Digital to Digital
If you have a modern television, it probably has a digital tuner and an RF input. Plug the coax into that RF input, configure the TV to use an antenna input, scan for channels, and you’re done.
Digital to Analog
If you have an older, analog television, you will need to convert your digital antenna signal to analog. This can be done with a dedicated converter or using a device that includes a tuner and has outputs that match inputs on your set (composite, component, rf).
Consumer Reports 2009 guide and ConsumerSearch’s 2011 reviews both put the $45 Zinwell ZAT-970A and $340 Channel Master CM-7000PAL at the top of the heap. I’ll add the $380 Channel Master TV CM 7400 and the Tivo Premiere to the top of that heap. For $40, you get a basic channel guide and analog output. For another $300, you get a very good guide and a dual tuner DVR. For another $40, you get a very modern guide, a dual tuner DVR, internet apps, built in wireless, usb attached media, and playlists. For $270 more (Premiere plus lifetime subscription), you get a Tivo that works with cable or antenna. I have five DTV-Pal DVRs (Echostar version of the CM-7000PAL). I paid $1000 for the lot of them and am very satisfied. If one broke, I’d replace it with a CM-7400.
Digital Video Recorder
Timeshifting — pausing, rewinding, fast forwarding, and recording — is key to my viewing pleasure. Most of the time I’m watching television, I’m watching a five hour block of sitcoms that airs while I’m at work. I record sporting events for eventual analysis. I record and protect favorite movies and TV shows. There’s always something on at my house. Need to step out of the room? Hit the pause button. Miss something important? Rewind. Miss it again? Slow motion.
There are a few OTA DVRs out there, but not one is so inexpensive or has so many features that I would consider it next to the ones listed above. If I find one, I’ll update this.
Optical Media Players
Approaching the perimeter of the scope of this discussion, but optical media (dvd and blu-ray) can provide an alternative to pay-per-view and ondemand viewing. Netflix, Red Box, and Walmart’s bargain bins are an inexpensive way to watch recent movies once you have cut the cable. Your public library probably lends movies as well. To date, most media is standard DVD, so a key feature of any player is quality upconverting.
Whether or not you like games, the Sony PS3 probably belongs in your living room. The PS3 is a blu-ray player that upconverts well and streams Netflix, Amazon, Vudu, Playon, Crackle, and just about anything else you can throw at it in 2D or 3D. After our DVR, the PS3 may be the most entertaining device in your living room.
AVS forums reviews and duscussions of players tend to be much more helpful than professional reviews or the ones you find on retail sites. The ‘owners’ pages are indepth and based on long term use. Besides cost and features, pay attention to internet apps. Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and Playon apps will enhance the value of a player.