The Number One Mistake to Avoid When Purchasing a New TV

TVs for sale

I’ve been telling my readers that since 2006, the Federal government has mandated that all TVs include a digital tuner to allow you to receive free broadcast TV using a cheap antenna. This is one of the main ways that I promote on to save money!

But recently, I’ve been getting messages from readers who claimed that their TVs did not come with a built-in tuner! So, I looked up the specs of one of these: the Vizio E55u-D2 SmartCast E-Series 55″ Class Ultra HD Home Theater Display. Sure enough – this TV had no coax antenna input, nor did it have a tuner!!

TV vs. Display

How could this be??? The answer is that the manufacturer is not calling this a TV, but rather a “Display”. This allows them to save a few bucks and get rid of the broadcast TV tuner. I find this to be very misleading to the consumer!!!!

You Can’t Watch Free Broadcast TV

Not having a tuner on your TV means that you can’t hook an antenna up to your TV directly. You would have to purchase a tuner separately, which means you have two remote controls to mess with. All of that so that the manufacturer can save a few bucks on your TV!!!!

Watching Cable TV Could Be a Problem Too

One reader pointed out that her apartment complex offered complimentary cable distributed via coax cable.  Unfortunately, she had a Vizio TV with no coax input, so she would have to buy a cable TV box with HDMI output!! That bites!!!

The Manufacturer’s Explanation

Here’s what Vizio’s website says about this:

The VIZIO SmartCast™ E-Series Ultra HD Home Theater Display is now tuner-free. Most households commonly stream or watch live TV from cable and satellite boxes – neither of which requires a tuner, so you shouldn’t notice any differences in setup.

Now if you use an external antenna to watch free local channels, you will need to get a separate tuner adapter to connect your antenna to your display.

Everything they say here is true, but this statement is buried way down on their site. If you look on Amazon, it’s really hard to tell that this “TV” has no tuner!

Plus, few people will know to look for this. Ever since TV’s first came out, they included a tuner which allowed you to connect antennas to them.  Now all of a sudden, some don’t!

Heck, I bet most people don’t even know what “tuner-free” means!

How to Avoid this Pitfall

Here are some tips to help you be sure you’re getting a TV with a tuner included:

  • Make sure the word “TV” is in the product title, as opposed to “Display”, “Home Theater Display”, or “Monitor”. TVs must contain a broadcast TV tuner, by Federal law!
  • In the TV specs, make sure it has an antenna, “RF”, coax, or cable TV input. Note, not all TVs with this input will list it. So, if you see this input, you’re good. If you don’t see it, you may or may not be good.
  • Find a photo of the TV’s rear panel (Amazon sometimes has these) and make sure it has the coax round connector like the one shown here:
    TV coax inputNote that you are looking for a single round connector, not the set of two or more colored round connectors
  • Be extra careful when purchasing a Vizio-branded TV.

What to Do If You Already Have a TV with No Tuner

DISCLOSURE: This is a professional review site that receives compensation from the retailer or manufacturer when you purchase through the affiliate links such as the ones on this page. I test and/or research each product or service thoroughly before endorsing it. This site is independently owned and the opinions expressed here are my own.

As I’ve mentioned, if you already own one of these “displays”, you can purchase a TV tuner separately. This gets a little complicated because you have to make sure that you get a TV tuner that is high-definition and includes an HDMI output. Here are some I recommend:

The other bummer is that now you’ll have yet another remote control in your pile of remotes on your coffee table. That’s why having the tuner integrated into the TV is so much better.

If you want broadcast TV DVR capabilities and are willing to spend more money, then you can go with a Channel Master DVR+ or Tablo if you have more than one TV.

To Sum Up

I really hope other manufacturers don’t expand the practice of selling TVs without tuners. I find this practice misleading and greedy, because it only costs the manufacturer a few dollars to put in a tuner, whereas it costs you up to fifty dollars to buy one!

Some commenters have said that they don’t want to pay this cost and don’t want a tuner in their TVs because they have cable.  That is valid.  My beef is that the manufacturers are making it so hard to tell the difference between TVs with and without tuners that many consumers don’t understand what they are missing!

Also, you never know when you might want to ditch cable.  Isn’t it good to have the option of using an antenna?

If you see any other brands doing this, please let us know in the comments below! Thanks! – Brian

  • Rick Daniels

    Vizio E-Series they could easily put on their box TV Tuner sold separately but they intentionally don’t. They also won’t allow you to finish their initial download without you excepting to allow them to gather your viewing habits.

  • Richard Marcoux III

    if it costs manufacturer $1 to install a tuner it will end up costing them actually millions per year. TV manufacturers produce millions of TV’s /year. $1 x 2,000,000 = $2,000,000/year spent on tuners. That’s a waste since it’s $2,000,000 spent for something that never gets used by anyone (maybe 0.001% of TV owners). whereas if the individual wanted a tuner, they just pay $50 for it. In the eyes of the manufacturer; “the consumer can spend just $50 instead of us having to waste millions of dollars”. it just makes good common economic sense. However, they are still breaking the law, and are being extremely misleading, are are open to a law suit.

    • Jhon rodgers

      Your numbers are way off…. Far more than 1% access broadcast stations using tuners! You are dismissing the silent rural majority. Try upwards of 65% hero.

      • Richard Marcoux III

        Hero? Lol. Anyways, The percentage is irrelevant to my central point. It would cost manufacturer millions of dollars a year or just consumers $50 more dollars for a separate tuner. It makes zero economic sense for the manufacturer. It’s a very reasonable trade-off… Save millions but exclude a tuner that can be bought by people that want them. if you yourself were running a business like this, the decision would be clear to make. If not then at least you can understand the decision. Companies don’t owe consumers anything. You don’t like their product don’t buy it…. Free market will solve the problem. Over regulating companies is bad for the economy and consumers.

  • SOlidWire

    Options are what makes a great market economy! Something for everyone. I was able to a 70″ 4K 120Hz Vizio for $699. The next best deal was TWICE that much. No tuner… So What?.. one less thing to break… especially when you can pickup up a decent quality one for under $50. Heck, you can now justify setting up a networked tuner that will work on all your electronics with a screen. I really like SiliconDust’s HD Home Run Connect which retails for under $95.00. Oh yea… too many remotes bothering you… Might as well add an “all in one remote”. I like the Logitech – Harmony 650. You can pick one up for under $50. While were at it… If you live in a more rural setting you may want to considering upgrading that plastic indoor antenna to a roof/ attic mount. Good quality antenna and a 100′ roll of cable should do it…. for under $100.
    Let me sum this up… we saved, very conservatively, $700 on our 70″ screen. Spent a $100 on a quality tuner which is now ready to use on any device in the house. Spent $50 on one of the best “all in one” remotes. And… if needed… $100 on the best antenna setup. Now you have the best of everything and your AT LEAST $500 ahead of the game.
    Inform is great. but don’t bitch about a great thing.
    Heck… if I could have it my way. I’d buy just the monitor with an HDMI in and out. I’d much rather add the components ala carte. Now your almost married to a “smart” tv who’s software you probably wont like anyway. I dont want to pay for that. When I want to try Roku… great! Apple TV…. great…
    Question… Why are you advocating people pay for all of these components they don’t necessarily need or want… And to top it off when one of those internal components fails… Generally, the whole unit becomes unuseable.
    Sorry to have gone off on a rant… Yet back to my first statement…. There is nothing more exciting than a market driven economy,,, The only catch is the same old saying… Buyer be ware!
    Rock On
    SOlid Wire out!

    • HI SolidWire,

      Thanks for sharing!

      You seem like quite a tech-savvy consumer. Many of my readers are not. Many are retired folks who would have trouble hooking up a VCR (I count my parents among this group). So having the tuner built in eliminates the hookup problem, which is actually a problem for a lot of people.

      My second beef is that there are many unsuspecting consumers who don’t know what “tuner-free” means. They buy a TV thinking they can use it with an antenna and they can’t. Sure, I know, it’s technically their fault for not reading and understanding the terms, right? But that’s part of the reason I wrote this article – to help educate people on what to look for so they won’t be disappointed when they go home and try to hook up an antenna.


      • SOlidWire

        Your a good soul. World surly needs more of those. Educating, as you clearly are, is truly the best medicine. I also advocate for anyone who is being taken advantage of.particularly in an unscrupulous manner, and especially our older folks.
        Maybe… just maybe… consider the attack from the other side…. As opposed to researching the legal means to implement another (law, ruling /guide line) by the ruling authority, the FCC, I assume. Consider confronting the beast…. the manufacture’s (even if in name only) marketing department.
        Nobody wins when the customer doesn’t get what they paid for. They are going to return the item with great pains (after all your not carrying or shipping back a shirt). The customer now has disdain for the manufactures label. The reseller now (at best) has an open box item which they wont get as much for will lose the sale of a new item.The customer in turn is going to mf that manufactures label with amplification to friends, neighbors and anyone who will listen. (probably like minded people). As it seems human nature to share a painful experience more than a positive one. (Hence this blog)

        Secondly, everyone wins when they advertise the product as it was intended to be used for. Those looking for a built in tuner get what they want, reseller/ manufacture places another product and another happy customer who shows off their new device to friends and neighbors (often like minded) and other ones are sold. On the other hand those who want the quality features of a sttipped down item to use as they please… They get what they want with clear and honest effective marketing. Kindly, remind our manufacturing friends that there are more and more of those “tech savvy” coming to market every day.

        Thirdly, and quite possibly most importantly, is that we all need fewer laws/ rules on the books. A democratic republic with a free market economy needs to be guided with the least amount of laws and rules to maintain that freedom. Seems every law/rule is implemented with “good intentions” then (not far down the road) some slickster goes and interprets that law/ruling in a way which steels just one more of our freedoms. Seems every American (unintentionally) breaks 2 or 3 laws/rules before they finish their morning coffee.

        In a nut shell. Your providing a great service by educating. Thank You! Yet I will leave you with two old school adages to summarize. First, You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. Second Good intentions lead they path to hell. or maybe better said. No good intention goes unpunished.
        All the Best to you and yours

        • SOlidWire

          A BTW… Kind of funny… Off topic…. The adage… “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”.. Is untrue! Observations have been made that you actually attract more fruit flies with vinegar than honey, because the acetic acid in vinegar makes them think they sense fruit.

    • Richard Marcoux III

      exactly, the free market is the best system, and will take care of everything.

  • Al Newman

    Do you think the manufacturers don’t get a kickback for promoting Netflix, other pay services, and even YouTube (printed on the packaging box & displayed on boot-up)?? Would it then be logical to suspect that they get an even bigger kickback in exchange for producing product that blocks free terrestrial broadcasts, forcing consumers into pay services??

    • Hi Al,

      Yes, I do believe that manufacturers have agreements with pay services to get a piece of the pie.

      However, interfering with TV broadcasts is actually against the law. All electronic products need to be FCC certified to NOT interfere with TV and other broadcasts. So, I don’t think it’s common for products to interfere with terrestrial broadcasts, but it could happen unintentionally.


      • Al Newman

        By “blocking” OTA reception, I meant producing a “TV” that deceptively does not have an ATSC tuner. Many people get caught by this clever rouse.

        • Ah yes, sorry, completely agree!


  • Larry Inman

    Can you point me towards where to find the “mandate” that says all TV’s need a tuner to be called a TV. I have a distributer from ebay telling me I’m wrong.

    • Hi Larry,

      This is the closest thing I found, see the second section, which states: “The Commission’s digital tuner rule specifies that as of March 1, 2007 all new television receivers must include digital tuners.”

      I suppose one could get around this by saying their product is not a television receiver.


      • Larry Inman

        Thanks Brian. I found the law on the FCC website. Vizio is getting away with this by saying their TV’s are “Displays”. So they’re not subject to the TV tuner law. A little shady.

        • Oh, glad you found it.

          Yeah, I hate what Vizio is doing here.


    • SOlidWire

      They don’t market them as TV’s (at least as far as my research has taken me) They are marketed as Home Theater Display’s. By the logic your advocating every monitor or projector should have a tuner built in.