CES Showcases ATSC Mobile DTV Progress

The best place to see ATSC Mobile DTV was in the Mobile TV TechZone, where the Mobile Content Venture showed its Dyle service on several devices, the Mobile 500 Alliance highlighted its MyDTV application on the iPads and iPhones, LG Electronics demonstrated Mobile EAS and ETRI showed how an existing mobile DTV signal could be used to add backwardly-compatible 3D to the main HD channel.

Outside the Tech Zone, RCA demoed an 8-inch tablet that was compatible with the encrypted Dyle TV service, along with some receivers introduced at earlier shows. VOXX demonstrated an ATSC Mobile DTV receiver with Dyle TV for use with seat-back or dropdown video displays.

Dyle TV showed an ElGato EyeTV dongle working with the iPad and iPad mini, and the Samsung Lightray phone with a built-in receiver was also on display. I've written about both of these before. Dyle also showed a new dongle from Escort. And Belkin had a Dyle TV dongle in its booth.

All of the dongles are designed for the Apple iPad and iPhone. Several people requested an Android dongle, and one is being developed, but due to the wide range of Android hardware and software it’s unlikely that it will work on all Android devices.

The RCA Mobile TV tablet attracted a lot of interest, and Thursday afternoon I noticed it had received a “Best of CES 2013 Award” from one magazine. It’s an 8-inch tablet running Android 4.0. and includes Google Play, so a wide range of tablet applications are available. The tablet uses a Telechip Cortex A5 processor. The A5 is available in single-core, dual-core and quad-core versions, but the RCA rep I spoke with didn't know which version was in the tablet; however, he thought it was the dual-core. Unlike many bargain tablets, this one has an IPS screen (1024 x 768), GPS, and dual cameras. And unlike the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus tablets, it includes a micro-SD slot that allows adding up to 32 GB of additional storage with an inexpensive micro-SD card. You'll probably want to do that, as only 8 GB of memory is included in the unit. It has 1 GB of RAM. Other ports include microUSB and HDMI.

Unlike the dongles and the Samsung Lightray, the RCA Mobile TV tablet is able to receive conventional ATSC programming. Travelers will welcome this, as Mobile DTV channels are not available in every market. Even in markets with Mobile DTV, many broadcasters have yet to add a mobile signal. Conventional ATSC TV doesn't work well in moving vehicles and antenna placement will be more critical than with the Mobile DTV signals. The tablet's antenna jack allows use of an external antenna, such as the Mohu Leaf, if needed.

IDG writer Melissa J. Perenson has an excellent review of the RCA tablet in her article RCA reinvents mobile TV for the tablet universe.

Her conclusion?

“That price [$299] is a bit high for a tablet with these components, but the appeal of mobile TV shouldn't be underestimated. Of all the specialty tablets I've seen so far at 2013 CES, this one has caught my imagination the most.”

She cautioned, however, that users would be limited by the availability of off-air transmissions in their individual neighborhoods, but found the idea intriguing” that the likes of the familiar Sony Watchman might be reborn within a tablet’s form factor.

She concluded: “I look forward to see what, if anything, some of the big-name manufacturers can do with the idea.”

Some reviews noticed the display viewing angle was limited and the TV software had a few rough edges. However, the units on display were prototypes and the production version should be better. RCA expects to have the tablet on the market in March or April, ideally in time for the NAB Show.

I'm not a big fan of 3D TV, although if I wanted to transmit 3D TV the technology ETRI was showing in the Mobile DTV Tech Zone appears to be the ideal way for a station simulcasting its main signal on Mobile DTV. The concept is simple –– the main HD channel provides the signal for one eye and an upconverted Mobile DTV signal provides the signal for the other eye. Special processing is required and if a standard 419 x 240 pixel Mobile DTV signal is used, an enhancement signal is transmitted with the main HD signal to improve the picture. The good news is that both the main HD signal and the Mobile DTV signal can be viewed on non-3D displays with no loss of quality, and stations do not need to allocate extra bandwidth, other than what they are already using for mobile in order to add 3D capability. Of course, compatible receivers will have to be designed to receive these broadcasts (an LG display was used for this demo) and the Mobile DTV and main HD video has to be perfectly synchronized.

As these new mobile devices reach the market, and I have a chance to play with them, I'll have more on what's inside and how well they work.

Doug Lung

Doug Lung is one of America's foremost authorities on broadcast RF technology. He has been with NBC since 1985 and is currently vice president of broadcast technology for NBC/Telemundo stations.