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Free HDTV

Updated: July 12, 2019

I live on the fringe of downtown Toronto in a fairly tall apartment building.  As a policy, I refuse to pay rogers money for horrible cable tv packages and I’m unable to use a satellite service due to my location (i face north).  But, because of where I am I decided to explore Free HDTV using Over the Air antennas and just my TV.

The Antenna

Up until recently (Apr 17, 2010) I was using a very ghetto antenna.  It was simply a block of wood with two arms of a metal coat hanger hanging off the side. This worked out fairly well, giving me about 10 consistent digital TV channels.  But I knew there were more channels available.

With my ghetto antenna broken, I thought it was time to spend a little money and get a “real” antenna.  I may have gone a little over the top by getting an 8 bay outdoor antenna to sit on my balcony, but for $65 it’s a long term investment that’s well worth it.

Channel Status:

Here’s a short list of channels with a little status of each that I receive.

  1. NBC (WGRZ-DT, 2.1) – moderate signal, crystal clear, sounds great.  Sometimes it doesn’t work, but not very often.  Live sports and primetime shows are all in HD. It’s good.  Has two very low quality side bands (2-2 is Universal Sports and 2-3 is RetroTV)
  2. CBS (WIBV-DT, 4-1) – moderate signal, crystal clear, sounds great.  Live sports and prime time shows are all in HD (except jeopardy, for some reason – but that’s OK CBC has you covered.)
  3. CBC (CBLT-DT, 5-1 – great signal, crystal clear, almost all programming is in HD (even older upscaled movies are shown in 16:9 – I know, not really HD but at least it doesn’t look dumb on my big ass tv.) – CBC is also one of the only DTV channels broadcasting that offers a FULL electronic programming guide over the air. With proper guides and programming titles, CBC is by far the best over the air channel out there.
  4. ABC (WKBV-DT 7-1) –  moderate signal, clear, Live sports and prime time shows are all HD
  5. CTV (CFTO-HD 9-1) – great signal, crystal clear, almost all programming is HD
  6. CHCH (CHCH-DT 11-1) – weak signal from Hamilton, clear when it works.  They really only show local news and lots of movies but since their signal is so weak I can hardly watch it.
  7. SUN TV (CKXT-DT 15-1) – super weak signal from Hamilton, doesn’t work at all for me – doesn’t matter. The Toronto SUN TV works (see below)
  8. PBS (WNED-HD 17-1) – comes in clear, lots of good “educational” and political programming with some original films.  Also has two side bands (17-2 – a standard def version of the primary channel and 17-3 – more standard def educational programming)
  9. The CW (WNLO-DT 23-1) – decent signal, it’s hit and miss though on what’s going to be in HD
  10. SRC (CBLFT-D 25-1) – great signal, french programming from radio-canada (CBC) much like CBC, almost all content is in HD (or upscaled) and it has a full EPG.
  11. TCT (WNYB-DT 26-1) – I do not get this channel
  12. FOX (WUTV-DT 29-1) – weak signal (strong at source, but they have a directional antenna that makes it difficult to receive in Toronto. When it does work, it’s great.
  13. Crossroads (CITS-DT 36-1) – I do not get this channel
  14. GlobalTV (CIII-DT 41-1) – good signal, some prime time shows are in HD, but not much of their own produced shows or older shows.
  15. OMNI 2 (CJMT 44-1) – fairly weak signal, but it works if you get your antenna positioned right.  Lots of foreign programming and news.
  16. MyTV (WNYO-HD 49-1) – good signal
  17. ION (WPXJ-DT 51-1) – I do not get this channel
  18. CityTV (CITY-DT 57-1) – good signal, most programming is in HD
  19. OMNI 1 (CFMT-DT 64-1) – weak signal, works if you’re antenna is positioned right.
  20. SunTV (CXXT-DT 66-1) – great signal, lots of original HD programming

Of 20 available channels that I should be able to get, I do not get 4 channels at all. They broadcast with very weak signals. From my position, I should be able to get the three Hamilton channels (CHCH, SUN and Crossroads)

Of some of the hit-and-miss channels (mostly, CITY, Omni1/2) they appear to broadcast from the same source – at least they all exhibit the same issues when one doesn’t work none of them work.  They also all lack the same EPG information (ie: CityTV HD, Event xxxx – as the program title – all three of those channels do this – they also omit their call letters from broadcast information)

Of the ones that work great, CBC, SRC, CTV all have decent EPG information – CBC and SRC are the only ones that have lots of future guide information (a few days at the least)

As far as the US channels go (NBC, Fox, CBS, ABC, MyTV, TheCW) most of them show absolute crap during the day.  Their only value is live sports and prime time shows.  The rest of the time is infomercial hell.  I guess I just notice this more with my limited channel selection.

Overall, with my antenna just sitting on my balcony, I get good reception.  Once I get a chance to actually mount my antenna up into a more open area, I can only expect these results to improve.

A word about Local TV Matters

With the recent onslaught of local tv matters (simmered down for now) and other silly things about all these local channels crying that cable and satellite is killing them – they need to up the ante and make free OTA tv EASIER.  Unfortunately a lot of them broadcast at the minimum power and a lot of channels just don’t seem to care about making themselves available for their local audiences.  Global and CITY definitely need to up their over the air broadcasting and show that they care.  CTV can do a little more work too.  Personally, I believe that being in downtown toronto on the 12th floor of a building – every single local TV channel should be on my list with “GREAT SIGNAL” – but they’re not.  And that tells me that they don’t actually care about local tv mattering.

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