Local TV

Mobile DTV Accelerates Into CES

Vendors test gear; stations seek deals 12/05/2009 02:00:00 AM Eastern



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With the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas only a month away, broadcasters' efforts to make mobile DTV receivers a viable new product category on both the show floor and retail shelves are moving at a fast pace.

Through the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), broadcasters have been working with consumer electronics manufacturers to develop new portable devices with tiny mobile DTV receiver chips embedded in them; these include cellphones, USB dongles, a new LG personal DVD player and a Dell netbook. They will be demonstrated at CES in a Mobile DTV Techzone in the main hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, along with a new “bridge” device the size of a pack of cigarettes that will receive mobile DTV signals and then retransmit them via Wi-Fi networking. That would allow smartphones, laptops and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices to display broadcast content without a built-in chip.

“That way, you don't have to wait for the carriers,” says OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle, who adds that the bridge device was initially developed forOMVC's Washington, D.C., testbed of seven mobile DTV stations.

This week in Washington, broadcast equipment vendors and consumer electronics manufacturers are conducting a “plugfest,” organized by the Consumer Electronics Association, to test interoperability between their mobile DTV transmission gear and various consumer electronics devices. While in August OMVC conducted conformance testing of mobile DTV equipment, that effort focused mainly on the “physical,” or transmission, layer of the mobile DTV system and how it worked with receiver chips. Those conformance tests also required specialized monitoring technology.

The interoperability tests this week will focus more on general consumer usability, such as whether a mobile DTV receiver streams video or displays the electronic service guide correctly, explains Mike Bergman, VP of new digital technologies for Kenwood and chairman of the CEA's Special Interest Group on mobile DTV.

The plugfest is similar in concept to past interoperability tests CEA has organized for technologies such as HDMI and Wi-Fi networking, and will involve about a dozen companies. The goal of the event, which will also include conformance testing based on the final ATSC Mobile DTV standard approved in mid-October, is to root out issues in software compatibility and other areas before mobile DTV products hit retail shelves.

Grass Valley, which completed development of a new turnkey ATSC Mobile DTV transmission system this fall, is one of the broadcast vendors participating in the D.C. plugfest. Richard Fiore, senior director for transmissions and mobility at Grass Valley, says that with so many different vendors writing software code based on an 800-page mobile standard, it is unrealistic to expect immediate perfection. Instead, he views the plugfest as a learning experience.

“I don't expect everything to work with everybody else,” Fiore says. “If it does, it's going to be a fluke.”

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While vendors continue to refine their mobile DTV products, broadcasters still need to create a business model by negotiating agreements with wireless carriers to include mobile DTV capability in their cellphones and netbooks. They also need to figure out how to share revenue generated by broadcasts to those phones, either from advertising or subscription fees. Several groups appear to have already moved forward; Gannett, Media General, Hearst Television, Cox, Belo, Scripps, Ion Media, Raycom and Post-Newsweek have reportedly formed a joint venture called the Pearl Project that will seek to raise capital and cut deals with carriers, receiver manufacturers, retailers, programmers and advertisers.

A Gannett spokeswoman declined to comment on the possible joint venture, which was reported by online aggregator TVNewsCheck, and Raycom Media CTO Dave Folsom said he “could neither confirm nor deny” its existence.

But Ardell Hill, president of broadcast services for Media General, confirmed that the substance of the report was accurate in terms of the players involved and the venture's overall goals. He said that discussions over business deals with carriers and other entities were being conducted at the CEO level by the groups involved, but that he had few details. Hill and other top engineers are part of a technical group that is vetting technology from various vendors on behalf of the joint venture, with the initial goal of launching mobile DTV service in large markets next year.

“You can hit a large amount of the population with the top 30 markets,” Hill notes. “If you're in the top 30 markets with a dozen or more signals in the air, consumers are going to say, 'Wow, this is pretty neat; this is going to be good.' I think that's generally the mindset for the launch, and us guys on the technical side have been asked to find the best way to get it up and running.”

E-mail comments to glen.dickson@reedbusiness.com



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