Over The Air TV (OTA) & Antenna Equals Free HD TV Shows

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Over one million Canadians get Over The Air TV (OTA) broadcasting for free using a TV antenna. (Source: thestar.com).  The number sounds like a lot but it only represents less than 3% of the entire population.  In comparison, our friendly neighbours in the US has more than 19% of their population (around 60 million people) using antennas to capture free OTA signal (Source: blog.gfk.com).

There are no obvious reasons for such a big discrepancy in the number of Over The Air  TV antenna users between the two countries.  To make an educated guess, it would be Canadians are doing well financially so there’s no need to cut back our daily expenses.  Another guess is we love our cable providers’ services and prices so much there is no need to shop around.  Yeah right! We’ve shopped around for years for a decently priced cable TV subscription but all cable service providers have one thing in common, best prices are reserved for new customers only.  A loyal customer on the other hand, keeps getting price increase notices year after year.  What gives!?  No wonder we hear people hopping between cable TV companies every six months.  That’s a clever way of saving money.

Basically, the cable TV hoppers spot a good deal from another cable provider and sign up as a new customer, enjoy the promotional price for the first six months, and jump to another provider offering another promotion.  This way, they are always new customers hence eligible for the promotional prices.  We give full marks to this tactic and it could work for you too.

If you prefer the “set it and forget it” approach, try setting up a TV antenna at your place. With the right location and suitable antenna,  you can enjoy watching free TV channels in HD.  If your cable TV bill is currently $80 per month, in 5 years, you would save $4,800 by cutting your cable TV package.  This sum is no pocket change and is a perfect reminder that there ARE ways and alternative to lower your expenses without lowering your standard of living.


What is OTA and how does it work? 

In North America, you can capture TV broadcasting over the airwaves by using an indoor/outdoor TV antenna. Over-the-air (OTA) TV broadcasting is how television was transmitted before cable TV service.  Broadcasters in Canada & US still send their television signals over the air.  You need only a TV antenna and a coaxial cable to capture OTA HDTV channels.  OTA TV signal is free and absolutely legal!  If fact, OTA TV signal has less compression than cable or satellite, so signal transmits better which means better picture quality.


OTA and Canada’s transition to digital TV

Canada officially transitioned into digital OTA signals to save airwave space in 2011. This means in order to watch OTA channels, aside from buying a TV antenna, you will need to have a TV with a built-in tuner. You will need to purchase a digital-to-analog converter box if your TV does not have a built-in tuner. How do you find out if your TV has a built-in tuner? Look for terms such as a digital tuner, integrated tuner or ATSC tuner on your TV owner’s manual.


How do you know if OTA HDTV signal would work for you?

The easiest way to find out if you can get OTA channels is to check your receptions online: you can look up OTA HDTV channels availability in your city (see lower portion of this web page) or search “OTA signal locator” online for sites which provide detailed channel availability by address.  Many variables affect your actual OTA signal reception so please use the signal locator results as guidelines only.  If your location appears to be OTA-friendly according to the OTA signal locator, you can proceed and get a TV antenna to test your reception. For the purpose of testing OTA picture quality and channel reception, an indoor antenna is often more than sufficient. Just make sure you buy the antenna from a reputable store that has a good return policy. This way, you can return it if you are not completely satisfied with your reception. If your TV does not have a built-in tuner, you would need a digital-to-analog converter box in order to see any pictures on your analog TV. In case you need to return the product, don’t rip up the packing while unboxing as it will make your return a lot smoother.


Some steps you should know while testing out your indoor antenna:

  1. Determine which side of the house the OTA signal is coming from (search “OTA signal locator” online).
  2. Connect the antenna to your television and place the antenna next to the wall, window, balcony, etc. that is facing the signal tower at the highest point possible.
  3. Run auto-tuning on your television to search for available OTA signal.
  4. Don’t give up if you can’t get any reception, try placing your antenna at different locations.
  5. If you are lucky, you can get OTA TV channels from major Canadian networks, independent broadcasters, and US networks.

Should you use an indoor or outdoor HDTV antenna?

We recommend putting in the extra effort of installing an outdoor TV antenna.  If installed properly, even a low-end outdoor TV antenna can outperform the best indoor antenna.  An outdoor TV antenna performs better because it has the height advantage.  If you live in a high-rise apartment, your antenna selection may be limited to indoor models.  An outdoor antenna might be too large and unsightly to fit inside an apartment.  You may try to place it on your balcony but bringing the coaxial cable into the room could be a challenge because it involves some kind of drilling (into a concrete wall or metal window frames).  Therefore, your best choice may be a thin antenna that you can attach to your window or wall.

If you live in a house, placing the antenna up in the attic is sufficient sometimes.  However, installing the outdoor antenna on top of your roof or on a very tall pole will yield the best signal reception.  If you would like to get the best OTA signals in different rooms of your house, hiring a professional installer can be a worthy investment.  A professional installer has the special key to open the cable/internet enclosure that is attached on the side of your house.  This enclosure contains all the coaxial cables to different rooms of the house.  After attaching the outdoor TV antenna to the highest point possible, the installer would then use a good quality coaxial splitter and connects the antenna to the rooms you wish to watch television.  Depending on the quality of the outdoor TV antenna and the length of the coaxial cable connecting to your TV, the OTA signal might not be strong enough to support more than two televisions. In such cases, the installer will recommend an antenna amplifier to boost the signal for you.


What you will need to get OTA HDTV Channels:

  • Location with good OTA signal reception.
  • Indoor/outdoor antenna. (see prices here)
  • TV with a built-in tuner or digital-to-analog converter box.
  • Antenna mounting hardware and installation for an outdoor antenna. (Optional).
  • Antenna amplifier (if necessary). (see prices here)

You will appreciate OTA HDTV Channels because:

  • It’s absolutely FREE and legal!
  • Many television broadcasts are in High-Definition.
  • Technically speaking, you get better picture quality and sound than cable or satellite but it won’t be noticeable.
  • Anyone can set up an indoor antenna because it’s super easy!
  • Setup cost can be recovered quickly in most cases if you decide to cut your cord.

You might not appreciate it:

  • OTA signal reception it solely determined by your geographic location so there is a possibility you will get very few or no channels at all.
  • Digital to Analog TV converter box is required if your TV does not have a built-in tuner
  • Initial setup cost is high if professional installation is required (E.g. setting up an outdoor antenna)
  • Signal reception might not be as reliable when compared to cable TV during severe weather conditions.


Citing your potential of saving $5000 in five years in the opening.  We hope you are motivated to look into how to get you own OTA signal. First, find out how many OTA HDTV channels you can get in your area (click here for channel list by city).  If your location appears to be OTA-friendly according to an OTA signal locator website.  You should really consider getting an indoor TV antenna and test out your actual OTA signal reception.  There is really nothing to lose because if you hit the jackpot of getting free & sweet HDTV channels we are sure you won’t look back.  The worst case scenario would simply be returning the antenna and get your money back.  If capturing OTA channels alone cannot satisfy your entertainment appetite or if you simply can’t get any OTA signals, there’s still hope, try Watching Free Movies & TV Shows Online or Use a Slingbox to get Cheap or Free Cable TV.

Photo credit: DL






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