More than one million Canadians watch TV with an antenna instead of paying for cable or satellite.
More than one million Canadians choose free TV with an antenna instead of paying a cable or satellite company every month. Many more are thinking about it, based on emails and calls from readers.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) reaffirmed last week that over-the-air TV is here to stay for the foreseeable future. The CRTC said broadcasters must keep the transmitters goingthat send the signals.
As a consumer, when you combine free TV with web-based services, you have a powerful package.
So, if you want to get going, here are answers to common questions:
Is it legal? Absolutely. Pulling down over-the-air signals is as legal as listening to AM and FM radio.
Are antennas expensive? No. A good one can cost under $100. The issue is durability. You can find YouTube videos where the antennas are made from coat hangers and tin foil. They work. A cheap antenna can work as well as an expensive one, but it will weather faster, will not have the same quality parts and will need replacing sooner.
In 2013, Consumer Reports reviewed antennas sold via Amazon and Radio Shack. It found the top-performing antennas were the cheapest.
My twin-bay antenna cost $40 and is almost 2½ years old. It works fine, but Karim Sunderani, who owns saveandreplay.com , a Mississauga antenna distributor, says I’ve made a mistake.
He carries a full range of antennas, but recommends three, all American, two of which, Channel Master and Winegard, have been in the antenna business since the 1950s. (The third is Antennas Direct.) Sunderani says they all use high-quality materials and back the products with a guarantee.
He says good antennas are pretty inexpensive, so it’s worth paying a little more now for less hassle later. He says Oakville (and other communities by the lake) are signal sweet spots. I should get 29 stations, not the current 21, and they shouldn’t come and go. He issued “a clone challenge,” which I’ll take up in the spring: I’ll try one of his cheaper name brands and see if it is actually better.
“If you’re going to the trouble of getting up on your roof, you might as well make sure you only do it once,” says Sunderani who sells about 1,000 antennas a month through his warehouse store and online.
Is installation costly? No. It’s an easy DIY job. A friend and I installed my antenna on our two-storey home in a few hours. All you need is a few simple tools. If you’re reasonably handy it’s not difficult.
You’ll need some coaxial cable to connect the antenna to the TV and a way to run it inside the house. Mine goes into the garage and from there into the family room.
The website xtek.ca gives you the exact antenna angles for the CN Tower and Grand Island, N.Y. based on your postal code.
Not sure you can do it? Go to YouTube and search “over the air TV.”
If you pay someone, it will cost between $300 and $700 all-in. The companies selling the antennas often do installations or can recommend someone. Get a few quotes.
Saveandreplay charges a little under $400 on average. That breaks down as four hours of labour ($275), antenna ($100) and coaxial cable ($15). The service includes a grounding block for lightning (important) and bringing the cable inside with the proper fittings.
Is over-the-air picture quality good ? The transmissions are high definition and may be better than cable. This is because the signal is not being compressed to be distributed through the cable pipe.
How many channels will I get ? It depends. Location does matter. High ground with a clear line of sight to the CN Tower and Grand Island, N.Y., is best. The signal degrades after about 150 kilometres, so cottage country coverage is spotty
My lineup includes CBC, CTV, CHCH, TVOntario, Global and City. The U.S. networks are Fox, NBC, ABC and two PBS stations. There are also several U.S. specialty stations including GRITtv, a U.S. network with action movies and classic TV series.
If you love sports or are a news junkie, this may not be for you. You will not get TSN or Sportsnet. You will not get CNN, CBC News Network or any of the other channels carried on cable or satellite. You may, however, be able to get them another way.
What will I save? Immediately, it is the cost of your cable, less your outlay, in my case $56. My TV was bundled with Internet at Cogeco. I kept the Internet, which went up, but I saved $60 a month on cable at 2012 prices. So far, that’s $1,680.
Where can I learn more? Digitalhome.ca has a good forum. Google the phrase “install + over the air TV.”
In the end, giving up cable or satellite doesn’t mean you have to give up TV. You’re just giving up that monthly bill.