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Cutting the Cable in Canada – 2015 Update

April 6, 2014 9 comments

I’m starting to see the cord-cutting conversation move from the geeky niches of the country into more of the mainstream, and given how fast things change in this space it’s time for me to provide an update on the state of things in Canada.

This story has been told before, back when Napster took off and changed people’s expectations about how they get access to music.  The industry wanted you to buy the old way (dropping $15+ on the album at your local retailer), people wanted to buy a new way (only buying the songs they want, and listening to them however they please).  While the industry fought to keep things the way they were, the pirates made it easier and more convenient to steal.  It became easier to steal music than it was to pay for it.  Eventually, the industry was forced to give in and now thrives on new models that allow people to pay for the music they want.

Fast-forward to today, and we are seeing very much the same story with television.  Cable companies have grown the monthly bill to a point where people no longer see value in paying too much for just the small amount of content they want.  The industry is fighting to hang on to that old model, and the pirates have made it easier and more convenient to steal.  Most content is locked up in the all-too-expensive cable bill, what isn’t locked up in cable is spread across too many exclusive and hard-to-navigate apps.  It is now easier to steal content than it is to pay for it.

I believe that if people can pay for content they will, and that’s been my view on cord-cutting.  I have taken the approach in the past that I will only write about options where money flows to the artists who made the content, and have not written about the more shady options for cutting the cord via theft.  However, now that these conversations seem to be going more mainstream I’m genuinely concerned about the general public getting misleading advice on cord-cutting and want to take some time to talk about all of the options to ensure that the dialogue is out in the open.  If you’re what I call tech-curious but not quite tech-savvy, here are the options you’re likely to bump into in 2015.

Option #1 – Antenna and Netflix

Back in the day, you would connect your television to the rabbit ears and pull in that snowy picture from your local network.  The experience wasn’t very good, which is why cable became so popular in the 80s as a way to deliver a consistently sharp picture where antenna could not.  What you might not know however is that the TV antennas are still out there, and they’ve been modernized to deliver crisp HD quality that is often better than what you get on cable.

Indeed, antenna (also called over-the-air or OTA for short) is a great option for cord-cutters and there are a few interesting devices on the market now that will let you record all of your network television alongside streaming options like Netflix.

image

The Tivo Roamio, while a bit pricey, would be top of my list of boxes to try out if you’re looking to get started down this path.  I personally use a PVR from a company based out of Ottawa called Tablo TV which is very app-friendly and gets the Canadian experience right (not always a given for products that are born and raised in the United States).  Finally ChannelMaster which has been in the antenna game for years has their DVR+ box as another option.

Any of these devices, plus a whole host of other do-it-yourself options, will give you access to the majority of the content you might want.  Live TV for big sports events, PVR for first-run TV series, and a vast catalog of older television shows and movies via Netflix.

Is it for me:  check your address on tvfool to see what channels you can get, and see if that’s good enough for you.  The biggest drawback I hear from sports fans is that you don’t get access to all the games you would find on SportsNet or TSN.

Is it legal:  100% legal, yes

How much does it cost:  Assume $500 for the antenna professionally installed, Tivo costs $200 with a $15/month fee, Tablo costs $250 with a $5/month fee, Channel Master DVR+ costs $250 with no monthly fee.  Netflix costs $8/month.

What are the risks:  With over-the-air, there is a risk of poor signal which looks similar to a DVD with scratches.  A professional installer can help minimize this risk.  There is also a risk that Netflix may cause you to exceed your internet capacity, but most internet packages available today will be just fine (with the exception of a lite or rural wireless internet package).

Option #2 – Internet Streamer with geo-unlocking

Internet streamers have become quite popular, the biggest players being Roku, AppleTV, and most recently Amazon FireTV.  In all cases, they’ll give you access to Netflix and some sort of movie-rental service.  There are also some good options to buy apps for MLB baseball, NHL Hockey, and MLS Soccer.

Here’s the rub with the internet streamers though – once it identifies that you’re geographically located in Canada the content available to purchase really drops.  For that reason, many people with internet streamers also pair them up with a geo-unlocking service that can make you appear to be coming from somewhere else in the world.  A good geo-unlocker like unblock-us can let you get access to BBC content from the UK, vastly better Netflix content from the US and the rest of the world, and will take care of annoying local blackouts on the sports apps.

Personally, I use an AppleTV which has the added ability to do what is called “AirPlay”.  Basically, if you can get something on your iPad or iPhone then you can send it to your TV with one tap.  Between the apps that are natively on the streamer and the apps on my iPad, there is a good selection of content available to be streamed.

Is it for me:  If you’re not that into first-run TV series, and are looking mostly for movies or rerun television then yes I’d say an internet streamer will work for you. Also the best option for live hockey, baseball, and soccer (at a price of course).

Is it legal:  The streamer itself is legal yes, but the geo-unlocking service is a gray area.  It’s like cross-border shopping – you can get better selection, better prices, but at the same time you might be depriving a Canadian company of the opportunity to make money.

How much does it cost:  Expect to pay about $100 for a streamer (there are many options), $5/month for a good geo-unlocker.

What are the risks:  Content providers are constantly changing what you have access to.  Some iPad apps block you from displaying on a TV, some television apps have been forcing you to enter your cable bill info before you can get access.  It’s for this reason I recommend this if you’re not that into first-run TV shows, frankly it can be a bit of a pain in the butt to watch first-run TV on a streamer.  Also pay attention to your internet data caps, you’re starting to get into the territory where there is real risk of going over your cap and your ISP starts to charge you extra.  Consider alternate internet providers with better caps like Start or Teksavvy.

Option #3 – Illegal Online Streaming

The illegal online streams are easy to find, and they are also highly risky.  You’re likely to come across them if you search for something like “watch game of thrones online”, which will take you to any number of sites that have links to streaming versions online.  What you’ll also notice are things like porn advertisements, links to get you to go to other sites, or the forced install of some sort of software.  In most cases, these are very bad and they are trying to make a quick buck by forcing you into advertising loops or worse by hijacking your computer for any number of nefarious purposes.

There are also a handful of streaming sites that are popping up with a subscription fee, like hockeystreams.com.  While I have less safety concerns about these types of offshore-run services, have no doubt about it that these are selling you illegal content.

The moral of the story with illegal internet streams:  Seems too good to be true?  It probably is…

Is it for me:  Is free content more important to you than your privacy or having someone install something that will keep track of the next time you log in to your online banking?  Then illegal online streams are for you.

Is it legal:  There is no gray here, this is illegal

How much does it cost:  Generally free.

Risks:  Real risk of getting some sort of virus or theft of data from your computer.  Content quality varies quite a bit, and what you click on might not get you what you’re expecting.

Option #4 – Pirating Platforms

This is the one that gives me the most heartburn, because too many people think that these are legal.  You’ll hear terms like BitTorrent, CouchPotato, Sickbeard and XBMC which by themselves are not illegal, however in this context they’re usually being used to get access to illegal content.  What is most challenging here is that these are the platforms that are doing a good job at delivering what people prefer – an easy to use, professional-looking app to get access to content you actually want.  If only the content owners would design something similar they’d probably make a fortune.  Alas, they prefer to stick to their old ways and so it’s the pirates that have the better platform.  I’ve seen all-in-one boxes like LibertyTV become this generation’s “unlocked cable box”, where anyone can buy something that is so easy it looks legit.

Be aware though, regardless of how polished things look it is still illegal.  The geeks that created these platforms are in a constant game of cat and mouse with the content owners.  While there might be technical ways to cover your tracks, I can virtually guarantee that the majority of “average” people who are using these things are being tracked.  You are stealing, you are stealing quite openly, your IP address is on a list somewhere ready to be used if and when someone wants to sue you.  Yes, there are limits on damages and yes there are still court battles to be fought but do you really want to be a potential test case?

Is it for me:  Are you okay building a record of multiple legal infractions?

Is it legal:  No.

How much does it cost:  While there are do-it-yourself options, a pre-built XBMC box costs about $200-300

Risks:  Aside from the legal discussion above, you should also be aware that because of the cat and mouse nature of pirated content it is highly likely that this will just stop working at some point and will require regular tweaking from a technical geek to keep it up to date.

Conclusion

We are at a transition point with television delivery, and I am confident that some day in the not-too-distant future there will be a way for good honest people to spend their money on the content they love.  The reality is that today is not that day, if you want to legitimately get access to content then you’ll either have to pay your cable company for content you don’t want or you’ll have to work extra hard to find legitimate ways to buy content from across multiple silos.

Some will choose to bypass all of the complexity that the old industry has erected and simply steal the content instead.  I don’t want to be someone who promotes that approach, but I figure that if you were going to steal anyways then this article isn’t going to change your mind.  The conversations are happening, and often with misleading information about the legality of the options.  I hope that a fully open conversation about the options does help to educate those who are just now thinking about cutting the cable, so that your eyes are wide open if someone holds your hand and takes you down a path that might get you into trouble with the law.

As I said at the beginning, this story has been told before and I am confident that eventually, it will have the same ending.

The fine print:  This discussion is very limited to options that I see come up in conversation with the tech-curious.  Yes I know about new option x, and that linux option y, and the super-nerdy option z.  I’ve made assumptions here which I know are likely to cause “yeah, but” type arguments with the tech-savvy crowd.  There are plenty of places where you can go for details and fine-grained arguments and legal use cases for the tech-savvy.  Feel free to point those out in the comments.

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Categories: Canada, Cutting Cable

Missing Guide Data from Windows Media Center–Workaround

January 16, 2013 22 comments

It appears that there is a widespread issue causing certain channels to have no guide data in Windows Media Center.  The ball is pretty clearly in Microsoft’s court, but as far as I can tell there are no more players on team Media Center so I expect this one to take a while to fix.

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Like me, many Canadians set up Media Center using a nearby US zip code to enable all of the high-definition TV features.  Unfortunately it seems that the zip code closest to Toronto has been particularly hard hit by this bug.

I’ve updated my Media Center hack to help work around this issue by running a single batch file.  Full updated instructions and zip file are located at the Windows Experts wiki here.

Essentially, this will supplement your buggy US listings with additional listings from Canadian cable and satellite providers.  Canadian providers tend to carry lots of US stations as well, so this may also be a decent workaround for some of our friends to the south.

Early reports from users at Digital Home Canada indicate that this workaround has been successful for everyone who has implemented it.

Finally, I’ve logged the bug with Microsoft (click here).  Please vote it up and mark “I can too” stating that you are able to reproduce the bug as well.  This might help to speed up the official fix.

Categories: Canada, Media Center

Rabbit Ears Can Save Your Super Bowl Party

January 31, 2012 1 comment

I am not a sports fanatic, but a long-running tradition in my house is the annual dusting off of the deep fryer to nosh on some home-made wings, take in a great game of football and enjoy some even better commercials.

football-tv-screenNo offense to your Super Bowl party, but the Super Bowl is just better at my house.  Yes, the deep fryer adds a certain “I don’t know what”, but the real star is the antenna.  My cheap little antenna lets my guests watch the Super Bowl the way it was meant to be seen, in full high definition glory with the proper big-budget commercials to entertain us between plays.

The typical Canadian Super Bowl experience works like this:

  • Local cable company gets the HD feed from the US
  • They remove the US commercials and insert (usually unfunny) Canadian ads
  • They compress the picture quality so they can jam more channels onto your cable
  • You get a sub-par Super Bowl experience

In previous years you *might* have gotten away with tuning into the US high definition channel on cable, but not this year.  With all of Canada now digital, the cable networks are required by law to show you the Canadianized broadcast regardless of which channel you tune.

Don’t Panic.  There is time to correct this injustice before everyone shows up to your house for the big game and finds out how you allowed the cable company deprive them all of the full Super Bowl experience.  I’ll tell you how.

For starters, you’ll need a high definition television.  Every HDTV sold since 2007 includes an over-the-air HD tuner.

Next, you’ll need to be within broadcasting distance of an NBC affiliate.  You can check your specific address at TVFool and see if NBC is on the list but if you’re in the Toronto, Montreal, or Windsor areas then the answer is likely yes.

StealthHawkFinally, you’ll need an antenna.  If you’re handy, then you can build your own with just some wire and a couple parts you can get at Home Depot.  If you’re like me however (handy with the wings but less so with the home improvements) then you’ll want to buy an antenna. Given that time is short, I’d recommend stopping by Save and Replay in Mississauga to get a good antenna which will cost you about $50.  I cannot recommend any of the antennas you’re likely to find at Best Buy or Walmart.

Plug the antenna into your TV, point it in the general direction of the United States, and you should be able to enjoy the Super Bowl as it was intended.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you can install the antenna in the attic for even better reception.

Enjoy the Super Bowl!

Categories: Canada, Cutting Cable

Cutting the cable in Canada–Conclusion (Part 8)

January 4, 2012 13 comments

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:

TV Options For Your Canadian University Dorm Room

August 30, 2011 5 comments

It’s back-to-school time, and across the country students are packing up their stuff to settle into a dorm room for the next ten months.  Having lived in a university dormitory for four years myself, I know that getting TV into your room is always top of mind on move-in day.  Until recently it was a futile effort in most schools, but this year things are different.

Over The Air

TERK INDOOR  HDTV AMPLIFIED ANTENNAStarting September 1, the airwaves surrounding our country’s colleges and universities will be overflowing with free high-definition digital TV.  You’ll need an antenna to pull in these signals, and based on research I recommend the Terk HDTVa for your dorm-room window.

You can simply plug the antenna into a small HDTV and you’re good to go.  However, since you likely already have a laptop in the dorm room you might want to use that instead.  For a Windows laptop, I’d recommend going completely wireless with the HDHomerun3 tuner and a fast 802.11N wifi router.  Once you’ve got the tuner set up, you can use Windows Media Center (included in Windows 7) to watch Live TV or Record TV using the PVR functionality.  If you’re running a Mac, you can get the same tuner bundled with the EyeTV software which also lets you watch TV on your iPhone.  For a little less money, the Hauppauge 950Q is a well-regarded and tiny USB tuner.

See the table at the bottom of the article for what you can expect to receive from your dorm room at some of the schools around the country.

 

Internet TV

Most of the major Canadian networks make their primetime shows available on the Internet.  Quality isn’t nearly as good as you’ll get over the air but you can’t beat the convenience (assuming your dorm-room connection is fast enough for streaming video).  While you can go to each of their individual websites, I recommend using an app called Boxee. With Boxee, you get all of the shows nicely organized like an Internet PVR without all the clicking.  You can install Boxee on your laptop or if you can get a little Boxee Box to plug in to your TV.
Boxee TV LIbrary
BBT Listbbt_episode_ctvbbt_playing

 

Summing it all up…

When I was working in the dorms, the game was trying to steal cable from the lounge (which never worked BTW, at least not on my watch).  With the availability of Over-The-Air high definition TV and Internet TV there’s no reason to run afoul of your RA’s wire cutters any more.

The table below summarizes the channels you can expect to get with an indoor antenna at the more prominent (according to Macleans) schools across the country.  You can always check your exact address at tvfool.com to get a more detailed report.

CBC SRC Global CTV CTV2 CITY OMNI Other
McGill Star Star Star Star TVA, TQ, Metro, V, CBS, NBC, PBS
University of Toronto Star Star Star Star Star Star TVO, OMNI2, SUN, CHCH, CW, CTS
University of BC Star Star Star Star Star Star Star MeTV, KBCB, CHEK, PBS
University of Alberta Star Star Star Star Star Star CTS,
Queen’s University CBS, PBS, ABC
McMaster University Star Star Star Star, Star Star CHCH, CTS, TVO, OMNI2, SUN
Dalhousie University Star Star Star
University of Calgary Star Star Star Star Star CTS
Western Star Star Star SUN, OMNI2, CTS, TVO, CHCH
University of Saskatchewan Star Star
University of Ottawa Star Star Star Star Star Star Star TQ, TVO, TVA, V, CHCH, SUN, CTS, OMNI2
Laval Star Star TVA, TQ
University of Montreal Star Star Star Star TVA, TQ, V, Metro, CBS, NBC, PBS
Sherbrooke Star Star TVA, V
University of Manitoba Star Star Star Star Star JoyTV
Simon Fraser University Star Star Star Star Star Star Star MeTV,KBCB, PBS, JoyTV, CHEK
University of Victoria Star Star Star MeTV, JoyTV, KBCB, PBS, CHEK
University of Waterloo Star Star TVO
University of Guelph Star Star TVO, CHCH
Memorial University Star NTV
University of New Brunswick Star Star
Carleton Star Star Star Star Star Star TQ, TVO, TVA, V, CHCH, SUN, CTS, OMNI2
University of Windsor TVO, CBS, PBS, MyTV, ABC, Fox, NBC, WADL, CW, TCT, DTN
University of Regina Star Star Star Star
York University Star Star Star Star Star Star TVO, OMNI2, SUN, CHCH, CW, CTS
Concordia University  Star Star Star Star TVA, TQ, V, Metro, CBS, NBC
UQAM  Star Star Star Star TVA, TQ, V, Metro, CBS, NBC
Mount Allison Star Star
Acadia University
University of Northern BC
University of Lethbridge Star Star Star Star Star Star CTS
Wilfrid Laurier University Star Star TVO
Trent University Star
St. Francis Xavier
Bishop’s University TVA
University of PEI Star Star Star
University of Winnipeg Star Star Star Star Star JoyTV
St Mary’s University Star Star Star
Lakehead University Star Star TVO
University of Ontario Institute of Technology Star Star Star Star Star Star TVO, OMNI2, SUN
Brock University Star Star Star Star Star Star TVO, CHCH, CTS, CW, SUN
Laurentian University
St. Thomas University Star Star
Brandon University
Ryerson Star Star Star Star Star Star TVO, OMNI2, SUN, CHCH, CW, CTS
Mount Saint Vincent Star Star Star
Universite de Moncton Star Star Star
Cape Breton University
Nipissing University CBS, ABC, 3ABN

The Canadian Digital TV Switch – Myth vs Fact

August 30, 2011 1 comment

News reports, advertisements, and telemarketers are operating at full speed with the transition from analog to digital TV transmission just a couple of days away.  The misinformation is driving me absolutely nuts, so I wanted to take a minute to clear up some myths I’ve been hearing.

Myth: On August 31, your rabbit ears will stop working
Fact: On August 31, your rabbit ears will continue to work but instead of fuzzy analog TV you’ll now get crisp high definition digital TV

Myth: If you get your TV via antenna today, you need to switch to cable or satellite
Fact: If you get your TV via antenna today, your newer HDTVs will get more channels tomorrow. If you have an older TV, a relatively cheap digital TV converter is all you need

Myth: The only way to get a HDTV signal is through cable or satellite
Fact: All TVs sold today include a digital tuner for free over-the-air HDTV

Myth: Over the air TV is dead in Canada
Fact: There has never been a better time to get your TV by antenna.  The majority of Canadians can get the majority of their TV programming for free using an antenna. Toronto residents can expect to get 25+ channels of digital TV from all the major networks, 30+ in Montreal, 15+ in Vancouver, and the list goes on.

Myth: The CRTC is forcing cable companies to switch from analog to digital
Fact: Many cable companies are choosing to switch entirely to digital, but that is entirely their choice and has nothing to do with the over-the-air switch or government mandates.

The digital switch is a good-news story, and an opportunity for Canadians to re-think that $100 (or more) cable bill now that most of the TV they watch is available in high-definition for free.  I’ve written additional in-depth articles that will help you determine what channels you can get at your home, and some instructions on how to install your own antenna for less than what some people pay for one month of cable.

I’ve noticed this week that there are plenty of unscrupulous telemarketers, uninformed salesmen, and headline-seeking news outlets who are using this digital transition to serve a different agenda.  For just the raw facts, the Government of Canada’s digital transition website is the place to go.

Enjoy the new world of HDTV coming to Canada, I know I will!

Categories: Canada, TV and Movies

Installing an attic antenna for free HDTV in Canada

August 11, 2011 23 comments

On August 31 2011, the Canadian airwaves will light up with new free HDTV signals from your local television stations.  In order to take advantage of these signals you’ll want a good quality antenna to pull in the signals.

The best option is to install an antenna on your roof, but if you’re like me then there are a few reasons why this might not happen:

  1. My wife (and likely neighbours) doesn’t want an ugly antenna sticking out of my roof
  2. I’m not comfortable working on the roof myself
  3. I’m too cheap to pay someone to do it for me (about $250 labour to install)
    The next best thing to an outdoor antenna is to install an antenna in your attic, which is actually quite easy to do.  I’ll walk you through the basics.

    What you’ll need (expect to spend about $150):

    A good-quality antenna:

    • See the chart over at Digital Home Canada for the latest recommendations
    • The CM4221 was my choice because it can grab fringe channels from Buffalo and will fit through my attic hatch
    • Note that you’ll need to match the antenna to the channels you plan to receive and there are a few odd ducks out there that will be tough to match to an attic-sized antenna (I’m lookin’ at you Global TV on channel 6 in Paris, Ontario)

    A pole to mount it to:

    • Personally I used some cheap PVC conduit from Home Depot

    A pre-amplifier:

    • This is only necessary if you plan to split the signal to multiple TVs, but a pre-amp is a good investment as it amplifies the signal right at the antenna before any signal gets lost in the cable or splitters
    • See the chart over at Digital Home Canada for the latest recommendations. 
    • The Winegard AP-4700 was my choice as I didn’t want to over-amplify the signal and at the time I only needed UHF channels 14 and up.

    Coax cable:

    • RG6 grade is the way to go here, which is available at Home Depot in bulk
    • You’ll also need a way to put screw-ends on the coax, which usually involves a special cutter and crimper which is also available at Home Depot (I’m happy to lend my compression crimpers out to local friends and colleagues)
    • Look in the telecom section for good quality stuff, not the TV cables section which is where Home Depot puts the cheap junk

    Step 1 – Mount the antenna

    Find a spot in the attic that is relatively easy to access.  Use conduit clamps (also at Home Depot) to mount the pole vertically between rafters.  Use a level to ensure the pole is straight.

    Mount the antenna to the pole following the manufacturer’s instructions, as high as is possible.  The CM4221 is a simple U-bolt that you loosen via a couple of nuts.

    Step 2 – Run the cable

    Figure out how you’re going to run a cable from your antenna to its ultimate destination (likely the TV).

    Here’s how I did it:

    • Found a cold-air return duct that ran from the ceiling of the top floor all the way down to the basement. 
    • Popped off the cover from the vent, and drilled a hole upwards into the attic
    • Stuck a coat hanger through the hole so that I could find it through the insulation
    • In the attic, use electrical tape to attach the coax cable to the coat hanger, then pulled it through into the duct.
    • Pull the cable through until I felt it hit bottom in the basement
    • Asked a buddy to jiggle the cable while I located it by sound in the basement
    • Cut a relatively large opening into the cold air return duct with tin snips to locate the cable, then pulled it through into the basement
    • Stapled the cable into place in the basement, ultimately ending near where the rest of the coax comes into the house (generally near your electrical box)
    • Closed up the cold air vent with the sheet metal I had cut out and some aluminum tape
    • Sealed all the holes with caulk
      Step 3 – Connect the antenna

    • Connect the balun (the little adapter the converts two wires into coax) to the antenna
    • Using a small piece of coax, connect the balun to the antenna side of the preamp
    • Connect the long piece of coax to the power supply side of the preamp
    • Back in the basement, connect the long coax to the power supply that came with the preamp.
    • Connect another length of coax from the preamp power supply to a splitter, and ultimately to the TVs you wish to connect (you can probably re-use the cables already in your home that were put there for Cable TV).

    Step 4 – Adjust the antenna

    • Using maps on TVFool, figure out in which direction the TV stations are broadcasting from, and point your antenna in that general direction.
    • The next set of steps is mostly trial and error, and you’ll likely need a helper. 
    • Pick one of the channels from your TVFool report that is relatively low on the list, we’re going to try to point the antenna optimally to bring in that hard-to-get channel. 
    • Tune your HDTV to that channel (you may have to run a channel scan first), and set the TV to signal strength mode. 
    • Try adjusting the antenna left or right until you get the best signal strength. 
    • Once you’ve got that hard-to-get channel working, check the signal strength on the other channels to ensure they’re coming in strong.  If not, you may have to keep tweaking until you find a happy medium for all the channels.
    • Nerd tip: If you’re using the HDHomerun3 network tuner (highly recommended), there is an iPad app called Signal GH that makes quick work of pointing the antenna.  Maps, compass, and signal strength all on your iPad
      Step 5 – Enjoy!
      That’s about it, you should now have access to all of the free HDTV signals that are flying through the air here in Canada.
      I’ve included a couple photos below of my setup to help you visualize.  You may notice that I actually chose to stack two Channel Master 4221 antennas in the attic, which helps me to pull in some of the more challenging channels from Buffalo.

      Stacked 4221 antennas in the attic Stacked 4221 antennas in the attic

      Additional Resources:

      Digitalhome.ca: More help and info on over-the-air antennas and reception in Canada

      TVFool.com: Tools to help you figure out the channels available in your area

      Save ‘n Replay: Canadian online retailer that sells over-the-air supplies

      Media Center and HDTV: Instructions to set up Windows 7 as a HDTV PVR