3-D television and e-readers dominated the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Sony, Panasonic, Samsung, and Toshiba all announced that they would sell 3-D TV sets this year, and a wave of new e-reader products were unveiled.
However, in the shadow of these products were other technologies that could shape the face of consumer electronics for years to come.
The first of these is mobile digital television, which would allow handheld devices such as smart phones to receive terrestrial digital television broadcasts. Until now, it’s been impossible to maintain a satisfactory reception on such devices because the digital television standard used by broadcasters assumes that television receivers don’t move around. This was reasonable enough in an era when the overwhelming majority of TVs had to be plugged into a power outlet to work. But low-power electronics capable of handling digital TV signals can now be crammed into a phone carried by a car passenger moving at 80 kilometers per hour.
Consequently, the Advanced Television Systems Committee, which develops digital television standards, announced in October 2009 the approval of a mobile standard tailored to moving receivers. And by last week’s CES, manufacturers and broadcasters were demonstrating the first consumer devices incorporating the new technology–including cell phones, plug-in TV receivers for laptops, and dedicated pocket televisions. Dell demonstrated the Mini 10 netbook with a mobile digital TV tuner built in, and iMovee is bringing out a range of related products, including the Car Telly for use in automobile entertainment systems.
Critical to the growth of mobile digital TV will be convincing local broadcasters to install the hardware required for the new standard. According to the Open Mobile Video Coalition, an association of broadcasters, the cost of upgrading digital television transmitters to handle mobile television will be minor compared to the money they have already spent moving from analog to digital systems over the last few years. In return, terrestrial broadcasters, who have seen satellite and cable companies consume most of the television audience, will reach new viewers who’d like to watch television on the go without having to pull video streams over congested wireless networks.
The mobile standard also incorporates provisions for interactive applications, allowing cell phone users to participate in, say, live news polls, or get more information about a product featured on a show or advertisement at the touch of a finger.