DVR your way to better Chinese

If you planning on studying Chinese in China or Taiwan then watching TV while you are there is essential if you’re to pick up on the local lingo and improve your listening and comprehension ability. The problem is that you’ll quickly find it’s hard to catch words as they fly by the bottom of the screen (all pre-recorded programmes in Taiwan have subtitles by default), and if the Chinese is spoken too quickly for your current ability level you’re also out of luck. Recently I did what I should have done when I first arrived in Taiwan – bought a TV tuner stick for my Macbook to let me record TV shows to watch back later.

TV Tuner Stick

Where you are located and what services are available there will determine what kind of TV tuner stick you should buy. TV tuners for computers usually come in three varieties – analogue, digital, and dual analogue & digital. Here in Taiwan cable TV is analogue and doesn’t require a special set-top box or cable card I just had to buy a tuner stick that supported analogue broadcasts. But there are also 19 free digital over-the-air channels that are also available. The dual analogue/digital cards are usually more expensive than the single analogue or digital tuners, too. The one I bought in the image above was $2990NT (around £60UK/$100US) which is quite expensive for a tuner stick but this is due to the lack of support for Apple Macs by most manufacturers so the choice is reduced when compared to Windows PCs. If you are using a Windows PC then you can pretty much buy any stick available and prices start from as low as $600NT (£12UK/$20US). If you go to your local “3C shop” (electronics shop) as ask I’m sure they’ll point you in the right direction for what is suitable for your circumstances.

The Simpsons in Chinese

Now I can record all of my favourite programmes such as The Simpsons in Chinese (above) and Cartoon Network in Chinese is also a great resource for Chinese dubbed cartoons. If a sentence is spoken too quickly, I can just skip back a few second and listen again. If I want to analyse the subtitles for a few minutes then I can pause and write down any words that interest me. It makes watching TV as a resource for learning Chinese exponentially better.

The moral of the story? If you’re going to China or Taiwan to study Chinese then make sure you pick up a decent TV tuner stick to record your favourite programmes for watching back later!

If you’ve bought a decent TV tuner stick for your computer post in the comments below.

9 responses to “DVR your way to better Chinese

  1. Yeah watching shows and movies dubbed in Chinese is great for practice. I don’t have a DVR but I find that buying DVD’s and switching to the Chinese language track is cheap and works well. Works with some Blu-Ray movies, also.

  2. Wow, I was literally at an electronics store looking for portable TVs right before I read this, but this is a much better solution. Is this the only Mac-compatible one that you could find?

    1. You can also use EyeTV tuners but (from what I remember) they are a lot more expensive especially for the dual analogue/digital tuner. If you’re in Taiwan I bought mine at 順發 (Sunfar) for $2990 and it’s also on http://shopping.pchome.com.tw/ for $2990, but a few days after buying it I saw it in a Mac specialist shop for around $2700 I think, so have a look around.

  3. Ok, well I went back into town today and poked around at a couple of stores, but none of them had the one you listed in stock. They did have one by the same company called “AVerTV Diamond,” which was about half the price. The box didn’t say anything about being Mac-compatible, but the guy at the store checked the website and said I could download drivers from there. I got home, downloaded the AVerTV software for mac from the website, which seemed to include the drivers as well, but had no luck when I plugged the thing in. It seems there must be some difference in the hardware, unless I’m doing something wrong and the drivers aren’t installed properly. On the company’s website, the one I bought is listed as model H830, while the one in your picture is listed as H830M , and is pretty clearly shown to be mac-compatible, while the one I bought isn’t. Oh well, good thing they said I could return it within a week. Maybe I’ll see what I can find in Taipei next weekend.

  4. The tuner stick sounds like a good idea. I have been trying to find a way to convert Chinese subtitles to a text file so that I can use Google translate to create a vocab list before trying to watch the show. The problem is that Chinese subtitles seem to be vob files instead of srt files. If you have any ideas how a technophobe could do this, I would appreciate it. I have looked on the web and seen some ocr suggestions but most of them involve making a training file, and the whole process seems beyond me.

  5. If possible, open the recorded program in VLC media player. You’ll then be able to slow down the speed (but not the pitch) of the video.

  6. Good tip, this is how I learned to integrate and speak “American” when I first came to USA from Asia: watching endless MTV (while singing along) and silly shows till I catch all American slangs and inside jokes to comfortably hang with the natives.

  7. Hi! I was just wondering what program you can use for PC to actually record the programs, not just watch them. I assume that the TV-tuner itself isn’t able to do that(?)

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