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Untangling the information about getting cable television

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As audiovisual technology advances at a rapid pace, consumers in Phnom Penh check out some of the latest widescreen offerings.

Why do some people get channels you don’t? How come your landlord insists on a provider, and could you get both? And what’s the skinny on widescreen?

After years of static, cambodian television is slowly coming of age.

AFTER years of crackly static, lines through the picture and complaints about the programming, Cambodian television is slowly coming of age.

In the last six months, new channels have sprung up regularly, as digital television makes inroads into Phnom Penh.

All over the world, broadcasters are changing from analogue to digital signals, providing noise-free pictures and superior sound quality, with the added bonus of Electronic Programme Guides (EPGs) showing daily information.

With the recent launch of a digital cable television service, we've put together the answers to all your questions about cable TV in Phnom Penh.

The current players
Cambodian Cable Television (CCTV) has been in operation in Phnom Penh since 1995 and has captured the lion's share of the market. It is a Taiwanese-owned company that claims to have around 9,000 to 10,000 subscribers - although it wasn't sure of the numbers.

It offers up to 65 channels including ESPN, Star Movies, HBO, Disney and many more from around the world. Its service is currently analogue cable TV, with their digital service not yet fully functional.

Phnom Penh Cable Television (PPCTV) is the up-and-coming competitor. It has emerged with a progressive business strategy - a digital cable television service in conjunction with broadband Internet.

It launched the digital service about six months ago, with Internet that can be bought separately or in a package deal.

PPCTV has most of the same channels as CCTV, except it did not have Disney or Cinemax, and it has a few exclusive channels such as the BBC, Discovery and MTV.

Subscribers to the new digital service receive up to 25 additional channels including Fox News, the Sci Fi Channel, the History Channel and E! Asia.

Unfortunately, the extra channels are delivered via a set-top box, whereas the other 65 channels come via cable, so there's a bit of fiddling with remote controls to shift between the two.

In the next few years, the service may be streamlined. Currently the EPG doesn't have enough information on it, the PPCTV Web site is always down, and the staff doesn't seem to know what widescreen pictures are.

What's with all those DVDs playing on TV?
Both PPCTV and CCTV offer their own channels which play DVD movies all day. Yes, it's a breach of international copyright law - especially when you tune in and see a yet-to-be-released movie with the words "Property of Columbia Pictures" across the bottom of the screen.

But with copyright laws so rarely policed in Cambodia, they are getting away with broadcasting unlicensed material - for now. The Cambodian government has pledged to get its house in order with regard to pirated material in the next few years.
Broadcast licence fees are expensive, so if a crackdown occurs, expect these channels to disappear overnight.

Why can't I get the BBC?
You need to be a subscriber to PPCTV in order to receive the BBC. Contrary to popular myth, PPCTV is available throughout the capital, not merely in select areas. PPCTV says it has full coverage throughout Phnom Penh and all the way down to Takhmao.

Can I use both cable services?
If you're a TV addict and there are specific channels on both carriers that you just have to have, technically this is possible - you can get two cables hooked up to your premises and build yourself a little switcher box to flick between the two.

Why does my landlord tell me I have to have CCTV and not PPCTV?
Most likely they have paid in advance for six months or a year, so you're stuck with it. Or it could be all the free gifts they get for paying the bill so far in advance. You can never have enough wall clocks.
If possible, when you take out a lease you should specify your preferred option.

How much should it cost?
PPCTV and CCTV both charge $10/month or $50 for six months for the cable service. The PPCTV digital service is an extra $4 or $5 per month, for 20 to 25 extra channels.

Why is the programming so crappy?
Ah, the question on everybody's lips. The channels available are largely the same as throughout the rest of Asia, with programming catering to very broad tastes (ie, "the majority").

Expect lots of unfunny American sitcoms, Steven Seagal movies and Chinese medieval fantasies.

If you hunt around enough, though, there are some unexpected delights to be found, depending on your tastes. Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos and The Conan O'Brien Show are all screening at the moment, as are lots of good documentaries.

If you need more range, go for the extra digital channels, which have more on offer.

Can I get real widescreen pictures?
If you've splashed out on a widescreen TV and you're wondering why everybody looks fat, it's because none of the television in Cambodia is being broadcast in widescreen (16:9). Even PPCTV's new digital channels, which come via a set-top box, are 4:3 (square-ish) in size, so you'll need to watch TV with black bars down either side, or get used to distorted pictures.

How do I get an advance schedule of what's on?
Neither cable company offers a comprehensive programming schedule. Weekly schedules for some English-language channels are printed in 7Days in the Phnom Penh Post every Friday.

PPCTV has a Channel Guide on Ch2; however, waiting for it to scroll to the channel you want can be excruciating.
CCTV provides a pretty limited photocopied monthly schedule. You have to pick it up from their office yourself.
Happy viewing!

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