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TV on Your Mobile Phone: Verizon Wireless V CAST
(Samsung SCH-a890, 5/2005)
by Douglas Dixon
V CAST Channels
PacketVideo TV Player
3G Broadband Wireless Data Network
Capturing Video on the Samsung SCH-a890 Mobile Phone
Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia service - MobiTV
Media on Demand
Are you too busy to watch TV? Only have a few minutes to catch up on the
latest news or sports highlights from last night? Verizon Wireless has the
answer, in the form of its Verizon V CAST wireless multimedia service,
delivering TV clips on demand -- news, weather, sports, and entertainment --
streamed directly to your mobile phone (www.verizonwireless.com).
And you thought your camera phone was cool -- Yet taking photos with mobile
phones is so last year -- the excitement now is video. Your mobile phone can do
it all -- it's a portable music player, plus camera and photo viewer, plus video
camera and portable media player, plus now a handheld TV display, and, don't
forget, it's still a wireless phone too.
The V CAST service is built on the next generation of faster wireless data
service, what the wireless industry calls "3G" (for third generation),
plus a compatible phone like the Samsung SCH-a890. [ see sidebar ]
To start the V CAST service from the phone, use the soft keys to access the
Get It Now menu (for downloadable services and applications), and then select
the Video Clips icon. The phone then connects to the service, and downloads the
listing of available clips. This process typically takes 10 to 30 seconds,
depending on the quality of your 3G signal.
V CAST NBC Mobile
The V CAST service has four main menus: News, Entertainment, Sports, and
Weather. You then can select from a list of content providers in each category.
The News category includes news updates from CNN To Go and NBC Mobile
News, plus market news and features from MarketWatch.
The Weather category has updates from AccuWeather.com for breaking
news, national and regional forecasts, and specific forecasts for some 50
The Sports category has clips from ESPN and Fox Sports, plus dedicated
channels for Nascar.com To Go and NBA TV.
The largest category, Entertainment, includes a variety of
entertainment news from E! and eclectic material from Cinema Electric. For fun,
you can watch clips from Comedy Central (including The Daily Show), or surf Just
For Laughs for stand-up routines and gags. For music, check out the clips from
VH1, or you can select clips from Music Videos to download to the Media Gallery
on your phone and play later. And for children, the Sesame Street channel has
your favorite Muppet songs and guest stars.
The final Entertainment category, VCAST Showcase, has "mobisodes,"
short mobile episodes of original series developed for this service. These
include, "24: Conspiracy," a spin-off from "24" (with a
different cast), "The Sunset Hotel," described as a "rather
salacious soap opera," and "Love and Hate," an unscripted
At launch, the V CAST service included some 300 available clips, most 2 to 3
minutes long. Some are identified as "premium," especially under
Entertainment, requiring an additional charge, i.e., $3.99 for a music video or
$0.99 for a NASCAR race wrap-up. Some clips even include commercials (at least
The V CAST service is available to add to your Verizon Wireless service as
the V CAST VPak for $15. It includes unlimited access to the basic V CAST clips,
plus the Mobile Web 2.0 news and information service and unlimited airtime for
Get It Now & Mobile Web. Additional usage fees apply for all other Get It
Now applications, 3-D games and V CAST premium video clips.
The Get It Now service includes downloadable applications and content,
including Games ($2.99 monthly subscription), Ringtones ($1.99 annual fee per
phone with $0.99 monthly subscription), and Wallpaper. Applications include
Instant Messaging and E-Mail, Web photo access, news, sports, and other travel
helpers and entertainment goodies. Mobile Web service starts at $4.99 per month.
Once you select a clip to view, the phone launches the PacketVideo
media player (www.packetvideo.com),
which buffers the clip for around 10 to 30 seconds, and then begins the
playback. The phone's navigation buttons serve as the play controls: press Left
and Right to Scan, Down to Stop, and the center OK button for Play / Pause. You
also can use the volume up/down button on the side of the phone to adjust the
volume. This is particularly useful because the loudness of the clips can vary
During playback, the play controls are visible at the bottom of the screen,
along with the volume level and a progress bar showing the time and playback
position in the clip. Since the phone screen is taller than it is wide, and some
of the video clips are widescreen, clips can be displayed using only around half
of the height of the screen. Press the Up button to display a slightly larger
full-screen view, rotated sideways on the display.
Unfortunately, between the tiny display and the polarized screen, even the
full-screen view is hard for more than one person to see. And of course the
current fashion of adding a plethora on-screen graphics for news and sports
shows, with scrolling bars of information on the top and bottom of the screen,
is pretty much lost on the tiny display.
But for one or two people the viewing experience is great. The clips are
compressed in Windows Media Video 9 and Audio 9, at 176 x 132 resolution and
play at 15 frames per second. For most clips the video and audio quality is very
impressive (even low-res clips look great on a small screen). Most of the clips
are bright and clean, though some blocky compression artifacts are visible in
dark areas, such as when shadows cross over a face, or in a music video shot in
a dark club. Of course, at 15 fps, don't expect perfect lip synch in the music
Watching TV-like video on your mobile phone requires the next generation of
faster wireless data service, what the wireless industry calls "3G"
(for third generation). The Verizon Wireless broadband EV-DO (Evolution-Data
Optimized) 3G network began operation in October 2003 in San Diego and
The network launched with BroadbandAccess wireless Internet access
service, allowing business customers and mobile professionals to access the
Internet from a laptop using a PC card for data access to the Verizon network
($79.99 monthly for unlimited access).
By the end of 2004, EV-DO had been deployed in one-third of the Verizon
network in the United States, covering 75 million people. Verizon plans to
extend its 3G network -- the BroadbandAccess and VCAST service areas -- to cover
150 million Americans by the end of 2005. (The Verizon Wireless 3G network uses
wireless infrastructure technology from Lucent Technologies and Nortel Networks,
and EV-DO technology is licensed from QUALCOMM.)
The EV-DO network is capable of maximum burst transmission speeds of up to
2.4 megabits per second (Mbps), with average user download speeds in the
broadband range of 400 to 700 Kbps. It is an asymmetrical service like DSL, with
slower upload speeds between 40 to 60 Kbps.
In testing the V CAST from Boston to New York to New Jersey, the EV-DO
service was strong in the cities and towns, although weaker than the standard
connection in the basements of buildings, and totally gone in long stretches of
suburban Connecticut. The V CAST service typically worked well when it had a
signal, though download times varied significantly at different times and
Verizon Wireless initially offers its V CAST service with three 3G-capable
flip-style phones: the Samsung SCH-a890, LG VX8000, and the Audiovox XV6600. All
include a color display (plus a smaller external display), 1.3 megapixel digital
camera, and organizer functions. And all support the full array of data
services: text, picture, and video messaging, Mobile Web, Get It Now downloads
and applications, and V CAST videos.
The Samsung SCH-a890 adds voice recognition, and a rotating camera so
you can shoot yourself while still looking at the display (www.samsungusa.com/wireless).
Verizon offers it at $249.99 after $70 rebate with a two-year customer
The approximately 2 inch diagonal main display is 176 x 220 pixels with 262K
colors. The phone menus provide access to several different pre-allocated chunks
of memory, including Get It Now downloads (54 MB), Media Gallery for captured
and downloaded clips (14 MB) and Photo / Video memory (8 MB).
The included camera shoots still photos at up to 1280 x 960 resolution
(around 135KB JPEG) down to 160 x 120. The short video clips (up to 15 seconds)
are captured in MPEG-4 format at 176 x 122 resolution, at 15 fps, and 80 Kbps
data rate. The audio is MPEG AAC, at 8000 Hz, 16 bit stereo.
You can save your photos or videos to the local Media Gallery, or use the
Send option to transfer it from the phone -- as a multimedia message sent to
another media-aware phone, uploaded to the Verizon Pix Place Web portal (www.vzwpix.com),
or as an e-mail attachment.
The captured MPEG-4 clips are delivered by e-mail as ".3g2" files
(sometimes also called 3gp, 3gpp, or mp4, named for the 3rd Generation
Partnership Project, www.3gpp.org and www.3gpp2.org).
Verizon recommends using the Apple QuickTime Player to play these
clips, since Apple has featured MPEG-4 and 3GPP support (www.apple.com/mpeg4/3gpp).
Make sure you update to at least QuickTime Player version 6.5.1 (use Help
> Update Existing Software). Windows Explorer should then report the Type for
3g2 files as "3GPP Movie Importer." (However, auto updating may not
download the 3GP support, so make sure it is installed with Edit >
Preferences > QuickTime Preferences > Update Check > Update and Install
Additional QuickTime Software.)
You also can use Ulead Video Toolbox 2 (www.ulead.com/vtb)
to import and convert 3GPP files.
These multimedia messages do require a PIX/FLIX Messaging service plan
(available starting at $2.99 a month for 20 pictures, or bundled with other
plans). Since the wireless carrier business has been built around monetizing the
service of transferring media and applications to and from mobile phones, the
carriers have been disinclined to provide phones with USB ports that would allow
you to hook directly to a computer to transfer files like a portable media
Some other phones do support Bluetooth, but only for a wireless headphone,
and not for general data transfer. And some phones are starting to add storage
card slots for expansion memory, which does provide an alternate path to load
your music library or photo album.
Sprint also offers a TV-like service with its Sprint PCS Vision Multimedia
service (www.sprintpcs.com). The
basic Sprint TV service for $9.99 per month offers news, sports, entertainment,
and music, with content including ABC News, FOX Sports, NBC Universal, Discovery
Channel, Weather Channel, and Comedy Time. The Multimedia Pack for $25.00 per
month bundles unlimited Sprint PCS Vision, Picture Mail, Video Mail and 100 text
messages. Channels can also be purchased individually for $3.95 to $5.95 per
The Sprint TV service is provided by MobiTV (www.mobitv.com),
which is also available from Cingular / AT&T Wireless. The multimedia
service was launched in August 2004, offering video and audio on demand content
at up to 15 frames per second over the entire existing (1X) wireless network.
Sprint will begin rollout of its next-generation EVDO network towards the end of
the second quarter. Sprint expects that you can watching higher-quality video on
EVDO phones, and then still have access if you move outside the coverage area by
dropping back to the existing 1X network.
The new Sanyo MM-5600 phone provides the next generation in portable
It features a 240 x 320 260k-color LCD screen, and 1.3-megapixel camera to shoot
30-second video clips. As an audio player, it supports high-quality MP3 and AAC
formats, played though the stereo earphones.
Most interestingly, the phone is a full-fledged PC peripheral. It ships with
a 16MB removable miniSD memory card, and even includes a USB interface so you
can drag and drop music, photos, and other files from and back to your PC. The
MM-5600 is available from Sprint in March 2005 for $429.99, or $279.99 after
So why carry around a separate portable music player, or even a digital
camera, when your mobile phone can do it all? Especially with the addition of an
external storage card and PC connectivity, your phone can store your music
library, photo albums, and even favorite videos. This is the future of portable
devices -- as the raw number of mobile phones swamps other stand-alone portable
But why even worry about managing and syncing files, when you use
subscription music and video on demand services to access what you want,
whenever you want it. As the mobile carriers build up their libraries of
content, you will be able to choose to access interesting songs and updated
video clips whenever you have the time and inclination.
For the moment, services like V CAST offer pre-stored clips -- think video on
demand, and not live television. Verizon describes them updated daily, but while
the news and weather reports can be updated more often, some of the other
entertainment content is updated weekly. For example, there were no updates
available on V CAST during the running of the Daytona 500. But all was not lost
-- the Mobile Web service still provided timely access to the updating running
order on Yahoo! Sports. And you could then catch up on the exciting finish on V
CAST later in the week with several race recap clips.
Verizon - V CAST Service
Verizon Pix Place
Sanyo - Wireless
Idetic - MobiTV
Apple - QuickTime and Mobile Multimedia
3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)
Ulead - Video ToolBox