Paying for HDTV? You’re a sucker

If you fuck with TV, this will make your life cheaper.

Not the actual antenna. Photo via Flickr

When you tell Montrealers that all they need in order to watch 23 different hi-def television channels for free is a relatively inexpensive digital antenna, most invariably figure you’re letting them in on some sort of a secret, something possibly illegal or at best a little circumspect. Of course, the truth is nothing of the sort.

Back in the summer of 2011, when Canada made the transition from broadcasting over-the-air analogue TV signals to those of the digital variety, the government mandated broadcasters to continue transmitting their signals terrestrially. A few stations, like TVA, might have dragged their feet about doing it, but eventually all moved over to the new technology, while other strictly terrestrially broadcast speciality channels started to sprout in the marketplace.

So how is it that nobody seems to know anything about all these free HDTV channels? Well, it’s easy — just follow the money, as they say. It’s clearly not in the best interest of Bell, Rogers or Videotron/Quebecor to inform consumers that they don’t absolutely need to buy their satellite/cable services in order to watch hi-def TV anymore, and given that these three mega-conglomerates own practically every private media outlet in the fuckin’ country, well, don’t expect to see any major publicity campaigns about scoring free HDTV anytime soon.

“It’s not everyone who’s prepared to cut their cable subscription in favour of an antenna,” notes satellite and terrestrial signal specialist Mario Trottier of “But cable’s ridiculously expensive for what you get. If you only want to watch the major Canadian and U.S. networks, along with a couple dozen speciality channels devoted to film, weather, local culture and the like, it makes a lot more sense to go the terrestrial route instead. Combine that with all the free television programming online, and you see why Quebecor prefers you don’t hear too much about over-the-air digital TV.”

According to Trottier, while there are currently 23 stations broadcasting terrestrial HD signals in Montreal, with more popping up all the time, your ability to tune in can vary significantly depending on a couple of factors, the most significant one being what part of town you live in.

“Unfortunately, the way Montreal is laid out, there are a few districts where reception isn’t the greatest. Outremont is probably the worst, but even there you still pick up close to a dozen channels, and, remember, with digital broadcasts, there’s no such thing as poor reception; you either get the channel perfectly — and, actually, the image quality you get over the air is notably superior to cable or satellite — or you don’t get it at all. In NDG and the South Shore, you’ll pick up everything, whereas downtown you’ll likely get most — but maybe not all — of the 23 channels.”

The second element to consider is the antenna itself and where you place it. “You have to be careful about the antenna you buy,” says Trottier. “You’ll see a lot of these overpriced amplified antennas in the stores, antennas that were great for analog signals but are completely useless now that everything is digital. Store clerks don’t usually know this, so people wind up buying these expensive antennas that don’t work very well.”

Antenna placement is also a concern. “Seriously, move it just a few feet in any direction and you might gain or lose six channels.”

To this end, Trottier, who has been building electronic gizmos since childhood and is something of a genius when it comes to this stuff, has designed his own digital antenna exclusive to Montreal, the HD Bunny, and for a surprisingly modest fee will happily swing by your digs and install it for you. “I designed the HD Bunny so it aims toward all three broadcast towers serving Montreal simultaneously, regardless of where you are in the city,” he claims.

It’s all a matter of location, though.

“If you call and tell me your address, I can usually tell you which free HD channels you’ll likely get, but I also have specialized equipment, a spectrum analyzer that shows me exactly where the broadcast towers are in relation to your home,” says Trottier.  “This way I can make sure you get every channel available to you.

“I get a lot of satisfaction from this, I really do. Just watching people’s faces when they turn on their sets and see all these new channels they’re getting — in perfect HD, too — it’s fantastic.” ■

For more information, go to

Leave a Reply