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02.09.2004
Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
BBC reporters use video cell phones

Adhering to the old rule in news that poor video is better than no video, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has issued 40 of its news reporters and producers Nokia camera cell phones that can record and transmit video. The move has been so successful, there are plans to distribute 40 more. U.S. network broadcasters are said to be eyeing the technology as well.

The new “phonecams” have already allowed the BBC to air the first images on several stories. Two weeks ago the network had the first shots of a deadly bus crash in Wales when a producer arrived on the scene ahead of the traditional cameras. The video phones were also on duty during President George W. Bush’s recent visit to the U.K.

The BBC asked Philips Software, a new division of Royal Philips Electronics, to improve upon its existing multimedia camcorder software, and the reconfigured Nokia 3650 phones were distributed to reporters last November. Since then their images using the Philips technology have made it on air several times.

Video phones represent a new broadcast transition. In recent years, reporters have sent crude pictures from breaking news events via satellite phones. The Nokia 3650 phones, commonly sold in cell phone stores throughout the world, can record up to 15 minutes of video and send the images via GPRS, part of the cellular network. Image quality is considered poor but usable on the air.

So far no U.S. news organization has implemented video phones, though News Corp.’s FOX News said they are working on it.

“Using this software on a mobile phone is a breakthrough addition to the way we cover news. It is very probable that it will become standard practice for our reporters, and even the general public, to send instant reports of breaking news, as it occurs, before a satellite truck can be there,” said Rachel Attwell, deputy head of television news at the BBC.

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