Prototype mobile Digital TV receivers will be on display at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, at about the same time that a consumer field trial is scheduled to begin in the Washington-Baltimore area. Leaders of the mobile DTV initiative also expect to complete deals with at least one of the wireless phone carriers, who control access to most of the mobile handsets that will be used in broadcast rollout.
Pricing for the DTV-equipped handsets will also be revealed at CES, according to Samsung, LG and other vendors who were celebrating in Washington last week as the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) approved the mobile DTV standard. The new standard defines the technical specifications for broadcasters to provide services to mobile and handheld devices.
On the morning after the ATSC approval, staff members from the Federal Communications and other government agencies took a bus tour around Washington, watching live shows on prototype handsets which were tuned to local TV channels (including NBC, Fox and Ion stations) that are transmitting mobile DTV signals. The signals were remarkably robust. When the bus drove through a 100-yard underpass (equivalent to a tunnel), the image froze temporarily, then picked up again as the bus emerged from the obstructed sector. When a viewer changes channels, an interstitial message appears - currently an ad for the handset maker, but conceivably a very short commercial that the broadcaster could sell.
Anne Schelle, executive director of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, said that broadcasters are developing business plans including ad-supported and pay TV options that will be in place when service is initiated next year. She also said that groups of broadcasters will probably negotiate with wireless carriers collectively to assure broad availability of mobile DTV on handsets. At least two broadcast networks are now talking to their affiliates about collaborative alliances to bring to the mobile carriers.