Q&A: How to get rid of cable television and replace it with an HD antenna

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HD antenna on an Ottawa rooftop

HD antenna on an Ottawa rooftop. They’re about the size of a medium pizza box.

 

Update (2017): The company featured in this article, Breaking Cable, has since gone out of business. Consult local business directories for other companies that provide antenna installation services.

We installed an HD antenna at OttawaStart World Headquarters back in December. We get over a dozen Canadian HD stations over the air (for free) like CBC, CTV, CTV2, City, and Global, plus a handful of french channels. TVO also broadcasts an over-the-air station but for some reason we don’t get it where we are in Stittsville.  We can get PBS too.  The picture quality on the over-the-air HD signal is noticeably better. It’s sharper and more vibrant.

We still have cable, for now, to pick up a few stations that the kids like as well as for Sens games that are on Sportsnet or TSN.  We will likely be dropping cable soon and replacing it with something like Netflix.  The cost of traditional cable tv isn’t worth it for the amount of television we watch in our household.

OttawaStart.com gets quite a few people landing on our tv page looking for information about how to drop their cable tv package and go with HD or internet-based tv.  How much does it cost? What channels can you get? What kind of antenna do I need?  We put those questions to Mike Adair, who’s one of the people behind Breaking Cable. They’re gearing up for another busy season starting this spring, helping homeowners install antennas and set up their tv so that they can get rid of wired cable.

By the way, this is 100% completely legal.  Some people find it hard to believe that you don’t need to pay anything to watch HD television.

(Disclosure: Breaking Cable provided OttawaStart.com with an HD antenna and home installation for evaluation. They also advertise on our tv guide.)


 

OTTAWASTART: How long have you been doing this?  Why did you start?
MICHAEL ADAIR: We are just finishing up our first year in business.   We see it as an opportunity to help a lot of people save a lot of money and get superior picture quality at the same time.   With broadcasters switching to a digital signal for over-the-air tv, combined with more and more people switching to newer HD tv screens, we felt there should be a growing market for this service. The idea for the business actually started when we hooked up a new 60″ LED TV to basic cable, being disappointed with the picture quality and then realizing you need to start shelling out even more money every month to the cable provider to get their HD service.

OS: What are some of the reasons you hear from customers about why they are “breaking cable”.
ADAIR: The main reason we hear is to save money.  The small up-front cost of an antenna installation easily pays for itself in a few months and then the savings in your monthly budget are significant for most people.  We also hear plenty of complaints about the big providers, spending a lot of time on the phone trying to resolve issues, hidden costs and costs that keep going up.  We sometimes think of ourselves as counsellors when we listen to our clients tales of woe in dealing with the big providers.

I also enjoying seeing people’s reaction to the picture quality if they are seeing HD from an antenna for the first time.

OS: There a few companies in Ottawa offering this service – what makes you different?

ADAIR: We try to distinguish ourselves with our customer service.  We are happy to answer as many questions as you have and make the whole process hassle free for you.  We have tried to make our web site clear and informative without being overwhelming with technical details like a lot of the over-the-air web sites out there.  Those details are important but it’s our job to figure that out, not our client’s. Most people just want to know what channels you will get and have some basic questions, but other than that it’s a black box that delivers a TV signal.

OS: Describe a typical install – what is involved (time, access, etc), what is the cost, and what technology is needed?
ADAIR: A typical installation takes about two hours.  We need to be able to put a ladder up to get to the rooftop where we install an antenna and a run of cable down the side of the house.  We also need access to the basement usually to bring the cable to the TV distribution point of your home.  We then hook everything up for you and test on your TV and show you how everything works.  A basic outdoor install including everything you need costs just under $300 plus tax.  We do indoor installations for ($39 + antenna) for those who need help to set up an indoor antenna or to set up a balcony mounted antenna for apartment dwellers. We also carry add-on equipment like PVRs and streaming devices to help complete the cord cutting.  We set everything up and make sure it is all working correctly.   (For example, Tablo, an Ottawa-based company, sells a PVR that works with over-the-air HD antennas starting at around $250.)

We can also do attic installations which might be just as good as an outdoor install in some cases or where the homeowner really doesn’t want an antenna on the roof.  Apartment dwellers can also benefit from an indoor antenna or one placed on a balcony.

We would really like to reach out to seniors and people on a fixed income that only watch local TV stations anyway,  cutting cable could really make a difference for their monthly budget.  We offer a senior’s discount on the installation fee for an indoor antenna.

If you have a question for Mike, please add it to the comments below and he’ll be happy to answer it.


OttawaStart Staff

feedback@ottawastart.com

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14 Responses

  1. Will says:

    How effective are the options for antennas in large apartment buildings? Do the height and position of the unit affect the number or quality of the channels received? Do surrounding buildings play a role?

  2. Mike Adair says:

    Any indoor antenna is going to be hit or miss on which channels you get but generally speaking the higher you are the better and which direction you windows are facing. If you can see the tower at Camp Fortune (or Manotick) you should be able to pick up those channels. In other words, line of sight to the antenna will give you the best results. Other large buildings in the way will affect the signal you get.

    We also carry a small indoor/outdoor antenna that can be mounted on a balcony railing (or even a post in a flower pot) along with a piece of flexible cable to get the cable through a door or window opening.

    The quality of the antenna definitely makes a difference. We test all our equipment to make sure they work.

  3. The service sounds great, sort like the traditional TV antenna. I assume it’s just local channels none from the US?

  4. Mike Adair says:

    It is exactly the same as the traditional TV antenna, the only difference now is that they broadcast a digital signal so the picture quality is superb, if you get enough signal. In fact, the older style antennas will still work.

    For most of Ottawa, there are 15 Canadian channels available. We have had some success getting PBS stations depending on the location.

  5. norm loughton says:

    What are the channels that one would likely get in Centretown? I realize there are alot of variables but what’s the best case and worst case scenario?

  6. Mike Adair says:

    The full list is on our website (http://breakingcable.tv/pages/station-list) and also listed here on OttawaStart but the English channels include CTV, CTV2, CBC, Global, CHCH, TVO, OMNI1/2, and CityTV. There are also some French channels coming from the tower at Camp Fortune.

    There are 14 channels total available from the Camp Fortune and Manotick broadcast towers.

  7. Hank says:

    I assume that the chances of picking up the PBS station in Plattsburgh NY (Mountain Lake PBS) is infinitesimally small here in the west end of Ottawa near Carlingwood Mall.

  8. john says:

    anyone know of a good company that instal ota antenna?

  9. charles leblanc says:

    im facing south but wide open to the east and west and live on the 11 floor with balcony how good I be.

  10. Richard says:

    Seems everyone is offering the install + antenna as a service. Are there any locations to speak to and find antennas to self install and maybe test to see if this is the route we want to take?

    • Not sure Richard. The service in this article has since gone out of business. I use an indoor rabbit ears antenna myself and it might be a good way to get started and try out on the cheap. — Devyn

  11. Ivy Baker says:

    I liked that you explained that generally, it takes about two hours to install a TV antenna. It does seem like a good thing to be aware of when you need to plan an installation. It does seem like a good thing to be prepared for.

  12. Sara says:

    Hi, I’m interested in this post! Please contact me. I’d like to have an HD antenna installed on my roof in my backyard (facing South). I am on Ballinville Circle in Manotick. Thank you, Sara

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