BURN ALL THE BOOKS: It is now official. Reading is dead.
For who's going to need books, magazines and newspapers when there is birtually nowhere that you can't take along a TV-receiving mobile phone to catch up on the news, weather and sports, and otherwise keep yourself entertained? Why, these multi-media marvels even work in the bathroom.
HAVE IT YOUR WAY: Video service on mobile phones comes in two styles today. Cingular/AT&T recently joined the front runner Sprint in offering a 23-channel "streaming" video service called MobiTV, working on their somewhat upgraded, second-generation data networks.
While some of these streams are video-phone exclusives, like ToonWorld TV Classics, more are postage-stamp versions of cable channels like MSNBC, C-SPAN and Fox Sports, running on a 30-second delay.
MobiTV service starts at $10 a month, over and above regular phone costs, and with severe time restrictions placed on the viewing.
If you're likely to watch a lot on that little screen, it's best to upgrade to a $20 (Cingular) or $25 (Sprint) all-you-can-watch package. Sprint's version also includes wireless Web and photo sharing (exploiting multimedia phones' built0in cameras), plus multi-channel streaming music supplied by the cable/satellite TV fixture MusicChoice.
The second way to deliver video to a phone is "on-demand" - a term familiar to cable viewers. A menu lets you select two- to four-minute videos custom crafted for the tiny phone screen. Twenty or 30-seconds later, the clip is loaded and playing.
Sprint can bring this to 'ya, too, as Sprint TV. A minimalist, "basic" $10 package previews the technology. You'll then want to add on channels priced at a monthly charge of $3.95 to $4.95 each.
A better on-demand treat is Verizon's just launched V CAST. It costs $15 a month over and above your normal phone charges. But this package includes way more clips than "basic" Sprint TV - at least 300 on any given day. And no additional airtime charges accrue, even for the heaviest of Verizon video watchers.
Of equal importance, the picture quality with V CAST is far superior to that of its competitors. That's because V CAST runs on a "3G" (third-generation) EV-DO (Evolution-Data Optimized) network, now available in 32 major metroplitan markets, and hitting half the country before year's end. EV-DO runs at two to three times the speed of second-gen systems, packing in excess of 300 kilobits of data per second.
WATCH OUT! Here's how the differences played out. Even on Cingular's top-performing phone, the "EDGE-service enhanced," high frame rate-capable Nokia 6620, the MobiTV service delivered a herky-jerky screen image, though audio was smooth.
More annoying, some channels sputtered to a halt every couple of minutes, and a "buffering" notification flashed onscreen. The program would then back up to the previous sentence and start again, wreaking havoc on the standup comedians delivery on the Comedy Time channel. After about 20 minutes, a channel often locked up, requiring a system reboot.
Also quirky, Cingular throws up a message, "Are you still watching?" every four minutes. Press a keypad button quickly, or you'll be disconnected.
Better results are expected when Cingular upgrades its service and phones to "3G" technology later this year.
LESS DEMANDING ON-DEMAND: Comparing the on-demand viewing services, Sprint TB playing on a Samsung A700 multimedia phone actually pulled up a story from NBC Mobile about a half-second faster than did Verizon’s V CAST on the LG VX8000 phone. But the clip looked significantly better on V CAST.
On Sprint TV (also due for a speed upgrade later this year) the image appeared mildly out of focus and suffered from occasional digital breakup.
On the V CAST version, the picture looked consistently smooth and clear – even with fast-paced XGame action clips. Superimposed text can be read on the LG screen, though not while watching credits-heavy movie trailers. And while V CAST’s picture is slightly out of synch with the sound – a common complaint with all mobile TV phone services - the image doesn’t freeze up or blank out.
CONTENT IS KING: Yes, waiting for a video clip to load is slightly annoying. But, there’s no suffering through the commercials and repetition that come with a streaming news channel. And that on-demand content is customized for the mite-sized medium.
On V CAST, the tasty TV nuggets include ESPN’s snappy “24 Hours in Sports” recap and the made-for-mobile dramas “Sunset Hotel,” “Love & Hate” and “24 Conspiracy” (a spin off of the TV show). Also appealing are songs from the “Sesame Street” series and highlights from “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and John Stewart’s “The Daily Show.”
Extras to buy from V CAST include pop music videos (too busy for the little screen) and zippy video games. Stay away from the yawn-inducing, 99-cent-per-download NASCAR driver interviews, unless you’re a true believer.
© 2005, Philadelphia Daily News. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.