Over the Air or OTA digital television signals as they are sometimes referred to as, have only become available in Canada since September 2011. This was the date that most broadcasters in the larger cities in Canada were legislated to begin transmitting their television signals digitally. The cities that are included in this switch are:
- British Columbia: Vancouver and Victoria
- Alberta: Calgary, Edmonton, Lloydminster and Lethbridge
- Saskatchewan: Regina and Saskatoon
- Manitoba: Winnipeg
- Ontario: Toronto (including Barrie and Hamilton), London, Windsor, Kitchener and Thunder Bay
- Quebec: Montreal, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, Sherbrooke, Rivière-du-Loup, Saguenay and Rouyn-Noranda/Val d’Or
- New Brunswick: Saint John, Moncton and Fredericton
- Nova Scotia: Halifax
- Prince Edward Island: Charlottetown
- Newfoundland and Labrador: St. John’s
- National Capital Region (Ottawa-Gatineau)
If you live in one of these cities and have a television with a digital tuner you are likely able to pick up a number of High Definition television signals free of charge right now.
There are a number of websites that can help you determine which stations are available at your specific location, one of these is TV Fool. By inputting your address, the site will produce a report listing all of the stations transmitting in your area along with information on their signal strengths and directionality relative to your location. The signal strength of a station at a given location provides an indication of how difficult it is to pick up the station at that location. If the signal strength is high enough, the station could be picked even with a simple “set-top” antenna. As the signal strength gets reduced, the antenna required to pick up the station has to be bigger and placed progressively higher – first in the attic and then on the roof. When the signal strength is lower it also becomes important to aim the antenna towards the transmitter to improve its reception. Depending on the stations that you are interested in, you can then use this report to determine the best type of antenna, its placement and directionality necessary to pick up these stations.
There are various suppliers of antenna with websites that can help you to choose the best antenna for your particular location, a couple of these are OTA Canada and Save and Replay. There are also community fora that can provide useful tips and practical experience for do-it-your-selfers (e.g. OTA Reception Forum). If you search around the web you can find a number of sites that tell you how you can make your own antenna. I found a particularly good design that is actually made out of 6 coat hangers, you can find this design here. With this antenna located in my attic, I ran coaxial cable to the room where my television was located and connected it to the antenna input. After switching the input to antenna, I choose an automatic digital scan and the tuner in my television slowly went through the process of searching for available stations. Most modern television sets also provide a signal strength meter that is helpful in finding the best location and direction for your antenna. After some trial and error I was able to pick up all 13 of the local digital channels (e.g. CBC English and French, CTV, CITY-TV, Global – although with a bit of difficulty, OMNI 1 and 2 and others) that are being broadcast in the Ottawa area.
Depending on your preferences, using an inexpensive antenna you may be able to view all of your favourite programs at no cost. In addition, depending on which area you live in, it may even be possible to get access to a TV guide listing the programs on the OTA stations in your area (e.g. TV guide for Ottawa). In combination with a streaming service such as Netflix or other on-line content providers it may be possible for you to totally eliminate the need for a cable or satellite connection, saving you hundreds of dollars per year. So if you have a simple antenna and digital tuner on your TV there is no reason not to give this a try yourself.