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Finding decent HD options in Montreal not an easy task

December 3, 2009

Looking for simple pricing and easy to understand HD programming options from Canada’s Cable and Satellite providers? Good luck. After living the last few months with my all-u-can-download high-speed internet and a $20 antenna that picks up HD feeds of CBS, NBC and PBS from south of the border, I decided to take a look at my options for getting some more HDTV. Being in Montreal, my options are limited: Bell, Videotron, and Shaw Direct (née StarChoice), a company that seemingly doesn’t even advertise in Quebec anymore.

I really couldn’t care less about SD channels. Once you go HD, it hurts your eyes when you watch them. So I called all of my Montreal options up directly, and told them what I wanted: A package which gets me as much HD content as possible, at a reasonable price, and I couldn’t care less about SD channels. Here’s a rundown of what I was offered:

What’s amazing about Videotron is that despite going out of their way to serve English customers, (Their terrific english website lists a contact phone number that puts you through directly to an English-speaking customer service rep) they continue to provide the most paltry offering of English HD content possible. The wonderful CSR – who I won’t name so I don’t get her fired! – was very frank. She told me she gets tons of calls about this, that Videotron is trying to negotiate deals to provide more HD offerings, and that if I wanted HD programming, Videotron wasn’t the right choice for me – at least right now. Videotron offers just 35 HD channels, many of them French specialty channels whose programming consists mainly of upconverted SD crap and dubbed episodes of House. And since I spent the last three years with Videotron, I’ve seen first hand how slowly they’ve added HD channels. So I didn’t bother asking for pricing, it’s just not an option. I should also note that Videotron’s channel grid is a complete mess. Channels are ordered in a completely non-sensical manner, a holdover from Videotron’s traditional analog cable past. Videotron is certainly a great option for Quebeckers who don’t mind a limited HD selection and want to bundle services like internet and home phone – it’s just not the right choice for HD fanatics.

Moving on to the company that is somewhat under the radar, Shaw Direct. Shaw boasts that they have the nation’s largest selection of free HD channels, but costs do seem to add up quickly when trying to create a package. If you’re focused on getting as many HD channels as possible, you’ll need to pony up an extra $4.99 for the HD Extra pack, $2.99 for TSN and Rogers Sportsnet, and $3.99 to get RDS/RIS (read: Habs games). Add those extra costs to the seemingly decent $54.99 Digital Favourites package and you’re looking at over $75 after tax. Upgrade to a more expensive Platinum Choice plan and you’re going to spend a Robert Borden ($100) a month.

In their defence, Shaw allows you to add another satellite and receiver (for your country home, RV, or Florida winter pad) for a one-time fee of $99, doesn’t charge to suspend your subscription for up to six months, and requires no contract. I just wish they offered clearer, more concise options when it comes to HD programming.

Where do I start with Bell TV. I’ve told you about my experiences with the company. I’ve shown you detailed accounts from whistleblowers in the company that highlight all of their anti-consumer practices. So it goes without saying that it would take a lot to convince me to sign a service contract. Having said that, I still called Bell, just to see how they were screwing their customer this time what they were offering. It pains me to say it, but Bell offers the simplest HD plans, conveniently called HD Basic ($13), HD Essentials($49), HD Extra($70), and HD Max ($85). Be warned though, in typical Bell fashion, the company is raising monthly rates by $2-4 as of January 1st. As well, Bell wants to get you into a two-year contract, although if you’re willing to pay $99 for installation, you can avoid that.

Some other options to consider:

If you are lucky enough to be able to, get a good outdoor antenna and point it south towards Mount Mansfield in Vermont. You should be able to get CBS, NBC, PBS, and FOX this way in uncompressed high-definition. ABC’s signal is apparently not strong enough to reach us. American channels are now digital-only, so you’ll need an HDTV with an ATSC tuner to receive these signals. You can also buy a converter box from the U.S. and connect that to an old tube TV if you’re super keen.

VDN also offers cable service and HD channels, but it isn’t available in many areas of Montreal. They do good business in large apartments and condos, so head to their website and punch in your postal code to see if it’s available.

Oh, and what about Look TV, the company with the funny microwave antennas? They stopped providing service on November 15. As someone who had Look TV about a decade ago until I bought my first HDTV set just over three years ago, I kinda felt sad for about 12 seconds when I learned the news. Maybe if the company had invested in HD, it would have survived.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Peter Kaymak permalink
    December 4, 2009 1:29 PM

    Hey Elias, I couldn’t agree more with your assessments. When I was living in an apartment with my gf, we had Bell HD and the television was fantastic. Needless to say, service made me gag and there was a minimum of two errors (extra charges) on my bill per month – without fail!

    I’m with Videotron now because the condo we bought didn’t allow dishes and was already pre-wired and ready to go for Videotron. I hate the programming they offer, and if it were up to me, I’d cut all TV to the house and settle for anything I could download (which is pretty much anything nowadays). Unfortunately, my gf would die without “So You Think You Can Dance” and “American Idol” and all of the other absolutely atrocious shows she subjects me to.

    The thing that irks me the most though, is the quality and functionality of the Videotron receiver and the software that runs on it. When you’re in “guide” mode and you’re browsing channels – when you press up, the channels go down, and vice versa!! (up goes 66, 65, 64, 63 and down goes 66, 67, 68, 69…) I dont know why, but this just infuriates me! The Bell HD PVR is far superior to the Videotron equivalent. It can operate on two television sets (watch different programs on each TV, or a different recorded program on each TV!) This is very convenient when you live with a gf who’s favorite shows are Oprah and Dr. Oz and all you want to watch is baseball playoffs and LOST. You could watch recorded shows, stop them midway and then pick up right where you left off a week later. With Videotron, you’re always stuck trying to find where you left off.

    Bell does cost a fair deal more, so I guess you get what you pay for..

    Choosing HD programming providers is a classic case of the lesser of two evils.. Unfortunately, I don’t see anything positive for Montrealers on the horizon.

  2. December 5, 2009 6:01 PM

    I know your pain. Bought my first flat-screen three weeks ago and still in limbo. My current cable (from VDN) is analog, so I’m not getting the most out my television. I don’t have a contract with VDN, so I can move in whatever direction I want. Internet, land line, turbo stick, and cell phones already with your friends at BELL. Trying to figure out whether just to upgrade with VDN, or try to bundle with BELL. You may want to hire yourself out as a personal consultant to consumers like myself who don’t have the time to sort through the maze.

  3. William permalink
    April 13, 2010 4:19 PM

    Thanks for this article. I’ve had a HD TV for a few years now but only watching HD shows I’m downloading from the web. So I don’t have cable TV, only internet. It’s OK but I would like to watch HD sports sometimes, on RDS HD and TSN HD… I just need these two freakin’ channels, or at least one of them! The cost? 75$/month minimum, including the decoder. This is insane. I can’t use a dish in my semi basement condo, so I’m pretty much screwed. We definitely live in the third world of HD TV in Montreal and maybe even Canada. There’s simply no competition, and it allows providers to charge insane prices.

    We need either of these solutions:

    1) A TV provider that streams all channels through the web
    2) All important channels would stream their content
    3) All important sport channels would stream events

    RDS used to stream hockey games, you pay 3$ for each game. It was perfect for me. They stopposed doing so, and for now, the only streaming I can get is free streaming from CBC on saturday night games.

  4. Ivan permalink
    April 7, 2011 7:48 PM

    I wanted to go with Bell, but the building I live in has an EXCLUSIVITY contract with VDN which means I have little to no choice.

    Rogers doesn’t run cables/provide service to my build, so I’m stuck with either VDN or Videotron. I signed up with Videotron and I’ve had nothing but problems so far. The CSR I dealt with completely misled me initially telling me I’d get this and that channel, only to find that if I want to get the grouping of channels that I actually want I have to subscribe to an additional 2 packges (of channels I’ll never watch) which will add another $13 to my monthly bill.

    As soon as I find a viable option I’m dumping Videotron, but really the only channels I want at all are:

    Global HD, CBS HD, CTV HD, ABC HD, FOX HD and NBC HD, as well as HBO HD and TMN HD – everything else can rot, but can I get those channels? Of course not. It doesn’t even look like VDN *offers* TMN.

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