Cutting the cord doesn’t mean giving up on live TV. Local channels are totally free and often include content that you care about, including sports. But if you want to make the antenna TV experience a bit more modern, you should add local channels to your Plex server for a killer channel guide, remote streaming, DVR functionality, and more.
As we’ll explain further in this article, adding local TV to your Plex server is an incredibly easy task. Once you have the hardware, setup takes about ten minutes, if that. But how does local TV work on Plex?
Well, Plex uses a TV antenna and a digital tuner to search for local channels. All locally available content ends up in a Plex channel guide, with detailed descriptions, closed captions, and a two-week-long schedule. You can stream these local channels to any device with a Plex app, including your phone, tablet, streaming stick, or smart TV.
Any Plex user can add local TV to their server for free. But Plex Pass members get additional, extremely useful features. Not only can Plex Pass members stream video outside of their home, but they can use a DVR function to record local TV straight to their server’s storage.
This DVR is extremely versatile. You can set it to automatically record each new episode of your favorite show, for example, and it can even save over older broadcasts if a show re-airs at a higher quality. Plex can also delete (or automatically skip over) advertisements in recorded content, which is quite nice.
Bear in mind that Plex offers a wide selection Live TV channels for free, though these channels do not include local stations. In order to add local channels to Plex, you need to follow the steps listed in this article.
You need a couple pieces of hardware to get local channels on Plex. And unfortunately, this hardware will run you a little over $100. I think that the ability to stream and record local channels is well worth the money, but if you’re on a budget, you may want to start by using a digital antenna with just one TV before you buy the tuner to pair it with Plex.
If you want to see which channels are available in your area, try using the FCC reception map or the Channel Master live TV tool. These websites should also give you insight into signal strength, which is important when picking an antenna.
- Digital Antenna: A TV antenna is required for this project. Any digital antenna will work, whether it’s indoor or outdoor. If you live in a rural area, try using the latter option to improve signal quality and broaden your selection of channels.
- Supported Tuner: You need a digital TV tuner to process information from your antenna. I suggest using the SiliconDust HDHomeRun, as it works with all Plex servers regardless of their operating system or region. That said, Plex offers a full list of compatible tuners on its website. (If you happen to own a digital tuner with an Ethernet port, give it a try, it might work.)
- Plex Pass (Optional): Any Plex user can set up OTA TV on their server. But if you want DVR functionality or remote streaming outside your home, you need Plex Pass.
Bear in mind that some services, such as YouTube TV, offer local channels without any additional hardware. But OTA TV on Plex is a much cheaper, more customizable option. Plus, setup with Plex is a breeze. If you managed to put together a Plex server, you’ll have zero problems with this project.
Setting up your digital antenna and tuner is shockingly easy. Basically, we just need to get this stuff connected to your home network—it should only take a few minutes, unless you need to install an outdoor antenna, of course.
First, take your digital tuner and connect it to your router (not your Plex server) via Ethernet cable. If you have a mesh Wi-Fi system with multiple “router nodes,” you should connect your tuner and Plex server to the same node for maximum reliability.
You should now connect your TV antenna to your digital tuner. Most antennas have a built-in coaxial cable, and outdoor antennas come with super long cables, so you don’t need to buy anything extra.
Antenna placement is very important, as it can greatly affect your signal. If you use an indoor antenna, I suggest sticking it to a window or wall with painter’s tape instead of the included adhesive—for now, at least. This way, you can easily move the antenna if you find that the reception is bad (something we’ll discuss in the Troubleshooting section).
The SiliconDust HDHomeRun digital tuner works with all Plex servers regardless of their operating system or region. Just bear in mind that it can only handle two concurrent streams at a time.
Once your antenna and digital tuner are all set up, you can enter the Plex web app and enable OTA TV. Assuming that you’ve done everything right, this should take five minutes or less, though you may need to wait half an hour for Plex to fill out the data in its channel guide.
- Open the Plex Web App in your browser and log in.
- Navigate to Settings (the wrench icon in the top right corner).
- Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand sidebar and click “Live TV & DVR.”
- Click the big “Set Up Plex DVR” button (even if you don’t plan to use DVR).
- Plex should automatically discover the digital tuner on your network (if not, check our Troubleshooting section).
- Click “Set Up Device,” enter your country and postal code, and hit “Next”.
- Plex will automatically scan for channels and ask if there are any channels you don’t want in your library—make your selection and complete the setup process.
The “Live TV” tab in Plex should start populating with local channels. It may take around 30 minutes for Plex to fill out the channel guide, as it collects airing times for shows two weeks in advance.
Once the Plex channel guide is populated, you can stream OTA TV using the Plex app on any device in your local network. If you’re a Plex Pass member, you can also stream this content outside your home or record video using the DVR function.
Pressing the red circle next to a show’s name in the channel guide brings up DVR settings. From here, you can choose where the content will be saved (usually your “TV Channels” category). You can also tell Plex to automatically record all new episodes (or re-runs) of the same show, which is quite useful. And if you go into Plex Settings (under “Live TV & DVR”), you can select the quality of DVR content and tell Plex to automatically remove ads from recorded video—this feature is about 90% accurate, in my experience.
Plex Pass unlocks dozens of premium features for your Plex server, including remote streaming, DVR functionality for live TV, and the PlexAmp mobile music player.
Most people will have no problem setting up OTA TV with Plex. But depending on where you live (and the quality of your antenna), you may find that channel selection or quality doesn’t meet your expectations. And hey, this is Plex we’re talking about, so you may run into oddities on the software side of things.
As I mentioned earlier, you can check which local channels are in your area using the FCC reception map or the Channel Master live TV tool. If Plex is missing channels that you care about (or the channels you get look like crap), you probably need to move your antenna—that’s why I suggested taping it somewhere before committing to a spot with the included adhesive.
Try moving your antenna to a window or wall somewhere else in your home and rescanning for channels in Plex (go to “Settings,” open “Live TV & DVR,” select your tuner, and click “Scan”). If you don’t want to play a guessing game, use the FCC reception map to see which direction (north, south, east, west) your favorite channels are broadcasted from. Pointing your antenna in that direction (or placing it on a wall facing that direction) should improve the signal for those channels.
Now, let’s say that Plex doesn’t discover your TV tuner. No big deal, just restart the Plex web app and try again. If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to manually find your tuner’s IP address and enter that into Plex. You can visit the My HDHomeRun to get the IP address from an HDHomeRun box, though you’ll have to check the instruction manual if you buy a different tuner.
I should also reiterate that there are a ton of settings and options for OTA TV in Plex, especially when it comes to DVR stuff. Open Settings and go to “Live TV & DVR” to automatically remove ads from recorded content, adjust transcoder quality, blacklist channels, automatically replace recorded content with higher-quality airings, and more.