Monday, January 14, 2013

A New Look at Mobile TV

Back at the turn of the century (I really, really like using that phrase) when we were all converting our TVs from analog to digital, there was  group of engineers working on a parallel system that would allow regular TV broadcasts to be picked up by portable devices, especially devices in cars, trains and busses.  It should come as no surprise for anyone who receives their TV programs over-the-air using an antenna, that the new digital channels are much more difficult to receive than the analog signals of a decade ago.  Receiving these regular digital signals in any moving vehicle is next to impossible.

To address this problem, engineers developed a special technology called the ATSC-Mobile DTV standard.  About eight years ago I had the opportunity to serve on the initial engineering committee that developed this system so I have more than a passing interest in how it has developed. 

The short answer is that the development of Mobile DTV has been at best glacially slow.  More than 130 TV stations throughout the US broadcast these special signals.  In our area Channels 5, 9 and 19 are currently among this group.  The issue has not been the availability of channels; it has been the availability of receivers.   Mobile DTV uses a much different technology than the technology that allows watching video on smart phones or tablet computers.  That may soon change.

At the Consumer Electronics Show held last week RCA announced a new tablet computer that has Mobile DTV receive capacity built in.  This device will include a standard over-the-air DTV tuner, along with a mobile TV tuner enabling consumers to watch live, local TV while they are on the go. According to RCA the device is the first tablet to feature an integrated mobile TV tuner.  The tablet has an 8-inch screen and is both a portable TV set and a fully functional high-definition Android touch screen tablet with Wi-Fi, dual cameras, and GPS functionality.

It remains to be seen if this product will jump-start the Mobile DTV market.  I have my doubts that it will take off in cities like Cincinnati where most commuters do not use public transit.  In New York watching the Today Show while riding on a bus on your way to work would be great.  Watching while driving on I-74, not so great.


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