Archive for the ‘TV and Movies’ Category

Cable Cutting Fall 2015 – Goodbye Media Center, Hello Tablo!

September 25, 2015 3 comments

The year was 2003, and frustrated by the terrible state of cable boxes I rushed out to the store andWindows XP MCE bought one of the very first Windows Media Center home theater PCs.  I went deep: tweaking and hacking, community support on message boards, ultimately being invited out to Redmond several times to work with the product team.  Media Center was awesome, but didn’t get the traction it deserved and effectively the platform died after the last major release in Windows 7.  Since that time, I’ve kept my own Media Center setup going because frankly there still wasn’t anything better available in the market.

In the summer of 2014 I came across a little startup in Ottawa called Nuvyyo who had come up with a new concept in their Tablo over-the-air PVR.  I visited the office, met with the CEO, and picked up one of their boxes that makes over-the-air broadcasts as simple as using Netflix.  For a full year I ran Media Center and Tablo in parallel, stayed in touch with the company via their active community page, and rode the wave of rapid iterations as a beta tester.  Last week with the new fall TV season approaching, I finally wiped my old Media Center PC and have put it to new use as a Windows 10 PC.

I am so very close to the goal that I set for myself back in 2011 to cut the cable while still ensuring that content creators get paid.  Put another way – I don’t want to pay for a ridiculously over-scoped cable package, but at the same time I don’t want to steal content.  Tall order.

Today I am happy to report that my entire family can very easily record all of the network television they want and get access to it on any TV in the house or any mobile device anywhere in the world via Tablo.  We can watch every Blue Jays game from anywhere (which in 2015 is a definite must-have) via MLB.TV.  We can get access to thousands of movies and television shows through Netflix, and we can rent first-run movies whenever we want through the many different services on Roku.
Tablo TV Web App

The only real gap here is that we aren’t always online, and I’ve had to hack my way around that a little bit so I can have access to the content I’ve paid for when disconnected – in an airplane, on a road trip with the kids, in a hotel with terrible wifi.  Tablo Ripper pulls recordings off of the Tablo, PlayOn downloads video for personal use from Netflix and other streaming sites, and the iPad app Infuse makes it super-easy to take that content with me when I’m off the grid.  My old Media Center PC has been repurposed to act as the hub for my offline tools where it collects and consolidates as much of the content possible for offline use.

So let’s sum that all up – as of Fall 2015 here is what is driving the Near household’s entertainment:

Antenna:  Channel Master 4221 mounted in the attic
PVR:  Tablo 4-Tuner PVR with WD Elements 2TB hard drive
Set-Top Box:  Roku 2 (Model 4210)
Other Services:  Netflix, MLB.TV
Offline Tools:  PlayOn, Tablo Ripper, Infuse

We’re getting close, but we are still living in a world of content silos.  Content owners are finally opening up to the idea of letting people have access to what they want when they want, but they’re all fighting to be the one place where you go to get that content.  That’s never going to happen, and they’ll wake up to it eventually but for now it’s a hunt-and-peck universe for us consumers and sadly yes it is still easier to steal content than it is to pay for it.  I have a glimmer of hope that the new Apple TV will start to pull some of this together finally through universal search, but it’s a faint glimmer to be honest.

Here’s hoping that the trend continues: that I will be able to pay for the content that I want, that it will become easier to access and consume that content, and that eventually it will be easier to pay for content than it is to steal it.

New TV Season 2013

September 28, 2013 Leave a comment

It’s that time of year, when the broadcast TV industry showcases their latest wares and we the general public get to play a massive game of “hot or not”.  Inevitably there will some winners, many losers, and some shows that fall in the middle. 

In our household, the annual event ends in new series that get a coveted spot on the PVR for one of either myself, Jodie, or sometimes both of us to watch.  Those that end up currying favour with only one of us go into the “when Pete’s on a plane” rotation.  My coworker Paul insisted, I say again insisted, that I post the ongoing results to the blog.  Hover over the thumbs for short commentary.


Premiere Date Show



September 16 Sleepy Hollow Meh, could be entertaining on my next business trip. Sleepy, and hollow.
September 17 Dads Went into this with very low expectations, it wasn't as bad as I expected.  Probably won't stick with it though, it's not that good. We'll see...
September 17 Brooklyn 99

Acting so bad, it could be on the CBC

Really bad SNL skit.

September 20 Last Man Standing

Elevator pitch: Let's remake Home Improvement, but make it terrible.  Yeah, let's do that!

It just... sucks

September 23 Hostages

No way this deserves to be a series.  Maybe a direct to DVD movie... maybe.

Good idea for a movie, not a TV series

September 23 Mom

Not my thing

September 23 The Blacklist

Upgraded, I've decided I like this oneUpgraded, I've decided I like this one

September 24 Agents of Shield

Big fan, like the premise and the not-too-serious tone of the show.Big fan, like the premise and the not-too-serious tone of the show.

Yeah, Jodie didn't even watch it but I'm confident in the thumbs down rating.

September 24 Trophy Wife    
September 24 Lucky 7

And... canceled

And... canceled

September 24 The Goldbergs    
September 25 Back in the Game Just didn't grab me  
September 26 The Michael J Fox Show

Hmm, this one's on the bubble now.  Will probably keep watching because of my work connection to Betsy Brandt.

Michael J Fox still looks the same as he did in my BOP magazine

September 26 The Crazy Ones

Too much Robin Williams being... Robin Williams

September 27 Masterchef Junior

Big Masterchef fans, and wow are these kids good!Big Masterchef fans, and wow are these kids good!

These kids can cook! Makes me hungry.These kids can cook! Makes me hungry.

September 30 We Are Men    
October 2 Ironside    
October 2 Super Fun Night Super dumb night
October 3 Welcome to the Family    
October 3 The Millers And, no. And, no.
October 3 Sean Saves the World Holy laugh track Batman! Holy laugh track Batman!
November 4 Almost Human  

It hasn't even aired yet, and it's a thumbs down from Jodie.

November 8 Enlisted    



Thumbs_Up_Down – Yeah, that’s not happening.  Delete!

Thumbs_Up_Down – Okay, I’ll give it a few more episodes to earn its keep

Thumbs_Up_DownThumbs_Up_Down – This could be a keeper!


You’ll note some shows that are missing, and they’re likely in one of these “not a chance we’re gonna watch that” categories:

  • Anything to do with vampires (there are a few)
  • Spinoff of something that we don’t watch
  • Premium cable only (we cut the cable years ago)
Categories: TV and Movies

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, 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)


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 to get a more detailed report.

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 26 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: More help and info on over-the-air antennas and reception in Canada 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

      Free HDTV across Canada starting August 31

      August 11, 2011 16 comments

      Following years of dutifully paying our cable and satellite bills, most Canadians have forgotten that TV in this country used to be free.  Back in the good-old-days you’d pick up that nice wooden-cabinet television from Sears, extend the rabbit ears, and be good to go.

      6RABBITEARS2-articleLargeWell those old TV signals are still flying around in the airwaves, but come the end of this month they’re all about to get a shot of 21st-century steroids that actually leapfrogs the HD quality that you’re getting from your cable company.

      Here’s a quick FAQ that will help you get started with the free digital TV in your area.

      What channels will I get?

      The number of channels varies by your location, but there’s a great website that will let you know what you’ll be able to receive at your home.  Click here and enter your address into TVFool, and on the next page choose “pending” to see what the world will look like on August 31.  Everything in green you’ll get with rabbit ears, everything in yellow by putting an antenna in your attic, and if you’ve got an old antenna tower from the 70s still attached to the outside of your house then you can expect to get pretty much every channel on the list.

      A few sample locations that I know at least a few of my readers will find interesting…

      Toronto-Area Free HDTV

      Waterloo Free HDTV

      Ottawa Free HDTV

      image image image

      Will it be all staticky like when I was a kid?

      No.  With the switch to digital you either get the channel in full high-definition dolby digital glory, or you don’t get it at all.

      Why would I use an antenna instead of cable?

      The financial factor: Cable bills continue to rise, and many people will see this as an opportunity to re-evaluate whether you really need to pay $100 a month for TV service.  In many cases you’ll get all the content you’d normally watch without a monthly fee.

      Picture quality: Cable and satellite companies compress the high-definition channels so that they can fit more channels into their lineup.  Antenna channels are compressed as well, but not nearly as much and the quality is noticeable.

      Portability: The HD you get through your cable company is encrypted, and only works when connected to your cable box.  Antenna channels are not encrypted, and can be recorded to a PVR , streamed around your house, or copied to your iPad to watch on the train.

      Is this legal?

      Yes.  Television has been broadcast over the air for years, and this transition to free, over-the-air digital TV is mandated by the Canadian government.

      Ok I’m sold, what do I need?

      Pretty much every HDTV sold since 2005 has included a digital tuner (called an ATSC tuner), so all you need to do is plug an antenna into your TV.  To try things out, you could get a small indoor antenna like this one and see what you get.  Personally, I put a slightly larger antenna (about the size of a pizza-pizza box) in my attic.  If you’re feeling handy, you can even build an excellent-quality antenna yourself.

      Really, is that what you do Pete?

      Well no, because I’m a bit nerdy things in my house are somewhat more sophisticated.  I have that antenna in the attic plugged in to a tuner that’s connected to my network.  I then use a free program in Windows 7 called media center as my PVR.  I have little media center extenders (or an Xbox) attached to all of the TVs in the house so that the PVR works on any and every TV.  Finally, I sync all of my TV shows to my iPod and iPad for when I travel.  (You can do something similar on the Mac using a program called EyeTV)

      In Conclusion…

      It really is as simple as plugging some rabbit ears into your HDTV, but as you probably gathered from that last answer there’s a ton of cool stuff you can do with this if you’re so inclined.  If you want to learn more about how the sausage is made, I’d recommend checking out the OTA forums or the Home Theater PC forums at Digital Home Canada.  If you just want to enjoy the tasty free sausage, there’s nothing to lose by picking up a little antenna from your local electronics store and plugging it in to your TV.  Keep the receipt, you can always take it back if it’s not for you.