UPDATED 15:29 EST / APRIL 20 2009

Washington DC To Get Free Mobile Wireless TV. Welcome to 1980.

image When I saw the AP headline this morning promising “FREE! WIRELESS! MOBILE! TV!” I couldn’t help but think of a little pocket TV my great uncle used to let me use back when I was eleven or twelve or so (available now as a “vintage” set on eBay for about $100)

The story behind the headline is that Washington DC is supposed to be the first US city to get free digital TV broadcasts on mobile devices, including laptops, mobile phones, and automobile dashboard units.

It’s a little more complicated than just a basic multi-function TV, as it turns out, but not by a whole lot. What is clear, though, is that this isn’t very game changing, and isn’t likely to do much to change our media landscape.

The commenters over at DSL Reports provide more insight than any of the news posts I’ve read on the topic so far:

I wondered why they just didn’t have devices use the same OTA digital TV ATSC signals used by the new DTV systems. After all, my laptop can pick up OTA DTV using a USB stick from Hauppauge(WinTV).

But while on the move, signal errors make the regular DTV std signals hard to watch. So, the ATSC standards group modified the A/53 std and came up with A/153 std. The new mobile std has extra error correcting mechanisms built-in. The downside is that all the laptops, netbooks, mobile phones will need new chipsets and/or adapters to be on sale before anyone will be able to watch the new service.


“The ATSC Mobile DTV service shares the same RF channel as the
standard ATSC broadcast service described in ATSC A/53 (“ATSC
Digital Television Standard, Parts 1 – 6”). The mobile system is
enabled by using a portion of the total available 19.4 Mbps
bandwidth and utilizing delivery over IP transport.”

Just think of the new mobile DTV as adding another sub-channel(10.1, 10.2, 10.M) to the existing OTA DTV signal transmitted by a TV station.

When it comes down to what the mobile television consumer will be receiving, there’s very little that’s different from non-digital TV, and even less that’s different from current mobile internet video offerings.

Given the spectrum of available video compression schemes available, alotting a whole Mbps for a video window that’s going to be likely a matter of centimeters diagonal, not feet, is the height of waste. What’s worse? It runs completely counter to the evolution of media in this country.  Rather than de-centralizing the content production down to the indie producer level, as the UGC revolution and the rise of Internet programming has done, it returns the helm to the outdated and expensive content creation studio method for an ultimately less monetizable format.

Is it any wonder why mobile carriers are balking at the thought of integrating this into their product?  It interferes with their coming de facto position as media arbiter and curator and requires them to add more superfluous chunks of kit to their already robust devices.

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