OTA HDTV in Ottawa


I’m always a little amazed at how much people pay monthly for TV service. We ran for years with no TV at all, and all the money we “saved” I easily spent on DVDs (and more I’m sure). Several year ago we decided that some amount of TV wasn’t a bad thing, it also gave me a great excuse to build a PVR based on MythTV. After shopping around StarChoice (now ShawDirect) seemed like the right fit. The basic package was cost effective and gave us enough TV. I liked the fact that we got HDTV in the base package, and that meant high definition hockey games and special events like the Olympics.

ShawDirect has a great policy (pdf) that lets you schedule seasonal breaks in service. I’ve been using one of those to try out using over the air (OTA) TV as our only source. We haven’t really noticed the lack of TV, even through the Stanley Cup finals (but our team wasn’t in it).

To move to OTA I needed two things: 1) a PC capture device for HDTV and 2) a set top box to convert the signal for use with my projector. The PC side of things came along as a deal from Dell – the Hauppauge WinTV HVR-950Q was on sale one day ($54.99). This came along with a tiny little antenna which surprisingly pulled several stations. The projector has no HDTV tuner (unlike most HDTV flat panel sets) and so it was off to eBay to get a set top box. This was the first time I had used the “Make an Offer” option on eBay and I was quite pleased with the price we negotiated. The tv tuner is known by several different brands: Centronics ZAT 502 HD / RTC DTA1100HD / Digiwave DTV5000HD.

On the 2nd floor of the house I could easily pull in CBC to watch hockey using the dinky little antenna that came with the 950Q. To route the signal to the projector I needed to get a little creative and pull some RG6 from the attic to the basement, the MythTV box is also downstairs. In many situations almost anything will work as an antenna, and the simple bow-tie version I built with mostly stuff I had around already is pretty close to that.

My build was inspired by a write up I found using simple materials, the antenna I built is a Gray-Hoverman. I used a scrap of 1×3, some 14 gauge (2 conductor #14) electrical wire, some screws and fender washers. The only part I needed was a matching transformer. You can see the end result in the picture at the top of this post.

I have this antenna attic mounted, with 100ft of cable between it and the tv tuner. It works well, pulling in 5 HDTV stations all with little to no drop outs. I’d like to try to get PBS HD, but that may require a bigger antenna or an amplifier (a project for later).

I took a couple of comparison shots of the CBC web feed vs. the OTA HDTV (resized to match). The quality difference should be easy to spot.

The web feed is above and the OTA below. Interesting that the web stream is 11 seconds faster than the OTA. There is some tearing in both images due to the screen capture process.

The second is the same, with  web feed above and OTA below. The 11 second difference means we see reaction shots from different teams but again the quality difference should be obvious.



9 thoughts on “OTA HDTV in Ottawa”

  1. TVO goes digital on August 16th (channel 24).
    Global goes digital in Mid-August (channel 6 – yuck).
    All remaining switchovers happen on August 31 – should be a fun time.

    I cancelled Bell last fall and couldn’t be happier.

  2. Not sure if I sent this to you before or not, but this is the antenna that I picked up. It is mounted in my living room (main floor) inside the window casing and I get CBC (Eng + Fre), OMNI 1 + 2, CityTV and Sun News Network. (also, I’m in Barrhaven so that will effect things)
    Can’t wait until Aug 31 and we see more digital channels!

  3. Two years ago, the US went through the transition from OTA analogue to digital TV. At our RV park in (flat terrain) Florida, our regular CRT TV would pull in 3 stations and the picture quality was snowy and lacking definition. Soon after the change over to digital broadcast, we picked up a set top box converter and we are able to pull in over 20 digital channels with great video. Last year we purchased a HDTV, taking full advantage of digital broadcast. However, only a few stations were actually transmitting HD video. And even fewer HD channel were broadcasting 1080. I expect the Canadian TV will experience a similar change over. There is still the problem of lacking TV signals outside of city centers, so for many Canadian, cable and satellite TV remain the only alternative.
    The quality of your DIY antenna is remarkable. I doubt any commercial product would improve on your design. Perhaps a amplifier might pull in more fringe channels, when digital channel becomes available.

  4. If you’re after fringe channels, reflectors on the antenna would be the first thing to do. That makes it directional, which is a double-edged sword; right now without the reflector it picks up equally well off the front and the back. In Ottawa, if you’re somewhere *between* the two main transmitting towers (one at Camp Fortune and the other in Manotick), an antenna without reflectors is awesome. If you want to pick up (for example) PBS from near Norwood, NY, you’ll need reflectors plus some height. And then yes, a preamp would probably help especially if you’ve got a long cable run.

  5. So I built my own antenna the other weekend and I’ve put it up in the attic. Hooked up the preamp and then ran a 100ft cable to the basement via a cold-air return. Tonight I did a rescan and now I’m receiving 57.1, 57.2 and 57.3 along with the other 13 channels. (CBC English, CBC French, Global, CHCH, CTV, CTV2, Omni1, Omni2, CityTV, TVO, CTS, plus 2 more French ones) Sweet!

    I built the GH one, no reflectors, and the specs from the GH4 table. I read through Roo’s blog [1], got some building tips from here [2] (although he did a bowtie), and got the specs from [3].

    The end result is one that looks almost exactly like Roo’s except:
    – I picked up a scrap 1×6 from Home Depot (79 cents in their scrap bin!) so there is a bit more space in the middle
    – I put a plastic electrical conduit bracket underneath the copper and used it as a place to put my old-school rabbit ears
    – I mounted my CM pre-amp directly to the antenna and then connected both the homemade and rabbit ears to it

    As for mounting the antenna in the attic, I am pretty lucky. Given my location in Barrhaven and the angle of my house and the way the joists run, I basically screwed a small (4inch) piece of 2×4 to the bottom of the 1×6 and then put it flush against a joist in the attic and held it in place with a clamp.

    [1] http://www.lowtek.ca/roo/2011/diy-hdtv-antenn/
    [2] http://www.azega.com/diy-hdtv-tv-antenna-bowtie/
    [3] http://www.jedsoft.org/fun/antennas/dtv/gh.html

  6. James,

    I just built the bowtie model in [2] and it works good but I don’t get as many channels as you. I was wondering if you could post a link to a picture of your antenna.


  7. Hey, I’m looking at setting up an antenna. I want to make sure I can get the right frequencies on it, so do the size and spacing of the wires matter for that? Thanks!

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