Mobile DTV Sees Hurdles

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Mobile DTV– free over-the-air TV for portables and car TV products– could be a boon to the portable and car electronics markets when it gets a commercial lift off, possibly in late spring, but there are a few roadblocks to the service, including one that has TV broadcasters scratching their heads.

First you probably know that the equipment to receive Mobile DTV is ready. There were about 20 devices shown at the Consumer Electronics Show last month, and we know there should be more products coming from smaller car AV companies including Vizualogic, Concept and we hear Accele is interested. At CES, portable products were shown by LG, Samsung, Dell, Audiovox and others and these included a Samsung Moment cellphone and a $249, 7-inch LG portable TV/DVD player.

Here are the roadblocks. In December, the FCC was looking at taking away Mobile DTV spectrum (along with HDTV spectrum) from TV broadcasters. Why? Because Congress last year mandated the FCC find a way to devote more spectrum to broadband. Now that everyone is downloading video and music, it looks like we’ll run out of airwaves for broadband in a matter of years unless some action is taken. So the FCC was (and perhaps is still) considering the idea of grabbing spectrum from broadcasters, spectrum used for HDTV and Mobile DTV, to devote to broadband, according to reports.

Sounds wild, doesn’t it? Especially, because TV broadcasters just finished transitioning to HDTV from analog and spent $15 billion doing so. The National Assn. of Broadcasters (NAB) spokesman Dennis Wharton could only say, “It’s puzzling to us why less than a year after this historic transition from analog to digital TV, anyone would be proffering this idea.”
The latest reports now say the FCC is backing away from this plan but the NAB’s Wharton has to admit, “There’s no certainty with exactly where the FCC is going with this.” A final FCC plan won’t be submitted to Congress until March 17.
A spokesman for LG and for the Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a trade group with about 800 TV station-members supporting Mobile DTV, says it’s business as usual. “We are saying Mobile DTV will proceed as planned,” he said.
A test trial in Washington DC is set to start in a few weeks with hundreds of people trying out LG’s portable DP570MH, the new Samsung Moment and a portable Mobile DTV tuner called the Tivit that works with an iPhone, BlackBerry or PC. Eight TV stations will deliver a Mobile DTV signal.
The other roadblock for Mobile DTV is TV broadcasters and a shortage of Mobile TV equipment for these broadcasters, so we hear. Right now there are about 35 TV stations located in cities such as New York City, Chicago, Seattle, and Atlanta airing in Mobile DTV, says the OMVC spokesman. But that is just a fraction of the 1600 TV stations in the U.S. So this leaves the equipment makers and retailers in a bind since there’s no national service yet.
The retailers are interested, but it’s now up to the broadcasters to convert to Mobile DTV, says Al Miller, VP sales and marketing for Concept Enterprises, which has a $499 car TV tuner ready to ship. “We show it, everyone wants to buy it….it’s up and running in Washington D.C., but that’s just one market….I’m hoping that within 30 days I can start selling,” said Miller, who is clearly frustrated with the lack of broadcasters in Mobile DTV.
Vizualogic says it is jumping on the Mobile DTV bandwagon and will display a car product at the upcoming NADA show in mid-February.
“It is our intention to be at the forefront of this technology. We’ve done a lot to align ourselves with the technology and we’re working hard on it,” said Kevin Kraack, Vizualogic marketing director.
The company claims the Mobile DTV reception and picture quality is fine. The main hurdle is the rollout nationally through radio broadcasters.
LG’s portable TV is the DP570MH. It has a clamshell-style screen, which folds down when not in use. It can also play DVDs and CDs and claims 2.5 hours of use in TV mode or 4.5 hours in DVD. It’s scheduled to debut later this year.

Photo caption: LG’s 7-inch LG portable TV/DVD player is due later this year at an expected $249.

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