When I wrote about the loss of most of NEXTV’s German channels in November 2015, I promised to review the quality and channel lineup of the German TV Company. You’ll find that review below – but I also cover some other options for watching German-language television from North America.
Since my blog post in late 2015 there have been some new developments: (1) NEXTV has now restored some of its lost German channels, but the number of channels available is still far less than before the 2015 cuts. (2) German TV Company is a worthy replacement, and has even added a few more channels to what was already the largest German-language channel lineup I know of. (3) A new online service, Deutsches Fernsehen (“German television”), is now available, and it offers a wide range of channels in German for computer/mobile device viewing – currently for free! (4) In a later post I’ll also discuss the VPN (Virtual Private Network) option that some people like to use for foreign streamed TV viewing.
This Toronto-based video streaming service again is offering the two German public TV broadcasters ARD (Das Erste) and ZDF in real time. NEXTV now also carries some regional “third-channel” broadcasters (HR, NDR, SWR, WDR) and a few local TV stations (Düsseldorf, München), but far fewer than before. The truth is that NEXTV is still a pale shadow of its former self, now offering only 16 TV channels in German compared to more than twice that number before the autumn 2015 cuts. It no longer offers time-shifted versions of ARD and ZDF, and can’t compete with the recorded broadcast options of its competitors. For some reason the ProSieben Sat.1 Welt channel on NEXTV is not only distorted (squeezed horizontally) but also in poor-quality SD. Most of the other channels are in HD.
NEXTV recently raised their $10 monthly subscription fee to $15.73, making them less of a good deal compared to the German TV Company (below). If you want to watch sports or Austrian and Swiss television, you’ll have to look elsewhere. Just keep reading.
German TV Company
With the loss of NEXTV’s full German channel lineup, Brooklyn-based German TV Company (which I abbreviate below as “GTVC”) is now the best option for viewing German-language television from Germany, Austria and Switzerland on your TV set.
As I wrote earlier in my blog about NEXTV’s lost German channels, GTVC offers a full range of television channels in German. Although GTVC offers the option of viewing German-language TV on your computer, it is optimized more for TV viewing rather than for a computer or tablet screen, making it most similar to what NEXTV used to be.
But there’s a catch. For TV viewing you have to buy GTVC’s special box, the Alfa UX2 Media Player. That will set you back about $120 with free shipping (only $100 as part of the $350 annual subscription), more than the $65 Roku 2 or the $45 Roku Streaming Stick that works with NEXTV. GTVC does offer discounts on full packages, but for wireless use the Alfa UX2 device requires a $20 Wi-Fi adapter that the Roku does not need.
While NEXTV and GTVC feature similar TV screen picture quality, GTVC is far superior in the number of channels it offers. I think it’s safe to say that GTVC offers virtually any channel you could get if you were living in Germany, Austria or Switzerland – and had a cable or satellite TV subscription.
GTVC’s on-screen menus are also better than NEXTV, providing more information about the program you’re watching or want to watch. NEXTV is now charging $15.73 per month for its more limited service, only $5.00 less than GTVC’s $20.83 per month basic charge, but instead of NEXTV’s 16 channels, GTVC offers about 90 channels in German (including sports channels).
While I was test viewing the German TV Company’s channels, they added some additional ones that weren’t there when I first started. No one features a better sports assortment than GTVC, which carries many sports channels, including an array of Bundesliga (soccer) and Sky Sport channels – making it hard to beat for fans of German sports. They also offer Austrian and Swiss TV channels that NEXTV never had.
One advantage of the Alfa UX2 box is a better remote control than most Roku players have. But scrolling through 90 channels can be frustrating. However, if you know the channel number, you can click to a channel directly. (With 90+ channels, it helps to write down your own favorite channels guide.) I was a little confused by the on-screen menu at first, but soon realized that a normal channel was live. If you shift over to the list on the right, you can select recorded versions of earlier telecasts.
German TV Company offers a free three-day trial subscription using the free VLC web-player. For more, see their FAQ page.
One word of caution: GTVC channels 90-102 are “erotic” adult channels with content that is definitely not family fare. Although those channels are password-protected, the simple password could be cracked by your average 10-year-old.
Deutsches Fernsehen (DF) is a free online streaming video service that requires an app download for your Mac OS X or Windows computer. DF also has an app for Android phones and tablets, but unfortunately nothing for the iPhone or other Apple iOS devices. DF features more than 50 channels in German. (See the screen shot below for a sample.)
Unlike NEXTV and German TV Company, Deutsches Fernsehen is designed for viewing on your computer or mobile device. It may be possible to view DF’s channels on a TV screen via Apple’s Air Play or Google’s Chromecast, but DF’s service is intended for viewing on a computer monitor or a non-Apple mobile device. The lack of support for iOS is a major downside to Deutsches Fernsehen – something that isn’t obvious from their website, which claims:
“Auf allen Geräten: Systemabdeckung aller gängigen Mobilgeräte bis zum bequemen Online-Player.” (“On all devices: Operating-system coverage for all current mobile devices including the easy-to-use online player.”)
Not really. Only after you receive their registration email do you discover that “all” doesn’t include any DF apps for the iPhone or iPad! (They do offer an app for Mac OS X computers.) That’s a major gap. Okay, it’s a free service, so it may be unfair to criticize them, but I have iOS devices I can’t use with DF.
Well let’s move on and talk about the many good aspects of Deutsches Fernsehen.
First of all, it’s free! You can’t beat the price, but I don’t know how long DF will stay that way. For the low, low price of zero you get 50 German-language channels from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. You can watch live TV or recorded shows from the previous 14 days.
You can adjust the picture quality depending on the speed of your connection: LQ ab 1 Mbit/s, HQ ab 1,5 Mbit/s, HD ab 2,5 Mbit/s. In HQ or HD the picture looks great. I was impressed by how quickly a videocast started once I clicked on the menu. Bang! There it is, without any hesitation! Using the TV-oriented services mentioned above often means a frustrating wait for the video to load and start playing (particularly NEXTV). I also like DF’s user interface, menus and program info much better than either of the streaming TV services mentioned above. If you stop in the middle of a show, DF will remember where you stopped and ask if you want to resume watching from there.
The Bottom Line
To summarize the TV viewing options discussed above: If you’re content with viewing German-language TV on your computer, laptop, or mobile device, then Deutsches Fernsehen or German TV Company may be the best option. Deutsches Fernsehen has the big advantage of being free for now. If you prefer watching German television on a TV screen, then you have two options: German TV Company’s 90 channels or NEXTV’s 16 channels. If you want a full range of entertainment, news, and sports, then German TV Company is clearly your best choice, starting at about $20 a month. If you’re willing to settle for fewer channels (from Germany only) and no sports, consider NEXTV for only about $15 per month.
Coming Soon: Using VPN for Foreign TV Viewing
In the meantime see Erin’s blog post: Confessions of an Expat TV Addict.