How to Get HDTV for Free

Cable companies want you to believe that you’ve got to pay to watch your favourite programs in high def. Here’s what they don’t want you to know: Often, all you need is an old-fashioned pair of rabbit ears to receive a handful of top stations – for free, in glorious HD.

The Scoop: By 2011, all Canadian stations must transmit digital signals, replacing the analogue broadcasts of yore. However, many stations – including CBC, CTV and Citytv – are already transmitting a digital HD signal.

The Gear:
You’ll need a TV equipped with an ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) tuner; it’s common on most new flat screens. A five-dollar antenna from your local surplus store might do the trick, though a pre-amp, rotor or rooftop antenna might be a better bet. Regardless, avoid the pricey so-called HD antennae; they’re a scam. Once you plug in the antenna, let your TV scan for stations. (This can be tricky, so have your manual handy.)

The Reception:
It depends on your proximity to broadcast towers, and the angle and type of antenna you’re using. Well-positioned folks have been known to pull NBC and ABC signals from across the U.S. border, in addition to local stations. Online forums are full of posts from keeners bragging about how their Byzantine towers pull up to 20 hi-def stations; visit here to see where you stand, and mingle with others, smug in the knowledge that at the very least, you’re sticking it to the Man.

Image courtesy of Mike Cogh.

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