Lessons Learned from the CES Mobile DTV Demo
There were a lot of new companies at last month’s International CES in Las Vegas, often with small exhibits, displaying new products at the show.
Some of these were in the Open Mobile Video Coalition’s (OMVC) Mobile DTV TechZone. The small exhibit was completely packed with people interested in the products and technology on display. The exhibits covered consumer devices, equipment for broadcasters, and equipment and services for electronics manufacturers. Although Mobile DTV had been demonstrated at previous CES and NAB shows in Las Vegas, this was the first show where the ATSC mobile DTV A/153 standard adopted in October 2009 was demonstrated.
Three local full-power stations were broadcasting mobile DTV. Sinclair stations KVCW and KVMY broadcast CW network, children’s channel Qubo, MyTV network, and Fox News. Telemundo station KBLR broadcast MSNBC, CNBC and an NBC Winter Olympics show. KLAS was reported to have been on the air broadcasting on VHF Channel 7 but I didn’t have any luck finding it after channel scans on my DTV Interactive Storm USB receiver or on receivers at the show. Dish Network allowed Harris to use its channel 56 to transmit 8 mobile DTV channels (local ABC, Fox and NBC stations plus PBS Kids and some cable channels) from a location near the Las Vegas Convention Center and Axcera had a very low power transmitter operating on Channel 38 in the Mobile DTV TechZone. Expway provided the program guide for KVCW and KBLR. The other stations used the Roundbox program guide.
NOT JUST PROGRAM STREAMS
Cydle, a Korean company that specializes in in-car multimedia systems, was at its first CES showing navigation devices outfitted with an ATSC Mobile DTV chip.
In Las Vegas, I helped get the three NBC channels on the air from KBLR. In addition to the three mobile program streams, the demonstration included NBC RSS news feeds (with photos), a viewer poll on the Olympics channel, MobiTV features (limited to some extent because most devices on display at CES did not have Internet connectivity), banner ads/promos and an attractive program guide. The configuration used a Thales Ultimate transmitter, a Rohde & Schwarz SX-800 ATSC exciter, a Rohde & Schwarz AEM-100 multiplexer, three Envivio H.264 encoders, a laptop from MobiTV and two inexpensive network switches.
While it was not easy getting all of this equipment working together, I learned a great deal working with experts from the companies. Thanks to the help from the engineers companies and at KBLR, by the time CES opened, everything had been fully tested and was working. The A/153 Mobile DTV standard is based on IP transport and doesn’t have a lot in common with the PID-based transport used in the main ATSC DTV standard. Most station engineers today have the experience to set up the IP networks containing the Mobile DTV streams, but are probably not familiar with the specific requirements for A/153. I have not found a TSReader equivalent for A/153 mobile DTV broadcasts. This makes it difficult to track down compatibility problems. DTV Interactive is working on some products that might fill this gap. I noticed Expway had a program to monitor the A/153 stream, but it only worked with a custom Pixtree USB receiver. For now the only solution is to purchase a very good but very expensive dedicated test set. In future columns I’ll dig deeper into the “nuts and bolts” of mobile DTV.
ATSC Mobile DTV reception inside the Convention Center, even at the Mobile DTV TechZone, wasn’t perfect. Deep in the Convention Center any off-air reception is difficult. I was surprised that some of the devices on display in the middle of the hall—away from the Mobile DTV TechZone, which was located adjacent to a door and outside wall—had any reception. One person noted that reception was worse when there were more people crowding around the receiver. I was able to get reliable reception on one device that was having problems by collapsing the antenna to its minimum length. It is clear that a low-power on-channel booster would have greatly improved reception.
Mobile DTV receiver chips are available from LG Electronics and Samsung. ATSC Mobile DTV receiver boards using both the LG and Samsung chips were also being shown. The Samsung chip was demonstrated on the company’s “Moment” smartphone on the Sprint network. I also learned that the Samsung receiver chip is being used in a wide range of ATSC Mobile DTV receiver products from Cydle, which was at its first CES. The company’s focus has been GPS navigation devices with receivers for updated traffic info, and one of the products they showed incorporated a Mobile DTV display in a navigation device. The products that attracted my interest included a multimedia player smaller than a pack of cards that included a Mobile DTV receiver and a handheld tablet device that provides Internet access, a browser and ATSC Mobile DTV. Both devices are expected to sell for under $200 by the second half of this year. iMovee demonstrated Mobile DTV receivers in a wide range of sizes at the Mobile DTV TechZone and even Vizio announced a portable receiver with ATSC mobile DTV capability.
There was a tremendous interest in broadcast mobile DTV at CES from manufacturers, attendees and the press. Devices will hit the market in the second half of this year if not sooner—look for netbooks with Mobile DTV from Dell, Mobile DTV to Wi-Fi adapters from Valups (the “Tivit”) and Cydle, DVD players with Mobile DTV from LG and others, and portable TVs of all sizes from a wide range of manufacturers. ATSC Mobile DTV USB receivers were being shown by LG Electronics, Pixtree and DTV Interactive. Hauppauge is making the tuner used in the Dell network book so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them offering a USB tuner at some point. As TV broadcasters, we have a lot to do over the next six months to make sure that when these devices are turned on, they have a good selection of channels available.
While Mobile DTV was the main broadcast RF topic of interest at CES, I noticed a lot more portable TV sets with ATSC DTV reception—many more than I saw two years ago, when most portables were prototypes. Remember the one with a cardboard case? Unfortunately, while some receivers had whip antennas and were turned on, in locations like the Coby booth, reception was poor. I overheard a salesperson telling a prospective customer they wouldn’t recommend the receivers. Fortunately most of the receivers were playing canned video from an SD card or were turned off.
The number of over-the-air antennas on display was about the same as I saw two years ago. One distributor was showing a nifty Yagi antenna that came complete with a very small rotor. It looked promising until the distributor told me the antenna had a 32 dB gain preamplifier! When I mentioned this was likely to cause reception problems in urban and suburban areas, his only answer was “I’ve sold thousands of these.” One discouraging trend was that many of the antennas on display were UHF only. I’m hoping that the reason for this was that the VHF antennas were too large to include in the displays! It is important to note that some major outdoor TV antenna manufacturers were not displaying products in the main at CES. I didn’t see any sign of ChannelMaster, Antennas Direct or AntennaCraft.
3D was clearly “the next big thing” for TV display manufacturers. I haven’t heard any discussion about 3D for ATSC broadcast TV, but I noticed Panasonic was showing a “live broadcast” of 3D TV from DirecTV. The systems that required shutter glasses provided the best pictures, although once my eyes adjusted to it, the 3D TV from TCL that didn’t require glasses was amazing. You had to be in the right spot to get the best effect. One interesting visual effect was that the 3D image appeared faster on the screens surrounding the one I was watching. While the technology is there, it was clear a lot of work will be needed to develop a system that is compatible with different video sources and display devices.
I was pleasantly surprised at the response to my 200th RF Technology column. I greatly appreciated the comments from long time readers and associates and your personal reflections on the many changes in RF technology since my first column.
Questions and comments are welcome! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.