a more wallet-friendly option, Philo is available at $25 a month. 

It offers over 70 channels, focusing on entertainment, lifestyle, and educational content.

Philo sign-in screen

Sling TV lets you choose between two main plans: Sling Orange is $40 a month, and Sling Blue is $45 a month. 

Both plans let you watch different sets of channels, and you can customize your package by adding more channels for an extra fee.

sling TV sign-in screen

4. Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD)

Subscription Video On Demand (SVOD) services have become a popular way to watch a vast selection of movies, TV shows, documentaries, and exclusive content at any time.

By paying a monthly subscription fee, users gain access to endless entertainment options across various platforms.

Netflix is one of the leading SVOD services, offering several plans to fit different needs.

The Standard plan begins at $15.49 per month, providing access to a rich library of content. 

For those seeking more, the Premium plan at $22.99 per month includes HD and Ultra HD viewing and the capability to watch on multiple screens at once.

Netflix Sign-in screen

Amazon Prime Video is another major player, included with an Amazon Prime membership for $14.99 per month or $139 annually. 

Subscribers enjoy a wide array of movies, TV shows, and Prime Originals, making it a comprehensive choice for families.

Amazon Prime Video sign-in screen

Disney+ caters specifically to fans of Disney, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars, and National Geographic. 

With pricing starting at $7.99 per month or $79.99 annually, it’s an affordable option for those looking to dive into a world of enchantment and adventure.

Disney Plus sign-in screen

Hulu offers flexibility with its ad-supported plan at $7.99 per month and an ad-free experience for $17.99 per month. 

It’s known for a broad selection of TV shows, movies, and Hulu Originals, appealing to a wide audience.

Hulu sign-in screen

Lastly, Max (HBO Max) provides a range of content from HBO, Warner Bros., and exclusive Max Originals. 

Its plans start at $9.99 per month for ad-supported viewing, with an ad-free option available for $15.99 per month, catering to those who prefer uninterrupted streaming.

HBO Max sign-in screen

5. Free Video On Demand

Free Video On Demand services are a great way for budget-conscious viewers to enjoy movies and TV shows without spending a dime, thanks to ad support instead of subscription fees. 

Amazon Freevee leads the pack with its no-cost, ad-supported streaming that includes a wide variety of TV shows, movies, and even original programming.

Amazon Freevee movie shows screen

Crackle follows suit, providing a diverse selection of movies, TV shows, and original content, all free of charge with ads.

Crackle movie shows screen

Tubi expands your viewing options even further, featuring thousands of movies and TV shows available at no cost, thanks to ad support.

Tubi movie shows screen

Lastly, Pluto TV stands out by offering a unique combination of live TV channels and on-demand content, completely free and supported by commercials.

pluto TV movie show screen

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