Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ATI Announces DVB-H Chip

ATI has been offering 3D graphics and video chips for mobile devices for the past few years, and had some significant design wins with Motorola, Samsung, LG and Siemens/BenQ. ATI also licensed its mobile 3D graphics engine to Qualcomm, which integrated it into baseband chips. But now, the company is placing its bets on the mobile TV market. In an article published by CommsDesign yesterday, ATI stated: "We have been pushing 3-D for handsets, but it will take a while longer. Meanwhile, mobile TV seems to be moving ahead faster in cell phones".

In addition to upgrading its multimedia chip to support H.264 decoding at 30 frames per second, the company has also developed its own DVB-H demodulator. ATI claims that a 12 x 12-mm module which includes this demodulator and a 3rd-party tuner will consume 100 mW on average, and cost $10 in volume.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Blurring the Lines between Live and On-Demand Mobile TV

Last month, Vodafone launched its "Global Mobile TV" service, which offers live TV content to viewers in various markets. The service includes an interesting twist: Some of the channels are not regular live broadcast channels, but specially created "loop channels", which play the same content over and over again in a continuous loop. Quoting from the Vodafone press release:

"HBO will offer award-winning full-length programming, such as "Sex and the City", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Six Feet Under". Programming will be adapted for various Vodafone markets and scheduled in 90 minute loops, 24 hours a day".

Since the transmission to the end user is unicast anyway, why is Vodafone offering such content through lopped live channels, rather than enabling users to access it on demand? I believe there are 3 answers to this question:

1) On-demand viewing of the clips requires the users to browse through several layers of WAP menus until they find and select the required clip to view. Using a TV-like channel, the viewing experience is more immediate, and resembles the experience of viewing the HBO channel on regular television.

2) To support on-demand viewing of clips, the operators need to install servers in their networks with enough capacity to support the number of simultaneous viewers who access on-demand content. Using loop channels, the server outputs a single media stream, which is distributed to the end users with a simple router, which is much cheaper. Therefore, it is more econonical for the mobile operator to package the content in a looped channel rather than on-demand clips.

3) Operators are preparing themselves for the launch of mobile broadcast networks such as DVB-H and T-DMB, which don't have the capability to provide content on-demand to each consumer. That's why they are starting to test the user response and business models of providing on-demand content as packaged loop channels today over cellular networks.

Looped broadcast channels is another example where the lines between broadcast and on-demand mobile video consumption are blurring, continuing the trend which I pointed in a previous post that discussed mobile PVRs and filecasting services.

Friday, January 27, 2006

News.com Article on Mobile TV

News.com published an article today called "Surveying the Mobile TV Landscape", which provides a nice overview of the US mobile TV market. It tracks the evolution of mobile TV in the US from the current low-quality MobiTV services available on today's cellular networks, through the evolution to cellular broadcast via MBMS offered by IPWireless, and finally the commercial mobile broadcast TV services that will be launched this year by Crown Castle's subsidiary Modeo (using DVB-H) and Qualcomm's subsidiary MediaFlo.

China to Launch T-DMB Mobile TV Service

According to an article in Variety.com, China plans to launch a mobile TV service based on T-DMB technology in April. This follows the announcement from Samsung earlier this month that it will ship 200,000 T-DMB phones to China.

This is the first commercial launch of T-DMB services outside of Korea, although a T-DMB trial has been held in the UK, and a big trial is planned in Germany this June in time for the FIFA World Cup.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Starcom Mobile TV User Survey

Market research published yesterday by Starcom points to an interesting distinction in user's minds between using their portable devices (such as MP3 players and PMPs) and their cellular phones for consuming mobile TV content. According to the research, consumers look at personal media players as entertainment devices, and expect to use them for viewing music clips, comedy and short movies, while the cellular phone is perceived as an information device, used to view news, finance and weather updates.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Mobile TV and Portable Video Convergence

If you recall my first post (just yesterday), I told you that this blog will cover both live mobile TV streaming services, and portable "TV-to-Go" services such as those available on Apple's video iPod and other devices. Business Week posted an article by Olga Kharif yesterday claiming that these two markets are bound to converge, with mobile TV broadcast services providing content not only to cellphones, but to portable video players such as the iPod as well. This makes a lot of sense, since these devices have larger screens than cellphones, making the mobile TV experience more enjoyable. In addition, it is much more convenient to get TV programs beamed directly to the device, rather than having to wait until you get back home, connect the device to a PC, and download the programs from there.

Note that viewing TV on mobile broadcast networks will not always be a real-time experience. Most of the T-DMB and S-DMB mobile phones in Korea, and the prototype DVB-H phones available in Europe, have built-in PVRs, which enable recording of live TV programs to the phone's memory. In addition, both the DVB-H and the MediaFlo standards include specifications for "filecasting", which is a method of broadcasting files to the mobile device in offline. These files can later be viewed at the user's convenience. So, instead of downloading yesterday's TV episode to your PC and then transferring it to your video iPod, you could have the show "beamed" to your device overnight, and enjoy it the next day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Where do we stand today on mobile TV services?

These are pretty exciting times, with live TV services over cellular networks launched by most 3G operators worldwide, from Hong Kong, Malaysia and Australia to Italy, France, UK and the US. While adoption of these services by consumers has been quite high, market research has shown that viewers don't spend more than 30-40 minutes on average per month watching TV on their mobile phones.

Korea launched two competing mobile broadcast systems in 2005, S-DMB and T-DMB, and Japan will soon follow with the commercial launch of mobile ISDB-T in Q1 2006. Many trials of T-DMB and DVB-H have been performed in Europe and other parts of the world, and this year we are expected to see initial launches of commercial services using one or both of these technologies. The competition between T-DMB and DVB-H in Europe, and the competition between DVB-H and Qualcomm's MediaFlo in the USA, are likely to generate a lot of headlines in 2006.

What is this Blog all about?

This is my first post, so I thought I'd give some background on what I intend to cover here. The Gamdala Mobile TV Blog will deal mainly with services and products for live TV streaming over cellular and mobile broadcast networks, but also related issues such as TV shows on portable devices (video iPod, pocketdish), and services that let you take your TV anywhere (Sony Location-Free TV, SlingMedia, Orb Networks and Monsoon HAVA).