What’s OTA?

OTA HDTV Channel Map

You may not know this, but you can get great free HDTV in Vancouver. If you’re thinking of cutting cable or simply want to try it out, you can go old school and use an antenna to receive HDTV over-the-air (OTA).

The other secret is that the quality is usually amazing, as the video isn’t as compressed as with TV providers. Without too much trouble, most areas of the Lower Mainland can receive a good selection of Canadian channels. Since the towers are on Mount Seymour, its best if you have line of sight to there. If you’re really into it, you can also try to grab channels from the States. To do that, you’ll likely need a roof antenna with a fairly unobstructed view in the direction of the TV broadcast towers down there. You can use a tool like TV Fool’s to get an idea of what channels you could receive. It can produce a report like the one below showing the direction of the channel’s tower and signal strength.

HDTV channel report

We’re not talking about your grandfather’s rabbit ears though. It’s best to use a dedicated HDTV antenna like one from Channel Master for outdoor or a Mohu Leaf for indoor. If you’re handy, its even pretty easy to build your own antenna.

Once you have a signal, there are a several ways to watch it. Many TVs come with built in HDTV (ATSC) tuners, so you’ll be able to HDHomeRun network connected HDTV tunersimply connect an antenna. There are separate tuner devices and ones that include a DVR from companies like Philips.  Something like SiliconDust’s HDHomeRun DUAL allows streaming to devices or creating your own DVR if you’re savvy and have a spare PC lying around.

Whatever your motivation to try out OTA HDTV, you’ll see that there is a fair amount of free programming available with great picture quality. Enjoy!