How to get High Definition TV with Videotron

This post is embarrassing to write because I have to admit to having been something less than a rocket scientist when it comes to HDTV. It’s true that HDTV is a quagmire of formats, conflicting opinions, hype, and commercial madness. No mere mortal can be expected to understand it without doing an awful lot of reading. But still, what I’m about to describe is just lame and stupid, but I’m not sure if I was the lame and stupid one. (Read on, then you decide.)

If you are a Videotron HDTV subscriber, please
take the poll at the bottom of this post.

I first saw HDTV in 1997, at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual trade show in Las Vegas. It was playing on a 32-inch, 16:9 ratio CRT television. The video showed a Japanese woman in a little boat drifting through a pond full of waterlilies. I was blown away by the clarity (plus I had never seen a 16:9 television before). It was billed as a technology “in development,” soon to be available in Japan, and then it would conquer the world.

That was 12 years ago, and the conquest has finally begun.

Late last year, Martine and I decided to splurge on a high definition television for our house. We don’t watch a lot of TV, but when we do watch, we like to be fully immersed. There’s no reason why watching TV shouldn’t be like going to the movies. And speaking of movies, we had grown tired of watching DVDs in low resolution, on a 3:2 boxy screen. Forget that; the prices of HDTVs has been steadily declining, and the new generation of “Full HD” (1080p) TVs had been on the market long enough to also see some drops in price. 1080p was a pretty big leap, and it will be some time before the next standard comes along to replace it, so, we figured, now is the time.

We did the research. Oh, did we read. We read about resolution, refresh rates, progressive scanning, HDMI cables, Blu-ray vs. HD DVD, and anything else we could get our hands on. I signed up for user forums and posted questions and got answers. By early January we had pretty much decided on the model we wanted, and we even found a good price on a TV and disk player (fortunately, we went with Blu-ray).

Nice picture!Before the month was out we had the thing set up and running in our living room. To take advantage of the TV, we also upgraded our Videotron Illico digital TV terminal to the HD version. Everything looked and sounded great.

Well, not everything. Whereas DVDs (whether Blu-ray or regular DVDs) looked spectacularly stunning and cinematic, regular television just didn’t seem that great. It usually wasn’t bad, it just didn’t seem as good as it should, and didn’t look anything like television looked in the TV show rooms.

We called Videotron and made inquiries. They assured us that if we were using the HD Illico terminal, and if we were getting a signal, then we were seeing TV in HD. We called again, on another occasion, and got the same response.

One day a Videotron technician came to the house to replace the Internet modem. Martine took the opportunity to show him the television and to ask him if it looked like HD to him. He looked at the image, shrugged, and said “if you have an HD terminal and you can see the picture, it’s in HD.”

Months passed. The shows we like to watch — many of which are supposed to be in HD — had their season finales. Then, one Saturday in early June, I was in a Dumoulin store, looking at a 42-inch television showing CBC in HD. I noticed that the little watermark in the corner showed the CBC pizza and it had an “HD” next to it. It also showed the five ring Olympics logo, and it was crystal clear.

That evening, we tuned into CBC. The Watermark said just “CBC” and the Olympics logo was fuzzy. Frustrated, Martine picked up the phone and punched in the number for Videotron, again. We got the usual song and dance. The guy even checked something on his end and confirmed that we were getting the HD signal. She asked him why none of the stations had “HD” written on their watermarks, and he did not know why.

Then he said “go to channel 612 and tell me what you see.” Huh? Why channel 612? We’ve been using Videotron digtial TV for years, and we know that the stations start at 2 and run up to around 215 or so. Plus there’s the Video on Demand stuff, and a bunch of radio stations in the 500s, but nothing beyond that (the channels run up to 999). So why the heck is he sending us to 612?

Martine punched in 612. Whoa! (As in, we both went “WHOA!!!”) There was Jay Leno, clearer than in real life. I could count the whiskers on his lip. I could see the flecks in his eyes. WHOA!

That’s when the support guy on the phone said “What? Haven’t you been watching the 600 channels?” [Update: Martine reminded me that the support guy didn’t even know about the 600 channels; he got that information from his supervisor.]

Um.

WHAT FRAKING 600 CHANNELS?

Well, it turns out that if you get an Illico HD terminal, and you have an HD television, the HD channels are way up there in the 600s (i.e, channel 603, 604, 605, etc.). We get about 15 of them. But since nobody told us, how were we to know? All along I had assumed that the terminal would simply spit out the HD signal in the old locations we were used to. After all, why give us CBC in both low res and HD? Just give us the HD version where the regular one used to be!

I suppose there are technical reasons why that isn’t possible, or not preferable from Videotron’s perspective. But you’d think they’d at least tell us!

  • Nobody at the store where we bought the HD terminal told us about the 600 channels.
  • Nothing is written in the HD terminal’s instructions about the 600 channels.
  • Nothing obvious on Videotron’s web site mentions the 600 channels (it’s there if you dig, but we shouldn’t have to dig).
  • Nobody at Videotron, even after repeated questioning, told us about the 600 channels.

So how the blue blazes were we supposed to know about the damn 600 channels?

As a person who writes instructions for a living, I find Videotron’s lack of information, and lack of insight into their customers’ needs, appalling. Surely we’re not the only ones to experience this problem. In fact, I spoke to my brother in law about it just before he got HDTV, and he too was unaware. He saw nothing in the setup about it, and while on the phone with Videotron they told him nothing. Knowing my story, and out of curiosity, he finally asked “do I have to look somewhere special to find the HD channels?” They replied yes, in the 600s. But that’s only because his question pointed to the answer. Our question was “why doesn’t this look like HD?” It takes a bit of lateral thinking to understand the true nature of that question, but not a lot. And especially not under these circumstances.

(Note that if you get your HD from another provider, you probably have a similar situation. For example, Bell Expressvu puts the HD channels in the 800s.)

Are you a Videotron HDTV subscriber living in Quebec?
If so, please take the poll, below.

[poll=3]

37 thoughts on “How to get High Definition TV with Videotron

  1. Warning: Contents of Coffee Cup May be HOT!

    It’s probably because you’re not a big TV watcher or something. But the nature of a TV enthusiast is to toggle through all the channels in the guide and try out all the features before even watching a TV show in its entirety. But then I’m a techy and a big geek who will take out an entire network domain just to test a feature.

    And I hope you didn’t go and buy those over-priced monster cables :(

    What’s important here is that you can see Peter Mansbridge shinny cranium in glorious HD now :D

  2. Dave, I did all that when we got the regular Illico a few years ago. I had no reason to believe the HD terminal was any different, except that it would let the HD signal through on the channels that broadcast in HD. So there was no big compulsion to go through channels and features because there was nothing new there (or at least there didn’t seem to be).

    And no, I did NOT go for the Monster cable rip off. :-)

    As I think about it I realize that a lot of people will have known about the 600 channels in advance because they know someone with HD, or the guy at the store told them, etc. But we didn’t know anyone with HD (or at least we had not been to anyone’s house where they had an HD setup — OK we had, but we didn’t look closely at their setup and channel lineup).

  3. when you look at the videotron channel chart online, you see that CTV (for ex) shows up a bunch of times, and the one in the 600s is CTVDH. Same for a bunch of other channels like CBC and the big American networks.

  4. OK, Robot, that’s a pretty good point, although the channel lineup isn’t easy to find. And besides, why would I look at the channel lineup? I’d been using Illico for five years. I already knew the channel lineup. When I hooked up the HD terminal and turned it on, I got all the same channels in the same location, so why would I go look at the channel lineup?

    The issue isn’t “where are the HD channels.” The issue is informing the user that the HD channels are not in the same location as the regular channels.

  5. Oh, no, you published the story…

    Just to make sure we don’t sound like the dummest people on earth, I should precise that during my first two calls to Videotron, the tech people (always friendly) had me go through elaborate “solutions”, such as turning the machine off, unplugging it from the wall, resetting it, entering a few codes in the set up menu on the pvr, etc. What amazed me was the fact that when I called and said “I’m watching Lost right now and it really doesn’t look like HD at all”, no customer service rep thought of asking me: “which channel are you on, miss?”. Shouldn’t it be on the very top of their questions to ask when new HD terminal owners call in?

    I’m going to go hide in a dark corner now.

  6. So far we have five votes for “Holy crap! I didn’t know about the “600″ channels until I read this blog post!”

    That implies that there are at least five other Videtron HTDV subscribers who were as unaware as Martine and I were (until they read this post). Is that the case? Maybe those were random people who aren’t subscribers (although the poll is supposed to be for Videotron HDTV subscribers…)

  7. If anyone else is looking for HD channels, on Bell ExpressVu they are in the 800 range. And their receivers include an option to hide the channels you’re not subscribed to, so it’s oh so much easier to find what you are looking for, HD or not. But I switched to Vidéotron recently and I now have to scroll endlessly through a long list (which is a good incentive to turn off the TV and go outside).

    But I share your pain. I spent that last year going from an old 27″ tube to a 5.1 home theater with a 46″ LCD, and that journey included several headaches. But it was worth it!

  8. i got the fancy illico a couple of months ago where i can record a ton of shows.

    the installation guy, an anglo, was excellent and explained about where to find the hd stuff.

    i still find there to be woefully not enough hd even with those channels… i crave hd movies, city tv hd has them occasionally but they’re otherwise hard to find.

  9. Christian, that scrolling is really annoying. I can sort of understand why Videotron doesn’t want to hide the channels you don’t get; so you can see them and wish you had them. But I wish they would at least grey them out or otherwise color code them so they look different. Grrr!

    Hey Required; you had an installation guy? That probably helped. We didn’t. We hooked it all up ourselves, which worked fine except for that one missing piece of information — which we didn’t even know was missing!

  10. @Blork: My girlfriend found out that we can identify all the channels we have as favorites, and use a button of the remote (can’t remember which one) to jump from a subscribed channel to the other. A color code would be way better though.

    @Required: The ‘M’ channels are a blast if you like movies (some of them are in HD). They are more expensive than regular channels, but no more than a couple of Blockbuster rentals. What I like the most about M is that I discovered a couple of great indie movies I would never have bothered to rent otherwise.

  11. Although I’m not presently looking at HD, I can sure tell you similar stories of woefully poor customer service with Videotron. We had 2 weeks of trouble recently after a change in channel choices. Laurie did a heck of a lot of plugging, unplugging before it was determined some folks had poor typing skills while setting us up thus creating the problems. The problem lingered when others didn’t want to take responsibility for overriding the errors of others.

    Christian I’d like to know more about this “magic” button. I found a “Favorites” marked button that accepts 5 channels. Five? – WTF?

  12. To set up multiple favorites: “Press the Settings button on the remote twice to get the main Settings screen. Highlight the “Viewer: Favorites” option on the left side. Then, on the right side select all the channels you want to list as Favorites. I currently have 73 channels as favorites, so I don’t think there is a limit. Favorites channels are identified in the guide with a blue icon at the top.”

  13. I’m not a Videotron customer so I didn’t answer the poll, but I just assumed, as you did, that the same old channels would come through in HD. I thought it was something like, the channel is already in HD, I just don’t have the hardware to show it that way.

  14. Hmm. Videotron subscriber with HD-capable machine but no HD-TV. And I knew about the 600+ channels… because I’m a freak. Yes I am. I’ve looked through ALL possible channels with my bottom-of-the-line-Illico and then with the recording machine. That’s how I found the very useful music channels, and how I know where your HD channels are. I’m going to go hide under a rock now.

  15. Re: To set up multiple favorites…

    Thank you Christian – We got it working! We can toss the piece of paper we’ve been using! Thanks for the forum to get this info Blork! – Laurie & Harry

  16. Vieux Bandit; no need to be embarrassed because you knew about the 600s. The thing is, with our old, non-HD Videotron box we clicked through everything too, several times, to make sure we weren’t missing anything. Seems like a normal thing for a curious person to do. But with the new terminal behaving exactly the same as the old one, and with all the other overhead of getting it set up with the new TV, the new disk player, new speakers, etc., it just didn’t occur to either of us that there would be something different. Like I said, we got all our old channels in all the same locations.

    Harry: glad to be of service! :-)

  17. Dude: the most funny thing about this (and I don’t think you two are idiots at all, because if I got cable, this would be me, exactly…) is that I bet there used to be this somewhat-covert bunch of Videotron guys who would go around to peoples’ houses who didn’t “get it”, fiddle with their cables and receiver boxes for a while, sigh, swear, ask for a glass of water, and then after 30-45 minutes of billable work, would probably eventually say:

    “Ah voila monsieur/madame; I seem to have fixed the problem by just re-wiring your cable so all the HDTV stations are in the 600s.”

    :-)

  18. So, during the past two weeks, did you have fun watching those 600 channels? :)

  19. Hell yeah. Been enjoying it since we found the 600s back in June. Some channels are better than others; the National Geographic Channel is so good it’s scary! We were watching “The Dog Whisperer” the other night and when they’d do a close up on Caesar Millan there wasn’t even the slightest hint of any kind of visual noise or blurriness. I swear you could count the whiskers on his chin!

  20. I subscribe to Videotron’s Illico Digital TV (no HD), having moved to Quebec a few months ago and I just wanted to comment on their website. I find it harder to navigate than my previous provider’s in Ontario. You really have to dig deep to find the information you’re looking for. If only I had known sooner…

  21. Another tip I thought I’d post here: you can perform a search using keywords on channel 905 (but it’s not as smooth as with ExpressV… err, Bell Télé). It takes a while to type long words with the remote, but sometimes it’s the easier way to find out when, for example, those Doctor Who reruns are on. During my test last night the receiver didn’t return any show description.

  22. Hey Blork,
    I have been a Broadband technician in the United States for over 2 years and I now live in Montreal.

    I want to make sure that everybody knows about setting your Illico the right way, in order to get the HD available from the broadcasting companies. Turn your TV on (but not the terminal or the real name is a set top box), then Press INFO and GUIDE together until you see the set up screen. In order to get the HD channels, you must set the terminal or set top box to receive them properly. You follow the instructions on your screen and everytime you see the next screen format (not a blank or snowy screen) you press accept and proceed to the next format. that way you will have the set top box talking back and forth with your HDTV to set it right between channels. This set up is to find out what HD format is available from your HDTV

    420 (regular TV)
    720i (Low resolution HD)
    720p (Better Low resolution HD)
    1080i (Better High resolution HD)
    1080p (Best and true HD) as seen with Blu-Ray DVD.

    Don’t be surprise to see your TV flickering between channels, as your set top box adjust to the HD resolution broadcasted from whatever companies.

    As you all already know, HD stands for High Definition and
    Widescreen for wide aspect ratio. It’s also important that you know if you own a regular TV 4:3 or a widescreen TV 16:9 to set it up properly.

    So, when you will be watching a show or movie that was shot in HD but not in widescreen, you will have a black bar on each side of you TV and it’s better to get rid of them as they will burn your screen. you can fix that with the aspect button on the bottom of your remote (the sign looks like this #). Unfortunatly, it creates a bubbly face and everybody looks fat, as you are formatting the screen to fit (same thing we all read on video cassete for years) THIS MOVIE HAS BEEN FORMATTED TO FIT YOUR SCREEN… As you watch a widescreen HD movie or program, your TV will adjust to the right format.

    It’s not perfect, yet !!!
    Hoping that I was clear for everyone !

  23. Mood2Watch, thanks for that tutorial. Hopefully it will help people resolve some problems. Personally, I’ve been through that process (the manual from Videotron describes it), and as a result everything is working just fine (especially now that I know where the HD channels are!).

    But I have to say, I’m always amazed at how many people don’t “get it” when it comes to the different viewing ratios. For example, a lot of people have 16:9 TVs and they refuse to accept the black bars on the side when watching 4:3 shows, so they *s-t-r-e-t-c-h* the view so they don’t see the black bars and then completely ignore the fact that the image is distorted. WTF is up with that?

  24. Perhaps they are afraid of burning their screen. I was, for a couple of weeks, and then I realized I never stay on the same channel long enough for such a thing to happen (especially on a LCD).

  25. Exactly. Especially since you have a choice of color for the black bars (at least on most TVs). If you make them white there might be a risk of burn-in, but if you make them black there is no risk.

  26. Does anyone know what will happen next year when all stations go HD? Will all non-600 stations display in HD, and if so, will Videotron stop charging exra for HD channels?

  27. Next year will be the end of analog television, in the United States only, and it will take longer in Canada. We will still get SD channels for quite a while as a lot of households still have good old tubes (I do).

  28. I will be buying a Videotron Digital package with HD channels soon.
    Can one use any HD receiver to watch Videotron’s channels or must one have their proprietary receiver?
    I want to buy another fancy HD PVR, but will there be any issues with videotron (will it work normally?). Thanx

  29. Andreas, I’m not sure, but I think you probably have to use the Videotron receiver. It’s not actually proprietary to Videotron; it’s made by Scientific Atlantic, but it’s the one that’s set up for Videotron.

    No doubt there are people who have managed to use different PVRs, but to do so probably requires a certain willingness to spend a lot of time hacking and tweaking. Not unlike, for example, the people who manage to get Apple’s OS-X to run on a non-Macintosh PC.

    My advice is to sign up for some of the forums where you can bounce this question off of some people with way more knowledge than me. I’ve gotten some great info from HighDefForum (http://www.highdefforum.com/) and Digital Home (http://www.digitalhome.ca/forum/).

  30. having a site with the programming helps to find when more 600 and 700 channels are available. I knew of some digital channels, but one day, while going through the preferences after logging in on:
    http://tvlistings.zap2it.com/ (tvlisting)

    I found new HD channels.

    What I don’t understand is why CNN keeps saying that they are transmitting in HD and on my TV is still regular and there is no 600 channel. I guess Videotron is trying to save bandwidth.

  31. andreas, the PVR on the market are missing the option to change channels on the CABLE box. I have a Pioneer DVR-531H, and it came with a G-Link output and a cable with an infrared tramitter on one end. I make my manual recordings in my Pioneer unit and it changes the channels on my Cable Box without problems and I can watch a show while recording another one.

    The new PVR don’t have this cable. I bought a new Pioneer unit (bigger Hard disk) and at home I realize it didn’t have the output. I had to return it the next day.

    Apparently, if you are not going to burn DVDs (like me), you might be better off with the ILLICO PVR, since you can record 2 shows and watch a 3rd at the same time. But if you want to burn DVDs, check your outputs first.

  32. required, are you aware of channel 711? is almost in sync with 211, but not always. Is full HD.

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