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ThE MaStEr

Goodbye cable, hello free TV



According to a recent Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission report, the average cable television subscriber in Canada spent $1,139.77 in 2009, or just about $95 a month for television programming.

In 2010, those bills could climb to more than $100 a month thanks to recent rate increases from big cable providers such as Shaw, Rogers and Videotron.


For the average adult Canadian who watches an estimated 1,500 hours of television annually, cable and satellite television provides excellent entertainment value, but what if you're a person who doesn't watch a lot of television and would like to reduce – or even eliminate – your sizable monthly cable bill?

You could do what thousands of visitors to the Digital Home website have done over the last few years and cancel cable, buy a TV antenna and watch free over-the-air television.

Over-the-Air (OTA) television signals, sometimes referred to as terrestrial or conventional television signals, are radio waves transmitted from towers to antennas mounted on homes or to small set top antennas. OTA broadcasting dates back to the very beginnings of television. In this country, the first analogue television broadcasts were sent out by the CBC on September 6th, 1952. Until the advent of cable television, over-the-air signals were the only way to watch television.

Beginning in the 1960's and continuing into the 70's and 80's, Canadian consumers began switching to cable television thanks to better picture quality and the availability of more channels. In recent years, more than 90 per cent of households in many Canadian cities subscribed to cable or satellite.

While virtually dead 10 years ago, OTA television has had a renaissance in North America over the last few years after governments in Canada and the United States legislated conventional television broadcasters switch their mode of signal transmission from 1950's era analogue to 21st century digital. In the United States, the switch from analogue to digital signals occurred in 2009. In Canada, the switch from analogue to digital television is slated for August 31st, 2011.

Superior picture quality

In addition the obvious cost savings, over-the-air digital television has become very popular among Canadians with large-screen TVs because stations broadcast in high definition. The over-the-air HD signals are as good – and in many cases superior – to the same signals delivered via cable or satellite. The reason high definition OTA signals often look better than those deliver over cable is because OTA signals are subject to less compression than TV signals delivered via cable. Compression is a wonderful tool that allows cable companies to send more signals over the same amount of bandwidth. However, it is the bane of home theatre lovers who are looking for the highest video quality.

Generally speaking, the more you compress an MPEG-2 video signal the worse the picture quality becomes. In Canada Digital OTA high definition television signals are transmitted at a data rate of almost 19.4 megabits per second (Mbps). By contrast, cable and satellite providers transmit each channel at a data rate of between 10 and 14.6 Mbps to each channel. Less compression means a better quality picture.

The improved picture quality that comes with OTA signals is not always noticeable when you own a 32-inch television, but if you are a video enthusiast with a 47-inch or larger high-definition flat panel, then you’ll appreciate the superior picture quality.

Another growing audience for OTA is laptop owners. By adding a small ATSC tuner onto the USB port of their computer, computer owners have a television capable of receiving signals wherever they go.


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