How to watch international TV channels in China?

How to watch international TV channels in Shanghai and China (2012 version)

In year 2004 I wrote one article of the same title. Time passed by really fast, I’m feeling to revise it now so I will try to put this matter as simple and clear as I can here.

First let’s check what we can get from China’s local TV broadcasters. Shanghai for example, we have two TV content providers:

Cable TV Network – OCN (Oriental Cable Network )
IPTV – China Telecom IPTV

OCN provides 60+ channels of one package through analog and/or digital broadcasting over its own cable network, spreading out covering the whole city. In all major apartments and compounds you get access to OCN’s signal input. It costs ¥ 200+ to subscribe the analog version, or ¥ 300+ for the digital version. The content basically matches the prices.

Analog or Digital:
So what’s the difference between analog OCN and digital OCN? To me, the difference is whether you have to add a decoder box beside your TV & an extra remote controller in hand. Either way it gives you the same channel and same video quality. Some people even complain that the video quality of digital version is no better than analog. In terms of “international” TV channels, you get two English language channels: CCTV-9 & Shanghai’s ICS

Probably these two are not the international TV channels you are thinking about.

All right, let’s check what  China Telecom has to offer: IPTV : When you subscribe to broadband internet, you are most likely to be offered one IPTV box for free. The box uses one of your TV’s RCA composite input to offer you, unfortunately, the same channels as OCN. If not the difference is some achieves saved in internet server. Video quality is standard definition of 480i.

To summaries the above options, through China TV providers, you get very limited international TV channel content.

Next let’s explore the best options from satellite broadcasters. There are a couple of satellites covering Shanghai and China, with different sizes of dish antennas we can easily get access to international TV channels broadcasted from Taiwan, Philippines and HK. Classified by dish directions, from West to East they are:

138E D-Sky
138E HK Cable satellite feed
138E Combos TV
122E Dish HD Asia
113E Dream Satellite TV
108E Cignal
108E G-Sat
105E AsiaSat3S FTA

1. On 138E, there are not much English TV so we ignore it here.

2. 134E CBTV is the China’s official international TV broadcasting platform but the subscription is only available to business users, not open to general public. Many people get it through copy pirated receivers like DM500 or DM800 boxes, which is connected to internet via router for constant smartcard information sharing. Since anything connected to internet is easily deceted and blocked from the technical perspective, the access has never been stable. The providers have to change internet servers now and then to avoid being found and blocked, so as users, you can not expect any kind of guarantee. Piracy is stealing anyway.
3. 122E DishHD is a good US TV package directly from the Dish TV of US, entering Asian markets through joint venture with Taiwan broadcaster. The subscription is open to public by mid 2011. The package got around 60 channels and 30 radio digital radio, 6 channels are not only come as 1080p high definition but also as Dolby 5.1 sound track. 2/3 of the channels are in HD.

In terms of sports, Dish HD got 4 major US sports channels: NBA, GOLF, NHL and ASN. There’s no ESPN and Star Sports which cover many favorite sports like soccer, tennis and car sports.

High definition is the future direction of satellite tv broadcasting so Dish HD Asia truly represent the future development of Asian satellite TV markets.
4. 113E, Dream Satellite TV. Before year 2010’s satellite migration, it was on 146E but now it’s on a newer satellite called KoreaSat5 at 113E. Please note that Dream is not a Korean service, it’s Philippine satellite TV service. Being the only country in Asia who takes English as official national language, Dream offers a good selection of international TV channels, covering news, movies, kids, general entertainment and sports TV. Unfortunate the video quality is still stand definition as 480i. In recent years Dream had dropped off some good channels like TV5, CNBC, Bloomberg, AXN Beyond, Cinemax and so on, obviously because of lack of financial resources. Dream invested a lot on anti piracy and successfully beaten the piracy to it’s encryption on year 2010 so we do not find much piracy either on smartcard or internet card sharing. Nowadays the number pirated system is 134E CBTV.

How can I tell if my satellite is pointing 134E or 113E?

A. To check if your receiver box is connected to Internet. If yes it will be 134E.
B. Check the receiver brand name, most commonly it will be DM500 or DM800(s). Please note the box brand Dream Multimedia has nothing to do with Dream company in the Philippines.
C. To check if you have any movie or documentary channels with Chinese subtitles, if yes then it is 134E.

5. 108E. Cignal is officially not available to subscribers out of Philippines. It has HD channels but not as much as DishHD. Cignal requires a 0.75m dish antenna in Shanghai for good signal reception; G-Sat got a less attractive channel list than Dream and it needs a 0.75m dish too. There are not so many people in China using them, most of them might be Pilipino people living and working here, brought it from their home directly. Not many dealers are promoting them either.

6. 105E AsiaSat4S has some free to air TV channels. People seeking Arabic or Indian language TV channels might be interested in it. It needs a 1.5m C band dish to receive it, which is relatively a bigger dish.
It seems like the best satellite TV choices are among the following three: 1. CBTV; 2 DishHD, 3.Dream.

CBTV is only accessible by pirated version so we do not discuss it here;

Dream is a long established package, but people are complaining its less attractive channel list and poor video quality more and more nowadays, especially when DishHD is available on the market, using the same 0.55m in diameter small Ku band dish. In terms of channel, Dream has two sports channels ESPN and Star Sports, BBC World, History and Diva Universal channels which you don’t find on DishHD list. DishHD is obviously more US featured.

Satellite TV dealers?
You can find more and more satellite TV websites selling every package targeting overseas people. The website are in English, inter linked, some dealers built over 20 similar websites to attract clicks whatever you search on Google, but you always find the same guy’s number. I suggest you do not choose this type of business guys because when you book an installation, the work is most likely subcontracted to local installers, who are most likely not that honest people looking for quick fortune in big city like Shanghai and Beijing, poor installation, hidden charges and worst of all, unpleasant agreements over and over for satellite TV problems, many choose to disappear after the one shot easy money deal.
Frauds and Tricks on the market.

1. Pirated receivers. There’s no availability warranty at all because of it’s nature as stealing signal and access.

2. Poorly installed dish antenna and cabling either because of lack of necessary skills and attitude or even intentionally make it worse so extra charge are required later on when it needs repair.

3. Subscription time shortages. Both Dream and DishHD Asia can be reloaded minimum monthly. You might have to call the dealer each month to reactivate your unit since he hopes that you don’t call after a few month and he keeps the balance subscription fee as easy profit.

After all, though it seems we have a lot of options from Satellite TV, the two most popular, which have been people’s choice too, are still Dream or DishHD. While you have to check through each one’s channel list to make sure you get your most favorite channels and each people has his own priorities on channels

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