Manifest Technology
        Making Sense of Digital Media Technology
        By Douglas Dixon


 
  BLOG
  ARTICLES
 - PC Video
 - Web Media
 - DVD & CD
 - Portable Media
 - Digital
     Imaging
 - Wireless
     Media
 - Home Media
 - Technology
     & Society
  GALLERIES
 - Video - DVD
 - Portable
  TECHNICAL
     RESOURCES
  ABOUT
 - What's New
<< HOME 

 

  WIRELESS MEDIA ARTICLES

  Manifest Technology Blog -- Site: | Articles | Galleries | Resources | DVI Tech | About | Site Map |
    Articles: | PC Video | Web Media | DVD & CD | Portable Media | Digital Imaging | Wireless Media | Home Media | Tech & Society |
    Wireless Media: | Wireless Media Articles | Mobile Communications Gallery | Wireless Resources |

Streaming Video on Mobile Phones  (4/2006)
    PalmOne Treo 650 - MobiTV
    Samsung i730 - Media Player and SmartVideo

    by Douglas Dixon

Devices and Data Rates

Palm Treo 650
    MobiTV - Service
    MobiTV - Technology

Samsung i730 Pocket PC
    SmartVideo

Futures
References

TV on your mobile phone? We're not just talking about video clips -- This is live TV broadcasts -- the big screen now fits in your pocket. Today's mobile phones have bulked up with PDA functions and processing power, added cameras for image and video processing, and then boosted transmission speed with 3G / EV-DO data service -- so Internet streaming video services can now flow directly to your phone.

            palmOne Treo 650 and Samsung i730

 

Let's look at how this works on two contrasting platforms -- the Palm Treo 650 running the MobiTV live television service, and the Samsung SCH-i730 Pocket PC phone running the SmartVideo service. Both of these platforms were kindly provided by Verizon Wireless, and were tested with Verizon's data services (www.verizonwireless.com).

Devices and Data Rates

The Samsung i730 supports Verizon's faster EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) data service, which receives data (including streaming video) at up to 10 times faster than the current 1xRTT service -- averaging 400 to 700 Kbps, and peaking up to 2 Mbps (www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/mobileoptions/broadband). The upload rate is slower (40 to 60 Kbps), comparable to 1X service at average speeds of 60 to 80 Kbps. Verizon currently charges $49.99 a month for unlimited data service, for either 1X or EV-DO.

              


Verizon also offers its V CAST service for playing video-on-demand clips, priced at $15 per month for unlimited clips (www.getvcast.com). This runs on new EV-DO handsets using the Microsoft Windows Media Video format (www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia). Verizon does not target V CAST to PDA phone platforms, since, as we will see, these devices are open for installing and connecting to a wide variety of third-party services.

Palm Treo 650

The Palm Treo 650 is a nicely designed combination of a phone and PDA device, with more emphasis on a clean integrated experience, and less emphasis on functionality, connectivity, and media playback. It costs $399.99 though Verizon, and is available with or without a camera (www.vzwshop.com/treo650).

        palmOne Treo 650 

Just to try to clarify the corporate story, the original Palm, Inc. company split into two pieces: palmOne (with lowercase "p") is the hardware company (www.palmone.com), and PalmSource is the Palm OS software company (www.palmsource.com). However, in mid-2005, palmOne bought back full rights back for the "Palm" brand (www.palm.com), and then PalmSource was acquired by ACCESS, a Japanese mobile software maker (www.access.co.jp, www.access-us-inc.com).

         

To further confuse matters, the Palm platform will no longer exclusively use the Palm OS -- in September 2005 came the announcement that Palm has licensed the Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system for Treo smartphones, to be available first from Verizon Wireless.

The Treo is about the same size as the i730, at 4.4 x 2.3 x 0.9 inches, and weighing 6.3 oz. It has a slightly smaller color touch-sensitive display (1.84 x 1.81), but with higher pixel resolution (320 x 320). This gives room for the keyboard below the display, instead of the slide-out design of the i730. Users of older Palms will notice the omission of a separate graffiti screen for pen text entry. Instead, the interface is designed to allow single-handed use for navigating and selecting functions with the navigator buttons, and two-thumb use for the backlit QWERTY keyboard.

The Treo is powered by a Intel PXA270 312 MHz processor, with 23 MB of user-available non-volatile memory, plus a SD expansion slot for SD, SDIO and MultiMediaCards. It provides multi-band cellular service, with CDMA or GSM/GPRS models -- but not 3G EV-DO service. Other connectivity options are beaming via infrared and Bluetooth, but not Wi-Fi.

The Treo also is available with or without an integrated camera. Eliminating the camera is important for business use, since you don't want to lose both your phone and your PDA when cameras are confiscated at corporate sites, court houses, or even sports events.

The Treo camera shoots at up to VGA resolution (640 x 480). You can shoot JPEG photos at 640 x 480 or 320 x 240, or capture MPEG-4 video clips at 320 x 240 or 176 x 144 resolution (www.mpegif.org).

The Treo runs the Palm OS 5.4 operating system, with all the usual Palm PDA applications. For using the camera, there's a set of three integrated applications: Camera to shoot photos, Camcorder to shoot videos, and Media for organizing and viewing the resulting images. As with camera phones, you can share your images though multimedia messages or via the SD card, plus you can use the Palm functions to HotSync them to a host computer or send with an e-mail application.

The Treo also includes the RealPlayer application for playing audio clips, but not video. In addition, the built-in Palm media applications really are not designed for downloading and viewing your own files. You can download photos and display slide shows with third-party applications like SplashData SplashPhoto (www.splashdata.com). And you can convert and download desktop video and audio clips with applications like TealPoint TealMovie (www.tealpoint.com), Kinoma Player for the Palm and Sony PSP (www.kinoma.com), with native support for MPEG-4, AAC, and JPEG, and MMPlayer (www.mmplayer.com)., with native playback of MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, and MP3 audio

For online access, the Treo includes the Blazer Web browser. Blazer is pretty good at rendering arbitrary web pages, including images, either in compact or wide-screen modes. However, it also does not have built-in media playback functions. You can use Blazer to download media files in formats compatible with your supported applications, although it is limed to a maximum download size of 2 MB. Again, you can use third-party products to augment the built-in applications.

MobiTV - Service

Beyond playback of local clips, MobiTV from Idetic, Inc. offers live TV, delivered as steaming video to your handset (www.mobitv.com, www.idetic.com). The MobiTV service is available on a wide variety of mobile phones, in the US through Sprint PCS, Cingular and several regional carriers; in the United Kingdom through Orange UK; and in Canadia through Rogers and Bell Canada.

   

        MobiTV service running on the Treo 650

To install MobiTV on the Treo, simply download the Treo application from Handmark, and sign up for a monthly subscription for $9.99 (mobitv.handmark.com).

The MobiTV service for the Treo includes 31 channels, mostly recognizable from your cable TV service (www.mobitv.com/channels). 

The MobiTV channels include:

- News: MSNBC, NBC, ABC, C-SPAN, CNBC business
- Weather: The Weather Channel
- Sports: ESPN, FOX, MLB.com, plus Vegas Sports and Vegas Scoreline
- Lifestyle: Discovery Channel, TLC, Fashion TV, CNET technology
- Entertainment: Comedy Time, California Music Channel, Country Music Channel
- Kids: Discovery Kids, ToonWorld TV Classics

Depending on your carrier, MobiTV also offers additional channels, including international news and Spanish and French-language programming.

The Treo version of the MobiTV application provides a very clean and integrated TV-like experience. The video is framed by the MobiTV controls, with handy reception and battery indicators on the top, and channel and volume controls on the bottom. You can surf through the channels, or bring up the channel guide to jump directly to a specific channel (by number or logo -- there's no additional information on the current programming).

Once you select a channel, there's a delay as the video buffers up, typically under ten seconds. Then the video just plays continuously. In my testing commuting around New York City, playback was quite smooth, with occasional jittering to a shower frame rate (more visible with football action), and very limited stops to re-load the buffer. The video quality is typically quite watchable, with visible blockiness if you're looking for it, especially on underlit scenes or older video (like the cartoons). But when watching well-produced sports clips, you can see the lines on the football field and even read the text crawls at the bottom of the screen.

MobiTV - Technology

MobiTV uses two different approaches in order to be able to deliver video playback across a wide variety of mobile phone platforms. For multimedia-capable phones, it uses RTSP streaming of MPEG-4 video in a 3GPP wrapper, with AMR or QCELP audio. On a high-end platform like the Treo, MobiTV delivers video at around 320 x 320 resolution (slightly smaller because it is framed on the screen) at up to 80 Kbps, with AMR audio at around 8 Kbps.

For less capable phones, MobiTV uses a proprietary HTTP-like protocol to communicate between its servers and Java client, and deliver the required format, resolution, and data rate for the specific device. The original source video is first encoded in a master format at 640 x 480 resolution, using MPEG-4 video and PCM audio. Then, for delivery, the video is trancoded and stepped down to match the constraints of the target handset. At the low end, the result is Motion JPEG compression at 1 to 2 frames per second and a data rate of 12 to 15 Kbps.

In addition, the MobiTV server and clients can negotiate to dynamically adjust the delivery data rate to adapt to network traffic conditions. The service can switch between three rates per handset, adjusting every several seconds with each block of delivered video.

MobiTV also has introduced its MobiRadio service, with some 50 channels of commercial-free music streamed to your mobile phone, like satellite radio or radio on a cable TV service. With the great displays on mobile phones, MobiRadio can also display text information (station, genre) along with album art. For delivering this service, MobiTV is using a similar approach, using AAC at 16 Kbps as the primary delivery format on multimedia phones, and falling back to AMR and QCELP on lower-end devices. The service is currently mono, with stereo in the future.

For the next generation of video, MobiTV is working with H.264 video, which can deliver better-quality video (with less blocky or tearing artifacts), and at down to one quarter of the data rate. This video looks great at 400 Kbps, and even down to 100 Kbps on these small mobile phone displays.

However, decoding and playing H.264 video does require next-generation handsets, which typically also offer access to 3G EV-DO data rates. With the additional headroom with 3G bandwidth, H.264 video offers interesting alternatives to better balance quality and data rate. To improve the picture quality, add more bits per frame to enhance quality, and increase the frame rate (which also improves the quality by reducing the runs of more heavily compressed frames between key frames). And it's still possible to adjust and reduce the data rate to help the cellular carriers manage capacity.

Similarly, MobiTV is looking forward to stepping up to high-efficiency AAC audio as it becomes available in handsets.

Samsung i730 Pocket PC

The Samsung SCH-i730 is a Windows Mobile device combining a phone and Pocket PC PDA, with high-speed EV-DO data service (www.samsungusa.com/wireless). It features a large 2.8 inch, 240 x 320, color touch screen display, plus a slide-out QWERTY keyboard for thumb typing. It includes a Intel PXA272 processor, 64MB of built-in memory, a 86 MB SafeStore memory, plus a SDIO expansion slot. The i730 costs $599.99 though Verizon Wireless, without a camera (www.vzwshop.com/samsungi730info).

        Samsung SCH-i730

This is a very open system, offering direct Internet access so you can surf the Web, download files, and play clips from anywhere online. Besides the cellular data service and Bluetooth support, the i730 also provides an 802.11b WiFi networking connection. With Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, you can surf the Web with Pocket Internet Explorer over EV-DO or WiFi, and simply click on media files in IE to launch and play them in Pocket Windows Media Player.

Microsoft provides the WindowsMedia.com Mobile video portal for mobile devices (www.windowsmedia.com/mobile), which redirects to the video hosting service at windowsmediamobile.theplatform.com). The site has a rather limited selection of clips, especially compared to all the full-res content at WindowsMedia.com, with some recent mobile trailers, music and sports shorts, and some streaming talk radio.

   

    WindowsMedia.com Mobile video portal, as viewed in Internet Explorer from a desktop computer

Since these clips all just Windows Media Video 9 format being delivered from a Web server, you can browse and preview them from any desktop computer as well. The mobile clips are typically 37 or 56 Kbps (at 160 x 120 or 176 x132 resolution). However, the playback experience on the i730 can be problematical -- the playback experience is dependent on the site where the clips are hosted, so sometimes the clips do not launch or refuse to play.

   

    Windows Media Mobile video clip, as viewed in Windows Media Player from a desktop computer

SmartVideo

You also can watch video on the Windows Mobile platform by subscribing to the SmartVideo service (www.smartvideo.com), which streams live video and video on demand to Microsoft Media Smartphone devices over both the current cellular network and new 3G networks. SmartVideo also is adding support for the Treo 650.

   

   

    SmartVideo video service playing on the Samsung i730
    (Images and logos are the property of their respective owners)

SmartVideo provides a free 7-day trial service. You can download the application directly and subscribe from your handheld (see www.smartvideo.com/purchase/pda.html). The Basic SmartVideo service for $12.95 includes news and finance from ABC, NBC, CNBC, and MSNBC; the Weather Channel; sports from FOX, College Sports TV, and Vegas Sports; and a variety of entertainment options from ABC, E!, iFILM, and Fun Little Movies (www.smartvideo.com/partners.html). However, only CNBC and MSNBC are actually live TV services, as opposed to video on demand downloads of pre-edited clips.

SmartVideo also offers premium channels, including Rascals Comedy Classics for $3.95 a month, DIC Entertainment animations for $4.95, and "mature" options for Girls Gone Wild ($4.95) and Naked News ($6.95). SmartVideo is also adding new channels including Spanish, family, and religious programming.

To access the SmartVideo service on the i730, first launch the SmartVideo application (to track your subscription), which than launches Internet Explorer to display the SmartVideo portal and browse the available channels. When you click (tap) to select a video, IE launches Media Player to stream and display the actual clip. To minimize load time, the SmartVideo channel Web pages are rather terse, with just the text names of the channels and a small thumbnail image, but no descriptive text.

As a result, channel surfing can be a somewhat clunky process, even using the faster EV-DO service -- with 5 to 10 second round-trip delays in IE to browse the hierarchical list of channels on the SmartVideo website, and then around 10 seconds to fire up Media Player, connect to the actual video clip, and then buffer it for playback. Even with a subscription service, I found that sometimes the channel hierarchy had empty pages, or selected clip just did not play.

Obviously, SmartVideo also uses the Microsoft Windows Media format, with typical clips compressed using Windows Media Video 8 compression at 41 kbps.

Futures

So this is the future -- streaming music and live TV available anywhere, playing on your mobile device. You don't need to find a WiFi hot spot, with 3G cellular services like EV-DO these services can stream at 400 to 700 Kbps. But will this model scale up, as a cellular network designed for short voice calls feels the strain of millions and then billions of cell phone users start watching live TV?

Yes, video playback tends to be short form, with people watching brief clips or updates during downtimes like waiting for a train of airplane. However, it does peak during major news events, from celebrity trials to national disasters. And audio service can be continuous as people listen to music in the background, but at least it runs at a significantly lower data rate.

One answer may be coming from bringing the old-fashioned idea of broadcast TV transmission to mobile devices. Even as over-the-air television is being replaced by cable and satellite, the mobile industry is looking to add it to cellular devices as yet another transmission band. Technology from DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcasting-Handheld, www.dvb.org) and QUALCOMM MediaFLO (www.qualcomm.com/mediaflo) is starting to be deployed in trials to broadcast some 10 to 20 digital channels to compatible handsets.

So how might video services be delivered? For example, MobiTV is positioning its service as a universal front-end program guide that offers a single integrated TV service that could be delivered over all three possible legs of transport mechanisms to the handset. Each feed then could be transmitted using the most efficient channel to balance the load for the carrier, in a way that is transparent to the user. Video on demand and niche broadcast material could be delivered as a standard unicast data service, as it already is today. The popular broadcast material could be routed more efficiently though new cellular multicast equipment that is being developed within the industry. And a handful of the most popular broadcasts could be transmitted out-of-band in alternative spectrum through services like DVB-H.

In this way, the cellular carriers have a path for managing bandwidth usage into the future, even as these services become more popular.

References

Verizon Wireless
    www.verizonwireless.com

Verizon Wireless
    www.verizonwireless.com

Verizon Wireless - EV-DO BroadbandAccess service
    www.verizonwireless.com/b2c/mobileoptions/broadband

Verizon Wireless - V CAST
    www.getvcast.com

 

palmOne
    www.palmone.com
    www.palm.com

PalmSource / Palm OS
    www.palmsource.com

ACCESS
    www.access.co.jp
    www.access-us-inc.com

Palm - Treo 650
    www.palmone.com/us/products/smartphones/treo650

Verizon Wireless - Palm Treo 650
    www.vzwshop.com/treo650

 

SplashData SplashPhoto
    www.splashdata.com

 TealPoint TealMovie
    www.tealpoint.com

Kinoma Player
    www.kinoma.com), 

MMPlayer
    www.mmplayer.com

MPEG Industry Forum
    www.mpegif.org

 

MobiTV / Idetic
    www.mobitv.com
    www.idetic.com
    Channels - www.mobitv.com/channels

Handmark - MobiTV subscriptions
    mobitv.handmark.com

 

Samsung - Wireless
    www.samsungusa.com/wireless

Verizon Wireless - Samsung i730
    www.vzwshop.com/samsungi730info

Microsoft Windows Media
    www.microsoft.com/windows/windowsmedia

WindowsMedia.com Mobile portal
    www.windowsmedia.com/mobile
    windowsmediamobile.theplatform.com

SmartVideo
    www.smartvideo.com
    Pricing - smartvideo.com/purchase/pda.html
    Channels - www.smartvideo.com/partners.html

 

DVB Project (Digital Video Broadcasting)
    www.dvb.org

QUALCOMM MediaFLO
    www.qualcomm.com/mediaflo