Mobile Digital TV: Coming to a Small Screen Near You
How Three Mobile DTV Prototypes Fared in Real-World Tests
We examined three prototype devices--a mobile digital TV, a smartphone, and a Wi-Fi receiver--to see how they would handle mobile DTV transmissions under everyday conditions. Here's what we found.
LG Mobile Digital Television With DVD Playback
As any parent can attest, DVDs aren't enough to keep some kids entertained. So the addition of a Mobile DTV tuner may be just what LG's portable player needs to stand out from the scores of inexpensive portable disc players on the market. And if its features don't do the trick, its price certainly will: When the glossy black clamshell player debuts this summer, it will list for about $249-roughly double what some competing DVD-only players cost.
The player comes equipped with a 7-inch, widescreen (16:9) LCD, which flips open and then can sit at an angle on a separate hinged arm to achieve an ideal viewing position. It has the standard array of DVD playback controls on the right side, as well as a volume wheel, two headphone mini-jacks, an audio/video output, and DC power connections on the right edge.
On the left side, neatly tucked away next to the USB port, is a pull-out, telescoping silver antenna for receiving Mobile DTV broadcasts. You use a Mode button on the left side of the screen to switch between discs and the TV receiver. The tuner automatically scans for available stations in the vicinity and then provides you with an electronic program guide that you can consult when making a selection.
When I tested it from a location that had a clear sight line to the Empire State Building (where the test station's transmitter is located), the LG receiver pulled in a clean picture. I saw no pixelation or jumpy images, and audio was crisp. The Mobile DTV format, in fact, works with a resolution of 416 by 240, which is good enough for screen sizes up to 7 inches.
Still, of the three prototypes I tested, the LG player was usually the first device to lose the broadcast as I moved out of range-say, 20 feet or so inside an office building. And though the battery lasted well beyond 3.5 hours playing DVDs and CDs, it regularly ran out of power after just over 2 hours of watching Mobile DTV broadcasts. LG says that a receiver chip made to draw less power should be ready for the player by the time you read this.
LG KB770 Smartphone
As a proof-of-concept handset, the LG KB770 demonstrates that Mobile DTV may be best suited to cell phones. Available in Europe, where customers can already tune in to DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting-Terrestrial) stations, this prototype was adapted to receive Mobile DTV, and in general it did an excellent job.
The smartphone itself has a 3-inch, 400-by-240-pixel touchscreen and is outfitted with two cameras: a 3-megapixel still camera and a small, 15-frames-per-second video camera. The handset also has the usual array of smartphone features: a microSD slot, stereo Bluetooth, and a multimedia player.
To prepare the smartphone for Mobile DTV reception, you pull out the device's telescoping antenna and press the on-screen TV button. The phone automatically switches to widescreen landscape mode and scans for nearby channels. Among the skyscrapers of Manhattan, it managed to maintain a stable picture-certainly better than that of mobile satellite systems. The picture occasionally jumped in crosstown traffic, but I didn't find that too distracting. Just don't expect to follow the puck if you use the KB770 to watch a hockey game.
The prototype lasted for more than 2 hours of TV viewing on one charge. LG hasn't announced a carrier for the phone yet, so prices for hardware-plus-service-contract plans remain to be determined.
Valups Mobile DTV Wi-Fi Receiver
If you don't want to buy a new phone or portable device just so you can watch Mobile DTV channels, the Valups receiver represents a convenient $99 alternative to the LG devices. This wireless, credit-card-size unit has a single power button and three lights (to indicate battery use, TV reception, and Wi-Fi). To get Mobile DTV channels, owners download a free Valups app to their iPhone, BlackBerry, or Android handset. (It will work with an iPad, too.) I tested it with an iPod Touch.
I did sometimes have to restart the receiver's prerelease software, but otherwise the unit worked without a hitch. After downloading the software, you select the Wi-Fi TV network entry from the list of available Wi-Fi networks; you then see a list of available stations. Picture quality depends on the device you use.
I put the Valups Wi-Fi receiver in a front window, where reception was available, and then watched TV on my iPod Touch back in the office-where neither the LG portable DVD player nor the LG smartphone could pull in a television signal.
Originally introduced at the Consumer Electronics Show as the "Tivit," the Valups receiver should go on sale this spring.