Home > Canada, Media Center, TV and Movies > Enabling ATSC & QAM in Canada for Windows 7 RTM

Enabling ATSC & QAM in Canada for Windows 7 RTM

Posted here temporarily while thegreenbutton.com undergoes an upgrade.

I’m thrilled to see so many people have taken up the challenge to get ATSC working in Canada with Windows 7 since the untimely demise of the Vista hack.  Alas, as time marches on some of the holes that made new hacks possible were plugged and more capabilities were removed from Canadians (notably QAM).  I’m pleased to present this new method to enable ATSC and QAM here in Canada with the release version of Windows 7.

First, some background.  Like the United States, Canada has decided to transition all television broadcasts from analog to digital.  These new digital signals have greater effective range, provide a crystal-clear high definition picture, and as with all over the air network TV broadcasts are free and legal to access.  It’s worth noting that over the air signals represent the best high-definition picture quality you can get for network television – better than cable and much better than satellite.  While high definition is available for a fee via cable and satellite, those high definition channels are subject to ever-increasing compression and picture quality degradation as they try to squeeze more and more content into your subscription.  And unlike cable and satellite, over the air broadcasts are not encrypted and can be easily incorporated into a Media Center setup, copied over to your iPod, and are generally easy to use.  The United States has nearly completed their digital transition, and will be shutting down the analog broadcasts in February 2009.  Canada is well into its transition, with most major markets now broadcasting in digital and 100% of the country switching over to digital by 2011 before we shut down our analog transmitters.  Here in Toronto, I can get access to every major US and Canadian network in full high-definition glory using a $40 antenna that I put in my attic.

QAM is very similar except that instead of getting the signals over-the-air using an antenna, the signals travel over your cable company’s network.  However in most of Canada this isn’t useful, as Canadian cable companies tend to encrypt or scramble their signal making it completely useless without buying their cable box.  There are some lucky regions in the country however who do get access to unencrypted QAM, and for those people it’s a virtual nerdvana of digital TV.

Here’s how to get digital high-definition broadcasts into Media Center.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows XP or Windows Vista, follow this link for detailed instructions.

If you’re using Media Center in Windows 7 or Vista with TV Pack 2008, continue reading below.  I’ve tried to provide excruciating detail, but don’t get scared.  It’s not difficult, I’m just going a bit overboard with screenshots and explanation.

Prerequisites:

  • For ATSC, you should get a good quality UHF antenna.  In most cases I’ve read about it comes down to a Channel Master 4221 or Channel Master 4228 depending on your distance from the transmitters.  Consult this handy chart (PDF) to select the right antenna for your area.  I personally have a 4221 in my attic which was both easy to do and very neighbour-friendly.
  • For ATSC, you will need an ATSC tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • For QAM, you will need a QAM tuner for your Media Center PC.  Any tuner that is supported in Windows Media Center will do.
  • None of these items are the sort of thing you can walk into WalMart and find on the shelves, but there are several online vendors including eBay sellers who carry these items.  I personally have purchased from Sensuz, a Toronto-area HTPC dealer, and have been very happy with their service.

Step 1 – Force Media Center to allow ATSC and QAM in Canada

I’ve prepared some files that will automate the process for you.  Simply download and extract the provided zip file (click here) to your desktop or any location on your desktop.  Double-click on the file “EnableATSCandQAM.bat” which will insert some configuration information into the Media Center database that forces ATSC and QAM tuners to be recognized.
ATSCFiles

Step 2 – Configure Media Center to use your tuners

I’ll walk you through the setup of the tuner in Media Center, although this isn’t any different than what would normally occur out of the box.  Launch Media Center and navigate to Settings, TV, Setup TV Signal.  We want to set up Media Center using the correct region, Canada.  If Media Center doesn’t automatically detect that you’re in Canada, be sure to select a different region and choose “Canada”.
tv1 tv2

Enter your postal code, and agree to the terms of service (assuming you do indeed agree to the legaleze).
tv3 tv4 tv5

At this point, Media Center will configure all of the signal types that were detected.  For any cable or satellite tuners, it will automatically link to the guide data for the region.  For digital antenna (ATSC) it won’t find any guide data since it’s not officially supported.  No worries, we can add in guide listings later.
tv8

Next, Media Center will scan for ATSC and QAM channels.  This process took awhile for me, up to fifteen minutes.
tv9   tv10 tv11

Congratulations, your tuners are now set up!  However at this point, you likely won’t have any guide listings associated with the channels that were detected via the scan.
tv12

Step 3 – Map guide listings to your ATSC channels

For those of you who have used the Vista hack, you may like me be pleasantly surprised by the way the guide works now.  For each channel on each tuner you can specify which guide listings should be used, which is incredibly flexible.  Media Center also now has some much-welcomed logic in the Advanced Record Settings that allows you to specify that any given recording should be recorded in HD Only, HD Preferred, SD Only, or SD Preferred.  Because of this feature, I personally would recommend that you always attempt to associate your high-definition digital channels with listings from your cable company’s high-definition channel lineup or the US over-the-air listings so that the recording logic works properly.  I’ll walk you through how to set that up.

First, navigate to Settings, TV, Guide, Edit Channels.
guide2

Select the channel that you want to work with by clicking on the callsign of the station.
guide3

In the settings page for the channel, click on “Edit Listings”
guide4

You’ll  now be taken to a list of all the channels that your Media Center is aware of (including channels that were set up via other sources, such as Analog Antenna, Satellite, or my multiple guide listings hack).  This list is organized alphabetically, and you can type in letters to skip to the appropriate point in the list.
Select a channel with HD listings.
guide5

If you select a channel that also comes in via some other source (for example you get CBC Toronto on both cable and antenna) you will be presented with the option to merge the guide listings or to copy the listings.  Select “copy” so that you can manage the high definition channel independently.  Once you’ve selected the correct listings, you’ll now see that the listings are associated with the digital ATSC or QAM channel.  Click Save.
guide6

Click on save, and at this point you can keep assigning channels or you may choose to go to the guide and test things out before continuing.  Once you assign guide listings to all of your ATSC channels, you’re done the setup and should be able to enjoy pristine high-definition recordings on your computer and throughout your home on your extenders.

 

Questions and Answers

I’ll try to capture some key answers that come in over time here in this section.  To kick things off, here are some things that came to mind for me.

What happens if I select “Merge” instead of “Copy”?
I’ve found that by selecting merge, Media Center assumes that all sources for a given channel are standard definition.

Doesn’t Media Center support Analog Antenna in Canada, and can’t I use those guide listings?
Yes analog antenna is supported and you’ll get the listings for your local channels, but because it’s analog Media Center will assume that all channels that use these guide listings are standard definition.

But isn’t it incredibly stupid for Microsoft to support Analog Antenna but not Digital Antenna, given that analog channels are all shutting down and digital is the government-mandated standard for all of North America?
Yes.

Media Center didn’t automatically detect all of the ATSC channels that I’m able to receive, is there any way I can manually add them?
One of the users at digitalhome.ca maintains a list of all the channels that you should be able to receive in major centers of Canada.  You can use these lists to manually add stations to media center using the functions in Settings, TV, Guide, Add Missing Channels, Add DTV Channel.
Southwestern Ontario
Kitchener-Waterloo
Niagara Region
Toronto & Hamilton Areas
Montreal & Surrounding Areas
Ottawa & Surrounding Areas
Vancouver & Surrounding Areas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m not able to find guide data for all of my over the air channels, is there any way for me to get guide data for more channels?
Yes, you can force Media Center to load in guide information from any region using my multiple guide listings hack.  For example, my cable provider Cogeco doesn’t list many of the Buffalo-area over the air stations since they source their high definition content from Detroit instead.  I added the listings for Buffalo over-the-air digital antenna to Media Center using the multiple guide listings hack, and used those to complete the mapping of my channels.

Where can I get some help if I’m having trouble?
I’ve set up a forum here at TGB where you can post your questions and I’ll try to help you out. Fair warning – my day job is pretty demanding so it can be a challenge sometimes to keep up with Q&A. I take no offense to you asking multiple times if you haven’t gotten an answer to your question.  Click here for the forum.

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  1. Robyn
    July 14, 2011 at 12:27 am

    Hi Peter – are there any updates on enabling ATSC and QAM through Windows Media Center – I’m running Windows 7 and I tried using the hack you created in 2009 but it no longer seems to be able to do what you say it should. I’m trying to use a Homerun HDTV Network attached tuner which provides both ATSC and QAM signals and works great in the US from all the reviews. I’m in Vancouver, BC and have yet to be able to set my region properly despite being able to watch all the great HD signals that the tuner finds and previews through its own viewing software. Any suggestions would be great – I’m also looking for options to cut the cable 😉

    Robyn

  2. franchiche
    August 13, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    the beta is working perfectly here in Montréal.

    thanks a million man!

  3. August 13, 2011 at 10:16 pm

    Thanks for the note franchiche, did you try the new option #9 by any chance?

  4. franchiche
    August 15, 2011 at 10:01 am

    hummm, no, I don’t recall seing option #9 (assuming this is custom location but Montreal is on the choices)

    Actually, only the file “EnableATSCandQAM.bat” was needed for me since the local ATSC channels are copies of cable channels, so the guide is updated automatically by MC.

    Again, thank you very much for this “hack” (sent the exact same request to support@microsoft.com without getting any replies)

  5. August 17, 2011 at 8:56 am

    It picked up an ASTC antenna up with your hack in Windows 7 32bit. I was puzzled why it was only picking up analog with my Hauppauge USB.

    Last month I picked up a few no-name USB digital tunners that I tried on Windows 7 64bit with no success — would only detect as analog tuner and show no channels. But I’m confident this will work in that scenario as well. Will give it a try.

  6. Greg
    September 22, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    Hi Peter.

    So, do you think the best solution for a Vista machine is staying away from TV Pack 2008? or installing it and then following the guide here?

    Thanks,
    Greg

  7. December 22, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    Long time Media Center enthusiast, doing a fresh install on a new box.

    Didn’t have success getting the QAM and ATSC tuners detected with the original patch but the beta patch worked great. Didn’t see an option 9 though.

  8. Jeremy
    February 26, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Hi, Peter, can you re-share your Windows Vista guide? I followed it a few years ago, and it worked well.

    I need to set up my laptop again, (still on Vista) but could not find your guide any more….

    Thanks!

  9. Greg
    October 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm

    Pleased to say this hack still works in WIndows 8!!

  10. James
    January 1, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Also just installed it for Windows 8 and it worked like a dream. Thanks ever so much for creating it. Can’t believe MS don’t support it natively.

  11. ZareK
    January 22, 2013 at 9:28 pm

    Download links do not work

    • January 24, 2013 at 10:53 am

      Thanks, links fixed

  12. Justin
    March 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    Hey Peter, the download links are down again, I could really used this hack, any chance on bringing the link back online?

    • March 19, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Just tested them, and seems to be working. Still an issue for you?

  13. October 22, 2014 at 1:50 pm

    Since this post stills seems active and relevant and I am outside the major Canadian markets (in Winnipeg) that are covered in the download I thought I would share what worked for me.

    The closest US zip code to Winnipeg does not have all of the Canadian channels I needed so the guide was always full of “No Data Available.” After downloading your fix and running your fix (EnableATSCandQAM.bat) as an administrator I was able to get WMC to recognize the Canadian digital channels for my postal code, but still no guide data.

    What I ended up doing was adding “analog antenna” second TV signal source and even though these channels no longer exist, WMC still downloaded the guide for them. I then went into the guide settings and merged the listing data for the old analog channels to their new digital counter parts. All is well now. There are some links on this site to a “multiple guide listings” hack, but those links are dead so maybe this is exactly what was described there. Regardless, thanks for the great info and I hope this helps someone.

  14. Groove Jumper
    July 27, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Buffalo OTA aren’t downloading any more with the switch to Ravi – don’t suppose you have an update or advice…? (fingers crossed…)

    • July 28, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      I’m having the same problem with no listings downloading with Buffalo settings. Started last week. What do you mean re: “the switch to Ravi”?

      • Groove Jumper
        July 29, 2015 at 7:17 am

        Sorry autocorrect. Rovi. MS has changed guide providers from Zap2It to Rovi, who they use for Xbox as well. Looks like I got it working, I re-did Signal Setup and it was able to set up my two different sources (Bell Expressvu/Satellite, and OTA/Toronto area). I’m not sure what else has changed but I’ve never had that option before…

        Also, I couldn’t use my own Postal Code (out in the Boonies), as soon as I changed to a Toronto code it was able to find the Toronto OTA listings (including Buffalo).

        I haven’t had enough time to check yet, but if it’s doing what I think it’s doing, we may not need the scheduled tasks to bring in the extra listings any more. Not sure yet though.

  15. Shawn Richarz
    August 1, 2015 at 7:49 am

    This solution worked on my other computer and still is but I’m trying to set it up on another computer and WMC won’t allow a Canadian tuner even after running the batch file. Has something changed? Thanks so much.

  1. May 16, 2011 at 2:33 pm
  2. August 30, 2011 at 10:04 pm

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