It’s been two weeks since Videotron added new HD versions of 36 English-language channels for some customers in Montreal. But many people who live in the Montreal area were disappointed or even upset when they turned on their TVs on Dec. 4 and didn’t see the new channels they were promised.
Aside from word of mouth, the only source of information about the new channels came from an article I wrote in The Gazette last month, after a meeting with people at Videotron who explained that the new channels would be available only to people in Montreal who had next-generation Illico receivers.
Videotron itself hasn’t advertised the new channels (with the exception of Sportsnet 360, which was made available to everyone throughout the network) on its website or on other media, probably because of the difficulty in explaining who gets it and who doesn’t.
As we learned after the channels were launched, not all of Montreal has access to the new channels, regardless of which version of the Illico set-top box they have.
Because the new channels are being distributed on new frequencies that aren’t accessible to everyone.
The Montreal network is being “modernized”, using Videotron’s term for it. Head ends, which transmit the TV and Internet data on the coaxial cable lines that reach into people’s homes, are being brought closer to those homes. Instead of each serving, say, 1000 homes, they’re now serving 100 each. This is expensive, but it has a few advantages.
Because in each cell, the same data is being sent to everyone, increasing the number of cells means any data meant for only one home (video on demand, Internet data, VOIP phone data or TV channels distributed through switched video) takes up less space on the network and a channel can be reused 10 times as much. More reuse of bandwidth can mean more HD channels or faster Internet speeds.
The other thing it does is allow the network to operate on higher frequencies. In non-modernized areas, there’s an upper limit of around 800-850MHz, beyond which signals aren’t reliable enough over the distance to the homes to put digital signals there. But in modernized areas of Montreal, data can be transmitted as high as 1000 MHz (1 GHz). This adds about 20 or so new 6 MHz channels, each of which can carry multiple HD feeds. The 36 HD feeds available only to modernized Montreal are transmitted on these frequencies, with two to each 6 MHz channel.
Unfortunately, I still don’t know exactly what areas of Montreal are modernized and which are not. There is no map that I’m aware of. Instead, Videotron is asking people to call their customer service to find out if they have access.
In general, modernized areas include the West Island, the western part of Laval and bits of the north and south shores. The eastern part of Montreal and other areas of the region are not yet modernized, and there’s no word on when they will be.
If you want to find out if you’re in it, the easiest way to do so is to put your address into this form. If you see ABC Spark, Animal Planet and Discovery Science listed as HD (the “HD” will be in red), then you’re in a modernized area. If you don’t, you’re not.
But at least you still got the fireplace channels (552 and 553) for another few weeks.