[opendtv] News: Over-the-air TV gears for mobile, Web role

  • From: Craig Birkmaier <craig@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 10 Nov 2008 07:46:47 -0500

Over-the-air TV gears for mobile, Web roles

Digital standard prepares for a second major wave
Rick Merritt

(10/30/2008 10:29 AM EDT)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=211800241

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - Proponents of over-the-air digital TV are gearing up for new mobile and Web offerings that could hit as early as next year. But even some implementers admit the effort faces a host of daunting challenges.

With the rise of cable, satellite and IPTV services, over-the-air TV has declined to use by a small subset of typically rural and low tech households. But the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) which manages the U.S. digital TV specification aims to inject new life into the technology with a wave of standards in progress.

The first and most ambitious of these is a standard for sending over-the-air TV transmissions to mobile devices including cellphones, media players and car navigation systems. The ATSC plans to vote on a final mobile standard on November 25 and launch initial services in 2009.

Broadcasters could cash in on a whopping $2 billion advertising market if they can reach the estimated 200 million video-ready mobile devices expected to ship in 2008 alone, said Glenn Reitmeier, vice president of technology policy, strategy and standards at NBC Universal and chairman of ATSC.

"I don't know where else you can find $2 billion in growth in a fairly mature TV market," Reitmeier said in a presentation at the annual technical conference of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers here.

"We think there is a very bright future for over-the-air TV, and the ATSC is launching a second wave of major standards to address it," said Jerry Whitaker, vice president of ATSC in a separate talk.

The mobile spec includes abilities to tap into an optional Internet connection likely to be supported on many mobile devices.

"That means this is more than plain old mobile TV--it can be based on an Internet experience," said Reitmeier, referring the other mobile TV services that have failed to gain traction. The ATSC is also developing a spec for non-real-time services that could support Internet-driven applications ranging from software downloads to Web-based services including news feeds. "The non-real-time service is a simple bolt on to our IP stack," he said.

In late September, the ATSC selected to so-called Mobile Pedestrian Handheld physical-layer technology proposed by the team of LG Electronics and Harris Corp. as the basis for its candidate draft standard. The ATSC layers a fairly standard Internet Protocol stack on top of the radio. Samsung and its partners had proposed an alternative radio it called advanced vestigial sideband.

LG and Samsung showed a range of mobile TV prototype systems using their competing approaches at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. Reitmeier said he expects those companies and others to show a wider range of prototype systems and chips at this year's CES.

The spec also includes content protection using a broadcast encryption scheme and a method for exchanging keys in over-the-air broadcasts or via an Internet back channel.

Other mobile TV efforts, such as those of Crown Castle which spearheaded use of the DVB-H standard, have failed to gain traction in the U.S. But Reitmeier said mobile TV efforts in Korea and Japan are gaining ground using ad-supported business models.

The ATSC mobile offering rides on existing over-the air broadcasts unlike some mobile TV efforts that require setting up new networks. However, that does not mean it will be cheap or easy to deploy by today's estimated 1,600 DTV broadcasters, many of them small local stations.

Mobile ATSC service providers will need to add new exciters, modulators and optional Internet delivery systems to their existing nets. At CES, a Harris executive estimated it would cost broadcasters at least $125,000 for the equipment to set up a two-channel mobile TV service.

Bigger issues include defining and delivering the hybrid broadcast/Internet network architecture and applications for a mobile TV.

"The difference between mobile and digital TV will be greater than the difference between digital and analog TV," said James Kutzner, chief engineer for PBS in a SMPTE talk on his experiences with the emerging spec. "Today I have more questions than answers," said Kutzner who is also vice chairman of the ATSC's planning group.

For example, "we need to think about application layer authoring, something that has no equivalent in digital TV," Kutzner said.

In terms of network architecture, the interface between mobile service operations of a network broadcaster and its affiliate stations is still undefined, he said. In addition, it's not clear whether baseband, Internet Protocol or other alternatives should form the native signaling base for mobile TV, he added.

Stations will also have to decide how they want to subdivide their allotted spectrum, a decision with complex business and technical trade-offs. For example, local broadcasters could implement one mobile channel, one high def channel and one or two standard definition TV channels. Alternatively they could forgo HD broadcasts and implement as many as a dozen separate mobile channels.

Mobile broadcasters must also consider gearing up a new mobile-specific Web offering to complement the broadcasts. However, they must take into account the fact some of the mobile devices that get their TV signals may not have an Internet connection.

Ultimately, "we absolutely need to drive to low cost, automated operations" on the expanded network, Kutzner said.

The biggest job of all may be the hunt for killer apps.

"We plan to build a lab environment with one or two mobile stations to develop an end-to-end platform," potentially collaborating with commercial broadcasters, he said. "We need to get up and running so we can develop a workflow and content to start consumer trials to figure out what would be winning applications," he added.

In that regard, the ATSC has started work on a 2.0 spec that aims to define next-generation over-the-air services. The ATSC polled its members about two months ago for initial ideas that a working group is now reviewing. Early ideas include navigation services as well as better quality pictures and sound.

"It's very much a work in progress," said Reitmeier

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