Mobile TV makes progress at CES
The Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest gadget show that kicks off the year every January, is used by many in the industry as a barometer for what the year ahead will hold. For mobile television, a market that has been exceedingly slow to start in the U.S., this year's CES was particularly important to prove the service had legs — with CE-makers, service providers and consumers.
From the action on the show floor, it appears the industry did just that — at least amongst CE-makers and service providers. Mobile TV was a big topic this week at CES, and the excitement was almost palpable. Even competing services agreed that attention for mobile TV of any kind gets was good for the industry as a whole, considering that a lack of consumer interest has been a stumbling point for the service. With the ecosystem throwing its weight behind the movement, the question now is if consumers will soon do the same. The answer will become clearer in 2010, but in the meantime, CES proved to be a good catalyst for the year ahead:
OMVC: The OMVC, an organization of 800 local broadcasters, announced an upcoming field trial of mobile digital TV, slated for March in the Washington-Baltimore metro area. The organization also signed up Sprint as the carrier partner for the trial, along with eight broadcast stations transmitting content for up to 20 channels of mobile DTV. According to the OMVC, the trials will be a perfect opportunity to gauge consumers' interest in the service.
Samsung Moment: A new version of the Samsung Moment became the first phone to let consumers record shows on the go — a potentially unsettling feature for a lot of broadcasters. Sprint's mobile DTV-enabled Android device, for use in the OMVC's trials, includes a large antenna and is equipped with an electronic programming guide and picture-in-picture mode. The handset can record TV shows as MPEG-4 video files playable anywhere.
MobiTV: Popular mobile application MobiTV has had success with its business- and sports-dedicated apps on the iPhone and BlackBerry, but the company is looking to co-exist with its mobile digital TV brethren. It has been a partner of the OMVC, working to establish the mobile digital TV standard, as well as find a way for its premium content and DVR service to run alongside the OMVC members' free local broadcast channels.
Qualcomm FLO TV: Along with an expanded slate of sports programming, Qualcomm's subscription live TV service, FLO TV, brought live TV programming to the iPhone at CES. Through a partnership with accessory-maker Mophie, it introduced a plastic case adorned with a FLO TV antenna that when used on the iPhone in conjunction with the FLO TV iPhone app streams live content from broadcast and cable networks. FLO TV didn't release pricing for the new service, but it is banking on a tech-savvy group of iPhone fanatics to prove its business model.
Tivit: Another vendor, Valups, unveiled an accessory dubbed Tivit that attaches to Wi-Fi-enabled smartphones or laptops and picks up local TV program transmissions. In addition, the company has developed a mobile DTV module that can be integrated into existing consumer electronics products such as a portable DVD player or car navigation systems — a growing market for mobile TV.
LG: Handset-maker LG, as well as several other Korean companies, showed off a slew of new mobile TV hardware. LG introduced a new single-purpose, battery-operated mobile DTV receiver with DVD playback, designed to receive rugged over-the-air signals transmitted from local broadcasters.
Vizio: Mobile TV is an entirely new territory for the flat-screen TV-maker, which announced the Razor LED Series of portable devices designed to receive signals using ATSC.
Compared to last year's CES that was quiet on the mobile TV front, support for the technology is clearly ramping up. And if carriers echo the excitement of broadcasters, device-makers and other service providers, the consumers should come next. Mobile TV showed it has legs at CES this year. Now it just has to prove it can run.
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