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My new over-the-air digital antenna was installed after easter allowing me to cut off cable and watch TV for free. (Michael Snider)
My new over-the-air digital antenna was installed after easter allowing me to cut off cable and watch TV for free. (Michael Snider)

From the archives

Goodbye cable bills, now I get my TV for free Add to ...

As a service, it was fine. We had several hundred channels, many in HD, and for the most part we probably watched something on most of them at one time or another. But the bulk of our family TV viewing centred around the large Canadian and U.S. networks, the Family Channel and SportsNet (oh, and the Weather Network). My wife watched variety shows and prime-time dramas, the kids watched Hanna Montana and The Suite Life, and I watched baseball. But is that worth $85 a month? Especially when all of the network shows can be found for free over-the-air, and when a few choice Internet-delivered services can take the place of kids fare and baseball?

So I called Rogers and then I called V&E.

You don’t need a professional to come over and install a digital antenna. There are a growing number of stores, such as Canada Computers, that cater to OTA do-it-yourselfers. My brother went that route in April as well, buying equipment and spending a couple of weekends with a friend attaching an eight-bay antenna to catch signals from Buffalo’s U.S. TV networks and a four-bay antenna to catch signals from Canadian broadcasters. It took him two weekends and it cost a little less than $400 after everything was complete. His installation included a few trips to Canada Computers and to Home Depot for antenna parts and hardware.

I elected to have the pros do the work for a few reasons, least of which is that my roof is quite high off the ground and it is on a 45-degree slope. There is no way I’m ever going up there. While the cost of a professional installation can be much higher than buying your own equipment – V&E’s premium package is $700, with taxes and a converter box included – there are advantages. You don’t have to risk life and limb, legitimate businesses are insured for any injury or damage to your home, and you get a warranty.

You’ll eventually recover your investment because you won’t be paying that monthly cable bill.

Eric, Greg and Christopher installed a Wineguard 8800PR 8 bay and a Channel Master 4221 4 bay in about six hours. They used a 28-foot extension ladder to get on to the roof and they rigged a safety line around the skylight. We elected to have two TVs hooked up to the antenna – one in the living room and an old CRT TV in the bedroom, which required a converter box. Only TVs with installed ATSC tuners can connect directly to a digital antenna, meaning CRT TVs or early generation “HD-ready” TVs will require a converter. They are pretty cheap and they can be found at various electronics stores if you elect to do it yourself.

Depending on your location and how many TVs you intend to connect, there are several antenna options for indoors and outdoors. An apartment in Toronto won’t need the type of equipment I did, and anyone wishing to connect more than two TVs should consider an amplifier, which boosts the signal and ensures that your three or four sets are receiving a strong feed.

After the team connected the lines to the two sets, they communicated back and forth over a two-way radio to adjust the antennas and ensure they were catching the best signals possible from Buffalo, Toronto and Hamilton. Once that was done, we ran through the channels to see what we had picked up. The results were pretty good: 24 HD channels and nearly twice the number of standard-definition clones that will disappear in a few months.

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