The State of HDTV Programming In Canada 2009

By Mike on 3:09 pm

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It's been over a year since I wrote about how to get free HDTV in the Toronto area using a digital antenna. This was before the Americans shut off all high power analogue stations last June. Canada is still poised to switch to ATSC in August 31st, 2011. So how is the HD switch progressing in Canada? We've seen a little movement in the past year but the process is still vary slow.

Perhaps the biggest announcement comes from the CBC. My inside sources tell me that the network will be switching to full HD in the next couple of months. Currently, most of its newer programming is already high def, but news and live studio programs (ie. The Hour, Steven & Chris) are not. The shows are currently broadcast in 16:9 SD video. The network is moving away from the tape based DVCPRO format to Sony's XDCAM, which use the blu-ray based Professional Disc. Broadcasts will be 100% server based instead of using tape. This makes editing less time consuming. The process has been slow due to the high cost of the equipment. A single portable XDCAM is upwards of $24,000.

With the CBC moving their news and studio shows to full HD within the next couple of months, this leaves Global as the sole network to broadcast in 4:3 SD video. CTV Toronto made a switch to full HD earlier this year, while CITY Toronto has been in full HD for some time now.

Canadian specialty stations have been particularly slow on joining the HD bandwagon. Movie networks remain the leaders. TMN and MPIX have been HD for some time now. Astral Media debuted HBO Canada in HD a few months back.

Showcase is currently the only Canadian non-sports specialty channel that broadcasts regularly in HD. Discovery HD still has a fairly limited programming repertoire. It airs the same nature shows it always did and really serves as more of a tech demo for high definition than anything else. Popular shows such as Mythbusters and Dirty Jobs are shot in high def in the US but are not aired on Discovery Canada's HD channel. Channels such as The Comedy Network have applied to the CRTC to begin broadcasting in HD. However, there has been no word on when, or if, these will be rolled out. American specialty networks such as A&E, TLC, HDNET, and National Geographic regularly broadcast in HD. Vary few Canadian specialty networks have shown interest in the switch.

Sports channels, being the primary draw to high definition, are leading the pack. The Golf Channel recently debuted it's HD version, which it airs regular HD content identical to the SD version.

Some signs are pointing to movement. Bell TV is currently in the process of reorganizing its high definition channels. Previously, they had a block of 100 available stations in the 800-900 range for high def content. They are currently moving this to the channel 1000+ with more than 500 spaces reserved. This suggests that Bell plans to start offering full time shifting in HD soon. Currently only Toronto and Vancouver stations are available. It also indicates that Bell expects the specialty networks to be making the switch in the near future. Bell still does not offer HD versions of Hamilton based CHCH, and Toronto based multicultural channels OMNI 1 & 2. These are available on OTA antenna and through some cable providers. Cable, however, has been much slower at rolling out HD content and still carries analogue broadcasts.

So, it looks like things haven't really changed in the HD world but signs are pointing to a shakeup. Stay tuned....

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