How to Watch Chinese TV Online Using XBMC

XBMC is a fantastic media player that can handle most video and music formats. It also includes many add-ons to watch TV online. Being open source, XBMC is free and is compatible with Windows, Mac and other platforms. If you don’t have Dish Network or a dedicated set-top box for watching Chinese programming, using XBMC with CNTV can be a handy solution. CNTV (China Network Television) is provided by China’s official broadcasting company CCTV, and I’m sure there are other add-ons for different languages.

Quality-wise CNTV on XBMC is very good, although it highly depends on the speed of your Internet service. I’m using Time Warner standard 10MB down with Turbo Boost and can watch most stations without any problem. Obviously it still can’t compete with Dish’s Great Wall Package in terms of PQ and ease-of-use, but for occasional viewing, XBMC is hard to beat.

Below is a step-by-step tutorial for setting up XBMC with CNTV:

1. Install XBMC
Head over to xbmc.org and download the installation package for your computer’s operating system. The current stable release is 11.0 “Eden” at the time of writing. Unless you have a specific need this is addressed in one of the nightly builds (experimental versions), you’re better off staying with the latest official release.

Installation of XBMC on Windows is easy and straightforward. Just follow the on-screen instructions. The default settings are good enough for me, although I deselected most language support files. If you run into any trouble or are trying to install XBMC on Linux, Ubuntu, Apple TV, etc. you may find help here.

2. Install CNTV (中国网络电视台)
Next we will need to download and install the CNTV pacage.

  • Go to Google Code at http://code.google.com/p/xbmc-addons-chinese/;
  • There are two active discussion forums (English and Chinese) if you get stuck;
  • Click Downloads (second item on the top menu);
  • Download Chinese Add-on Repository for XBMC Eden (repository.googlecode.xbmc-addons-chinese-eden.zip), assuming you install the Eden version of XBMC;
  • Now start XBMC, mouse over Videos and then click on the Add-ons submenu;
  • On the next screen, press Get More…;
  • You will see a bunch of video addons that you can select and install, but we’ll do that later. Now press the “..” button on the very top and go back a couple levels until you see an option to “Install from Zip file.” Click on it;
  • Browse to the zip file you just downloaded and install, and if successful it will appear in the addon list showing “enabled”;
  • Click on the Chinese Add-on Repository button (you can also find it under Home – Videos – Add-ons), and then Video Add-ons (there are also Music, Programs and other items);
  • Left click on CNTV (中国网络电视台点播) and select Install, wait a moment, and the word “Enabled” will appear next to the CNTV title;
  • Repeat and install CNTV Live (中国网络电视台直播) for TV live broadcasting (not only CCTV channels, but numerous local stations as well);
  • If you want to, you can repeat the steps above to install other add-ons including LeTV, YouKu, Tudou, Sina, Tecent, etc.;
  • Now go to the home screen of XBMC, then Videos, and you will see the list of videos sources you just added;
  • The menu containing Chinese characters may become just little squares, but we will fix it later;
  • Click on CNTV Live and pick a station. If you don’t have CCTV Live Player installed on your computer, it will do so now. Allow it to install. Upon completion, a separate window will pop up and indicate 正在连接央视直播, followed by buffering. If all goes well, you will be watching live Chinese TV now.
  • To minimize the number of clicks next time you watch TV, right click CNTV and select Add to Favorites. Then on the XBMC home screen, click on the folder icon at the lower left corner (next to the power button) and you will see quick links to your favorite shows and programs.

3. Display XBMC Menus in Chinese
To make XBMC display Chinese characters correctly, you will need to install fonts and change several settings.

  • Go to XBMC.org and download the font: DejaVuSans+DriodSansFallback.ttf;
  • Change the file name to arial.ttf;
  • Go to (your XBMC installation folder)/XBMC/media/Fonts/. For example, it may be C:/Program Files/XBMC/media/Fonts/;
  • There should be a file already called arial.ttf. Change the file name to something like arial-original in case you will need it later on;
  • Now copy and paste your downloaded arial.ttf to the Fonts folder;
  • Go to XBMC – Home – System – Settings – Appearance;
  • Under Skin – Fonts, click the up/down arrow to change the setting to “Arial based”;
  • Under International – Language, click the up/down arrow to select Chinese (Simple);
  • Under International – Character Set, click the up/down arrow to select Chinese Simplified (GBK);
  • Your XBMC should now be displaying Chinese characters properly;

4. Stop and Exit CNTV while Playing
Another little issue that kept bugging me was that once CNTV started, there was no way to close the window or exit the program. Nothing including “Esc” on the keyboard seemed to work. I had to use Windows Task Manager to kill it in order to return to XBMC. This is horrible because you have to do it every time you want to change channels.

After some googling I found out that when CNTV is started, it’s actually not in focus. That is, although the player is running, your mouse and keyboard are not pointing at it. All you have to do is to move the mouse randomly (you can’t see the mouse pointer) and click on it. Then press the “x” key to close the program and return to XBMC. Other keyboard hotkeys also work, such as pressing the space bar to pause.

If this doesn’t work, you may have to set hotkeys using a built-in program called KeymapSet.exe. For my setup it is located in a weird location under Windows users, AppData/Roaming/XMBC/addons/plugin.video.cnet-live/resources/Player/KeymapSet.exe. Run the program and change the last entry to 88,0 (or highlight it and press the “x” key). Save the settings.

5. Install Video, Music and Weather Add-ons
There are numerous options and sources for XBMC. Under Video Addons you can install programs such as FOX News, YouTube, ESPN Video and many many more. Under Chinese Add-on Repository there is also KuwoBox for music. Under Weather you can add weather forecast for multiple cities, and then use the left-hand slide-out menu to view each one. And of course, you may play your own songs or movies stored on your hard drive by simply pointing XBMC to the folder, and XBMC will create a playlist so you don’t have to look for them each time. XBMC also supports many TV tuners, including HDHomeRun.

As you can see from this blog post, there are many steps in order to set up XBMC properly. Although I wish it could be simplified further, I’m still very pleased with this little but powerful media center software.

Posted in Fun, Technology
5 comments on “How to Watch Chinese TV Online Using XBMC
  1. Simon says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing this. Finally able to watch Chinese channels.

    A bit annoyed by the inability to close or change channel while watching. I have to ctrl+alt+del and logout, even task manager can not be accessed.

    I have a TV tuner card and remote, can I use remote to control XBMC?

  2. IR_Blog says:

    Changing channels is indeed annoying…the space key trick works on some of my computers but not others. Can’t figure out why.

    I never tried to use a remote for XBMC. I know there are IR remotes for Windows Media Center, but haven’t heard anything about XBMC.

  3. Simon Tan says:

    Hi, thanks for replying, found

    http://wiki.xbmc.org/index.php?title=Using_an_MCE_remote_control_in_Windows#Configuring_your_MCE_remote

    which guides me how to configure the remote. Perhaps if I tinker with keysetmap a bit more I will be able to get it to work.

    However I do find the resolution of CNTV live very low, not suitable for my 55″ tv, look blurry. Any higher res sources you know of?

    I tried most of the channels in the zip file and only found letv and cntv working, same for you?

  4. IR_Blog says:

    So far my parents have been watching TV mostly on their 24″ PC monitor, so the resolution appears fine. I tried it on the living room TV (also 55) a couple times and wish the resolution could be higher.

    When I was setting up XBMC I knew I got more than two programs working from that package, but CNTV has been the only one being watched since then. If the others are broken, they may be updated in the future. My parents also has an ipad that seems to have many more channels (including everything in CNTV), which may be another option. To connect an ipad to TV I think you need either an HDMI adapter or an Apple TV.

  5. toh says:

    Tks for putting this out there, stumbled on your blog while trying to figure out how to get rid of my cable box which is mainly used by my wife for watching Hong Kong TVBJ channel, hence the search for viable alternatives. Tks! :)

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  1. [...] Perhaps for next Chinese New Year, I’ll set up a streaming TV box for my parents’ entertainment needs. immigrationroad.com/blog/how-to-wa… [...]

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