CHANNEL surfing, one of the most popular sports of the 1990s, is about to take root in Hong Kong from the end of the month as Wharf Holdings' Cable Television service begins transmission. The sport, in which viewers use their remote controls to flick in and out of channels is a major pastime in the United States, where there are hundreds of channels on offer. When Cable TV goes on air with 11 channels next Sunday, it will allow Hong Kong's couch potatoes to roam the airwaves. Cable TV's new offerings, which include three of the five STAR TV channels, added to TVB, ATV and Teledifusao de Macau, along with the services available from the Palapa satellite - including Australian Television International - will certainly add to the sum of channels, but the question is whether it will do anything for the quality. Last week the Sunday Morning Post was given an exclusive preview of the Cantonese-language Cable TV channels. These include those showing news, movies, children's programmes, spor ts and entertainment, which Wharf hopes will encourage people to pay $199 a month for the basic service - including STAR TV's BBC World Service Television, Prime Sports and MTV Asia. The news channel will be the flagship, with its 24-hour rolling news content along the lines of CNN. It will feature news on the hour for 30 minutes, with the ''back'' half-hour filled with an assortment of televised local forums and news features. For more than a year Cable TV has been commissioning 90-minute telefeatures and mini-series from Hong Kong production houses, as well as scouring programming vaults overseas. Spokeswoman Laurie Ho said: ''We want to make movies the broadcast stations will not carry; to stay away from the mainstream.'' This also means using actors who are outside the rigid contract system maintained by TVB and ATV, such as ex-TVB actress Sheung Yee who stars in Years of the Sunset. Former Miss Hong Kong Monica Chan is the lead in the moody Lan Kwai Fong, filmed before the tragedy last New Year's Eve. The first telefeature to take the 6 pm Saturday evening slot will be the futuristic action thriller Once Upon a Time in 2040 by award-winning director Yim Ho. The unprecedented popularity of the Taiwanese series Pao the Judge on TVB Jade in the last few months, and the continuing fascination of Tokyo Elevator Girl appears to have justified Cable TV's purchase of the serial Ging Cheng Si Shao, about four brothers separated in infancy. Great things are expected from the Youth Music Channel (YMC) with its mixture of VJs, features about adolescent entrepreneurs and clothing trends. Its video options will be limited by existing artiste contracts. The equally innovative Children's Channel will show a mixture of cartoons, serials and the programme Children's Own World, where children discuss topics that are then reviewed by a child psychologist. The Sports Channel will attempt to improve on poor existing coverage. Local sports will take up three hours daily, with the rest featuring coverage by ESPN, the American sports channel and worldwide rival to Prime Sports. Cable TV favoured Asian sources when buying movies and serials, for cultural and financial reasons. So, unlike Cable's Chinese, Taiwanese and Japanese movies, the European ones are either very old (The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Glorifying the American Girl )or second-class. On the other hand, how long would you wait to see a series of classic films by Sir David Lean like Blithe Spirit and In Which We Serve, or excellent silents like Metropolis and Birth of a Nation ? Viewers will have to learn cable TV is a wheel that goes around daily, and that programming is repeated several times during a 24-hour period; the colossal amounts of airtime mean there is no economic alternative. Liberally scattered through the highlights are going to be large amounts of rubbish programming bought as time-fillers, especially as Cable TV cannot run advertisements for the first three years of its life. Still, it will offer viewers a variety of non-stop programming the likes of which they have never seen here before.