Watching TV on Your Mobile Phone is Closer than You Think

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted December 6, 2006

Every time my new mobile phone rings, I can’t help but be amazed by it. It’s a Motorola Razr phone, and it is so small that half the time I can barely find it even though it’s usually in my pants pocket.

On top of that its battery life is more than twice as good as my previous phone’s, and it can even take pictures. My kids find this as amazing as I do. The best part, though was that is was practically free after all of the rebates.

But as different as it is from my last phone, that’s nothing compared to the first mobile phone I ever bought-about 11 years ago. My new phone is as different from that as apples are from kangaroos.

That phone was the size of shoebox and couldn’t seem to hold a charge for much more than six hours. I called it "the football," and it cost me over $400. Being cutting edge was particularly costly back then.

While I found it nothing to chuckle at in those days, just thinking about it now makes me want to burst out laughing . . . because by today’s standards that thing is simply ridiculous.

It is the perfect example of how a product can change so much in such a short period of time that it consigns its predecessors to a special place in the memory hole.

For the mobile phone market, however, such dramatic changes are just the beginning of what is headed down the pike for the industry in the future. Because along with all of the wonderful things that a mobile phone can do today, watching TV on one of them is the next big advance to hit the U.S. markets.

In fact, last Thursday, Sweden’s industry giant LM Ericsson predicted that watching television on mobile phones will be a mass phenomenon by 2008. According to Ericsson, about one third of the world’s mobile phone users will regularly watch TV broadcasts on their handsets within two years.

Encouraged by the adoption of broadcast platforms such as DVH-B, industry analysts predict that some 446 million people will be tuned in by the end of 2011.

That type of growth means that mobile TV usage will grow by 50% a year through 2010.

It is a growth pattern that while barely recognizable today is actually well underway. Mobile providers such as Verizon with its Vcast system now offer some form of mobile phone TV. Other providers include the popular MobiTV which offers viewers channels such as, MSNBC, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, Fox Sports, ESPN, and the Weather Channel while on the go.

Most of these TV plans currently run between $10 and $25 a month and offer those that have them a good diversion and a way to keep up to date while away from the set.

This burgeoning new market will undoubtedly provide investors with a wealth of opportunities in the years to come as this new market transforms the broadcast TV business.

But before this can happen in any real way, the industry will need to overcome the limitations imposed on it by battery power issues. These new phones need to be capable of running for hours and hours, a radical departure from their ordinary use. After all, what user would want a phone whose battery conked out in the middle of the Super Bowl?

Working on this problem is NeoMagic Corporation (NMGC: NASDAQ), a pure play in the emerging mobile TV market.

In November the company announced the availability of its NeoMobileTV companion chip for the fast growing digital TV market.

It is optimized to deliver high quality video and audio at very low power for mobile TV applications. Depending on the hardware that it is paired up with, the chip promises four to eight hours of viewing at the critical 30 frames per second.

The chip is based on NeoMagic’s proprietary multimedia engine that uses an array-processing architecture to deliver improved power efficiency and performance. It is fully programmable and can support all of the emerging video decoders including, H.264, WMV, MPEG-4, H.263, and DivX.

But the best thing about the chip is its price tag. Analysts estimate that it will add a mere $10 to the cost of the phone. And it can easily be worked into existing mobile phone designs.

So as this new market continues to grow, NeoMagic is one company that promises to grow along with it. Their chips will be among those needed to fill the over 250 million mobile TV enabled handsets that are predicted to ship by 2012.

And when this new era in mobile TV finally begins to arrive in earnest in 2008, it will definitely give me another good reason to chuckle. That’s because back in the day I used to have a Sony Watchman.

I pitched it out the window in frustration somewhere on I-95 South trying to watch the Notre Dame game back in 1989. The Irish won the national championship that night and I didn’t even get to see it. I might as well have been watching my shoe.

I’m sure that my next experience will be a lot better. After all, I’ll be watching on my cell phone. Those things are amazing.

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