How to get free TV in Winnipeg

Aleksander Demko, 2012

Since December, 2011, all the over-the-air (aka OTA, aka antenna) television stations in Winnipeg, Canada have completed their switch to digital HD broadcasting. This means, that with an antenna you can receive free, high definition TV with an antenna. Combined with Netflix (and say, a Boxee Box), you can easily ditch your overpriced cable TV service.

This blog post is here to help you get started.

First, the channel list:

Station     Channel Band
CTV               7  VHF
CityTV           13  VHF
CBC              27  UHF
JoyTV            35  UHF
Global           40  UHF
CBC French       51  UHF

Note, I'm listing the actual channels the stations are broadcasting on. These are the numbers you need to know when you're buying an antenna. You will need an antenna that can do VHF and UHF. If it just does high-VHF, that's good too. If it lists the channels it picks up, make sure it includes the above list (i.e. at least 7-51). An antenna that only does 14 and up is no good - you'll miss out on CTV and CityTV.

For convenience, some channels (like Global and CBC) will show up on your TV in different spots. This is just a bonus feature - it doesn't change the channel they're actually broadcasting on.

TV Requirements

First, you need a TV that can decode digital TV. Do you have an old, giant tube/CRT TV? If so, then it doesn't have the required digital tuner. You should throw the TV away, but if you're really stubborn, you can get a converter box. Really though, just toss the TV (well, recycle it). Don't try to sell it - no one wants it. You can't even give them away on our give away weekends.

Otherwise, any modern "flat" (non-tube) TV purchased after 2005 should do the trick. Only the oldest or cheapest TV don't have the required tuner. If you have the manual, look to see if it says "ATSC" tuner somewhere.

Indoor Antenna

The cheapest way to get started is to buy yourself an indoor antenna. Depending on where you put it in your house, you should get some channels. Just plug it in and click "channel scan" and see what you get.

Channels 27 and 40 should be easy to get, as they broadcast from downtown. You can probably get channel 7 too, if you place it on the south side of your house.

Here is what you need:

An amplified antenna could also be used to drive all the TVs in your house. You simply put the antenna is some location (an upstairs bedroom window, for example) and then reuse the cable company's (Shaw's) wiring.

Reusing Shaw's wiring is easy and fast, but you have to make sure of two things:

Outdoor Antenna

An outdoor antenna will give you vastly superior reception, especially in bad weather. I highly recommend you go this route if possible. It's particularly easy if you've had satellite TV service, as you can reuse the cabling and mount like I did.

Antenna Placement

First, you need to pick where you want the antenna on your. The higher the better, but I'd avoid the top of a two story house.

Which end of town are in (relative to downtown)?

The various stations transmitters are all over the place. Global and CBC are downtown, so they're easy to get even if you're not pointing at them. CTV and JoyTV are south of the city, and are relatively easy to get. CityTV is far west, so I try to put all my effort there and am still able to pick up the other channels OK.

If you want a nice map with directional lines, visit TV Fool and click online TV map and enter your address. Then click "pending" (TV Fool still has the digital transmitters listed as "pending"). You can also click on the transmitters to see the areas they cover.

Shopping List

You'll need the following:

I bought all my stuff online from amazon and the source. Both are fine. The Source has free shipping-to-store with a simple return policy. Don't bother going to the store though, they don't stock any serious antenna inventory - you need to order it all.

Installing It

This should be simple, just follow the instructions. Some things to watch out for:

Enjoy It

Enjoy some free TV.

For the most part, I can receive all but CityTV a almost full signal strength. During blizzards or rain, I see a slight drop, but still way over the minimum needed to get a perfect picture (you'd never notice the drop unless your in the signal meter part of your TV's menus). The exception to this is CityTV. I had barely minimum reception from them for a few months, and now its too weak to watch. I've written them off. Seriously, this weak transmitter which is nowhere near Winnipeg is supposed to be "CityTV Winnipeg". Not cool.

Supplement your stuff with a Boxee Box and Netflix. Netflix is awesome by itself, but the Boxee Box supplements it nicely by pulling down all the free shows most broadcasters put on their web sites.