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M/H is invisible

Readers over the age of 40 may remember the popular Wendy's hamburger commercial, where the little elderly lady famously said, "Where's the beef?" With respect to broadcasters, viewers are asking "Where's my mobile DTV?"

Here is what one reader said in response to Broadcast Engineering's EOM column writer, Anthony Gargano's June article.

Dear Mr. Gargano,

Read with great interest your editorial in June 2012 issue of BE regarding “Mobile DTV.” I wrote a letter to the editor about a year and a half ago lamenting the delayed launch of ATSC-M/H and feared that the broadcasters would drag their feet implementing (and advertising) the service. Alas, my concerns were realized.

The problem is that their contemplations to “monetize” some or most of the service is delaying the rollout. Many of the stations or networks can’t seem to create a working business model that a potential paying consumer can live with. If LG and Samsung don’t launch cell phones with the M/H chipset embedded by the end of this year (assuming the cell service providers will offer them!), and if Apple and others won’t embed them in iPads and iPhones, or others in their tablets and laptops, the game is lost. I can’t see the consumer carrying around another portable device, solely dedicated to M/H.

I have an RCA portable M/H unit in my car, connected to a WallTenna taped to my left passenger side window, and I use it all the time commuting to and from work, listening to the local morning and afternoon news broadcasts. It works fantastically, even at 70 mph on LA freeways! Fox, Ion, and 2 Spanish language stations are on-air in Los Angeles. I think this is the sensible application for mobile TV. Just stream the same program on the M/H channel as the main one and forget it. It doesn’t cost them anything to multiplex the M/H stream with their main ATSC signal, other than the modest initial modification investment for the transmission equipment. As for the consumer paying a subscription fee for it: No way. Free (and unscrambled!), or forget it. The sooner the broadcasters realize this, the better. Conditional access? Up theirs! It ain’t a cell phone. It’s single-ended, for heaven’s sake! Forget the return path/upstream via cell phone approach. What’s the OTA broadcaster’s motto: “One to many.” So be it. Leave it that way!

And one thing everyone within the US mobile TV community seems to avoid talking about: ALL mobile TV launches in Europe with DVB-H have failed to date. The consumers there didn’t want it. The only mobile TV enthusiasts seem to be the Koreans (and they use 1-seg, not ATSC, as their carrier!). That above all else may be why the US broadcasters are getting cold feet.

The one good thing that can come out of the failure to launch scenario: more bits available for the best HDTV pictures of any provider. “Go ATSC Fixed OTA!”

Let’s see what happens.

Best regards,

Craig H.

Burbank, CA

This editor's comment:

Just over a year ago, the an OMVC membership survey claimed that two-thirds of American households would by now be able to watch live over the air TV on their mobile devices. While that technically may be true, I ask, what can I watch and on what device can I watch it? Two key pieces of this technological puzzle remain missing; receivers and content.

Near my home town of Wichita, KS, one station KWCH-DTV just began M/H DTV broadcasts of local weather. In an interview, the station manager said her station was "ahead of the times" with the broadcasts. I commend her actions to launch the new service, but local content only will not draw an audience.

Until viewers can find receivers in their local Best Buy and Radio Shack stores, and view regular OTA content, M/H is invisible.