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International TV - Shanghai China

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

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

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

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

Analog or Digital:

So what's the difference between analog OCN and digital OCN? To make it strait forward and simple, the difference is whether you have to add a decoder box beside your TV and an extra remote controller in hand. Either way it gives you the same channel and same video quality, sometimes people even complain that the video quality of digital version of OCN is no better than analog signal in some locations. 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 of. All right, let's move on to another provider, China Telecom. China Telecom 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 input to offer you, unfortunately, the same channels as OCN, beside some movie achieves on 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.

Satellite TV

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 re-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
134E CBTV
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 have to ignore it. 

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. ...to be continued. (20120516) on Shanghai Living

Alternatives to satellite TV in Shanghai
By CANKLES | Published: AUGUST 9, 2009

Chances are, if you had a western satellite TV provider then lately you may have noticed that just about all the channels have been blocked. Before forking out between 3000-5000RMB for an ‘authentic' system – these won't come with any guarantees by the way – maybe think about divvying up your budget with these alternatives.

TV Shows: Local Chinese Websites – cost=$0
Youku.com and Tudou.com (and there are others) – These Youtube-like sites have full episodes of the latest western tv shows (and movies). The quality is about the same as the satellite TV providers. If you don't want to watch tv in front of the computer learn to hook it up to your TV or use the browser on a Sony PS3 or Nintendo Wii. Seek out your nerdy friends and pay them in attention if you're not quite sure how to do this.

Pros: Fast streaming, costs nothing, legal (I think)
Cons:Quality not HD, have to connect to the Internet before use

Western Websites – cost=$0
Hulu TV.com (mostly US) BBC iPlayer(UK) and ABC iView(Australia) and others – These online players offer the latest TV shows for free over the Web. The catch is you may have to be on a US, UK, or Australian IP address to view the shows properly. If you just read that last sentence and thought: “What's an IP address?”, then you may want to pay another visit to your resident nerd friend.

Pros: Free, usually offered in good quality, it's legal (I think)
Cons: Sometimes slow streaming or downloading and may need a native country IP address to work.

Bittorrent – cost=$0
There is a lot written about bittorrent on the Web so no need to repeat it here. It's also a legally gray area that I'm not sure about in China. Do some Googling and visit Mininova.org and I'm sure you'll catch on quick.

Pros: Usually high quality video than streaming, can download and burn to dvd/use on multiple machines.
Cons: Probably illegal, can be slow to download programs if they aren't popular – those old episodes of CHIPS may take a while…

Legal downloads – Cost: few dollars an episode
If you feel strongly about people getting paid to do what they do then there's no need to be a pirate. You can actually purchase legal versions of TV shows at the iTunes music store and places online.

Pros: The feel good feeling that at least some of the people who created the content are getting paid, guaranteed content, usually high quality.
Cons: You have to pay for it, Digital Rights Management on some TV shows means you can only watch it a certain amount of times or copy it to a certain amount of devices before it doesn't work anymore. (The industry is moving away from this crap way of thinking, though)

DVD Shops – Cost: 5-12RMB per disc
If you're not blind you may notice quite a lot of DVD shops around town. Inside they offer whole seasons of TV shows, including shows I'd almost forgotten about – Airwolf, anyone? For TV past and present its probably the best way to watch television series in Shanghai if you're not up to the savvy stuff of downloading or can't be bothered with it.

Pros: Usually good quality, cheap, huge range of shows, convenience, much less nerdy than messing around with computers.
Cons: Its probably piracy (I actually don't know for sure), occasional dodgy discs, have to wait for a whole TV season to finish before its in the DVD shop

Use your Satellite to tune into free channels
If you have the equipment the know-how you may be able to set up your satellite to tune to free channels which broadcast in the area. For example, the Australia Network broadcasts for free. Whether you are allowed to do this is I'm not sure (personally I haven't been bothered to try).

Pros: Free
Cons: A hassle to set up, might have the local police tearing down your satellite dish.

Sport
The Pub – Cost: 20-80RMB a drink

Sport is a tricky one. You don't really want to watch the replay so unless there are Websites with live streaming then the best place to go is your favourite pub which will show your team.

Pros: It's sociable, most venues have big screens and there's plenty of places with good pub grub
Cons: You have to wear pants (go outside) to watch your favourite game on TV, Booze costs and subsequent hangover after your team wins the championship.

Movies
To grab the latest movies you have a few choices. As to prevent repeating myself, you can use some of the methods above to watch movies, including; bittorrent, DVD shops, local Chinese Website streaming, international Website streaming. The methods are pretty much the same. However, you can also:

Go to the movies – cost: 20-100RMB a ticket
Just like at home there are plenty of places in Shanghai to watch the latest blockbusters and even independent films. You may have to do some research on the Internet before heading out to the movies on where to go and what to see as it changes weekly.

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News and Current Affairs
If you're not into watching news from CCTV9 or ICS on the local channels (I don't think they are too bad) then it's all internet. Depending on what you want to know its best to source the latest video from the TV network's channel directly. If you're more into reading the news then no doubt you have your favourite news sources already bookmarked and don't need the help. Go outside, get a hobby, do something different

Let's face it, you're in China and you want to watch ‘Lost' or something similar? TV isn't everything, so let go of the laowai TV and get involved in Shanghai and China – chances are you probably won't be here forever so pick up the TV shows you missed at the DVD store on the way out.