Over-the-air TV signals switch to digital from analog transmission as of Thursday morning in most major cities across Canada. The federal government and the CRTC mandated the change in order to free up broadcast spectrum. Here's how it will affect you.

What is digital TV?

Digital TV, or DTV, is a new format for broadcast television that allows high-definition video (HDTV) and surround-sound audio to be sent over the air for free, without cable or satellite service.

DTV uses less bandwidth than analog TV. Regulators are reallocating that bandwidth for other purposes, such as advanced internet wireless and emergency public safety services.

  • If you watch television via satellite or cable, you won't be affected. Satellite signals are already digital, while cable providers will continue to transmit the analog channels in their lineups the old way — though it's expected analog cable channels will eventually be phased out.
  • If you watch TV via an antenna or set-top rabbit ears and you live in one of 30 markets (including provincial capitals or cities with more than 300,000 residents), you will need a newer television with a built-in digital tuner, or a converter box that turns the digital broadcast signal into an analog one that older TVs can use.
  • In smaller markets, broadcasters are allowed to continue transmitting analog signals over the air. For the most part, residents won't be affected, though there will be some shifting of channels
  • Some people are choosing to cancel their subscription to cable or satellite TV, since over-the-air digital broadcasts often have better, or at least equivalent, picture and sound quality
  • GlobalTV and CTV are converting all their required transmitters to digital by the Wednesday night deadline, but the CBC is not. Unless it receives a further exemption from the CRTC, cities like Saint John, Quebec City, Saskatoon and London, Ont., will lose their free, over-the-air English CBC broadcasts next August, while places such as Calgary and Windsor, Ont., won't get transmissions of French-language Radio-Canada.
Map of Canadian markets required to convert to digital over-the-air TV transmission: