Thursday, August 21, 2008

Olympics: What's on (CC)TV?

Three more days to go till the Closing Ceremony. I’m sure you’ve followed the Olympics, at least to a certain extent: Phelps’ 8 Golds, Bolt’s Double, China’s rise to the top medal list (not the NYT list), … Here, in China’s capital, there’s nothing else in town! (unless you’re one of the people who applied to protest, but that’s for another blog and you can read about it in the NYT, Washington Post, The Guardian, …) Everybody is following the Olympics, virtually all the time. My wife’s students have their IE browsers pointed permanently on at any one of the web channels (basketball, football, volleyball, ping pong, badminton, swimming, gymnastics, shooting, weight lifting, track and field, taekwondo, wrestling, judo, archery, tennis, fencing, field hockey, boxing, handball, baseball, softball, cycling, …)

So I’ve been trying to tape some of the Games for my buddies in NYC, especially those with HiDef channels but with no hopes of viewing Olympics Table Tennis. There are 4 CCTV channels that are covering the Olympics (almost 24-7): CCTV1, CCTV2, CCTV5 (now CCTV Olympics, with their logo the 5 Olympics Rings in white), and CCTV7 (showing mostly taped events from the day before). I taped the OC (of course), the post-OC news conference, and quite a few of the morning CCTV1 8:30-9:45 AM program (review and overview of each day) in the first week.

Recording Table Tennis turned out to be non-trivial, complicated by my trip to Shanghai during the first days of the team competition. First, the cable box program listings and listings did not always agree. This was trouble since I had to set the cable box to show the specific channels during the particular time-slots. Luckily almost all table tennis coverage was on CCTV Olympics, so I did not have the unenviable (impossible, you may say) task of trying to convince my wife to go home during the workday to switch the channel manually.

There was still trouble after my trip to Shanghai, as the Teams preliminary round ended and the elimination round started. This meant that the coverage (mostly of the Chinese teams) was not determined weeks in advance (as the preliminary round matches were). There were a couple of evenings when I tried to find the taped versions of table tennis coverage (after having missed live coverage), and had to rely on programming announcements running on the bottom strips of one of the CCTV channels. However, even that was somewhat unreliable. While the channel information was correct, the announced start and end times were not always reliable. I can understand how live coverage time slots could change, but taped programming, in the wee hours of the morning? (I suppose few people are watching, much less recording the programming, but …)

Further trouble with setting up pre-programmed recording the last couple of days. Since I no longer rely on listings provided by the cable company, I use the CCTV online listings. However, there were a couple of times when the online listings were changed between midnight and the following morning. Certain specific programmed time-slots would disappear, and instead of table tennis, other events would be shown. Again, to give these CCTV programmers the benefit of a doubt, presumably the order of play is not fixed at the beginning. Since they show almost exclusively the Chinese players (and the extremely cute ‘Fuyuan Ai’, i.e., the Chinese pronounciation of ‘Fukuhara Ai,’ the 19 year old Japanese player), there must be some just-in-time re-programming involved. So I have gone back to recording mainly the taped programming, shown after midnight.

Anyway, some of you will see how I managed a workaround of the mismatch between the cable box program listing and the actual programming. I had to select the appropriate cable box program slots to include the actual CCTV program. So if during an intense ping pong rally, the transparent yellow box pops up, announces the start of the next program, and asks for confirmation or cancellation, you will know whom to blame.

[And, finally, I would like to thank Bill for getting me the Archos 605 to make all the digital recording of Olympics coverage possible.]

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