Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013: The Year in Review

2013 was a big year for Canadian consumers in the area of cordcutting and over-the-air TV. Let’s take moment to look back on some of the highlights:

New antenna hardware options:
Whoever thought the market for over-the-air broadcast TV in Canada was coming to a sudden demise was definitely proven wrong in 2013.

With Canadian Pay TV prices skyrocketing faster than food,shelter and phone costs in 2013 a greater number of Canadians joined their neighbours to the south and looked at online streaming + over-the-air digital broadcasting as options, and it showed. Cordcutting came to Canada in record numbers, Netflix overtook HBO in subscribers and antenna sales soared in North America.

Thanks to a growing trend towards the freedom of cordcutting and disputes between pay TV providers and networks, North American consumers fed up of the high prices and shenanigans went out and bought antennas in droves this past year.

Never has there been such a flurry of activity on the antenna market, with antennas becoming more compact, powerful and also stylish. Antennas Direct brought its powerful “DBe” line onto the market, Mohu launched the Curve, Winegard packed a knockout punch in its tiny FlatWave series and Channel Master joined the mini-antenna movement with its newly redesigned SMARTenna. To add to that, newcomer HD Frequency came into the Canadian market with a bang late in the year with its duo of Cable Cutter premium antennas .
Didn't they know broadcast TV is supposed to be dying out? New affordable, powerful and compact antennas like the FlatWave AIR from Winegard popped up all over the market in 2013.

Front and Back-End DVRs
How could the OTA market be dead when PVR juggernaut Tivo included an OTA tuner in its new Roamio box? Also Channel Master finally unveiled its long-rumoured DVR+ powered by PVR-hardware development pro Echostar, which hit the market at a surprisingly competitive price point and has a guide that can work off an antenna input only if required (no need for an internet connection).

Channel Master's new DVR+ may be the OTA PVR everyone has been waiting for all along.

On the backend, several companies are targeting the growing numberof Canadian TV streamers to add programming from OTA signals to their AppleTV and Roku boxes. Canadian newcomer Nuvyyo had a fairly successful IndieGoGo campaign for its new Tablo DVR which can add up to four OTA tuners and whole home PVR capabilities to devices on a home network. US-based SiliconDust teamed up with Simple.TV to offer a similar product and also had the InstaTV Pro app finally released on iOS after a long patent dispute giving new life to its HD HomeRun OTA tuner boxes.

Nuvyyo's Tablo is Canada's take at a high-powered backend OTA DVR.

Channel Selection
There was a lot of movement on the channel front in 2013: CHCH went digital in Hamilton, CityTV came to Montreal and Canal ICI went on-air for the first time. Subchannels also came and went with certain US border stations struggling with poor ratings on their digital subs. Newcomers to the north TuffTV and Antenna TV look to inch closer and get in more Canadian cities by actively looking for dance partners in the northern US.

Uncertainty for Sports
The biggest bombshell of the year in sports media was the signing of a record 12-year $5.2 Billion deal between the NHL and SportsNet, giving the cable TV channel owned by Rogers exclusive hockey broadcast rights in Canada until the 2025-26 season. This served a huge shock to most Canadians who were used to watching regional games on CBC via the traditional “Hockey Night in Canada” on Saturday nights. There was solace but still a lot of uncertainty as the CBC was granted two “national games” under the authority of Rogers to be aired on Saturday nights for the next four seasons. The situation will be even more complicated in Quebec where French-language and SportsNet partner TVA Sports holds the rights.

The Rogers deal changes the landscape of NHL hockey on Canadian TV for the next 12 years. Photo courtesy financialpost.com

As a silver lining for non-cable-subscribing hockey fans, a preliminary broadcast plan showed that additional OTA Saturday night hockey may be added on CityTV affiliates (and perhaps even TVA stations in Quebec, although highly unlikely)  but nothing has been confirmed. However with major viewership numbers and big bucks at stake, many are trying to see what motivation Rogers and TVA would have in airing games for free on Saturday night via OTA. So for many Canadians once this current 2013-2014 NHL season is over, they will be wondering if they will be able to watch a Stanley Cup final via their rabbit ears ever again.

Could there actually be more Saturday OTA hockey in Canada next year? Although early speculations are unlikley to materialize one could always dream... 

What’s to look forward to in 2014
The good news for Canadians is that as the demand for antennas increases in the great white north, the message is being heard loud and clear. Once devoid of quality antennas, Canadian big box stores have caught the winds of cordcutting change as in 2014 Antennas Direct is to be carried by Best Buy Canada and Winegard is expanding its product line with The Source. HD Frequency is actively looking at placing its products with major Canadian OTA speciality suppliers and is offering free shipping to Canada as a promotion in the meantime.

And with new antenna-ready PVRs hitting the market in the form of Tablo, Simple.TV and Channel Master’s DVR+ the options and ease of an OTA setup will only grow for Canadians.


With that being said, all of us here at the Average Joe Team would like to thank you for a great 2013 and wish you and your families a safe and happy 2014. See you all in the new year!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

HD Frequency Cable Cutter and Cable Cutter Mini

Newcomer on the OTA scene serves up practicality, functionality and robust design in its debut

Every so often, Average Joe receives a sample from an unknown or new manufacturer of a product that we test out and end up sending back and not reviewing (our mother taught us to either say something nice or nothing at all). To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect when we received our first samples of HD Frequency’s products but the very fact that you are reading these words is a sign of the good product produced by this new enterprise.

A newcomer to the growing over-the-air TV hardware scene, Massachusetts-based HD Frequency has entered into the antenna market with its Cable Cutter brand and initial offering of two sizes of DTV antennas. Designed with the help of an RF engineer / physicist and tested for extended periods in in OTA-rich New York City, the products are now available for sale. 
The Cable Cutter Mini (above) is targeted at the indoor antenna crowd.
The Cable Cutter (above) is the longer-range product meant for the great outdoors.

Your Average Joe has had the chance to give these two models a shakedown for several weeks and here’s what can be reported:

Model: HD Frequency Cable Cutter
Size: 19” wide by 20 ½” high x ½” thick (hardware) 

Package includes: Cable Cutter, weatherproof connection boot, instructions

Model: HD Frequency Cable Cutter Mini
Size: 5½” wide x 8” high x ½” thick (hardware)
Package includes: Cable Cutter Mini, instructions

Output: One F-type connector (cable coax) on the antenna for RG-59 or RG-6 cable

Pros: Compact form factor, good reception range, solid construction and durability

Cons: Somewhat awkward to mount, look is somewhat “industrial” (matching its ruggedness)

Build Quality
This Made-in-the-USA antenna brings to mind the famous American “no replacement for displacement” engineering philosophy from Detroit’s golden age of manufacturing. These antennas are the most durable and solid we’ve seen. While other manufacturers are packaging paper-thin aluminium foil in plastic cases or using hollow rods and easy-to-bend reflectors, HD Frequency gives a lattice of solid metal that looks likes it could survive a military application let alone the latest windstorm on your roof. The quality is exceptional and never for a second did we have to treat either model delicately. Even the heavy gage wires from the baluns are attached using heavy-duty hardware and the entire unit is sealed with a high quality coating.


The lattices on the Cable Cutter are quite wide but we didn’t notice any issues related to wind over the weeks of testing as the construction is solid and rigid. And despite the fact that the Mini is technically labelled as an indoor antenna, it is made of the same material and finishes as the Cable Cutter and can be used outside if so desired.


So basically this is definitely not the weak “knockoff” type of fabrication quality we see from imported clone brands on the internet and auction sites; it is overall on par with what you would expect from the big boys in the US antenna scene, and then some.


Cable Cutter Mini

The installation instructions for the Cable Cutter Mini are fairly simple. The antenna can be hung from a hook, stuck to a wall or window or as we found, propped upright on a shelf or table using the heavy duty wire gauge for the balun as a prop. Being so small and lightweight allows for many mounting options and word from HD Frequency is a new table top mount is being looked at to allow the antenna to sit like a picture frame.
One minor thing we noticed, and it may simply be due to the somewhat early infancy of this product, is that using the included adhesive mounts is extremely difficult. The reason being that the adhesive pads are so thin the antenna cannot sit flat against a surface (wall or window) as the center hardware mounting the balun touches before the adhesive pads in the corners can make contact. We tried to get around this by rolling the pads into little balls but even then the antenna would pull back and eventually detach. For testing, we eventually replaced the adhesive pads with a thicker 3M product used for non-permanent attachment of objects to a wall (sold in rolls at most hardware stores). We imagine this will be looked at in future iterations of the product. 
The screws seen above protrude from the surface of the antenna on both sides.
Despite the instructions (top), the hardware protruding prevented the antenna to lay flay and the adhesive pads from sticking (middle). After using a different type of sticky tape installation was complete (bottom).

Cable Cutter

Installation of the larger Cable Cutter is also designed to be on a surface or attached to a structure via two mounting holes. We imagine for most people living in apartments or condos this is a great antenna to balcony or window mount.  

Mast mounting the Cable Cutter requires some thought, but is doable.

 Due to the fact it appears it is designed for urban areas, the Cable Cutter posed us interesting challenges in trying to use a more traditional pole or J-mount as there was no real way to attach it to a tubular object (barring from drilling holes). In the end we ended up using a combination of tape and a hose clamp for testing, so if you are looking to tower or pole mount this antenna, get ready for some MacGyver moves.

Assembling the antenna
Perhaps one of the best features of these antennas is that there is no assembly required!

Aiming the antenna
Both antennas had best reception with the largest flat surface aimed to the broadcast towers and with their position upright, although “landscape mode” worked fairly well for the Mini too. We informally measured an approximate beamwidth of 120 degrees which is great if you have signals coming from all over the place or are in between towers.

For the Mini, finding the right spot to install the antenna and rotating it to tune the signal took a bit of time but not necessarily much more when compared to other indoor antennas. It was solid after that.
A great bonus is that there is no reflector on these antennas, meaning you can easily catch signals from both the front and back of the antenna.


We tested both models for several weeks in a suburban area. Both models displayed consistent results over time with the Mini grabbing most available locals and the Cable Cutter having reasonable reception for long range stations. Samples of the results are in the table below for various stations across the RF band with some of our top performing baseline antennas for comparison.

Station (RF)
Distance (mi)
Baseline Indoor Antenna ($50)
Cable Cutter Mini ($40)
Baseline Outdoor Antenna Setup ($160)
Cable Cutter ($90)
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal
No signal

We felt it was important to include the prices of the baselines against the HD Frequency products, especially for our outdoor reference antenna which also happens to be amplified. The values above are the results given a fixed location, maximized to bring in the most DTV stations.
Overall, we found the Cord Cutter Mini stacked up well enough against its indoor counterpart for local stations. The Cable Cutter performed well for a single-sheet passive antenna, especially in the mid-range, as it seems to be optimized around RF 22, where we saw the most gain.

Both antennas definitely put functionality before appearance (i.e. there are no plastic cosmetic covers to found anywhere), which doesn’t necessarily they are bad-looking. If anything, they don’t even look like antennas and would probably fly below the radar of any overzealous condo board in terms of exterior mounting (maybe have some roses grow through the lattice of the Cable Cutter?).

The exposed cables and balun in the center as well as the heavy-duty hardware gives a fairly industrial look to the antennas, but rest assured it is anything but garage-shop.

Prices and Where to Buy
Currently HD Frequency products are available from the company’s website and Amazon.com. The units retail for about $50 for the Mini and $100 for the Cable Cutter with current promotions bringing the price down to $40 and $90 respectively.

Canadian distribution may be coming in 2014 but nothing is confirmed yet.

In an age where some antenna manufacturers seem mostly concerned in giving their antennas sleek packaging, cute names and fancy cosmetics, it was sincerely refreshing to see a young company such as HD Frequency focus on the Engineering aspect and build quality of the design. Despite the fact the antennas lost points due to a decline in performance at the extreme ends of the DTV band and some installation shortcomings, both seem to be products that are on the right track.
The Cable Cutter Mini is a solid indoor antenna option for people in apartments or condos where space is limited and robust reception is needed, and unlike a lot of its indoor-only competitors it can even be put outside if need be. The bigger brother Cable Cutter is a great balcony or eaves-mount antenna, and it performed within a respectful margin to the usual suspects we recommend on this site.

Cable Cutter Mini: 7/10
Cable Cutter: 7.5/10

More information on HD Frequency and its products can be found on the HD Frequency website

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

SiliconDust HD HomeRun Dual Home Network OTA Tuner

Hitting it out of the park – the HD HomeRun Dual provides the most bang for the buck for getting your OTA antenna signal on your home network
Watching TV by antenna a few years ago meant being parked in front of TV to watch a fuzzy analog pictures and fiddling with finicky rabbit ears. Today, thanks to innovative products like the HD HomeRun by SiliconDust, watching TV by antenna has expanded beyond the TV room and plunked that crystal clear digital OTA signal onto your home network.  Hook up your antenna and you can use your Laptop for catching the local news at the breakfast table, turn your PC into a DVR to record your favorite shows or catch late night television in bed on your iPad. Let's take a closer look and see what we find:

Model: SiliconDust HD HomeRun Dual
Size:  4" wide by 5" deep by  1 1/2" high

Package includes: HD HomeRun Dual, Cat5e Cable, RG6 Cable, Power Adapter, Installation CD, Instruction manual

Input: One F-type connector (cable coax) for RG-59 or RG-6 cable, 5V DC power plug
Output: Ethernet network cable female port (Cat5e)

Pros: Great tuner sensitivity, easy to use, compact design, fully loaded accessory package included, good price, widely supported apps and software, units can be added as required to increase number of tuners, software loads are stable with no real bugs or known issues
Cons: Chews through wireless router bandwidth like a hungry termite in softwood, it will be a popular peripheral on your network so two tuners may be used up pretty fast

Build Quality
The build quality of the HD HomeRun is excellent. The plastic casing is of very robust quality with a nice finish and the connectors are solidly installed. It is lightweight but definitely does not come across as cheap.  The unit itself is perfectly silent as there are no fans, so it can be considered “home theatre” friendly as you won’t hear any humming coming from it. Overall, a very clean and compact design.

Compact and well built, so it will last for years and won't take up much room on the shelf.
Installation is a breeze – with only 3 connections and no buttons to press, there’s no way to really mess this up. Simply follow the very clear and easy instructions to connect the unit to your router via the Ethernet port, then screw in your antenna input coax and plug in the unit to power it up. The lights will cycle through various flashing and colour coeds and in the end the green light will stay solid to show you it’s up and running.

Installation is clean and simple, the unit powers up once plugged in.

The unit comes with two tuners allowing any devices on the network drive to take command of these inputs. Tuner sensitivity is better than most built-in TV tuners and is on par with most other high-end OTA DVR and set top boxes we have tested.
The HD HomeRun and its software works very well with Myth TV (Linux) Windows Media Center (PC) and other open source media center and home theatre PC programs. EyeTV or Elgato are able to run the HD HomeRun on Mac Devices.

Turn your PC or laptop into a DVR - The HD HomeRun plays really well with Windows Media Center. Once the software is installed, it easily recognizes the HD HomeRun hardware (top), it populates the program guide with info from the internet (up to 2 weeks, middle) and in no time you can watch your shows, pause, skip and record in crystal-clear DTV (bottom).

For mobile devices and tablets, we found the InstaTV Pro app (recently released after a royalty dispute for iOS) is the way to go and has versions on most platforms (the wireless streaming may put some stress on your modem though!).

Watching TV from your antenna on your iPad, tablet or mobile device has never been easier with InstaTV Pro. Simply download the app and install; the device will stream directly from the HD HomeRun. It automatically locates your HomeRun box on the network (top), downloads program guide info from the internet (upper middle) and displays program info while you browse what's currently on (lower middle). You can then watch in full screen mode from anywhere you decide to wander to in your home.
Performance is highly dependent on how good your router is. We noticed that most standard WiFi routers given by the usual internet service providers have their hands full when streaming fast moving, 720p pictures to a mobile device. There was minor but yet visible picture quality degradation in mostly fast moving programs such as sports.
In general, this is not really the HD HomeRun's fault, but it needs to be considered if you are looking to use this unit as a primary TV source on a larger screen,. In that case,you may want to upgrade your router or go with a wired Ethernet connection.
Prices and Where to Buy

The HD HomeRun Dual retails anywhere between $90 - $120 in Canada. We highly recommend waiting and buying the unit from Canadian  online discount retailers like Newegg as they have regular promotions on this device, making it very obtainable in its sale price range of $60-$80.

Apps to run the HD HomeRun feed on devices range from free versions (usually require the setup of a server on a PC) to aboput $10 for standalone versions. 

Apps like InstaTV Pro retail for about $10 but can stream directly from the HDHR. A free version requires the installation of the InstaTV Pro Server which has to stay running to be used by your devices.

The HD HomeRun Dual when purchased on sale within the $70 price range delivers by far the most bang for its buck for adding an OTA signal on your home network or WiFi. It delivers in terms of tuner sensitivity and performance, comes with a fully-loaded package from the start, is supported by a range of apps and programs on multiple platforms and is sleek and easy-to-use. For that price, there is not much more you can ask for, especially considering it's dual tuner.

With new versions of the HD HomeRun (PLUS, 3) currently coming out on the market, prices of the Dual can be perhaps expected to drop even more, making this unit all that more attractive.

Overall Rating: 9/10

More info on the HD HomeRun Dual can be found on the SiliconDust website .

More info on the InstaTV apps can be found on the InstaTV website.