Cable TV is getting expensive – but there is an alternative

A little over two years ago, I cancelled my cable TV subscription. It was a great decision, and I’ve never regretted doing it. I’m still enjoying great TV programming (in fact, better TV programming) and saving a considerable amount of money in the process.

Two factors drove me to my decision to cancel cable TV. The first was the never ending rate increase notices that seemed to show up in my mailbox every few months. There comes a point when you say enough is enough and begin to research alternatives. The second factor was the implementation of over the air digital TV signals. Unlike the previous analog technologies, the new digital broadcast standards offer a picture quality that is as good, if not better than cable. Why pay for cable if you can get a perfect HDTV signal for free?

Our viewing profile

Before I go any further, I must caution that cable cutting isn’t for everyone. Your success will largely depend on your television viewing habits. We’re a two person household who watches about 6-8 hours of TV a week. On an average week we watch six different TV shows and one or two movies. We only watch live sports if they’re broadcast on a Canadian channel.

If you’re family has similar viewing habits, you may be a good candidate for over the air HDTV. On the other hand, if you watch lots of sports programming on TSN or other sports channels, or enjoy specialty cable channels, then cord cutting my not be for you.

Our journey to (almost) free TV

db8 antenna

Before we cancelled our cable service, we carefully examined our viewing habits to ensure that any alternative would adequately meet our needs. In a nutshell, these are the steps we took:

  1. We had an outdoor HDTV antenna installed on our chimney at a cost of $191 (parts and labor). The installation fee included having the antenna feed (COAX) brought into our basement, grounded and connected to our existing televisions. The installer also ensured that the antenna was properly aimed and that the signal was present on both our televisions.
  2. We purchased an Apple TV ($100) to watch Netflix, rent new movie releases and TV shows and watch video podcasts.
  3. We  purchased an WDTV unit to watch content from Netflix and CinemaNow on a second TV. We could have elected to use a second Apple TV on this unit as well.
  4. We increased our Cable Internet service to a higher tier in order to accommodate the extra bandwidth that internet video would impose.

In the end, we spent about $500 up front to complete the conversion to over the air / internet video. We eliminated our Cable/PVR bill altogether, saving us $125 a month. We also increased our cable internet service by $25 a month. Therefore, our realized monthly savings are about $100 a month, or $1200 a year. We have not added the cost of Netflix or movie rentals to our total cost, as we used these services before the transition.

Apple TV
The Apple TV provides quick and easy access to Netflix and Movie Rentals. The device also features one of the best video podcast directories we’ve ever come across.

Channel availability and signal quality

From my residence in Barrhaven, with a decent quality outdoor antenna mounted on my chimney, I am able to receive the following channels over the air in an HDTV resolution of 720P:

  • Channel 4.1 CBC Television English
  • Channel 6.1 Global Television English
  • Channel 9.1 CBC Television French
  • Channel 11.1 CHCH TV (not sure if signal is HD)
  • Channel 13.1 CTV Ottawa
  • Channel 14.1 OMNI 2
  • Channel 24.1 TVOntario
  • Channel 30.1 Télé-Québec
  • Channel 34.1 French Television
  • Channel 40.1 TVA
  • Channel 42.1 CTS
  • Channel 43.1 CTV 2
  • Channel 60.1 OMNI 1
  • Channel 65.1 CityTV

Depending on your location and antenna quality, you may be able to access as many as 8 additional channels, including American networks broadcasting from northern New York. I have been unable to tune into these channels, although I’ve heard of others who have.

In terms of signal quality, you should do well as long as your antenna is outdoors and mounted at roof level. I’ve tested a few different indoor antennas and was only able to receive a few channels. Outdoor is the way to go if you want to do this right. Channels are received in full HD at 720p resolution. I have rarely experienced pixelization as a result of a low signal. But that can happen if you live directly under a flight path, so be aware of this if you’re located closer to the airport. I’m located near Ceaderview road, and plane traffic rarely affects my signal.

Questions to ask your antenna installer

  • Will you properly aim the antenna for us?
  • Will you properly ground the antenna?
  • Do you bring the COAX feed into the house?
  • Do you setup our televisions for over the air HD and verify signal strength?
  • Do you guarantee your work?
  • Are you insured and bonded?
  • Do you have references?


We’ve stopped paying for cable over two years ago and have saved over $2400 in the process. We are still enjoying much of the same programming we watched before cancelling cable. For us, this was the right decision. Whether it works for you largely depends on your viewing habits. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.


The Barrhaven Blog