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The state of digital TV (in Cebu)

As a communications engineer by background(albeit failing a subject on specifically microwave comms), I have always had this fascination with digital TV, especially that our country is so late in the game (there were some setbacks, look it up).

So what is so interesting about digital TV anyway? Well, for one, it says “digital” so it ought to be cool! I’m kidding, of course, but remember when a “digital watch” was so cool back then, with that blinking colon in the middle and a backlight that glows when you press on that side button, and then of course you were a kid then, so you jumped in the pool not remembering to take it off first, so bye bye watch? Yeah I’ve made that mistake a good few times. Ok back to the TV. It is interesting because simply put, digital means the broadcast signal is more accurate, resulting in better quality. Also, because other technologies can be incorporated into the service like program guides, subtitles, and a lot more.

This is a pleasant surprise! Showing some love for the hearing-impaired, GMA News TV has subtitles.

But what if you are not fan of TV? Especially with the ubiquity of the Internet today, who watches TV anymore? Well, so the NTC (big brother) coincidentally, was thinking about making digital TV a way to do emergency broadcasts during disasters and calamities. Think earthquake, then impending tsunami. The digital TV standard we chose (as a country, along with Japan and others, and that standard is ISDB-T) allows for the emergency broadcast on a specific channel segment even when the main channels are down so we can outrun the tsunami. If you want to know about this more, there’s an entire documentation explaining it here. I should warn you that it’s hairy down there. FUN FACT: some digital tv boxes can even turn the tv on automatically during an emergency.

I am not here to try to sell the technology, but if you’ve gone all the way to this part, I suppose there are some good things I can tell you about digital TV. On my part, I bought the TVPlus with the HDMI output. It does the job fairly well, but could be better. More on that later. Why should you get one, you ask? You don’t really have to, especially when your tv comes with an ISDB-T tuner, and there’s a lot of them now that when I got my TV set. You will want to get one if you are one of those who watch local channels, especially the news, without the subscription fees. Quality is way better on digital. You obviously will also want to get one if you want to watch those digital channels that are not available in analog, like MYX or Inquirer 990. My main reason for getting the set top box is so I can play with the technology and tell you guys about it! 🙂


I got the ABS-CBN TVPlus, but not because of the branding!

The ABS-CBN TVPlus with HDMI output

ABS-CBN went so far as to call it “mahiwagang black box” for marketing, or, I don’t know, keep everyone in the dark about the technology, but really, the TVPlus is essentially just a DTV box using the ISDB-T standard. It can also receive signals from other stations because that is the standard our country is using. The only difference is that the company insists on encrypting some of their channels so that only the TVPlus can play them. See this is one of the perks of digital technology. Restriction can be very easily implemented. Not that I like it that way, but that’s how it is. On the other hand, this also paves the way for pay-per-view, without getting a cable or satellite subscription.

Is it any good? To tell you the truth, other than the fact that it can play the encrypted channels, there is not much reason to get it instead of other boxes. These are the things you should know before you buy it:

  • Ads are present in the UI. Boot screen, info panel, etc. Just like in Cignal. They are not obtrusive, but I assume our country loves ads because nobody ever complains.
  • The HDMI port does not support 1080p output. Only up to 1080i 60Hz, and there is not even an option to select the resolution yourself.
  • The USB port around back is used for firmware updates, not for media playback (I think this has been documented somewhere).
  • There is a current bug (I’d say it’s a bug) where you exit the EPG and it goes back to channel 1. It’s mildly annoying. I will change this as soon as they fix it through an OTA (yes, OTA firmware update is possible).
  • Functionality is down to the basics. Don’t expect an experience like the one you get in Cignal or Skycable boxes.
  • There are several versions of TVPlus. If you want to get the best, get the one with the HDMI port.


So what can I watch with the digital box?

Surprisingly, there is a good amount of digital channels here in Cebu. I am located in Basak, Mandaue, somewhere around here.

After putting my antenna just in my hallway, I was able to get 25 channels (or segments). Granted most of them are just shopping channels, that is not a bad number at all! I only have around 10 on analog, so that’s a big difference right there.

Here they are (As of August 2018):

  1. ABS-CBN
  3. CINEMO!
  4. YEY!
  5. Knowledge Channel
  6. DZMM Teleradyo
  7. KBO
  12. MYX
  13. GMA
  14. GNTV
  15. Shop TV on BEAM
  16. OShopping on BEAM
  17. TV Shop on BEAM
  18. Daystar TV on BEAM
  19. Island Living on BEAM
  20. Life TV on BEAM
  21. eGG on BEAM
  22. Inquirer 990 TV on BEAM
  23. PTV SD1
  24. PTV SD2
  25. PTV SD3

With the TV stations slowly moving to digital transmission, I expect this list to grow longer with time. I will update the channel list when I get anything new on the airwaves.

A few notes on the channels: 1-12 are all broadcasting from ABS-CBN transmitters, and if you don’t have the TVPlus, you will only get the first two, I think. GMA and GNTV (GMA News TV) also works from one transmitter. And the BEAM stuff  also work off from one transmitter, and then there’s PTV. So there are basically just four transmitting stations for all these channels. PTV also only has the SD1 in use. The other two only has test tones. I should also point out that eGG no longer transmits on BEAM and has moved to Cignal. Also I gotta say this – man that BEAM guy loves to peddle stuff on the airwaves. Oh and one last thing – MYX, MOVIE CENTRAL, ASIANOVELA, and JEEPNEY TV all say they are on free trial, and I heard they will be until December of 2018. So I guess they will become paid channels later on.

If you are someone who watches the news regularly and wants better video quality, but don’t want to pay premium on satellite or cable tv, then this is for you.

The fact that our country is striving to move into the digital age excites me! So I hope this takes out some of your speculations about what digital TV can and can’t do, and will guide you into getting the right TV or box if you are in the market for one. Good luck!

If you have questions, I am here to answer them.

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