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Satellite TV Solutions for Expats in China


Satellite TV Options Available to Expats in China

Updated June 18, 2010

With an estimated percentage of Chinese nationals who can use English functionally at only .77 percent (1 in every 130 people),1 the Middle Kingdom can be an extremely isolating place for foreigners to live, especially outside of Beijing and Shanghai.

While this is not a major issue for Westerners who are visiting for brief periods of time or engaged in limited contract work, the language barrier can become an overwhelming factor for ex-patriots who will be living in China for years, if not permanently. For this particular group of expats in China, satellite TV can provide a necessary lifeline to what is familiar and comfortable. It creates a sense of being home away from home.

Foreigners living in the east and especially the southeast of China could previously enjoy Dream TV, the Filipino cable company that also broadcasts its service from the Agila II satellite. However, Dream TV dropped both HBO and Cinemax from its channel lineup and the rest of its programs were ported over to a different encryption system (Nagra2 and 3) for which there is no available hack.

A Dream TV satellite receiver with a one year subscription can be purchased from the Shanghai Satellite TV Network. You should avoid a Beijing-based company called China Satellite TV Service Center at all costs. My personal experience with this company has been horrific and they are no better than common thieves. Once the installation is completed and they have received your money, they will assume no responsibility for any problems you may have in the future. I supposedly purchased a legitimate receiver, subscription, and digital access card that stopped working on June 18, 2010 (after Dream changed their satellite settings) and the manager, Don, made it clear to me that he and his company will assume no responsibility for the loss of service.

For HBO and Cinemax, you can subscribe to a package referred to as CBTV, also available through the Satellite TV Network.

Dream TV vs. CBTV Package

If Dream TV was still carrying HBO and Cinemax, I never would have purchased HBOCN. However, with only Star Movies and Turner Movie Classics as the only two dedicated movie channels currently available on Dream TV, the two packages actually work very nicely together in tandem. Using both packages is simply a matter of running two lines from each of the LNBs into each respective receiver and then attaching each receiver’s RCA jacks into the corresponding AV 1 and 2 jacks on your television set.

If you currently have a satellite dish pointing to the Agila 2 satellite for Dream TV, the APStar I and Ia satellites can be accessed from the same dish simply by adding a second LNB (line noise blocker or antenna) to that preexisting dish (especially if you are located in the southeast of China). Expats living in central or west China may require a .60m dish (as opposed to the standard .45m).

CBTV can be purchased separately or added to your preexisting Dream TV setup as a supplement (of course, both can purchased at the same time if you presently have neither).

1Yang, Jian (2006, April). “Learners and users of English in China”. English Today 22 (2): 3–10.


# RE: Satellite TV Solutions for Expats in ChinaJason 2010-02-19 06:05
Greg, have you had any problems with blackouts of CNN or the other news channels during the recent, uh, “problems” in west China?

I’ve been thinking about getting this deal, but it’d suck if the news channel periodically got their signals cut, since it’s a mainland provider.
# RE: RE: Satellite TV Solutions for Expats in ChinaDr. Greg 2010-02-19 06:05
There are occasional “outages” but I wouldn’t attribute them to censorship but, instead, satellite transmission problems. The picture will freeze for two to three seconds once or twice every hour or so. It’s annoying but something we can live with. The Apstar satellite doesn't seem to be as reliable as the Agila II.

Occasionally, one channel will simply stop receiving transmission for a period of time–but this is usually a movie or Chinese entertainment channel, not a station like CNN where censorship might be involved. Usually, just rescanning the satellite will restore whatever stations have stopped broadcasting.

Our intermittent transmission problems may also be related to the fact that digital access is controlled via the Internet, not an access card. So, theoretically, if there is a problem with the Internet signal or the website that is verifying the access rights of the receiver’s ID, that could also result in problems with reception. Unfortunately, my incoming Internet connection is in the office, which is on the far opposite side of the apartment relative to the bedroom, so I’ve got a long length of cable running from the router to the receiver. That could also be causing part or all of our problem as well.

Of the two packages, Dream TV is by far the more reliable (in terms of transmission signal) and useful (in terms of the electronic programming guide). However, now that we have both, I’d say we spend about an equal amount of time on each of the two systems. The movie channels out of Hong Kong, HMC-1 and ETTV Foreign Movies (on CBTV), have an excellent line-up of popular Western movies but, unfortunately, there are no EPGs for them and I can’t find programming schedules for either station anywhere on the Internet. In addition, the movies are interrupted every 25 minutes or so with commercials.

My wife uses the Dream TV package a lot to listen to music, which CBTV doesn’t offer and to watch her Filipino news stations. I use Dream mostly for viewing Star World, the Biography, History, and Crime and Investigation channels.

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