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Mobile DTV hits the road at NAB2007

At NAB2007, broadcasters were offered two different keys to unlock the door to a developing new market that only a few months ago seemed to be dead-bolted and impenetrable – mobile DTV.

As last-minute preparations were underway in the Las Vegas Convention Center, a few hundred members of the press, broadcasters and others interested attended a press conference where Harris and LG Electronics formally introduced the MPH —mobile, pedestrian, handheld — mobile DTV system.

MPH, the fruit of the labors of the LG Electronics DTV lab in Seoul, South Korea, its U.S. subsidiary in Chicago, and Harris, is an in-band transmission/receiver system that will let broadcasters tuck MPEG-4 H.264 MPH channels into their existing ATSC transmissions without disrupting the reception of their main and multicast DTV signals by digital television sets in the home.

Harris and Zenith conducted a field test of the system in Mason, OH, on WBNS-DT Channel 21 in early March. The tests confirmed that MPH signals could be received on high-speed expressways, in urban canyons and by pedestrians without disruption from Doppler or dynamic multipath. At NAB2007, broadcasters could ride a bus equipped with an MPH system to see it in action. Competing Advanced-VSB system proponent Samsung also demonstrated its mobile in-band DTV system on a specially equipped bus traversing Las Vegas.

MPH and the A-VSB mobile TV systems are important because they offer broadcasters a way to reach the growing number of mobile viewers, who watch video, or soon will, with everything from video iPods and cell phones to new national services like QUALCOMM’s MediaFLO and Crown Castle’s Modeo receivers.

During the press conference, Del Parks, VP of engineering and operations for the Sinclair Broadcast Group; Brandon Burgess, president and CEO of Ion Media Networks; and David Donovan, president of the Association for Maximum Service Television, spoke, expressing their desire to see a successful mobile TV solution for broadcasters become a reality.

“I think it is fair to say that broadcast interest in the provision of over-the-air mobile and portable services is extremely high,” Donovan said. “It gives us the ability to provide additional, flexible program services, be it a unique mobile service that is provided to the community or the mobile ability of providing one of our multicast channels. The uses are simply unlimited, and are only limited by our own entrepreneurial imagination.”

Burgess, too, expressed optimism about the opportunities a new in-band mobile TV system could give broadcasters: “I must say that mobile is the next killer app for DTV,” he said. “It enables traditional linear broadcasters to recapture and reassemble audiences that have migrated outside the living room and moves our consuming media in places that are in the mobile environment whether that’s the laptop, a mass transit vehicle or cell phone.”

Such optimism spurred Burgess and ION to join with eight other major broadcast groups, including Sinclair Broadcast, Belo, FOX, Tribune, NBC, Telemundo and Gannett with a total of 280 TV stations reaching 95 million U.S. households, to form a coalition of broadcasters to lend their support to the development of an ATSC-backward-compatible mobile TV transmission system.

According to Parks, the coalition is open to all broadcasters, and he encouraged fellow broadcasters to jump on the bandwagon.