Mobile phones to get PVR features next year

Watching TV on a mobile phone could get more interesting next year with new technologies that promise to bring TiVo-like recording functionality to portable devices.

Texas Instruments is demonstrating PVR (personal video recording) capabilities for mobiles at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam this week. It is using its own Hollywood digital TV chip and OMAP 2 multimedia processor, along with software from partners PacketVideo and Software Systems (S3).

The technology allows people to record a TV program on their mobile phone and then watch it later, on the train on the way to work, for example. The TI package also provides "picture-in-picture" capabilities, allowing a person to watch a prerecorded program and also track a live sports event in a smaller, on-screen window.

The PVR technology should find its way into mobile phones in 2007, TI said. It didn't name any handset makers but most of the big vendors, including Samsung Electronics and Nokia, are marketing phones for TV viewing.

The companies hope the PVR capabilities will draw more people to mobile TV, which the telecommunications industry has been marketing heavily as a way to generate more revenue from consumers and make use of the high-speed 3G wireless networks that operators have been building.

Predictions vary for how quickly mobile TV will take off. In-Stat predicts there will be 3.4 million mobile TV subscribers by the end of the year, jumping to 102 million by 2010. Strategy Analytics Inc., another researcher, said the hype around mobile TV remains out of proportion to the evidence of consumer interest.

Including PVR capabilities improves the value proposition of mobile TV, but it's unclear whether it will make more consumers willing to pay for it, said Strategy Analytics analyst Nitesh Patel. Offering a picture within a picture on a small portable handset screen is "a bit ambitious," he noted.

"It will be interesting to see how this products ties into how much memory gets bundled into handset," he said. "I'm presuming that a lot of memory will be required to store a 1.5 hour movie."

If the video is recorded using the H.264 standard, a gigabyte of memory would be enough to store about three hours of 30-frames-per-second video for display on a QVGA 320-by-240-resolution screen, a TI spokeswoman said. Phone makers would decide whether to use flash memory or a hard disk, and how much memory to offer.

The demonstration at IBC used TI's DTV1000 Hollywood processor, which is based on the DVB-H mobile TV standard and combines a tuner, demodulator, decoder and some memory on one chip. It also uses its OMAP2430 processor, which can decode two TV channels simultaneously, providing the picture-in-picture capability.

The device used was a hybrid phone/PDA built for TI by PacketVideo for the purpose of the demonstration.

The OMAP chip has video-out capabilities, which means people on the road could watch their prerecorded TV content on a TV in a hotel room, for example, so long as the phone maker provides the right outputs.

Other developments are under way to make mobile TV more palatable for consumers. Samsung said this week it is developing a new display driver that adjusts the brightness of a display according to ambient lighting conditions. Due for mass production at the end of this year, it It should make displays easier to view in broad daylight, Samsung said.

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James Niccolai

IDG News Service
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