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TV That Fits In Your Pocket

If you can't stand to be away from television for even a few minutes, AT&T's Mobile TV might be just the thing to soothe your media itch.

The service provides 12 or more live channels from broadcast and cable networks — including a mobile movie channel from Sony Pictures Television — right in the palm of your hand. It's delivered through the dedicated wireless network built by Qualcomm's MediaFLO USA subsidiary, which also powers Verizon Wireless' live-TV service.

The gee-whiz factor is high. Live mobile TV has been available from other services, such as MobiTV. But the MediaFLO network, which uses a 6-MHz slice in the 700-MHz band, delivers a clean, sharp picture that in my testing in the New York area was hit by very few service interruptions.

I accessed the service with LG Electronics' Vu phone, and the live video on its three-inch, 240-by-400-pixel screen was eminently watchable.

The lineup includes familiar programs from NBC, CBS, Fox, Fox News Channel, CNN, MSNBC, MTV, Comedy Central, ESPN and others. (CNN and Sony's PIX movie channel are available from AT&T, but not Verizon.) A basic program guide was easy and intuitive to navigate, using the Vu's touch screen.

In the mood for Godzilla vs. Mothra? That was on PIX at 9 p.m. recently. Need to distract the youngsters for a spell? Hand 'em the phone with Nickelodeon, stocked with SpongeBob SquarePants and other faves.

With the election one week to go, it was great to be able to watch the news channels as I commuted on the train each day.

Still — it's not clear the price of the service is worth the “wow” for anyone but serious TV addicts who happen to be on the road a lot. AT&T charges $15 per month for the basic 12-channel lineup.

What's more, the live mobile-TV service has the drawback of lacking time-shifting features. The picture quality with MediaFLO is good enough that you can read the crawl on the bottom of CNN, but when I wanted to rewind it to see what had just scrolled off I was out of luck.

Also, there's no on-demand content available through the MediaFLO service — indeed, its presentation of traditional linear TV programming runs counter to the notion that shorter, “snackable” chunks are what mobile users want. AT&T does, however, offer short video clips from ESPN, Weather Channel, Disney Channel and others.

Otherwise, I had only a few quibbles. For one thing, the volume on the Vu phone didn't turn up loud enough (at least for my ears), and the audio was easily drowned out by Manhattan jackhammers.

But really, how much out-of-home downtime does the average Joe or Jill have that could be occupied with TV? Note that most people in the U.S. drive to work instead of taking mass transit.

If mobile TV were included as part of a regular wireless plan, especially if it were MediaFLO's fairly high-quality service, I could find reasons to watch it. But as an extra cost, I can bear to wait until I get home to catch the latest episode of Paris Hilton's My New BFF.