Las Vegas (NV) - Signaling the official launch of an industry dedicated to the distribution of digital video content over, of all things, the public airwaves, a group of mobile video stakeholders, led by Nokia, Motorola, and Intel, officially announced the formation of the Mobile DTV Alliance.
Although broadcast television using digital standards has been technically feasible for decades, the purpose of the new Alliance will be to foster and promote the direct delivery of on-demand and interactive video content to mobile receivers, particularly handheld and automotive devices. The principles to which Alliance members will adhere have their roots, according to an article in this month’s Proceedings of the IEEE magazine, in a European project which proved that broadband communications devices were more robust for serving mobile video content than terrestrial broadcast signals.
The Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) standard, assembled in 2004, is the one ratified by the DTV Alliance today. It’s a derivative of the European standard for digital terrestrial broadcasting, DVB-T. Although DVB-H purports to be a global standard, and the formation of the Alliance today brings that goal a great deal closer to reality, its European roots could possibly lead to yet another standards standoff in the States, where the Advanced Television Systems Committee is responsible for maintaining the American terrestrial DTV standard.
According to today’s statement from the Alliance, DVB-H users will be receiving live programming on their mobile phones and other devices. But critical to the group’s plans will be the ability to provide interactive and on-demand functionality through cellular and mobile systems as well, because it is interactivity that will "increase revenue opportunities for operators," as opposed to simply carrying digital programming on a passive stream.
But although the Alliance may not say so outright, its efforts may compete directly with those of traditional broadcasters whose place in North America’s digital spectrum will be secured, when analog TV broadcasting leaves the public airwaves in mid-February 2009. The ATSC standard already includes an interaction channel and a specification for a software download stream, neither of which are in use today because most digital programming has to remain compatible with its analog counterparts. But when the "hard date" finally hits, if terrestrial broadcasters won’t see fit to simply provide digitally encoded versions of passive audio/video streams, the ATSC standard and the DVB-H standard could find themselves in direct competition with one another.
The key indicator as to whether yet another showdown happens, is who joins the Mobile DTV Alliance from this point forward. Mobile technology providers who already have their roots in Europe, such as Sony Ericsson, may be most likely to join the bandwagon from here. Apple, for now, is a wild card. In short, here we go again.