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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
References

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.

V CAST Channels

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 cities.

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 "quasi-reality series."

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 for Verizon).

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.

PacketVideo TV Player

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 dramatically.

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 videos.

3G Broadband Wireless Data Network

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 Washington, D.C.

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 locations.

Capturing Video on the Samsung SCH-a890 Mobile Phone

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 agreement.

        Samsung SCH-a890

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 player.

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 PCS Vision Multimedia service - MobiTV

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 month.

       

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 entertainment (www.sanyo.com/wireless). 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 rebate.

Media on Demand

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 devices.

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.

References

Verizon Wireless
    www.verizonwireless.com

Verizon - V CAST Service
    getitnow-origin.vzwshop.com/vcast.home.do

Verizon Pix Place
    www.vzwpix.com

Samsung Telecommunications
    www.samsungusa.com/wireless

PacketVideo
    www.packetvideo.com

 

Sprint PCS
    www.sprintpcs.com

Sanyo - Wireless
    www.sanyo.com/wireless

Idetic - MobiTV
    www.mobitv.com

 

Apple - QuickTime and Mobile Multimedia
    www.apple.com/mpeg4/3gpp

3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP)
    www.3gpp.org
    www.3gpp2.org

Ulead - Video ToolBox
    www.ulead.com/vtb