Monday, September 20, 2010

TV on the Go

With college and professional football season in high gear, the newspaper supplements and direct mail advertisements are full of new ways to “keep up with the game” while on the road. Mobile TV, Flo TV, and other technologies are the new “must haves.” While the devices and the programming may at first glance seem familiar, they are very different from what you use today to watch TV.

Most providers of these services are touting the fact that you can watch hundreds of TV programs anywhere you wish. While these claims are often true, there are a few things you should keep in mind before you decide to sign up.

First of all, you want to be able to watch the programs so you need to have a phone that supports these video services or a special stand alone receiver. The receivers come in various flavors. There are models for hand held use, table top viewing, or for in-car installation.

The services employ different transmission technologies from those used by regular broadcasters or cable providers to send TV channels to your home. The mobile devices required for these services can not be used to watch regular TV channels and visa versa. Since the small portable receivers look very much like the battery operated mini DTVs that have been available for years, one could presume that you can use the new and old devices interchangeably. You can’t.

You can’t receive these services in all areas of the country, so before you sign up ask to see the coverage area map. Even if you are located in an area that is indicated on the map as being “covered,” you may wish to take a loaner device and make sure. The channels are broadcast using some of the same technologies used by mobile phones and wireless broadband and, as such, are prone to many of the same reception issues.

There is a growing catalog of channels and programs offered by the leading TV services like ABC, CBS, ESPN, CNN etc. Some of the programs are the same as you will see on regular broadcast channels while other programs are developed especially for the small screen size of the portable devices.

Some of the services require a multi-year contract and a monthly fee. Many mobile carriers like Verizon, AT&T and Sprint offer the service as an add-on. Depending on the programming package you chose, you can expect to pay between $15 and $50 extra per month on top of your regular mobile bill.

In a couple years, as more bandwidth becomes available and transmission technologies become more reliable, there will be other mobile TV services coming on line. Also look for devices that can receive multiple formats to be available, so you won’t need a bag full of different devices in order to watch the various services.

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