HDTV in Taiwan

While there are some cable/telephone companies that supposedly offer HD service in Taiwan, I am not in such a service area. That leaves me with paying for satellite service to view HD from Japan (which picture-wise, doesn’t seem nearly as good as ATSC broadcasts in the USA) or with using an antenna.

Taiwan has one broadcast HD station, HiHD. There are also other digital channels, broadcast using DVB-T. Unlike other places, Taiwan has decided to broadcast in h.264 and not mpeg2 for HD. It also only uses 6MHz of bandwidth, unlike other nations which use 7 or 8 MHz of bandwidth for their DVB signals. As a result, there is hardly anything one can buy in the store, even in Taiwan, that will support HiHD out of the box.

To watch HiHD, there are basically two choices:

  1. A converter box that costs around $200USD. I wasn’t willing to pay that, even if it would be the only channel with good picture quality (SD DVB-T looks even worse here than it does elsewhere, definitely worse than the analog NTSC signals here – and worse than in the US when a single ATSC broadcast channel is filled with 6 different SD subchannels).
  2. Buy a tuner card for a computer and modify the settings to watch the signal.

At the computer shop, there were several cards and USB devices by a company called Kworld. One of these only cost about $30US, and included an antenna, so I went for that. It came with two pieces of TV software, one called “HyperMediaCenter.” Needless to say, the software did not work at all, bringing into question compatibility with HiHD stated on their product box. It only filled my screen with messages about illegal memory accesses – even with DEP settings turned off and UAC disabled. The other software was some Cyberlink product, which seemed to be a ploy to collect personal information. The Cyberlink software only dealt with the analog signals, so it was also a waste.

I decided to see what I could do with the software that came with Windows 7. Windows Media Centre also did not work properly, It did not render any analog channels (broadcast or cable) properly. It did receive the SD DVB-T programming, so I at least knew the tuner card was functional.

I decided to look at the linux options and if they could be applied to Windows, since I haven’t installed Linux yet. It turns out that VLC on Windows can work with a capture card, though the interface was not great. I was finally able to watch HiHD after following these steps:

  1. Go to “Advanced Open File…” in the first menu.
  2. Click on the Capture Devices tab.
  3. Select DVB Directshow in the first drop down menu.
  4. Select the DVB-T radio button.
  5. Set the Transponder/mutliplex frequency to 569000kHz.
  6. Set the Bandwidth to 6 MHz.
  7. Click on Play.

I then got a broken-up HiHD picture. Enough to know I need to buy a better antenna than the piece of wire that came with the capture card. While I eventually did get Windows Media Centre to pick up the channel by messing around with the antenna, VLC does a much better job showing the channel, with fewer dropouts. It also lets me see information about the data rate- usually between 10 and 15Mbps.

More importantly, I now have a way to watch original content with clear and readable subtitles. Traditional characters are often too detailed to be shown clearly at SD resolutions. This will help me with my Chinese goals for this year.

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