HD comes to mobile TV - almost

John C Tanner
09 Nov 2007

With the invention of mobile TV, it was probably inevitable that someone would try to make it high-def. It hasn't happened yet, apart from some clever marketing efforts from cellcos like PCCW mobile and rival SmarTone-Vodafone.

PCCW Mobile in August launched NOW Sports HD On Mobile, a new mobile TV service offering seven channels worth of sports programming, covering exclusive live Premier League games, Italian Serie A, J League, Euro 2008 qualifier matches, World Volleyball Grand Prix, World Snooker Tour and Asian Bowling Tour - all in 'HD' mobile video.

In this case, of course, 'high-def' is relative - it's not the same HD technology you get on actual HDTV sets, but H.264- encoded video with QVGA (320 x 240 pixels) screen resolution. That means better quality video than PCCW Mobile's current mobile TV service, but hardly high-def. To be fair, nowhere in PCCW Mobile's promo materials does the term 'high-definition' actually appear. They refer to the video as 'high quality' - but with a name like NOW Sports HD On Mobile punters could be forgiven for jumping to conclusions - especially since PCCW launched actual HDTV programming on its NOW pay-TV service the same week.

Similarly, SmarTone-Vodafone's 'FoneTV' service, launched last month and offering 12 channels of news, sports and entertainment programming, is championed as being brought to viewers in 'HD Wide', even though it's also QVGA-res (but doesn't use H.264).

Actual high-def mobile video that complies with HD standards is missing a couple of key ingredients. One is a mobile network with enough capacity powerful enough to support an HD video stream (which, of course, is far larger than your standard TV stream). Current 3G technology isn't powerful enough, and won't be for most networks until at least the end of the decade.

The other thing missing is a mobile phone chipset powerful enough to cope with the load without melting the battery. That could change soon - Broadcom said last month it had developed a multimedia processor that, using the company's VideoCore III multimedia architecture design, could give mobile handsets the ability to support 720p high-def video, 3D gaming and a 12-megapixel camera.

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