Over-The-Air Television

What Does Over-The-Air Television Mean?

Over-the-air television (OTA) is a category of television broadcasting which makes use of television signals transferred by radio waves from television stations. Over-the-air television receives the radio waves with the help of a TV receiver which has an antenna. Over-the-air television was the only way to receive television signals until the 1950s. With the advent of cable and satellite television, the viewing of over-the-air television broadcasting has significantly declined.


Over-the-air television is also known as broadcast television or terrestrial television.

Techopedia Explains Over-The-Air Television

Over-the-air television is the first technology used for television broadcasting, with the first broadcast occurring in Washington D.C. in 1927. In order to view the over-the-air television broadcasts, an antenna is required. In the early days of broadcasting, consumers often needed to adjust the antenna for each channel in order to get good reception. However, the quality of reception greatly varied and some broadcasts suffered from fuzzy pictures.

Over-the-air signals can also be obstructed by mountains, tall trees or buildings. Climatic conditions can also hinder the over-the-air signals. Over-the-air television has one significant advantage compared to other forms of broadcasting (such as cable or satellite): it is free. The only expense involved in this type of viewing is the television and related equipment. With inexpensive equipment and low television prices, many consumers across the world still find it the easiest way to access television.

As of 2009, all broadcasts in the United States were required to be digital, and analog broadcasting ceased. The high quality of the digital broadcast signals has helped over-the-air television regain some popularity.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.