Mobile DTV, 3D to Heat Up CES

Seamlessly bringing Internet content to the TV screen was a big theme at last year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But so many “connected TV” devices and services have come to market in the past year that the ability to hook a TV to a broadband connection, either directly or through a bridge device like a set-top box, no longer seems novel. Instead, the buzz at this week's show, which starts on Jan. 7, is expected to center on mobile DTV receivers and 3D HD-capable TV sets and Blu-ray players. Both categories are speeding to retail after the creation of new technical standards last fall.

For the past few years at CES, broadcasters have been closely following—and promoting—the development of mobile DTV, which lets stations use their existing digital spectrum to transmit programming and data to cellphones and other portable devices. Two years ago, they rode in demonstration vehicles showcasing competing mobile DTV systems from LG and Samsung; last year, they discussed the development of a new standard based on the LG system, demonstrated prototype receivers and announced plans for real-world deployment in 2009.

Some 30 local stations have followed through on those plans and begun mobile DTV broadcasts. And with the formal passage of the Advanced Television Systems Committee's ATSC Mobile DTV standard in October, the road has been cleared for the retail rollout of consumer receivers.

An array of new portable devices with tiny mobile DTV receiver chips embedded in them, including cellphones, USB dongles, an LG personal DVD player and a Dell netbook, will be demonstrated at CES in the Mobile DTV TechZone in the central hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center, near the Samsung and Panasonic booths.

“You're going to see a whole ton of stuff at CES,” says Raycom Media CTO Dave Folsom.

The TechZone is being sponsored by the Open Mobile Video Coalition, a consortium of more than 800 stations that has been driving the development of the mobile DTV standard over the past two years. It will be supported by live mobile DTV broadcasts from OMVC member stations.

The demonstrations will include live simulcasts and interactive applications as well as cable network programming from News Corp., NBC Universal, Discovery and Scripps, previewing a possible business model for mobile DTV besides just simulcasting broadcast fare.

The one mobile DTV development that appears unlikely to be unveiled at CES is a formal deal with a wireless carrier to include receiver chips in subsidized handsets. While several large station groups have formed a joint venture that would cut deals with carriers, receiver manufacturers, retailers, programmers and advertisers to support mobile DTV, insiders say those discussions are still in the early stages and no announcements are planned for CES. The OMVC has repeatedly said it will not negotiate such deals on behalf of stations, as they are not part of its charter.

In the interim, the OMVC will demonstrate at CES a possible solution to the carrier problem: the Tivit, a device the size of a pack of cigarettes that will receive mobile DTV signals and retransmit them via Wi-Fi networking. The Tivit, which will cost less than $120, would allow mobile DTV signals to be viewed on existing iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Windows Mobile devices with Wi-Fi capability. “That way, you don't have to wait for the carriers,” says OMVC Executive Director Anne Schelle.

A New Dimension

While local broadcasters will be glued to small mobile DTV screens, studio executives and network programmers will don special glasses to view 3D HD images through an array of new 3D TV sets and Blu-ray optical disc players.

“Certainly, 3D is going to be all over the place from the set-makers' point of view,” says Discovery Chief Media Technology Officer John Honeycutt. “All the major manufacturers will have their wares in place.”

3D-capable TV sets have been offered by manufacturers such as Mitsubishi for several years. But the support of 3D by electronics heavyweights like Sony and Panasonic over the past year has rapidly accelerated its development and raised its awareness among consumers. The theatrical success of 3D movies like Monsters vs. Aliens and Avatar also has programmers excited about the business potential of bringing 3D to the living room, though doing so within the existing pay-TV infrastructure will be challenging.

Last month, 3D HD got a big boost when the Blu-ray Disc Association finalized a technical specification for recording 3D HD content onto Blu-ray discs. 3D Blu-ray players, which will be backward-compatible with 2D discs and work with any 3D-compatible TV, will be displayed at CES and are expected to hit the market this year.

3D HD display and image processing technology will be showcased at a 3D Tech Zone in the central hall of the convention center. Participating companies include 3D Media, Aerial 3D Display Project, Fujifilm USA, HDlogix, Hyundai IT America, Mitsubishi, Sensio Technologies, TDVision Systems and Technicolor.

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