Using TiVo Series 3 in Canada
Categories: New Tech
I am one of the first, if not the first, TiVo Series 3 PVR owners/users in Canada. Despite its current limitations as a viable product in Canada, I set out my reasons for purchasing the S3 in this thread at Digital Home Canada forum and in this thread on the TiVoCommunity forum. Below are my initial thoughts and conclusions.
While not ready for Canadian prime time, I can certainly recommend it for bleeding-edge, tech-savvy, gadget lovers looking for the best HD PVR available – assuming you have lots of extra cash in your pockets, live reasonably close (within 40 miles) of the local HD transmission towers and don’t mind using it in manual mode until programming guide information becomes available for over-the-air (“OTA”) digital programming in Canada!
For hundreds of posts on others’ experiences with the Series 3 in the U.S., please visit the TiVo Series 3 forum on the TiVo Community Forum website. I recommend checking out Megazone’s S3 FAQ, his S3 review, and his S3 photos. The S3′s user guide can be viewed (in .pdf format) here.
April 24, 2008 UPDATE: Global is now broadcasting in HD and can be recorded on TiVo S3s and TiVo HD’s in Hamilton, Metro Toronto and surrounding areas. Click here for details.
March 2008 UPDATE: As mentioned in my May 2007 update below, I stopped using my TiVo S3 in manual mode and started using guide data from Niagra Falls. Recently I re-did Guided Setup and my TiVo S3 now thinks I’m located in Youngstown New York with zip code (14305). As a result my TiVo S3 provides the proper guide data for all the U.S. broadcast stations I receive in Toronto and, now with the Youngstown zip code, Toronto’s City TV, and CFTO. I still record the other Canadian HD stations in manual mode – though rarely because their content is almost always just a duplicate U.S. content. I expect more Canadian stations will be added to the Youngstown line-up over time. The guide data for CBC exists too, but due to a problem with Tribune’s guide data, I still cannot use it to record from CBC other than in manual mode. See this TiVoCommunity post for details. If/when Tribune/TiVo starts providing native Toronto digital broadcast guide data I will update this post.
December 2007 UPDATE: TiVo S2 Now Available at Retail in Canada. As of December 2007, the Series 2 (non-HD) TiVos are available for sale at retail in Canada – only 9.5 years after their U.S. launch!
September 2007 UPDATE: With the recent updates, the Series 3 TiVo’s now have all the advanced functionality that the Series 2 models have, including multi-room viewing, TiVo to Go, TiVo to Comeback (ie: transferring content to and from a PC over the home network and copying to portable devices like an iPod or a Zune).
May 2007 UPDATE: For some inexplicable reason Tibune and TiVo still do not provide OTA-digital guide data for Canada. Despite dozens of emails, phone calls, forum requests etc. I have not received an answer from anyone at TiVo or Tribune or Zap2It in answer to my question when will OTA-digital guide data be available in Canada. I gave up and decided to set my TiVo with a Niagra Falls New York Zip code. I purchased a dual-tuner S2 to record my analogue and digital cable channels. This combination works well. Ht Niagra Falls guide data gives me everything I need to record U.S.-based network OTA-digital channels in Toronto. It does not have Canadian networks, but since everything I want to record on my S3 originates from the U.S. networks, this is no loss. So, I no longer use the ‘temporary’ manual recording approach that I describe below. I have a fully functional S3 in Canada without the ability to record from analogue cable any more – that’s what the new dual-tuner S2 does.
Nov 3, 2006 UPDATE: On Sunday October 22, My TiVo Series 3 died completely – wouldn’t even turn on. Working with Weaknees my replacement unit arrived on Thursday November 2. The new unit is working perfectly. Please see the warranty replacement details in the new section 14 below.
For people new to the TiVo Series 3, a little background is required.
- Cablecard-based Digital TV Recording: The TiVo Series 3 is primarily designed to support the FCC-mandated cable-card technology for decoding and natively recording digital cable TV channels (including HDTV) from most U.S. cable systems. Unfortunately there is no similar mandate in Canada. No Canadian cable company, that I am aware of, supports the cablecard standard. As such the Series 3 cannot record from digital cable sources in Canada. And, because the Series 3 includes neither an “IR blaster” needed to change channels on digital set-top boxes nor the S-video inputs needed to input analogue NTSC programming output from cable-company supplied digital set-top boxes, the Series 3 cannot be used to record programming originating from digital cable set-top boxes in Canada the way TiVo Series 2 units can. See here for the recent CRTC Notice concerning recent public digital TV related hearings – discussed here. Sadly, I do not hold out much hope that such hearings will result in a similar Canadian mandate.
- Over-the-Air (OTA) Digital Recording: On a happier note, most Canadian-based broadcasters (with the notable exception of Global) now broadcast digital programming, including HD, over-the-air. Most Canadians don’t know this! The TiVo Series 3 really shines with its ability to receive and record such digital programming. Importantly, all Buffalo, and Rochester NY-based U.S. broadcasters are also broadcasting digital television over-the-air with sufficient power to reach the Greater Toronto area. Prime-time programming from these sources are almost all High Definition (16×9, 1080i or 720p) HDTV broadcasts. The Series 3 fully supports the reception and recording from all of these OTA digital stations and can record two shows from two such stations at once. Unlike analogue (bunny ear) OTA broadcasts from the past, digital OTA broadcasts are always pristine perfect in quality – if you receive the channel that is. It’s an all-or-nothing proposition. See below for my fantastic S3 OTA digital recording results/experiences.
- Analogue Cable & OTA Recordings: The TiVo Series 3 can, of course, also record up to two channels at once from any analogue station you receive through your cable lineup or over the air through bunny ears – though recording analogue OTA programming from bunny ears is redundant for the average cable subscriber since those stations are almost always carried as part of a basic cable line up.
2. OTA Digital/HDTV Recording Results:
- Impressive OTA Digital Recording: The most impressive thing I’ve experienced with the S3 is its ability to tune and record digital programming, especially HDTV, from OTA sources. There is no prime-time major network broadcast that my S3 cannot receive and record from where I live in downtown Toronto. RemoteCentral.com provides this terrific summary of OTA digital broadcast channels available in the Toronto area. RemoteCentral.com’s lineups for Ottawa and Montreal are here.
- OTA Digital Channels I Receive: Given the abysmal experience I had during my initial UHF antenna testing with the ATSC tuner built into my Dell TV (see antenna discussion below), I was very surprised by the S3′s top-notch digital OTA reception. The digital ATSC tuner in my Dell 4200 could not receive more than 8 digital channels at a time under the best of circumstances. The S3, on the other hand, is able to tune some 20 OTA digital stations in Toronto (plus two weather channels), including HDTV programming from 12 digital broadcast stations. With the Terk Silver Sensor antenna (see antenna discussion below) my S3 is able to receive and record from the following digital OTA broadcast stations:
# Station 2-1 NBC HD (WGRZ) 2-2 WGRZ radar-weather 4-1 CBS HD (WIVB) 4-2 WIVB radar-weather 4-3 The CW SD (WNLO) 5-1 CBC HD (CBLT) 7-1 ABC HD (WKBW) 7-2 RTN SD (retro tv network) 9-1 CTV HD (CFTO) 23-1 The CW HD (WNLO) 23-2 WIVB radar-weather 23-3 The CW SD (WNLO) 25-1 CRC (CBC French) 29-1 FOX HD (WUTV) 29-2 FOX SD (WUTV) 43-1 PBS HD (WNED HD) 43-2 PBS SD (WNED) 43-3 PBS SD (Think Bright) 44-1 Omni 2 HD (CJMT) 57-1 CITY TV HD 64-1 Omni 1 HD (CFMT) 66-1 SUN TV HD
[October 20, 2006 Update:] Since my first post and testing, OMNI 1 has now started broadcasting on channel 47.1.
[November 1, 2006 Update:] As of today, The CW started broadcasting on 23-1 in HD – replacing its sister station CBS/WIVB that had been duplicated there hitherto. I have updated the table above.
[November 3, 2006 Update:] While using Guided Setup with my second (warranty replacement) TiVo S3, I noticed that Omni 1 and Omni 2 have moved from 47-1 and 1-1 to 64-1 and 44-1 respectively. I have updated the chart above to reflect the changes (see Warranty Replacement details in the new section 14 below).
- Recording Quality: The recording quality is second-to-none. I compared HD versions of “Shark”, “ER” and “Lost” episodes recorded on both the 8300HD PVR supplied by Rogers (connected to my TV through the HDMI input) and the S3 (connected via component input). I played the identical content back to back and paused at identical spots and switched inputs on my Dell Plasma back and forth to compare the results. Without a doubt the TiVo HD recordings were crisper, richer, with much finer details and better colour depth. The TiVo recordings were also brighter. TiVo’s sound quality has always been top notch. My ears cannot distinguish whatever improvements the THX certified hardware is providing. It sounds as good as it always has. The 8300HD PVR may not be fully to blame for the lower HD picture quality. Rogers could be futzing around with HD signal (ie: compressing it some) as it passes through its system. I simply do not know. But I do know the TiVo’s HD picture quality is perceptibly better than the 8300HD PVR – though I will say, the HD picture quality of shows recorded on the 8300 HD PVR have always been very good. Once I return the 8300 to Rogers, I will connect my S3 to my Dell TV with the HDMI input.
- Reliability compared to the Scientific Atlanta 8300 HD (SARA 1.87) PVR: So far the S3 has recorded everything I’ve asked without a glitch. The readers of the various forums I frequent will have already read my stinging reviews of the wholly unreliable, glitch prone and almost unusable 8300 HD PVR. In my opinion, even with its current guide data limitations, using the S3 is a far superior experience in almost every way over using the ‘fully functional’ 8300 HD PVR. No more inexplicable failures to record shows. No more “jumping to live” in the middle of watching a show while it is recording. No more jumping to the middle of a show (and having to rewind) when I start watching a partially recorded show. No more mysteriously vanishing recordings. No more shows recorded in slices (ie: a one hour show being recorded in 7 or 8 bits – can you say “House”?). Bookmarks for each show remember where I left off the last time I watched a show. Jump to tics, fast forwarding and rewinding are actually “fast”. A 30 second commercial skip button. I returned my 8300 to Rogers with glee on November 27. I’m happy to be rid of it and now I save $20 off my monthly Rogers bill to boot! While I really hated the 8300 PVR, it did have two desired features that the TiVo does not. First, it has a free-space-indicator, something I have wanted from TiVo from day one, and which has a renewed importance/utility in the world of gargantuan HDTV recording file sizes. Secondly, you can program it and navigate its menus while watching programming picture-in-picture. Otherwise, in my opinion, it’s a complete bust as a product!
- Manual Mode Only – No Guide Data – Yet: TiVo receives its programming guide data from Tribune (which also supplies programming data to zap2it.com). Among other things (including all of TiVo’s advanced and new features), this data is used to search for and select shows you wish to record, and it appears on the “Now Playing” screen – the TiVo screen that displays what previously recorded shows are available to watch. While Tribune currently provides such information to TiVo from all other Canadian sources: ((i) analogue NTSC (bunny ear) OTA broadcasts, (ii) cable programming (whether analogue or digital); and (iii) satellite TV shows) it does not yet provide TiVo with guide data for Canadian OTA ATSC/digital programming. As a result, until such time as the digital OTA guide data becomes available in Canada, Canadian TiVo users cannot use TiVo’s full functionality for the digital OTA versions of the above listed channels. So, for instance, I can’t currently: (i) search the program guide for future HDTV broadcasts to record, (ii) set up Wishlists or Seasons Passes for programing on those OTA stations; (iii) instantly record shows on those stations that are now airing; etc.). But I can set the S3 up to manually record shows from those channels. For example, I can record ER in HD each Thursday night, by setting up the S3 to manually record for one hour each Thursday starting at 10:00 pm on channel 2-1 (NBC HD (WGRZ)). Note, I only have to do this once for each manual recording. TiVo’s manual recordings can be set to repeat (daily, weekly, etc.). So long as the show is broadcast at that time, it is recorded. I e-mailed Tribune/Zap2it.com and asked when they project guide data for OTA digital stations will be available in Canada. So far I have not received a response.[Nov. 3, 2006 Update: I have not yet received a response from either Tribune or Zap2it. I sent out a few more requests to Tribune/Zap2it yesterday with no responses so far. If anyone has insight into this, please let me know.][Nov. 30, 2006 Update: Thanks to btwyz at the TiVoCommunity, I discovered that I can Report Line-up issues with TiVo's customer support group using this online form. I just made a submission referring them to this blog post. We'll see what happens.]
- Effect of No Guide Data in “Now Playing”: Manually recorded digital OTA shows appear on TiVo’s “Now Playing” screen (the TiVo screen that shows you what has been recorded and ready for viewing) with just the basic information it has (channel recorded, time and date). For example, the ER example mentioned above, shows up in the Now Playing screen as follows: “Rec: 2-1 10:00 pm ……………………. Thu 10/12″Had the programming guide data been available, instead of “Rec: 2-1 10:00 pm” it would have reported the show name “ER”, the channel and time info, the day and date it was recorded and the network bug/logo showing on the right. Until guide data becomes available for digital OTA broadcasts I have figured-out a bit of work-around to make it easier to know what all those manual recordings on the “Now Playing” screen are. When I set-up the S3 to record from a digital OTA source, I also set it up to simultaneously record the first five minutes of same show from an analogue cable channel (in lowest quality to save hard drive space). In this way the cryptic manual recording information shows up immediately above or below the detailed analogue recording information on the Now Playing screen. As a result, I can instantly determine the title of the manual OTA show, I can click on the analogue version to get episode information (episode description, actors etc.), then click page up/down to access the OTA digital/HD version, click “play” and away I go. Not a perfect solution, but good enough until Tribune starts providing TiVo with Canadian digital OTA guide data.
- PSIP Info: The S3 does see embedded PSIP info, when available, for at least the name/call letters of broadcast station. As I navigate either of the traditional “TiVo Live Guide” or the “TV Guide Grid” the station call letters display for about 1/3 of the OTA digital stations. The same information appears on the “Now Playing” screen and all the usual places this info is displayed. My Dell OTA digital tuner receives and displays 24 hours of programming information from several stations. Unfortunately TiVo does NOT use the specific program-by-program PSIP info when available for display on the “Now Playing” screen. That’s too bad. Until guide data for OTA digital content is available in Canada, this would have been helpful.
3. Recording from Rogers Analogue Cable Tier: Recording from the analogue tier is, as expected, flawless. The full range of TiVo functionality works with all programming recorded from these 70ish stations. The quality of the picture is limited only to the quality of the analogue source. Since Rogers does a very good job at providing pure analogue picture quality, the recording and output quality is generally very good.
4. In-the-Clear QAM Digital Recording off Rogers Digital Tier:
- Some Unencrypted QAM SD Stations Available: In this thread (and this one) I explored the possibility of recording unencrypted digital TV from Rogers digital tier. As it turns out, the list I uncovered during my testing is probably exactly the same set of digital stations that the S3 can tune and record. I say “probably” because I didn’t do a station-by-station comparison. I spent about 5 minutes comparing the two and the unencrypted line-ups looked identical from that limited testing I did. I have no reason to suspect they would be different. The available unencrypted digital QAM stations are mostly multiple (time shifted) versions of the same major Canadian networks. Given that no guide data is available for these digital stations and given that I can record these same stations with full guide data from the available analogue line-up, I won’t, personally use my TiVo to record from these stations. Below is the list of the the available in-the-clear digital QAM stations:
# Station 14 OMNI 2 33 CNN 63 STAR 65 TREE 93 OMNI 2 105 ATV (a CTV network channel) 108 CKCO (Kitchener’s (my hometown’s) CTV network affiliate 109 CKY (another CTV station) 110 CFCN (another CTV station) 111 CIVT (another CTV station) 113 ASN (Atlantic Satellite Network) 114 GLB-M (a Global network Maritime affiliate) 117 GLB-W (a Winnipeg Global network affiliate) 118 GLB-C (a Calgary Global network affiliate) 119 GLB-BC (probably a BC Global network affiliate) 123 CH-Vic (a Victoria BC CH Network affiliate) 124 CBNT (CBC) 125 CBHT (CBC) 129 CHEX (CBC – Peterborough) 130 CBWT (CBC) 131 CBRT (CBC) 132 CBUT (CBC) 135 CITYV – City TV 139 CITYW – City TV (western time zone) 140 CITYC – City TV (Calgary) 141 CJON – NTV Newfoundland 221 TREE
- Audio-Only Channels: The S3 is also able to tune and manually record the 40 or so audio-only channels provided with the Rogers digital tier.
- No Unencrypted QAM HD Stations: Importantly, unlike the experiences of some S3 users in the U.S., none of the HD cable-stations on my Rogers digital tier (not even the free OTA channels) are unencrypted and, sadly, my S3 cannot see or record content from those stations.
- Possible Future Manual QAM Channel Mapping: Many on the TiVo forums have requested that TiVo add the ability for users to manually map unencrypted guide-data-less QAM channels with guide data from channels that TiVo has the data for (see, for example, this thread). Tribune already provides TiVo with all the guide data for all Canadian cable digital stations. However, since, the underlying frequencies used to carry the QAM programming on the coax cable are not the same as the published TV station numbers, absent cablecards, TiVo has no way of automatically mapping those stations to known guide data. When users stipulate, during TiVo’s setup process, that they do not have cablecards, that (otherwise available) guide data is not made available to the S3. According to Megazone, “TiVo is looking into the possibility to provide mapping in the future” (see his S3 FAQ for more details). If this becomes a reality in the future, the expectation is that the user would be able to use the S3 to selectively tune into each in-the-clear digital channel, determine what it is (usually from the channel bug in the lower right corner) and then pick from a list of known digital channels provided by Tribune for the local cable provider. In this way the user would be able to “manually map” guide data from known channels to in-the-clear QAM channels provided by their cable operator. The problem with this approach is that the cable company can change the QAM channels at will. Some cable companies are known to do this frequently, others rarely change them. As such, there is no way of knowing how stable such manual mapping will be. For this reason, if TiVo does provide a way to manually map channels in the future, this will likely be an “unsupported” feature – much like how the popular 30 second commercial skip functionality of the TiVo is unsupported. And, of course, the cable companies could always choose to defeat this process by encrypting hitherto unencrypted channels.
- RemoteCentral.com’s “Rogers Unencrypted QAM Channel List” I just noticed today [November 30, 2006] that RemoteCentral.com has this list of Rogers Unencrypted QAM Channels (as of September 2nd 2006). I have not gone through it to verify its accuracy, but I thought I’d include it as an extra source of information on this topic.
5. No Folders for Manual Recordings:
When the S3 records multiple episodes of a particular show, say 4 episodes of The Simpsons, rather than being scattered chronologically throughout the “Now Playing” listings, the user can opt to have all episodes of the same show put in common folders so they are all in one place. Since all of my HDTV recording will be repeating manual recordings until Tribune provides the digital OTA guide data, I was hoping that TiVo would group all repeating manual recordings of the same channel at the same time in the same folder. So, for example, all my manually recorded HD ER recordings would all be put in the same folder. This was not the case. Arghh!!!
6. Purchase, Price and Shipping:
I ordered my S3 from Weaknees.com on Wednesday September 28 and it arrived 12 days later on Tuesday October 10. The price was $799 U.S. plus $31.55 U.S. for U.S. Parcel Post shipping. This translated to $950.51 Canadian. When it arrived Canada post charged me $54.02 GST, $72.03 PST and a $5.00 handling fee. For a grand total of $1,081.56 Cdn. Note: If you choose UPS shipping, instead of the $5.00 handling fee Canada Post charges, you’ll be dinged for another $53.70 customs brokerage charge [See the UPS rape customs clearance charges table here.] Jeff Anderson of PVR Canada indicated to me that he may start stocking Series 3 TiVos if there is enough demand.
The wholesale price to e-tailers is rumoured to be between $450 and $500 U.S.. As such, there is some room for the prices to decline. Indeed, some sites are reporting online prices as low as $699 U.S., including shipping, as of the the time I’m typing this [Oct 17, 2006]. But, of course, whether an e-tailer will ship to Canada or not is always something that needs to be further explored.
7. Guided Setup/Configuration:
- Generally: Setting up the TiVo and using Guided Setup was much easier and faster than my prior experience with S1 units. The process took me about 25 minutes from start to finish (compared to several hours for my first series 1 back in 1999).
- Internet Connection: I connected my TiVo to my home network (hard-wired for now with a Cat 5 Ethernet cable) and it connected to the TiVo mother ship through the Internet without incident.
- Two Crashes: During guided setup the unit crashed/hung twice. A simple reboot solved the problem – it has not crashed or had any glitches since. [Nov 3, 2006 UPDATE: In retrospect this was an ominous sign as the first S3 ultimately died. See the warranty replacement details below for details. I had no such problems with my warranty replacement unit.]
- Defaults to 480i: I was extremely disappointed with the picture quality for the first hour or so until I realized that the unit defaults to 480i output even when connected to an HDTV through component outputs. I was relieved to discover this when I finally got around to checking out the video configuration options. Once I set it to native output (ie: output the content at whatever its native source was (1080i, 720p, 480p or 480i) the picture quality was stellar.
8. Transferring Lifetime/Grandfathered Subscription:
As you may know, until December 31, 2006 those with a lifetime subscription for another TiVo unit can transfer their lifetime subscription to the S3 for $200 U.S. This is especially valuable to current lifetime subscribers since TiVo eliminated the lifetime service option last spring. Initially, TiVo had limited this to TiVo’s purchased from its own TiVo Store. The TiVo Store does not ship to Canada. Happily that policy was changed and now anyone can transfer their lifetime subscription to any S3 purchased anywhere – until December 31, 2006 that is.
As someone who purchased my TiVo lifetime subscription before January 22, 2000, I was able to use my one-time grandfathered right to transfer my S1 lifetime subsctiption to my S3 at no cost. As expected the service rep did not know about the grandfather right when I first mentioned it. But as soon as I told him to reference KDB code 09-07-04, he looked it up and the transfer went through without a hitch.
9. The S3s Future in Canada:
- OTA Digital Program Guide Data: Since Tribune provides all guide data from all other TV sources in Canada, and since it already provides OTA digital programming information for all U.S. jurisdictions, I would expect that it won’t be long before digital OTA guide data is made available to TiVo for its Canadian subscribers as well. When it does, the S3 will become ready for prime-time in Canada and I’ll report that fact on this blog and the usual TiVo forums I frequent.
- Cable-card Support in Canada: It is doubtful that the current Cablecard 1.0 specification will ever be voluntarily supported by cable companies in Canada since there is no legal mandate for them to do so. They have the same bottom-dollar business incentive to fight it tooth-and-nail in Canada as their U.S. counterparts did (and are continuing to do) for years. However, because the bidirectional CableCard 2.0 standard does dovetail somewhat with the Canadian cable companies’ self interest, there is a possibility that it will be supported by some Canadian cable companies at some point after ratification (expected at some point in 2007). The TiVo Series 3 will support the unidirectional sub-feature set of the CableCard 2.0 specification. So, if/when Canadian cable operators choose to support cablecard 2.0, the TiVo Series 3 should be fully functional in Canada with cable plants that support the standard.
- More Digital OTA Stations: OMNI 2 started broadcasting digitally in Toronto a month or so ago on low power. It is the weakest signal I receive. [October 20, 2006 Update: OMNI 1 began digital broadcasts in Toronto within days of my first posting this blog entry]. Global, the only major Canadian network not yet broadcasting digital programming over-the-air in Toronto, has been given an extension by the CRTC and must start broadcasting by June 9, 2008. Despite there being no legal mandate to do so in Canada, other Canadian broadcast networks (including the public broadcaster TV Ontario) do have varying plans to begin digital broadcasts at some point in the future (check with your local broadcaster for more info). Many U.S. stations are currently broadcasting at minimal and low power. As the U.S. reaches its mandatory digital TV transition deadline of February 17, 2009, power levels will increase and the signal strength of U.S. stations will increase – resulting in even more U.S. digital stations becoming available in nearby Canadian border cities.
- Possible QAM Channel Mapping: As discussed above, and as you can read in this TiVoCommunity thread, TiVo is exploring the possibility of allowing users to manually map in-the-clear QAM stations to their analogue equivalents. So guide data for these stations may possibly be mappable/available for them in the future.
- Advanced Features: The S3 has rudimentary support for audio podcasts now and, after an expected software update to match S2 functionality in the coming months, it will allow you to access a limited, but growing, selection of video podcasts (including Rocketboom) in the near future. Given the numerous codecs supported by the S3 (MPEG-2, MPEG-4 AVC/H.264, and VC-1/WMV9), I expect the S3 to more fully support the burgeoning world of video podcasts. TiVo has also launched its TiVoCast service. The details of this service are still sketchy at this point but I expect, over time, that this service will allow users to download TV shows, movies and other content off the Internet (see this recent post on the topic).
- [Nov 14, 2006 TiVoCast Update: Today TiVo made a slew of TiVoCast announcements. By the end of the year the S3 will be updated to include the ability to stream index, search and stream all QuickTime, Windows Media Video and MPEG-4 videos on your home network to your TV. You will also be able to share your home movies with other TiVo users via the Internet. TiVo will also support video podcast subscriptions and playback. Yeah! More details are available: Engadget Demo | CNN| Zatz Not Funny | CNet | PVR Blog | AOL Money | TiVo Press Release | Hollywood Reporter | TiVo Community Forum]
- Superbowl Commercials: I can’t forget to mention that, for the first time, I’ll be able to watch U.S.-based Superbowl commercials in Canada. I’m not much of a football fan. When I lived in the U.S. the highlight of the Superbowl each year was its amusing high-$ commercials. In Canada, the Canadian networks place Canadian commercials over the U.S. commercials. Now that I’ll be able to record the Superbowl in pristine HD quality from a Buffalo source, I’ll be able to watch the U.S. Superbowl commercials unimpeded! Hoo ha!
Assuming you have a device with an ATSC tuner built in (eg: a TiVo Series 3 or an HDTV with an ATSC tuner), in order to tune digital television stations all you need is a standard plain-vanilla UHF antenna and proximity to the broadcast tower(s). The bow-tie antenna or the circular UHF antennas that come with any old-fashioned TV will work just fine for local digital broadcast stations. You can get fancier antennas to tune in more distant stations – but most will not need to spend more than $30 for an antenna under most circumstances.
Unfortunately for me, the only way I had to test OTA digital reception prior to my S3 purchase was with the ATSC/digital tuner built into my Dell 4200 Plasma TV. What I didn’t know at the time was that the tuner in that TV is in no way representative of the digital ATSC tuner inside the TiVo S3. As I mentioned above, the Dell tuner, at its best, received only 8 OTA digital stations when the expensive DB2 Antenna was positioned “just so” beside the window. With the TiVo S3, I can place any decent antenna anywhere in my home and receive 22 digital ATSC stations without glitches of any kind.
I tested 6 different antennas including this high end DB2 Antenna ($64 from Tiger Direct). As it turned out, all I needed was the $15 Terk Silver Sensor that I purchased from Toronto’s Active Surplus – sorry I bought the last one they had in stock. There are many versions of the Silver Sensor. They have cosmetic differences, but they all perform the same. Anyone in Canada can purchase the Phillips variant of the Silver Sensor from Dell.ca for $29.00 Cdn. here). I also purchased a 25′ quad shielded R6 coax cable for $14.00 from Active Surplus to run from my S3 to the antenna (this cable is probably overkill). Don’t bother with any other antenna (especially the powered ones). Purchase any one of the many Silver Sensor variants and be done with it! If you have a short run like I do, you won’t need any pre-amps. In subsequent testing, I now know that the expensive quad shielded R6 coax cable was not needed in my circumstance. The cheapest and flimsiest 25′ coax cable in my closet works just fine and, indeed, is not really necessary since I could place the antenna in my living room if I wanted to.
I am located the 26th floor facing North West with the CN Tower visible off to my extreme left as I look out the window. I live about 3/4 of a mile from the CN Tower (where most of the Toronto-area digital broadcast transmitters are – there may be a few on the First Canadian Place (just a few blocks away from me) as well) and roughly 49 miles from Buffalo’s Grand Island Tower and 80 miles from the Buffalo South tower (ABC/WNED) (See distance tables here and available digital station details here).
On Wednesday October 11th from 5:30 to 6:30 pm I tested both the high-end DB2 Antenna (“DB” on the table below), and my Terk Silver Sensor antenna (“SS” on the table below). I first perched each antenna beside the window (“W” on the table below) pointed at the CN Tower and I tested them again, just sitting on a table in the living room (“L” on the table below), again pointed generally towards the CN Tower with several (at least 3) walls between the living room and outside). Below are the signal strengths I received on the S3 during my four tests:
# Station DB-W DB-L SS-W SS-L 1-1 Omni 2 HD (CJMT) 58 44 58 33 2-1 NBC HD (WGRZ) 74 62 83 64 2-2 WGRZ radar-weather 74 62 83 64 4-1 CBS HD (WIVB) 72 61 76 73 4-2 WIVB radar-weather 73 62 76 73 4-3 The CW SD (WNLO) 73 61 76 73 5-1 CBC HD (CBLT) 95 77 90 88 7-1 ABC HD (WKBW) 86 64 89 71 7-2 RTN SD 85 64 88 70 9-1 CTV HD (CFTO) 87 82 86 86 23-1 CBS HD (WIVB) 75 78 80 82 23-2 WIVB radar-weather 74 77 79 82 23-3 The CW SD (WNLO) 75 78 80 82 25-1 CRC (French) 92 71 90 76 29-1 FOX HD (WUTV) 70 N/A 74 62 29-2 FOX SD (WUTV) 70 N/A 73 62 43-1 PBS HD (WNED) 77 66 74 72 43-2 PBS SD (WNED) 77 65 73 72 43-3 PBS SD (Think Bright) 77 65 73 72 57-1 CITY TV HD 82 45 83 54 66-1 SUN TV HD 86 74 84 84
As you can see, there is no appreciable difference between the DB2 Antenna and the Terk Silver Sensor results. Indeed, the much cheaper Silver Sensor results were better than the DB2 Antenna results for the majority of the stations. Accordingly I would not recommend you waste your money on the more expensive DB2 antenna unless you are situated substantially further away from your local broadcast towers than I am.
Signal strength varies as a result of a number of factors including weather conditions, the amount of power used by the broadcaster to transmit the signal (ranging from 4.1 Kilowatts on the low end (Sun TV) to 1000 Kilowatts on the upper end (Fox)), distance from tower, whether there are obstructions (buildings, hills, trees) between you and the tower and whether the broadcaster directs their signals in any way. For example Sun TV uses just 4.1 kW of power but it is close to me with a line-of-site to the tower. Fox (WUTV), on the other hand, uses 1,000 kw of power but directs their broadcast south west from the tower (in the wrong direction from me), the tower is much further away and the signal must pass through my steel and concrete building (more likely it bounces off the downtown Toronto sky scrapers North West of me and back). This results in the very low powered Sun-TV station yielding better signal strength than the much higher-powered Fox station.
Nonetheless, I was enormously surprised with the results I received from the Buffalo towers. Facing north west as I do, the line-of-site between my condo and the Buffalo Towers goes through my concrete and steel building. I did not receive any Rochester-based stations (95 miles south-east of me).
11. Series 3 Reviews/Demos:
12. Canadian HDTV Reference/Links: Here are some other links that may be helpful to those considering HDTV and HDTV PVR options in Canada:
- Canadian Digital Television
- Digital Home Canada’s “The OTA Forum Knowledge Base and FAQ Thread“
- CEA’s Antenna Web FAQ (not specific to Canada)
- Remote Central’s “Toronto & Buffalo Area HDTV FAQ“
13. Thanks: Thanks so much to Dan203, Megazone, d0ugmac1, samo, cwoody222 (Chris), rickerk (Keith), John949, Yaamon, 57, stampeder, classicsat, greg_burns, stevereis, btwyx, phox_mulder, texmex, Chester_Lampwick and all the others from the Digital Home Canada, TiVo Community and TiVo Canada Forums that helped me in my ATSC/antenna/S3 research over the last few months!
14. Warranty Replacement: [March 8, 2007 Update] On Sunday October 22, I unplugged the S3 and moved it from where it was during testing (on a chair beside my TV), to its permanent home in my console under the TV. I made room for it, along with my Xbox 360 that had been standing beside the TV for a year, by removing my Rogers 8300 PVR and my original XBox. But, when I plugged it back in, the lights on the front panel turned on but nobody was home – the TiVo S3 was brain-dead. I tried several different things, including everything TiVo’s customer support folks in Albuquerque recommended, but it never came back to life. I do note that its fan turned on, the Toslink digital audio light on the back turned on and, by the unit’s vibrations, the hard drives felt like they were spinning. But, alas, successive attempts to revive it resulted in no lights returning to the front panel at all and absolutely nothing being output from any of the HDMI, component or S-video outs. I guess those two crashes during my initial Guided Setup were indicative of something after all.
Despite not having purchased the unit directly from TiVo, the TiVo customer support folks were all set to ship me a replacement unit, all costs covered, until they discovered I lived in Canada. When they discovered my location, the customer support rep said TiVo doesn’t ship replacement units to Canada and that I’d have to get help from Weaknees. Fortunately, Jeff at Weaknees has been very helpful and responsive. We had a few snafus owing to the how the U.S. and Candian postal systems work, but 10 days after they shipped a replacement unit, I received it.
I paid to ship the defective unit back to Weaknees, Weaknees graciously paid for shipping the replacement unit back to me. Weaknees charged my credit card for the second unit and credited my Visa back with the full amount when the defective unit reached them. I chose the cheapest Canada Post shipping method to ship the dead TiVo back for burial (the cost – $34.64 Cdn).
Canada post charged me PST and GST AGAIN ($133.58 this time) – even though weaknees clearly marked “Warranty Replacement” on the shipping documents. Ultimately the lady at the local Shopper’s Drug Mart post office pointed out that there is a mechanism to request a refund from the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA”). Indeed, the request for refund form is printed on the back of the Canadian Border Services Agency (“CBSA”) Postal Import Form that came with it.
I contacted the CBSA at 1.800.461.9999 (dial 0,0 for a person) and the lady there said that the brokerage people should have noticed the “Warranty Replacement” notice and not charged the PST and GST again. For future reference she recommends that Canadians ask U.S. shippers shipping replacement units under warranty with the following in big, bold red letters on the cover documents:
“Warranty Exchange – No Charge”
Weaknees had to include the product value in the documents for insurance purposes. The CBSA agent said this is no contradiction. The people at the border are supposed to understand that, in the case of warranty replacement units, the $799 declared value is for insurance purposes only. She told me that had Weaknees declared the value being $0, as I had suggested, that this would have raised a red flag and my S3 would have been held up longer at the border.
In order to file my refund request I needed to provide all documentation including confirmation that the defective unit crossed the border back to the U.S. Weaknees sent me a scanned .pdf copy of the shipping documents on the box when it arrived in California. I submitted the refund request to the nearest CRA Casual Refund Centre (I didn’t even know these places existed before this) as instructed on November 22, 2006. The Shopper’s Drug Mart/post office lady and the CBSA agent both said it takes 6 weeks or less to obtain the refund. I received my refund cheque ($131.05) on Thursday March 8 – some fifteen weeks after submitting it.
Guided Setup on the new unit went without a hitch. TiVo has been happily recording HD and other digital and analogue cable shows ever since.
I must say, as crappy as this experience was, the worst part of it was having to use the 8300 HD PVR for another two weeks. Last Tuesday, House finally started up again – it was on hiatus during the World Series. As with every other 8300 attempt to record it, it was recorded in slices (eg: 8 minutes record in one file, then 12 minutes in another, and on and on – and sometimes there are missing slices). It has been suggested on the Rogers 8300 PVR Forums at the Digital Home Canada site that this is due to a problem with the WUTV Fox broadcast tower in Buffalo and not with the Rogers PVR. I say bullocks to that! My S3 records every HD OTA program originating from WUTV’s tower without a glitch.
On Wednesday I made double sure (as one must with EVERY show set to record on the 8300) that it was all set to record another favorite show – Lost. It was listed in the “Scheduled Recordings” list, I navigated through the onscreen guide to be sure it was highlighted in red indicating it was set to record. Yupp, all set to record. But, when I sat down to watch it later that evening – it had not recorded. I checked the Scheduled Recordings list again. There it is/was – on the list – but no recording. This is no real surprise as this has happened to me dozens of times with the 8300 in the past. You simply cannot expect the 8300 to reliably record anything. Thankfully my S1 TiVo was set to record it (and every other show set to record in HD on the 8300) as a needed backup.
I paid for another month’s rental of 8300 to get me over the S3 warranty replacement hump. It is definitely going back to Rogers at or before the end of November. With my new S3 and my old S1, I have a TiVo-solution to record everything I want recorded here in Toronto.
I returned my 8300 to Rogers with glee on November 27. I’m happy to be rid of it and now I save $20 off my monthly Rogers bill to boot! I read in January of 2006 Rogers finally rolled out a software update to the 8300HD making it less agonizing to use than it was during the time I used it.
- Failed Getting TVersity to Stream to Xbox 360 (December 8, 2006)
- Success with Movie Playback on my Xbox 360 using VLC (November 23, 2006)
- Using TiVo Series 3 in Canada (October 15, 2006)