Conventional digital TV broadcasts are designed for stationary antennas. So devices that are moving–because someone’s carrying them, or because they’re in a car–have a hard time getting a picture. The Mobile DTV technology gets around that problem, letting broadcasters add a secondary signal to the towers they use for sending TV signals to homes. About 30 stations have done so in the last year, hoping to reach viewers on the go as gadgets such as smart phones gain in prominence.
So far, only prototype devices have been able to receive these new signals. Cell phones, particularly ones with large screens, would be natural devices for Mobile DTV reception, but U.S. carriers have shown little interest in the technology. The two largest ones, AT&T Inc. and Verizon Wireless, sell phones that are compatible with a rival broadcasting system, FLO TV, run by Qualcomm Inc. It provides 10 channels for $15 per month.
Mobile DTV differs from FLO TV by providing local channels with traffic, weather, and sports content, and by being free, at least for some channels. One of the goals of the consumer trial is to figure out how willing consumers will be to pay, according to the Open Mobile Video Coalition, an industry group that represents both broadcasters and equipment makers.
The new Samsung phone is a version of the already available Moment, with an added telescoping antenna for TV reception. It has a screen made of organic light-emitting diodes, providing eye-popping color saturation. Samsung spokesman John Godfrey said about 300 of them will be in consumers’ hands in the D.C. area in the first few months of the year.
Phone service will be provided by Sprint Nextel Corp., which doesn’t have a deal with FLO TV. But the extent of Sprint’s support doesn’t yet go very far: It hasn’t said it will sell Mobile DTV phones.
The Tivit approaches the phone market differently: It’s a separate device that can beam a TV signal to most Wi-Fi-capable phones. It thus bypasses the cellular carriers. It was originally designed to provide TV viewing to the iPhone in Japan, where TV reception is considered a must for phones. Valups, the Korean company behind the device, said the Tivit will go on sale this spring for about $120.
LG Electronics Inc., which like Samsung has helped develop the Mobile DTV technology, has said it will introduce a portable DVD player that will also tune in Mobile DTV. It will be available later this year for $249, it said.
Dell will be supplying hundreds of small laptops for the trial in Washington, and the computer maker believes it will be able to sell Mobile DTV tuners as upgrades for its laptops, said spokesman James Clardy. Dell already sells laptops with the option of a built-in receiver for standard digital TV, for about $50.
This also is supposedly the year 3-D television becomes the hot new thing: Updated sets and disc players are coming out, and 3-D cable channels are in the works. But it’s not clear the idea will reach out and grab mainstream viewers.
Besides having to spring for expensive new TVs, users would have to put on special glasses to give the picture the illusion of depth. Unfazed by the potential hang-ups, however, the biggest TV makers began revealing their 3-D models Jan. 6 before the official opening of CES.
Tim Baxter, president of Samsung Electronics’ consumer division, said in an interview with AP that 10 to 14 percent of the roughly 35 million TVs sold in the U.S. this year will be 3-D-capable.
Samsung is determined to make 3-D a big feature on its more expensive TVs this year. And Panasonic Corp. said it will debut four 3-D sets this spring, but they won’t be LCD sets, the most common type of flat panel. Instead, Panasonic is using plasma panels, saying the viewing quality will be superior to 3-D on LCDs.