WHTV Digital Television is a Contender

Late last year WHTV introduced its digital cable television service to the Whitehorse market. They are making a quality bid to compete with similar satellite-based services from StarChoice and Bell ExpressVu.

Ever your humble correspondent, I agreed to submit myself to excessive amounts of television viewing in order to gauge the quality of the local firm’s new service. Yes, for your benefit, dear reader, I spent countless hours very nearly comatose in front of my 42-inch plasma display. Sometimes life is rough for a columnist.

You probably noticed that WHTV’s new television service has the word “digital” in front of it. While at first glance that might seem like one of those lame marketing terms, digital television is actually a significant improvement over that way-old “analogue” TV we all grew up with.

In a nutshell, “digital” means it’s TV that’s a lot prettier and can do a lot more.

Picture quality is clearer and sharper, even on old sets. There’s a higher grade of audio being delivered, and it’s often surround sound.

It’s the increased capabilities of digital television that really turn my crank, however.

The on-screen, fully interactive program guide totally rocks. Screw TV Guide, just browse through the program listings on-screen with your remote. If you purchase a “PVR” model receiver, you can even schedule shows to be recorded right on your cable box with a couple of quick clicks.

Perhaps even better, you can skip the trips to Rogers and just order the latest movies on-screen with digital’s pay-per-view services (and take advantage of its parental controls to manage the service’s more prurient content).

Of course, if you have a large, wide-screen display, you can also enjoy the vastly improved picture quality of high-definition, or “HD,” content.

National providers have been beaming down this grade of television to Whitehorse couch potatoes for a couple of years now.

WHTV is offering a potentially better quality product by delivering television through cables that run directly from their facilities to your television set. Because of this constant, hard-wired connection, WHTV’s digital cable service can, in theory, deliver a more consistently high quality television signal you your home.

So that’s the hype. How does WHTV’s new service fare in a real, live living room?

Well, after digging myself out from under a mountain of stale popcorn, Twinkies wrappers, and empty cans of Red Bull, I’m happy to report that it’s in most ways the equivalent – and in many ways superior – to competing satellite services.

HD quality is where WHTV’s service really shines. I found the picture and sound quality of WHTV’s HD content to be consistently superior to satellite.

Typically when on-screen action picks up, the satellite HD picture breaks down and suffers from digital’s ugly side: the jaggies. With WHTV’s digital cable, because of the hard-wired method of delivery, HD picture quality was consistently sharp and clear. This was even true during our recent bout of nasty weather, which would have pretty much knocked satellite out of service all together.

Unfortunately, HD content is where WHTV needs to picks things up. They only offer 16 HD channels to Bell’s 24. Especially disappointing is that only one channel on WHTV offers HD movies.

Glenn Stark, WHTV’s operations manager, assures me they’re adding new HD content all the time. For now, though, this remains a substantial hole in WHTV’s service, especially if you’re like me and have pretty much fully converted to HD.

That said, you don’t have to be an HD-convert to benefit from WHTV’s new digital services. As I mentioned previously, digital’s improvements in function and quality alone make upgrading a good decision.

Additionally, one area that everyone can enjoy is the company’s exceptionally strong and locally-based customer service.
It almost sounds cheesy, but these people are your friends and neighbours, so they actually give a damn.

One satellite provider (I won’t mention names, but it starts with “B” and rhymes with “hell”) doesn’t offer any local customer service in Whitehorse, so to have a new service installed – or just moved to a new address – you’ve gotta foot the bill to get some technical assistance. Installing a satellite dish can take hours, which is a real drain on the pocketbook.

A friend, for example, after booking an appointment weeks in advance, suffered a $300 bill when he moved his satellite service to Riverdale. What’s worse, at the end of it all he still didn’t have any service as a neighbour’s tree was blocking the satellite’s signal.

(I’m not knocking Protech, the local company that tends to handle satellite installs. They’re an awesome, hard-working bunch of people. They’re doing their best to fill a void that a certain southern satellite provider has unconscionably left in Whitehorse.)

It took a WHTV technician about 10 minutes to set up the cable box in my house the day after I ordered it. WHTV offers free house calls for technical support, as long as it doesn’t involve running wire (which they’ll do, too, for a very small fee).

So, what’s the low-down on WHTV’s new digital cable service?
If you have a regular television set and don’t plan to go HD in the near future, it’s a no-brainer. Sign up now. The improvement in picture and sound quality and the on-screen interactive programming guide will instantly bring you out of television’s dark age.

If you’re on satellite now, trade in your receiver for a deal. There’s a wonderful sense of calm knowing that a snowfall won’t kill the hockey game.

If you’re an HD addict like me, it’s a tougher decision. The cost of entry is high: as much as 400-bones – or 700 if you need the PVR function, too. In comparison, you can rent an HD PVR from Bell for 20-bucks a month.

Additionally, the light HD program offerings with WHTV are a tad painful. The essentials are there, but the shortage of movies definitely hurts.

If nothing else, the motivated and organized local customer service team alone is reason enough to switch. I’ve never heard a kind word about Bell Expressvu’s customer service agents (and I certainly don’t have any to share) and it seems to be hit-and-miss with StarChoice.

One things for certain: WHTV is starting strong and their service is only going to get better. They already plan to offer movies on-demand later this year and their channel selection is slated to grow. After living with their service for over a month I certainly have no reservations about recommending it to anyone.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a couple of bags of Cheetos here that I still have to get rid of before WHTV takes their satellite box back – if they can rip it from my MSG-strengthened grip, that is.
Andrew Robulack is a web media consultant and writer based in

Originally published in the Yukon News on January 19, 2007.
©2007 Andrew Robulack