Executives from ION Media Networks and the Fox station group say they have successfully tested a proposed mobile digital television (DTV) system in the major markets of Chicago and Denver and are looking forward to broad support for mobile DTV at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January.
Ion’s WCPX and Fox’s WPWR in Chicago have been transmitting mobile DTV signals from atop Sears Tower for months using MPH (Mobile-Pedestrian Handheld), the system developed by Harris and LG Electronics (and subsequently supported by Samsung) that is currently being considered for standardization by the Advanced Television Systems Committee. ION has also been testing the system in Denver, broadcasting from KPXC’s tower in Fort Lupton north of the city.
All three stations are dedicating about 4 megabits of their 19.4 megabit-per-second (Mbps) DTV pipe to support the delivery of two live mobile TV streams. The ION stations are broadcasting four standard-definition DTV streams in their remaining bandwidth, while WPWR, a MyNetwork TV affiliate, is transmitting a 720-line progressive HD feed along the mobile DTV services.
The stations are using equipment from Harris, LG and Zenith to support the tests, and gauging reception with handheld mobile phones, laptops fitted with USB receivers and screens installed in traveling test vans throughout the downtown area, surrounding suburbs and rural regions.
WPWR has been transmitting the mobile DTV streams for over a year, says Pat Mullen, VP and GM of the Fox duopoly in Chicago, which also comprises WFLD. One mobile stream is a simulcast of WFLD’s regular Fox programming, while the other is a demo channel looping off a DVD. Mullen has been testing the reception of the signals in real-world environments on his own with a prototype LG handset, and so far, he likes what he sees.
“You can get on the freeways at 75 mph, or get on a train and go 35 to 40 miles out from the transmitter, and the reception has been remarkable,” says Mullen. He adds that he recently used the handset to catch the end of a Chicago Bears game versus the Atlanta Falcons while attending his daughter’s softball game.
“I had myself and five other dads standing around to watch the two-inch screen,” he says (unfortunately, the Bears lost).
The Open Mobile Video Coalition, a group of over 800 local stations which has been promoting the development of a mobile DTV standard, says the tests in Chicago and Denver prove the viability of the proposed system before the ATSC. The OMVC hopes to have a candidate standard in place from the ATSC by early December, which would keep handset manufacturers on schedule to have commercial devices available by the holiday 2009 shopping season. OMVC is planning a multi-station demo for the CES show in Las Vegas in January, where multiple handset manufacturers are expected to show working mobile DTV prototypes.
“As we forge ahead with our shared objective of launching mobile DTV services in 2009, the standard has proven to meet the challenges of such complex terrain as Chicago,” said Brandon Burgess, OMVC President and ION Media Networks Chairman and CEO, in a statement. “We look forward to actualizing the mobile broadcast platform and providing consumers with real-time, full motion television – traditional, broadcast and network TV content.”