Recent signs of trouble in the large-screen TV business suggest that there might be market-driven limits to how big a television set can be. Yet might there also be minimum size limits? Judging from two recent announcements on mobile video delivery, were likely to find out soon. First, Texas Instruments said that it plans to introduce a chip called Hollywood that will decode and display digital TV receptions using new mobile versions of digital television broadcast standards. TI claims that Hollywood-equipped cell phones, which should arrive in 2007, will be capable of displaying video at digital TV resolutions.
Then Qualcomm disclosed that it was spending $800 million to create a nationwide network called MediaFLO that should go online by 2006. MediaFLO will use new wireless frequencies bought last year by Qualcomm to deliver video and other multimedia content to mobile devices.
Both the Qualcomm and Texas Instruments technologies make it possible to offload video delivery from new third generation cellular networks and place it on dedicated video delivery networks. Considering that a big part of the 3G hype was the technologys ability to deliver video, this development is a bit ironic, to say to least. Its true that video of a sort has recently arrived on 3G. For the last few months, Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia Services has been offering as many as 600 video clips a day to PCS subscribers who own a special Samsung phone. In October, AT&T Wireless (now part of Cingular) formally launched its own multimedia service, which is based on the same wireless broadcast network used by Sprint: Idetics MobiTV. The drawback is that at best, the frame rate is six to 10 frames per second; users with older phones see one-frame-per-second video, which is more like a slide show. Generally, 10 to 15 frames-per-second rates are considered to be the lower limits necessary to create an acceptable illusion of motion, and the Qualcomm and TI technologies promise to offer 24 to 30 frames per second–the latter being the standard used by TV broadcasts.
A number of technological trends should get streaming cellular video up into double-digit frame rates within a few years. First, new video chips from Qualcomm and others have arrived this year that support the H.264 video format, which is designed to get the most out of lower bandwidth networks. Also, 3G speeds should gradually rise in the coming years to boost frame rates and overall quality. Yet the next-generation 4G technology and handsets that could deliver 30 frames-per-second video at digital TV-quality resolutions may be 10 to 20 years away. This is why Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and other companies decided to create parallel broadcast networks.
TIs Hollywood chip combines three TV chips into one and promises 24 to 30 frames per second playback of live video. It supports two emerging digital TV standards for mobile devices: DVB-H (a European-based standard now under trial that was developed by a consortium called the Digital Video Broadcasting Project) and a rival Japanese format called ISDB-T (Integrated Services Digital BroadcastingTerrestrial). Expected to be available by 2007, both formats use various techniques to reduce battery consumption compared to standard digital broadcasting technologies. For example, DVB-H (the H is for handheld), which was finalized earlier this year, temporarily shuts off tuner chips between broadcast burstsa technique known as time slicing.
Of the two formats, DVB-H seems to have more momentum in the United States. In October, Nokia and cell-tower operator Crown Castle announced they had begun trials of the technology in Pittsburgh. The DVB-H broadcasting equipment could operate either in conjunction with TV broadcasters standard digital broadcasting equipment or be run by cellular providers as a separate service from their 3G networks.