Getting over the air (OTA) digital television (DTV) in Vancouver

For Christmas, Rebecca and I decided to upgrade our TV and move into the digital television age. Our previous TV was graciously given to us by our friends Gus and Russ shortly after I moved here when they upgraded as well. The present to ourselves wasn’t an easy one in terms of picking one out, but we were finally able to settle on a great 40″ Samsung that we found at London Drug.

Before I continue, let me just say that everyone should do their research when purchasing a TV like this. It’s not as much as finding out what is out there but what you can get in terms of where you can buy and the models they have in stock. When asking if this Samsung had a built-in digital turner for over the air reception of digital television signals (which is the main point of this post), no one had the answer. In fact, they even told me that the only way you could get HDTV, especially in the U.S. after February DTV switch(FAQ), was if you have cable, and if you didn’t have cable, then you wouldn’t be able to get HDTV at all.

I’m a broadcast technician in my day job. I worked along side TV engineers for Iowa Public Television and witnessed first hand as their transmitter site in West Branch, Iowa got massively overhauled for the DTV transition. Don’t let these sales people convince you of this false information, and I would bet that cable companies would prefer if everyone thought this. Over the air (OTA) digital television (DTV) is very possible, and more importantly, it’s free.

It wasn’t until I found the following video on YouTube until I started getting really excited about making our purchase. Everything in baby steps, and we weren’t going to do the upgrade all at once in terms of getting a HD box for our cable and bump up the monthly payments. However, if I could make my own antenna and get OTA DTV, then that is something to be excited about, even if there is only three digital stations in Vancouver so far.

This video sounded too good to be true, and poking around found a lot of people reporting success with it. While on our vacation in Iowa at the beginning on this month, I decided to take on a test with my parents’ television and built this contraption. Unfortunately it only worked well on the second floor of the house due to their location in a river valley. That’s not to say that it didn’t work at all. They just need to put an antenna up on the roof and everything will be peachy, but it worked like a charm otherwise.

I dismantled my prototype, threw the metal parts in our checked luggage, and put it back together when we got back to Vancouver. The result was this.

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna

Living in the west end of Vancouver, we’re in a prime location to receive OTA DTV signals since Mt. Seymour is home to nearly everyone who broadcasts TV or FM signals. It’s worth noting, without getting overly technical about it, that UHF and VHF frequencies generally travel in a line of sight manner, and cement and wood can be problematic for reception.

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna I took some of the extra pieces of the metal clothes hangers and fashioned a way to hang this in one of our windows. There has been some thick fog covering the city for about the past week, and it has caused some minor issues in terms of reception. Being that DTV is all or none, you shift the antenna a little and the picture pops back on in full glory. This little hook allows me to place it nearly where ever I want to.

Just for some extra proof, I snapped some photos during the newscast last night on CBC.

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Honestly, since I can see this in HD for free, it makes me want to watch the news. The pretty, pretty news…

Camera shots of CBC HD from my homemade OTA DTV antenna

Currently in Vancouver, there are only three networks transmitting DTV signals, and you might find some U.S. signals from Washington state depending on your location in the lower mainland.

  • CBC – CH. 58.1
  • Global – CH. 22.2
  • CTV – CH. 33.1
  • Omni – CH. 42.1

My homemade over the air (OTA) HDTV antenna It’s not much in terms of selection. However, you might notice that OTA signals give a slightly better picture quality due to the lack of compression that you have occurring through your cable connection or digital satellite, so there is give and take. Not much selection, but three channels in eye popping quality, at least with their programming is in HD as well. Hopefully more stations come on line with DTV transmitters in the coming months, especially as Canada prepares for its own digital transition on August 31, 2011.

Update as of April 14, 2009: I found this great list of television stations in British Columbia on Wikipedia that has details on all terrestrial TV broadcasters as well as the digital channels they have been asigned. Took me a while to figure it out, but anything highlighted in red is currently “dark” until those stations do something with them.

Update as of December 30, 2009: Thanks to the comment from John Davis below, it appears that Omni is now running their digital signal on channel 42.1, but it doesn’t appear that they are broadcasting any digital programming at this time. I’ve also added this to the list of channels I am able to receive with my antenna as noted above.

Update as of January 10, 2010: Comments have seemed to trickle in on this post a lot as Christmas must have seen Santa bring the gift of new TV’s to people’s homes? Regardless, as the reports come in of where they built this antenna, I whipped up a Google Map to pinpoint what people are getting from their areas in the lower mainland.

View OTA HDTV Reception in Lower Mainland, B.C. in a larger map

Update as of January 6, 2012: It continues to amaze me how popular this post is in term of the comments that keep coming in. I just have a few things I’d like to add to respond to some comments as well as provide some addition information.

First, you cannot get cable based channels by switching to over the air digital television. You are at the mercy of what is being transmitted over the air in your area. This means, in terms of the Vancouver market, you can get CTV, CTV2 (formerly A Channel), CityTV, and CBC, but you won’t be able to view CBC News Network, TSN, Sportsnet, Discovery Channel, BBC World, or other various cable channels. This is just like the days of have two or three TV stations that you could only pick up with a pair of “rabbit ear” antenna, but much better quality.

Perhaps if Canada ever adopts digital subchannel broadcasts, local stations could provide some of those channels on those already established frequencies. Why this isn’t being done in Canada already is beyond me, but it would make so much sense to do so. I already knew this was coming in the DTV transition in the U.S. before I moved to Canada and always marvel at its availability when visiting my family back home.

I always like to look at the regional ABC affiliate KCRG. Their implementation of subchannels has allowed them to push more local programming to their 9.2 channel, promoting local high school sports, locally produced programs, and so on. Or if you missed their morning or evening newscasts on 9.1, they rerun it on 9.2 at various points throughout the day.

At least if CBC Vancouver were to employ digital subchannels, they could put their CBC News Network, Documentary, and Bold networks on a signal frequency. Then it would look something like:

  • 2.1 – CBC Vancouver
  • 2.2 – CBC News Network
  • 2.3 – Bold
  • 2.4 – Documentary

Remember that this is strictly hypothetical and is not in current operation. However, you could see how this would provide even more content over the air than just the single channels currently being broadcast in the Vancouver market. CTV could even do this with channels like CTV News Network, TSN, or RDS, being they are all apart of the same parent company. And to think it out further, imagine CityTV putting CityNews Channel and SportsNet on some side channels since they are also all owned by the same company.

And finally, I found this website that take the same concept that I’ve employed in here and added an extra element to the construction of the antenna. The idea is to add a reflector to the antenna to boost it’s signal reception, which makes a lot of sense upon first examination. I have yet to try to implement this, so take it for what you will.

Rebecca to represent on CBC’s Test The Nation

CBC Test The Nation Rebecca left this morning for a whirlwind weekend in Toronto and an appearance on CBC’s Test The Nation television program. She got the call a few weeks ago to participate on the team of bloggers, going up against other groups like taxi drivers and celebrity lookalikes, to see who knows their trivia better. Viewers can also participate to see how they measure up.

The program airs live on CBC, January 20th at 8PM. Of course, it will actually live for the east coast, and then we’ll get the tape delayed version here in Vancouver. We don’t have access to an east coast feed, so I’ll have to wait for the pacific time airing, unless someone out east puts it up on bittorrent right after it airs, wink wink nudge nudge.

Going to the CBC’s website for the event, the picture that represents the bloggers team is laughable. How much more slarm can you cram into that generic, over-stereotyped photo?

Team: Bloggers For the love of god, CBC, get someone like Kris Krug to shoot you some real photos and ditch the bubblegum sets for these things. Seriously, it looks like a promo shot for a new CBC television show, Blogger Force 5!

And what the hell are they all looking at?

I have full trust that Rebecca is going to rock this thing. She is always kicking my butt in anything trivia or Scrabble related, plus she’s basically taught me everything I’ve come to know about Vancouver to Canada in general. She puts up with my stupid questions by knowing everything I don’t, but it goes both ways when it comes to various topics pertaining to the U.S.

Inside The CBC tours the plans for Vancouver renovations

Just because I find these things so freaking interesting, I wanted to post this video. I’ve toured the studios in the CBC once with Tod Maffin, and he writes for Inside The CBC. Actually, Tod is basically the new media guru and ambassador for the CBC, at least here in Vancouver. I love that he uses the medium to share information about the substantial renovation that is occurring at their downtown location, and this video really helps to understand what’s going on and how it’s going to look when it’s all done.

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Hockey Night in Canada: The Trivia DVD Game

Our good pal Bradley gave us a pretty swanky gift for our first year, and we finally got around to checking it out last night. Hockey Night in Canada: The DVD Trivia Game!

HNIC DVD Game Ok, maybe that isn’t swanky to you, but Rebecca is all about the trivia. I’m a bit of the same, but my hockey knowledge gets pretty fuzzy from 1990 and beyond. How hard could it be though? Right?

My biggest problem is the lack of CBC knowledge, so anything about former broadcasters is pretty out of reach for me. We only played two rounds, each splitting the wins. There are some of the guess whatever-you-are-instructed-to before the bell dings, and you have to be the first person or team to do it. This was fun with the picture puzzles or word scrambles, so it becomes a guess by yelling sort of affair, the closer to the end of the round equals being the loudest.

The trivia can be pretty trying, but I was surprised with how much I actually knew. There were some rounds where you get a clip to watch, and then the following questions were in reference to the clip. Still, not all of those questions are directly related to the clip as much as the people or team. It actually taught me a little bit, even made me look up the 1976 game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Russia to get more back story on the questions it asked me that I knew nothing about.

I think we still have a few more games left to play of it. I’m not sure if there are more or will be more editions of this made, but for off season entertainment, it’s pretty good.

Get more of Coach’s Corner

I’m going to completely admit it. Before I moved to Vancouver, I had no knowledge of CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada other than its existence. I also had no clue, as a loving hockey fan, how good their coverage is. Of course, I lived my whole life in the U.S. This is Canada. There’s your difference.

To my dear friends who also love hockey and don’t get the coverage that you should, especially in the states, take this information that comes off of Inside the CBC. If you’re not checking out the Don Cherry[wiki], then you’re not getting all the hockey you could be. will launch a special online version of Coach’s Corner tomorrow with new content, design and features. Enhancements include an improved and larger video picture and an online forum allowing hockey fans to submit their remarks regarding Don’s, uh, “legendary” weekly commentary.

Episodes from the 2006/07 season are available online, and in the coming weeks, a full-screen viewing option and a revamped archive consisting of some of the most memorable Coach’s Corner moments from the past will also be available exclusively on [insidethecbc]

I was chatting with my buddy, Sushi, back in Iowa about the coverage he gets back there. Even with digital cable, mostly likely the basic package, he hardly gets any hockey on TV. Comcast SportsNet shows Blackhawks games from time to time, and combined with the weekly games on NBC, that’s about it. His cable package doesn’t include OLN (who the NHL has the explicit contract with for broadcasts in the states), and there isn’t an extra package he can buy for the NHL Network, NHL Center Ice, Versus, or an “Ice Pack”.

How’s that for someone living within a four hour drive to Chicago, five hours to Minneapolis, and five hours to St. Louis?

If anyone is complaining about the lack of success that the NHL is experiencing in the U.S., then there’s your reason. Hockey fans can’t get what they want, and there is very little for new fans to get exposed to. If it wasn’t for the NHL on ESPN[wiki] while I was in high school, I don’t think I would have ever come to love the sport. And yes, that was before Fox ever did the glowing puck thing[wiki].

Additional Note

I was just checking out the Coach’s Corner site and had a thought, so let’s see if anyone at the CBC is paying attention to me(which I highly doubt).

Why not publish all this video content to YouTube? Or do Google Video or whatever. The point is, make it so that anyone can embed the video on their website or blog. On top of that, and to sweeten the deal for you guys, tack on a five second ad for CBC programming at the very beginning. Nothing too flashy, but a quick voice over and a slide for a CBC program.

This way, we can share Coach’s Corner with the world, and you CBC folks get to promote your stuff. TV, radio, podcasts, or whatever. Have at it, but just make it simple and to the point. Go beyond five or ten seconds, and I am fast forwarding to the good stuff.

Where hockey becomes a holiday

Ok, it’s not an official holiday, but it damn near should be. And to me, this Tim Hortons commercial is what Hockey Day in Canada is all about.

Off we go to GM to watch the Canucks beat the Leafs on the big screen. Should be a good time. Hope your hockey day has been good for you.

Update: The game was pretty cool, and that’s more than just the 6-1 win over the Leafs(who, I might add, suck). It was close to a real game experience. They blew the horn when the Canucks scored, gave away some free stuff at random points, and a fair number of Leafs fans for us to heckle were actually brave enough to hang out for the game.

True highlight? The first intermission of the UBC game that followed the CBC broadcast was a mini-game of some pee wee hockey kids. Check out the video I posted onto YouTube here. We actually left after that. Regina was up by three goals at the end of the first. Good action, but we were a little beat and ready to head home.

I have pictures from the event on Flickr. Pending review for quality control, look for some audio that Rebecca and I recorded at GM Place on The Crazy Canucks in the next few days.

Little Mosque on the Prairie

Little Mosque on the PrairieYeah, the title is enough to make me not want to keep watching it, but I can say that I’ve watched the first episode of Little Mosque on the Prairie. I’m not taken by it, but it is just the first episode of the series.

Once we can get past all the terrorist jokes, people in the town claiming that all these people are terrorists, and something else about stereotyping Muslims being linked to terrorism, this show might be good. It’s too early to tell.

To tell you the truth, I felt like I was watching something on PBS back in the states. It’s like a Canadian version of a British sitcom, if that makes any sense. Blatant humor with elements of being subtle, but not as hugely funny as I find many British sitcoms.

Like I said, at least I can say I saw it. The U.S. media seems to be up in arms over it more than the Canadian side, but maybe that’s just the effect that living in Vancouver has done to me. There’s so much diversity here that it just seems commonplace to me anymore.

Don’t know if I’ll make too much more of an effort to pay attention to Little Mosque on the Prairie from here on out.

The Crazy Canucks sneaking on to the CBC

I got a pretty interesting text message from J.J. last night while sitting at home with Rebecca. “Whoa cbc was just over my apt and taped a piece on the rory thing“. I got excited and asked if he said anything about The Crazy Canucks because I’m a marketing sucker like that.

The piece turned out pretty great, but at the 49 second mark of the 2:38 long clip, that’s the last you see of J.J. Still, it’s a pretty sweet shot of the Canucks Hockey Blog in the background on his screen. You can also see The Crazy Canucks logo just a tad. This aired last night on CBC: Canada Now at 6PM. Way to go, J.J.!

By the way, did you vote for Rory yet? I know I’ve done my fair share, and you should, too.

The world needs more Don Cherry

Flickr: Don Cherry (Uncleweed)
Photo credit: Uncleweed on Flickr

Now, there are going to be loads of people who think I am full of crap for saying that. Truth is, I hadn’t seen or heard of Don Cherry[wiki] before moving to Canada. Being a hockey fan south of the 49th, you have to realize that there is this border of ignorance as to what goes on in Canadian media. Unless you know people up here or make an effort to find out for yourself, you don’t get exposure to what goes on up north. That’s the simple truth.

So catching the latest episode of the Canucks Outsider yesterday, DaveO mentioned that Don Cherry has started podcasting. This isn’t completely the truth, but you can catch him and Brian Williams in your ear buds. Basically you get a snippet version of Grapeline, ripped straight from the airwaves and put into podcast form. I’ve listened to a handful of them, and they’re not too bad. Under ten minutes long, super short ads inserted here and there, and entirely not enough content.

I would have to say that it’s a podcast of a radio program that sounds like radio. That’s kinda of sad. And truth be told, the feed hasn’t been updated since this past march. I can’t find a website telling me anything new or different, so I’m unsure as to if I have the right feed or the show is no longer being podcasted. I was originally excited to get more Don Cherry because we never seem to get him during Canucks games when they are broadcast on CBC. Sure, he’s more of an east coast guy, but I’ve been getting a kick out of him.

Hugh Laurie of House, poppin pillsNatives to his antics will probably say otherwise. I dig a guy who speaks his mind and ruffles some feathers, even if what he says is a load of crap sometime. I would even equate Cherry to watching the television show House[imdb]. Rude, blunt, and somewhat unforgiving for saying the things they say. Let’s all be thankful that Cherry isn’t in charge of saving people’s lives, but you can argue if the guy has some sort of addiction to pain pills and what not. In fact, I’d go as far to say that Cherry can make Hugh Laurie’s character on House appear sane.

Blogcritics made a post about Don Cherry today that sums up a lot of the love/hate relationship that many people have. No matter how you really feel about the guy, hockey would not be the same without him, not to mention the intense fashion sense the guy brings to the broadcasts. I think he’s the one guy in hockey that could wear glitter and completely get away with it. Chances are, he already has and I just don’t know it.

By the way, it took some good sleuthing in the iTunes podcast directory in order to find The Grapeline podcast. Here is the XML feed for it.

The press and emergency services in B.C.

I am consistantly impressed with the way that the press interacts with emergency services in British Columbia, and the same can be true about the rest of Canada.  Sitting here and watching the news coverage of the recent shootings in Montreal, the amount of information coming from the police, in near real time, is really interesting compared to the news coverage I am used to in the U.S.

First off, I should say that my heart goes out to those people affected by this.  Regardless of who or why, things like these are shocking and scary.  While the CBC was covering this, I had sirens going off all around the west end.  Kinda spooky.

The media seems to be included on these events as they unfold, at least for the most part.  I so often see the morning news where there was a fire the night before.  While there are still firemen putting out the flames in the background, someone is talking to the camera, giving an update as to what happened, possible causes, and preliminary info about people affected.

What I’m used to back in the states is official statements that get released to the press or press conferences that happen hours, if not days, after the fact.  That gets printed up in the papers or some person with overly perfect hair tells you the facts on TV.  In between that time, everything is uncomfirmed and speculation.  You get some of that here, but the involvement of people on the scene is much higher.  It’s not some guy, outside of the whole situation, who has the job to collect the information and report it to the press.

It impresses me.  Maybe there is more confidence in the whole spectrum of distributing information, meaning the people on the scene, the media, and the person taking in the news, in Canada.  There is a lot more scrutiny in American media, always making sure that the right people are saying the right things at the right time.