Cellphone TV

Technology Review writes:

Both the Qualcomm and Texas Instruments technologies make it possible to offload video delivery from new third generation cellular networks and place it on dedicated video delivery networks. Considering that a big part of the 3G hype was the technologys ability to deliver video, this development is a bit ironic, to say to least. Its true that video of a sort has recently arrived on 3G. For the last few months, Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia Services has been offering as many as 600 video clips a day to PCS subscribers who own a special Samsung phone. In October, AT&T Wireless (now part of Cingular) formally launched its own multimedia service, which is based on the same wireless broadcast network used by Sprint: Idetics MobiTV. The drawback is that at best, the frame rate is six to 10 frames per second; users with older phones see one-frame-per-second video, which is more like a slide show. Generally, 10 to 15 frames-per-second rates are considered to be the lower limits necessary to create an acceptable illusion of motion, and the Qualcomm and TI technologies promise to offer 24 to 30 frames per second–the latter being the standard used by TV broadcasts.

A number of technological trends should get streaming cellular video up into double-digit frame rates within a few years. First, new video chips from Qualcomm and others have arrived this year that support the H.264 video format, which is designed to get the most out of lower bandwidth networks. Also, 3G speeds should gradually rise in the coming years to boost frame rates and overall quality. Yet the next-generation 4G technology and handsets that could deliver 30 frames-per-second video at digital TV-quality resolutions may be 10 to 20 years away. This is why Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and other companies decided to create parallel broadcast networks.

While cellular providers are keen on adding services to boost their bottom lines, there are only so many directions that they and their customers can afford to move at once. All the competing applicationsphotography, music, games, data accessseem to be a better fit than TV is for the mobile realm. Cell phone users may occasionally find short periods of time to watch the tubelet, but the mobile experiencestill being primarily a professional oneseems more oriented toward on-demand clips than TV channel surfing. Few people have time to watch TV while on the move, and TVs have become so ubiquitous in public spaces that one of the hottest selling gadgets of late is a rogue device that turns off nearby TVs. By 2006, the rare moments that cell phone users will be inclined to watch video will also be the times that their Wi-Fi-enabled phones will be in range of a high-bandwidth Wi-Fi access point. And they may also be able to download the videos for later viewing when theyre back in 3G territory.

In short, dont be fooled by the mobile hypecell phone users may move around a lot, but at the end of the day they still veg out at home or in a hotel room watching a nice big TV (or big laptop monitor). Which brings us back to the size question. Two-inch handheld TVs have gotten dramatically better in recent years, and the digital technology from Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and others is likely to be even better. Yet, even if the resolution and frame rate improve, size matters in the TV illusion. At two inches, details are still difficult to make out, and its a hassle to have to sit and hold your TV in your hand. Even with a 3-inch screen (about the biggest thats feasible on a phone), people will watch it when the need arises, but its less likely theyll be hypnotized. That may be good for our souls, but not so good for the TV business.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.