ESPN testing video for handheld devices

ESPN is testing new video services for wireless devices, taking a page from the playbook of its popular Web download service, CNET News reported last week.

John Zehr, ESPN Mobile’s vice president of product development, said the sports news site is experimenting with several wireless providers to preload video onto handhelds (rather than stream the entertainment), much like ESPN Motion — an application that preloads sports highlights onto millions of viewers’ PCs daily. That way, wireless users can watch video automatically and in higher quality on the handheld, he said. (Streaming media can suffer delays from bandwidth limitations or network problems.)

With downloads, ESPN can control the quality of the sports content viewed on handhelds. Zehr also acknowledged that the method of video delivery is limited by the storage capacity of handheld devices.

Download versus live streaming media is a dilemma for entertainment and content providers as they look to build new services for the PC or for Internet Protocol-connected devices, the report said. It’s an especially pertinent question for content providers as new multimedia services come to mobile phones.

Downloads avoid the quality issues by pre-caching the video onto users’ hard drives. For this reason, Disney, Sony Pictures Digital and Universal Pictures have opted to preload content onto users’ machines with their new services.

But delivering video automatically to thousands or millions of PCs can be financially wasteful if it’s not consumed. Pre-cached video is also by nature less immediate. For example, a sports junkie wanting to see a replay couldn’t get that clip with pre-downloaded sports highlights, CNET said.

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