With so much content available from such a variety of sources, more and more Canadians are looking at cutting their cable bills. One option to consider is taking advantage of TV stations that broadcast free over-the-air (OTA). I was able to test out the Homeworx HD Digital Converter Box combined with the Clearstream 4 Outdoor antenna and a Philips PVR and was surprised how many channels I was able to pick up in my little corner of the world. With this equipment it is a very economical and simple way to get a bunch of free OTA TV channels.
The overall configuration is extremely simple. The outdoor antenna is connected directly to the Homeworx Converter Box using a long piece of coaxial cable. Then simply connect the Converter Box to the TV using an HDMI cable and your free OTA channels are available for viewing. I added the Philips Digital Video Recorder (DVR) in order to be able to record the OTA stations, plus the DVR does media streaming for even more content.
It was easy to add the Philips DVR by connecting it to the Converter box with the provided coaxial cable, and then using an HDMI cable to connect it directly to my TV. The equipment configuration is not only very easy to set up, but I really liked the fact that there aren’t a lot of messy cables involved.
Setup of Equipment
I used the Clearstream 4 Ultra Long Range HDTV Antenna from Antennas Direct. Assembly of the antenna was extremely simple, maybe taking 15 to 20 minutes to do so. The antenna instructions suggested two things: testing out the reception in your area before mounting it, and using the site www.antennapoint.com to find out what TV stations are broadcasting OTA in your area. The problem with this site is it only shows the US stations and nothing in Canada so I went to www.tvfool.com to see what Canadian stations I should get.
Initially I mounted the antenna on a block of wood and placed it in the backyard, but only got 3 stations that weren’t all that clear. I then took the antenna on to my roof and placed it on the chimney where I was able to suddenly get 9 stations. With a few minor antenna adjustments all had a very clear picture so I was in luck.
Set up of the Homeworx Digital Cable box was extremely simple. When you initia,ly power it up, it walks you through a basic setup menu that takes only a couple of minutes. The setup involves setting up the time and date and scanning for OTA channels. If you do move your antenna, you have to remember to rescan for channels on the digital cable box. For instance, when I put the antenna on my chimney, I initially only got the same 3 channels I found in my backyard, but rescanning the Homeworx box then discovered all 9 channels.
The Philips DVR is also a breeze to set up. Power it up and it also walks you through a simple setup procedure, setting the time and looking for Internet connections. It took at most 5 minutes to walk through, as it was a very well designed simple process.
When I started I really wondered what channels I would be able to pick up OTA. Quite frankly I was surprised to get 9 stations as my home is at the base of a mountain where I assumed reception would be questionable, especially since my cell phone reception at home is a bit problematic.
Even though I got 9 channels with clarity, I wasn’t excited enough to leap out and cut my satellite service. The channels I got were: CHEK TV – HD (Vancouver Island general TV Station), MeTV (classic shows from the 50s to the 80s), CoolTV (an all movie channel from KVOS), SurSagar (an ethnic Punjabi station), KBCB HD (shopping network), KBCB SD (shopping network), KBTC (a PBS children’s channel), KBTC-2 (MHZ Worldview), and KBTC-3 (Variety). As you can see, there is quite a bit of variety with the OTA channels; from older classic TV shows like Dragnet, Perry Mason, Mash, Gilligans Island, and the Twilight Zone to children’s PBS TV for Sesame Street and a variety of kids shows.
What you can get from my experience with OTA is that “it works!” and you will likely get a fair number of stations, depending on where you live. You can’t judge solely on my stations as you may very well get more, especially if you live closer into the city. You also may very well get even more variety. I think it is definitely worth testing out, especially if you are starting to get serious about cutting your cable. Once you have invested in the antenna and cable box, which isn’t a very big cost, there are no ongoing monthly costs.
Features of System
The Homeworx Digital Converter Box comes with a decent remote that gives you full control over what you are watching – change channels, volume, mute, CC, etc. The Homeworx Converter Box allows you to record in a number of ways. You can record either to a PVR like I did, or you can record on to a flash drive placed into the USB port. The recording can be real-time, or you can set up the timer to record while you are away. In addition, the recording function can timeshift, meaning you can pause what you are watching and record it, and then watch while still recording the rest of the program.
The Philips DVR has an even better remote. It has some additional buttons that are shortcuts to media streaming channels like YouTube and Netflix. Like the Homerworx Box it can record real-time, do timeshift recording, or pre-program a recording. The Philips DVR will also record to another hard drive connected to it via the USB port. This is not likely necessary since the DVR has 1 Tb of capacity, which will take quite a while to fill up. However, if you do like to store a lot of content this is a simple way to add capacity.
In terms of media streaming, the Philips DVR only had a few channels available: CinemaNow, YouTube, and Netflix. It connects to the Internet either with WiFi or an Ethernet connection. I always try to use Ethernet when streaming and found no lag in the streaming when playing content. It was consistently clear and smooth. The menu on the Philips DVR is extremely easy to use, especially since the remote comes with a home button that takes you to the main menu in one step. Menu selections are very intuitive, no training required!
Free OTA TV Stations are available for anyone that wants to grab them. All you need to do is invest a small amount in a little hardware that is very simple to set up. The Homeworx Digital Connector Box along with the Philips DVR is a good combination that works well together and can get you on your way to cutting your expensive cable service. Augment it with other content sources and you could be well on your way. The trickiest part is mounting the antenna in the right spot, which isn’t all that difficult but Geek Squad can always help if you need it. With free content for life you really don’t have much to lose by trying to grab some of your own OTA stations.
By Tom Brauser, Editor Home Theatre
I love to try new technologies and I have a practical approach to techie stuff – it has to be easy to use and make my life better. I have my house fully wired, with a surround sound system in my family room for music and TV viewing, but also drive music throughout the house as well as outdoors. I Internet stream content on all my devices at home, which provides a huge variety of entertainment to enjoy.