You know a technology has truly arrived when you find it in the Central Hall at CES. And this year, that's where visitors will find the Mobile DTV TechZone, dedicated to all things mobile television.
Research firm Futuresource estimates that by the year 2013, more than 1 billion people will own a smartphone. As a result, demand for all manner of content—your favorite team's game, last night's episode of a TV show—will grow exponentially.
Until recently, however, standards and services have been a major stumbling block to mobile DTV. That's no longer the case. Last October, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, ATSC, announced it had approved a standard.
Meanwhile, the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem, a group made up of Hollywood studios and tech firms, recently agreed on a standard format for movies and other video content on digital devices.
Additionally, content companies are already developing technologies to protect their property. Disney just announced KeyChest, which will allow users to legally access digital content on a wide range of devices, including mobile phones.
All this comes on the heels of mobile video's best-ever year. According to Nielson Media Research, roughly 7 percent of all mobile subscribers in the U.S. are active video viewers. That number is expected to grow as all-you-can-eat data packages proliferate and prices for service fall.
Here are a few mobile DTV products you may be hearing more about from the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center during the Jan. 7-9 conference.
FLO TV’sMophie is a plastic case from Qualcomm's FLO TV service, which provides the video service for Verizon's V-Cast. It is designed to bring live TV to iPhone users. The case has a plastic antenna that streams live content from network and cable channels, including CBS, Fox, ESPN and MTV. You'll pay about $80 for the case and a $9-a-month service fee.
The Tivit is a portable accessory the company says receives mobile digital TV signals from U.S. broadcasters and allows smartphone or laptop users who can receive WiFi signals to see their favorite shows on the go. The catch: the device can only receive signals from about 30 broadcast stations with the new Mobile DTV transmission standard. That number's expected to grow significantly this year. Oh, and it costs $120.
iSuppli predicts worldwide shipments of mobile TV systems embedded in autos and included in portable navigation devices will more than double from 2009 to 2015. And this year, FLO TV comes to the car, courtesy of Audiovox, while LG Electronics is hawking an in-car DVD player that doubles as a TV receiver. The cost for such back-seat amusement—about $250.
The Lenovo Smartbook is a portable device that shows the convergence of smartphones and notebooks. Smaller than a netbook, the device works on a cellular network. Companies like Qualcomm and Nvidia have been making processors for these smaller devices. No word on whether Lenovo's version will handle HD video, although it seems like a logical addition. Price has yet to be determined.
From Saygus, the VPhone offers a different kind of video. This two-way videoconferencing phone offers a 5-megapixel camera, 24- to 30-frames per second video, a large touch screen and slide out QWERTY keyboard. It is being offered only through Saygus and will run on the Verizon network. Pricing has yet to be determined, but a phone not subsidized by a carrier tends to be an expensive proposition.
And from from two companies not at CES but sure to be heard from in the mobile video race.
There's only one real reason to put an OLED—organic light emitting diode—screen on a phone and that's for clear, crisp video and photos. So expect The Nexus One, introduced yesterday by Google, to become a player in the video space.
At the moment, video offerings for the company's Android operating system are somewhat sparse. Expect that to pick up as the phone gains a following. You'll pay $179 with a two-year T-Mobile contract; $529 for the unlocked version.
Which leads to Apple's long-anticipated tablet. If there's one thing the kids from Cupertino understand, it's media content delivery. In fact, the sixth most popular app for the iPhone is SlingPlayer Mobile, which allows users to watch and or control their home televisions on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Really, watching a video on an iPod is nice, but watching on a tablet with a 10-inch screen would be much nicer.
Bandwidth issues notwithstanding, mobile video users will eventually turn to fourth-generation mobile networks, like Clearwire & Sprint’s WiMax, and Verizon or AT&T’s LTE (Long-Term Evolution).
If video is to become the ubiquitous application many expect, building out those networks is imperative. In the interim, however, companies will continue to develop new services to deliver content and devices to play it back.