A moderately successful fix for Digital TV reception woes

Since it became the only way to watch local, over-the-air TV in many Canadian cities in 2011, people have been bedevilled by the difficulties of receiving digital TV signals, particularly those operating on lower VHF-band frequencies. This problem will remain as “cord cutters” continue to opt for free-of-charge over-the-air reception of their local stations in high definition as an alternative to expensive cable bills.

When Winnipeg local television went digital in 2011, several stations moved to higher UHF frequencies while others remained on their originally assigned frequencies:

  • CBWFT (SRC) moved from VHF channel 3 to UHF channel 51. Continues to appear as “channel 3-1” on digital TV.
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  • CBWT (CBC) moved from VHF channel 6 to UHF channel 27. Continues to appear as “channel 6-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKY (CTV) remained on VHF channel 7. Appears as “channel 7-1” on digital TV.
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  • CKND (Global) moved from VHF channel 9 to UHF channel 40. Continues to appear as “channel 9-1” (high definition) and “channel 9-2” (standard definition) on digital TV.
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  • CHMI (Citytv) remained on VHF channel 13. Appears as “channel 13-1” on digital TV.
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  • CIIT (Hope TV) remained on UHF channel 35. Appears as “channel 35-1” on digital TV.

Your biggest reception problems are going to be with CTV and Citytv, both of which remained on the VHF band. This band is vulnerable to problems for several reasons, including:

  • Many “HDTV” antennas being optimized for higher UHF frequencies.
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  • Interference from FM stations, which can create harmonic or “ghost” signals at two times their normal frequencies. Since FM stations normally operate on 88 to 108 MHz, their harmonics appear between 176 and 216 MHz — the same frequencies that TV channels 7 to 13 operate on. These harmonics will be particularly strong in south Winnipeg, closer to the towers most FM stations originate their signals from.
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  • Lower signal intensities, as CTV and Citytv operate from towers located 35 and 45 kilometres from central Winnipeg, respectively. The other stations operate from atop the Portage and Main office towers, except for Hope TV, which operates from a tower on the southern outskirts of Winnipeg.

Nevertheless, I’ve been able to figure out a way to get fairly decent reception of all Winnipeg stations, except for Citytv, which remains unreliable. Here’s how:

Start with two “rubber duck” antennas. These are old radio scanner antennas supposedly designed to cover both the VHF and UHF bands. They seem to do a decent enough job anyway. With Radio Shack being nothing more than a memory now, you might need to order these online.

 

Such antennas typically attach to BNC ports, while TV antennas usually attach to coaxial ports. You’ll need to obtain two BNC-to-coaxial adapters.

 

Next, get yourself a signal splitter/combiner like this one. Again, you might need to order one online if you can’t get one at The Source or another electronics store.

 

Finally, you’ll need a stretch of coaxial cable about two metres (6.5 feet) long. Shorter lengths might prevent you from ideally positioning your antenna, while longer lengths might not only cost you more money, but also result in a weaker signal reaching your TV. Coaxial cables marked RF-9913, RF-9914, RG-11 or RG-6 offer the best signal retention between antenna and TV, while cables marked RG-213, RG-8X, RG-58 or RG-174 are more likely to see signals weaken the further they travel from the antenna to the TV. But if you keep cable lengths down to about two metres or less, you won’t lose too much signal in any case.

 

Assemble all your bits and pieces together like this. Plug the opposite end of the coaxial cable into the TV.

 

I find that reception tends to be best when the antenna is positioned behind or under heavy furniture, like the entertainment centre housing the TV, and when the cable is touching the wall. I’m not sure why this is: perhaps this gets rid of interference somehow, or perhaps there’s less multi-path interference caused by signals reverberating off walls and furniture. (Pardon the mess — this is a difficult area to clean.)

 

Scan for channels according to the instructions appropriate to your own TV.

 

Try jiggling and repositioning both the cable and the antenna until you get good reception on channel 7, which should be the stronger of the two VHF signals in Winnipeg as they operate at about three times as much power (in kilowatts) as channel 13 does.

 

Channel 13 remains hit-or-miss. On New Years’ Day, things were working out well enough.

 

If you live in Winnipeg, you should have no problem receiving the UHF stations even if they are still listed according to their lower pre-digital channels (as is the case with CKND), as their signals are very strong and UHF lacks the interference that messes up VHF digital signals.

 

What would Jesus do if he were running CIIT, a.k.a. Hope TV? He’d do better than this, in terms of both programming and picture. Even YouTube part-time filmmakers like Dan Bell and Bright Sun Films have more professional looking feeds than this CRTC-licenced channel. If anyone at Hope TV, a.k.a. ZoomerMedia, is reading this, please bring back the classic shows from the Joy TV era.

 

From the earliest days of television, there has been interest in picking up American TV signals. The only one that you have a faint hope of receiving in Winnipeg is Fox affiliate KNRR channel 12-1, and its Antenna TV classic comedy subchannel on channel 12-2, which originates from a tower near Pembina, N.D. The station operates at fairly low power, so your only hope of reliable reception is by using a high-gain, south-facing rooftop antenna, preferably above the tree line. Other American stations are too far south to be received in Winnipeg, except under unusual atmospheric conditions.

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If viewers are cutting the cord, then CTV Winnipeg needs a new channel

CTV Winnipeg Bad Signal

Maralee Caruso anchoring CTV Winnipeg’s 6 p.m. newscast, July 19, 2013.

Why pay for cable television when you can get most, or even all, of what you want online? It’s an increasingly common sentiment in Canada today: a market study released earlier this month showed that 16 percent of Canadians claim to do all of their TV viewing online.

Online TV viewing is poised to continue eating into conventional stations’ audiences in the coming years. Not only is more viewing being done on wireless devices, but WiFi-compatible Smart TVs — which allow viewers to switch effortlessly between cable/satellite, local over-the-air TV and web sites — are now becoming commonplace among retailers.

But even without a cable or satellite subscription, there will be times when viewers will want to watch live local TV, particularly for news and sports. Reaching these viewers, who will no longer be as few or as poor as non-cable/non-satellite households usually were in the past, will matter.

That’s where a little problem crops up for CTV Winnipeg, which has long aired the market-leading newscast.

When Winnipeg’s six local television stations shut down their old analog transmitters and went all-digital in 2011, four wisely moved up to the channel 14 to 51 UHF band. UHF frequencies are easier to pick up using the small, discreet antennas that mobile devices come with and that people prefer to have in their homes. These higher frequencies are also less susceptible to interference.

Two stations, however, remained on their original VHF channels: CTV Winnipeg on channel 7, and Citytv on channel 13.

This meant lower digital conversion costs for them, but left their stations on frequencies that were vulnerable to interference from thunderstorms and household appliances, with this interference having the same effect as telephone line static does on a dial-up Internet connection. These lower frequencies also require unsightly larger antennas: at least 84 centimetres (33 inches) across for proper channel 7 reception.

As the following video taken on Friday, July 19 shows, reception of most local TV stations using an indoor antenna in south Winnipeg was good to excellent. Even Cityty was coming in nicely, thanks either to a living room window that faces directly toward their transmitter west of Winnipeg or perhaps the station’s relatively high channel 13 frequency.

The exception was CTV, which suffered from poor signal quality and continue to do so all weekend. (As of 10:30 p.m. Sunday, an attempt to tune in CTV using an indoor VHF antenna facing south toward the station’s Ste. Agathe transmitter generates a “Weak or No Signal” message.)

CTV Winnipeg was pre-approved during the digital switchover preparations to use UHF channel 46. Had it taken up this option, it would never have had the reception problems it will now have among the cord-cutters trying to tune the station in on channel 7.

Channels 25, 28, 42, 43, 48 and 49 are also approved for use in Winnipeg.

The seemingly less-afflicted Citytv also has an option to use channel 32.

Two stations in Ontario, CHCH Hamilton and CBOFT Ottawa, have already dumped their old VHF channels in favour of UHF after receiving complaints that their original channel 11 and channel 9 signals, respectively, were unwatchable.

A U.S. site refers to other stations using the same channel 7 frequency as CTV experiencing serious reception problems. This includes WSVN/7 in Miami, which applied for an “emergency” power increase on the day after the U.S. digital switchover in June 2009, even though the station was operating at higher power at the time than CTV Winnipeg does today; and WLS/7 in Chicago, which moved from channel 7 to channel 44 after receiving 1,735 phone calls in a single day complaining about reception problems.