Home > Canada, Cutting Cable, Media Center, TV and Movies > Cutting the cable in Canada–Conclusion (Part 8)

Cutting the cable in Canada–Conclusion (Part 8)

This is the conclusion of a blog series on cutting the cable in Canada.

Back in the spring, I began to look at options for cutting the cable in Canada, including IPTV, Apple iTunes, Netflix, TV Websites, Boxee, and a brief look to see if the grass is any greener south of the border. 

The ground rules were as follows:

  • My family must accept the solution, this is not a geeks-only endeavour
  • The content creators must be compensated, no stealing from the artists
  • The quality must generally match what I get today, which means high definition
  • Costs must fit within our existing budget, I’m only allowed to spend what I save elsewhere

I’ll admit that after the initial review I got somewhat dismayed because the conclusion was leaning to “not possible in Canada”.  The biggest sticking point was content for my kids, six and eight year old girls who enjoy watching Teletoon and some other kid-oriented cable channels on a little TV in the basement.  I decided to throw in the towel.  Cable had won.

However, this summer my cable provider gave me an extra push by removing all of the kids channels from their analog tier which meant that cartoons would no longer work on the little TV downstairs without additional investment.  This was the time to strike!

After a bit of trial and error, I did end up with a solution that works for my family and we are now 100% free of cable in our household.  Here’s what the Near household looks like:

Over-The-Air High Definition Everywhere

4221HDA small antenna in the attic drives the majority of what we watch in the house.  I ran the coax cable from my antenna down into my basement, literally unplugged the cable feed from the road and instead plugged the antenna into the splitter, and now every room in the house how has HD antenna.  Plug in an HDTV, and about 35 channels come in crystal-clear.

Whole-Home PVR

So now I had all the TVs in the house running free and legal live TV, but what I really wanted to do is record that TV to a PVR so I can watch it anywhere in the house.  To do this, I activated the free Windows Media Center program that comes with Windows 7 to turn my Windows PC into a fully functional PVR.  I plugged my antenna into an HDHomerun tuner, which allowed my Windows PC to record two HDTV channels at the same time.  To get everything working in the Toronto area, I simply told Media Center that I live in the United States at Zipcode 14174 (for other areas of Canada the setup is a bit more involved).

The steps above turn the PC into a PVR that’s quite frankly better than any PVR from the cable company.  When you have both an XBox 360 and a Windows Media Center PC in the same house, it turns the XBox into a PVR too!  Microsoft calls this a Media Center Extender, I  have three extenders in my house which means that every TV in the house is a high definition PVR.

For The Kids

netflix_logoSurprisingly, there is very little content on broadcast television for kids these days.  However, kids programming is an area where Netflix really shines.  I picked up an Apple TV 2 for about one hundred dollars and plugged it in to the TV in the basement.  I taught my eight-year old how to use it in about ten minutes, my six-year old still needs a bit of help getting it going.

Netflix is now the kids’ primary source of content, and since they’re using my account I can monitor everything that they watch.

Some Extras:

So there we have it, Cable TV has been completely replaced in our household!  Flush with an extra $60 per month in cash, I find myself a bit more liberal with the entertainment dollar.  I spent an extra $30 to buy simple.tv, which takes everything from my PVR and syncs it to my iPod for business trips.  I bought the entire Scooby Doo box set for about $60 and added it to our DVD collection.  We rent HD movies on the XBox for family movie nights.  My daughter watches Netflix in her room on an iPod Touch.  Overall I’m spending less and getting more for my entertainment dollar.  I count that as a win!

Is it right for you?

This setup works well for my family, but there’s one key difference between my house and most other Canadian households… we don’t really care too much about live sports.  I get all the games I care about including the Stanley Cup, Superbowl (with US commercials!), World Series, and the Olympics.  However if you spend most of your time on TSN or Sportsnet then what I’ve done probably won’t work for you.  I am not aware of any legal way to get those live sports other than cable or satellite.

Where to get more information:

The Digital Home Canada forums are a great place to ask questions and dig in to some more options for cutting the cable.

Over The Air forum

Home Theater PC forum

The Shopping List:

While I would recommend doing a little research to see what’s best for you, I know the reality is that many will just want to know what I’ve got so they can go buy the same thing.  Here’s the full list of what is involved in my setup.

Antenna Installation

Windows Media Center PVR

Media Center Extenders

  • Xbox 360 ($200)
  • Linksys DMA-2100 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)
  • Linksys DMA-2200 (discontinued, find on Kijiji or eBay)

Netflix:

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  1. Glenn
    January 4, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Heh I always enjoy your updates. As would be expected from a doppelganger, I am very similar to you in the technology that I employ regarding TV. I do have a few slight differences though.

    Although I used Snapstream for years, I have now come back into the fold of Microsoft Media Center. The Win 7 version is quite nice and like you, I simply say I live in Buffalo to get the OTA channels. I actually use zip code 14202. I actually used your hack to get the Canadian OTA channels. That was a fine piece of work BTW.

    I too have an ATV2 and have been using Netflix more and more. People give it a bum rap about Canadian content, but I find it comparable to the old ‘favorites’ section in blockbuster. We have found some good movies and TV shows on it.

    The kids occasionally rent XBOX movies and often watch Netflix on them as well. And like a true doppelganger, neither I nor my family is interested in live sports either!

    I looked at the simple.tv program that you had; interesting. Snapstream had that built into it and I used it a bit (transcoding into H.264 then inserting into a rss feed that would supply iTunes with a podcast stream). It worked fine, but I found it irritating as it would begin to overwhelm my iphone with tv shows.

    I have gone a slightly different direction on processing my shows.

    First, I use a powerscript script (WTV-MetaRenamer – http://wtvmetarenamer.codeplex.com/) which reads the metadata of the WTV file and then renames it with the correct season and episode number (the script queries thetvdb.com to find this out and it works quite slick).

    Secondly I then modified the script to then convert the WTV to a dvr-ms file).

    Thirdly I then modified the script to use the CLI function handbrake (best program ever!) to transcode into H.264. I like this as I have full control over how to transcode.

    These first three steps are done with a single script that runs nightly and goes through all new recordings.

    Fourthly, I then use Media Center Master (http://www.mediacentermaster.com/) to automatically see the new H.264 show (properly file-named) and transfer it to my home server while creating external meta-data for it (episode description, thumbnails, fan-art, etc). Again this program goes out to sites like imdb, thetvdb, etc to get all the info; you just need a properly named file (as I did in step 1)

    Finally, I have jailbroken my ATV2 and have XBMC (www.xbmc.org) on it (again best in it’s class and way ahead of the dumb boxee which in my opinion is too flakey). This program then displays all the TV shows in a nice easy to use interface form for the family to view. They use XBMC on the ATV2 all the time.

    Anyhow fun stuff. I love tinkering. I am very happy with my current setup at this time

    Glenn

  2. January 5, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Please do follow up after a few months, Peter, let us know whether streaming via DSL is really able to keep up with demand. Also, I think you need to add things up a bit, I only see a savings of $60/month if you ignore all the costs involved in getting you there. And finally, location is important here … living in London and not Milton means I would not be able to receive 35 channels over the air, I suspect the number would be closer to 12 with 1/2 of them being repeats (Erie and Detroit).

    Still great information and articles! Thanks for sharing!

  3. January 5, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Thanks for the post Pete!

    Now that I have no contracts on my internet and satellite from Bell I can explore some other options. I’m a big live sports watcher though, so I’m thinking I might need more bandwidth and higher speeds so I can watch those on the internets (which I won’t mind paying for).

  4. January 5, 2012 at 9:06 am

    Rough cost comparison assuming you have a PC already:

    OLD Live TV (no PVR) with cable, $60/month
    NEW Live TV (no PVR) using above, $230 startup, $8/month, break even in 5 months

    Cogeco Live TV with 1 PVR, $80/month
    NEW Live TV with 1 PVR, $570 startup, $8/month, break even in 8 months

    Cogeco Live TV with 3 PVRs, $116/month
    NEW Live TV with 3 PVRs, $970 startup, $8/month, break even in 9 months

    • January 5, 2012 at 9:31 am

      Wow, Cogeco sucks 🙂 and as for location, London sucks even worse than I thought, at least if tvfools.com can be trusted. Apparently all US channels “will most likely require extreme measures to try and pick them up” and even CKCO in Kitchener requires a roof-top antenna. Guess I’ll have to wait a few more years out here in the sticks (of central London).

  5. January 5, 2012 at 9:08 am

    On location, yes location matters in this case. You can enter your postal code on tvfool.com to see what channels you can expect to receive via antenna. The Toronto area is particularly well-endowed when it comes to over-the-air options.

  6. January 5, 2012 at 9:12 am

    On DSL internet, I’ve been in this setup for a few months now and have noted the following:
    – My connection is 5 MB/s
    – Kids have successfully watched Netflix simultaneously on both AppleTV and iPod without any complaints
    – We regularly stream HD movies from XBox at 1080p and for the most part it works great
    – My connection is due to go up to 6 MB/s shortly as part of a free upgrade

    So far, so good. The Teksavvy 12 MB/S package is $7 more per month and I may switch if the 6 MB package proves to be too little. I cannot recommend Teksavvy Cable at this time, too many service issues.

  7. Graeme
    January 5, 2012 at 11:18 am

    Have you had any bandwidth cap issues with streaming the Netflix and HD movies?

    With most ISP providers starting to put in more restrictive caps do you see this as a cost issue in the future?

    • January 5, 2012 at 11:34 am

      Just checked my December bandwidth and it was 43 GB including Netflix, some movie downloads, some game downloads. I switched away from traditional internet providers to Teksavvy for just that reason. While I’m *probably* not going to go over the limit, I really don’t feel like getting a nasty surprise. My bandwidth consumption is clearly trending upwards, so Teksavvy is a better fit for me as they have a 300GB cap for *less* than I was paying my old ISP (Cogeco).

  8. Brian
    January 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Regarding your comment about not getting TSN without cable, an acquaintance of mine recently figured out a solution to that by hooking his iPad to the TV. Its Bell mobile TV and I think it costs $5 a month for 5 hours: http://www.bell.ca/Mobility/Products/Mobile_TV
    Maybe not a family-friendly solution like you require, but I thought it was worth a mention for others who are following your story.

  9. August 31, 2013 at 12:10 am

    You forgot to list free legal satellite TV as an option. With a 36 inch dish and an HD FTA satellite receiver, you can receive about 85 English channels with over 10 of those in HD on Ku Band FTA satellite. If you have room for a bigger dish to receive C band FTA satellite, you can get even more with over 200 additional English channels and over 50 of them in HD. All currently available FTA satellite channels are listed at http://fta.channels.drsat.ca

    These channels are unencrypted so they are legally available for free with no monthly subscription and complement nicely the channels you may already receive using an OTA antenna. However unlike OTA, FTA satellite offers near-nationwide coverage which is great for people who have a limited amount of OTA channels available in their area.

  10. Jeremy
    April 4, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    ” I simply told Media Center that I live in the United States at Zipcode 14174″
    Will you be able to get EPG for Canadian Channels such as CTV Global if you do it this way?

  1. April 6, 2014 at 7:45 am

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