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Approved Mobile DTV standard could bring local sports services by next year

After more than three years of work, the Advanced Television Systems Committee (ATSC) has adopted a standard for sending video to mobile devices using the same spectrum now used for over-the-air television. The A/153 ATSC Mobile DTV Standard is now available for real-world deployment.

For sports content owners, especially local stations producing regional (professional, college and high school) teams, the move could bring scores, highlights and other new content to portable devices by early next year. That’s assuming there will be devices with the necessary receiver chips to receive the encoded mobile signal. Dell, Kenwood, LG Electronics and Samsung Electronics have all pledged to deliver such products by the CEA Show in January 2010.

However, with mobile television to phones still an unproven business, there’s little incentive for providers to place receivers in their handsets for broadcasters. Mobile handset providers are seeing lower-than-expected revenue from multichannel video delivery systems like AT&T’s Mobile TV, Sprint TV and QUALCOMM’s MediaFLO as they compete against TV programming on the Internet.

The ATSC Mobile DTV Standard defines the technical specifications necessary for broadcasters to provide new services to mobile and handheld devices using their DTV transmissions. The goal for broadcasters is to extend their programming reach to a growing audience of new viewers — anywhere, anytime and at any speed (because the new Mobile DTV signals can be received by viewers in the backseat of a moving car). The standard can also be used for transmission of new data broadcasting services.

The Open Mobile Video Coalition (OMVC), a consortium of some 800 broadcast stations, has tested the new Mobile Handheld (M/H) standard in several controlled field trials in the past two years with limited success, due to the lack of mobile devices with the necessary receiver chips inside. Yet the scheme of using part of a broadcaster’s 19.4Mb/s of allotted spectrum (and the 8-VSB modulation scheme) for mobile services have proven affective, even in moving vehicles. In trials, stations have used about 6MHz to transmit a single mobile stream of programming services that will not interfere with existing HD and multicast services.

The OMVC said some 70 stations hope to have mobile video services up and running by the end of the year. Getting the receivers in consumers’ hands will be the biggest challenge, but cell phones might not be the first implementation of M/H into the market. New revenue models could include the transmission of advertising and news programming to public transit vehicles and non-moving digital signage displays, such as has been tested on public busses in Raleigh-Durham, NC, by WRAL-DT, the CBS affiliate owned by Capitol Broadcasting.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, said that approval of the standard would stimulate his members companies, including CE chipmakers and equipment manufacturers, to proceed with product development and deployment.

Five Washington-area stations participated in a technology demonstration last week and will also be conducting a consumer showcase of the new Mobile DTV services in the next several months. Programming choices will not be limited to favorite local and network shows on mobile devices, but will also include live emergency alerts, local news and sports as well as interactive services that are still in development.

Technology manufacturers such as LG Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Harris, Rohde & Schwarz, Grass Valley and Dell have produced prototype devices and working transmission systems that are ready for deployment.

The ATSC Mobile DTV standard is based on VSB modulation with enhanced error correction and other techniques to improve robustness and reduce power consumption in portable receivers, coupled with a flexible and extensible IP-based transport system, efficient MPEG AVC (ISO/IEC 14496-10 or ITU H.264) video and HE AAC v2 audio (ISO/IEC 14496-3) coding. ATSC Mobile DTV services are carried in existing digital broadcast channels along with current DTV services without any adverse impact on legacy receiving equipment.

The new standard document is now available online on the ATSC Standards page.