■ FIGURE 1. The N92 TV cell phone from Nokia.
This WCDMA/GSM/GPRS/EDGE phone uses
the DVB-H format. It receives TV on 470 MHz
which is an available band in Europe.
■ BY LOUIS E. FRENZEL
TV ON A CELL PHONE
I SUPPOSE IT HAD TO HAPPEN. You can do
almost everything else with a cell phone these
days like play music, take digital photos, send
and receive text messages and emails, play
games, and even surf the Internet. Why not
TV? Some cell phone operators are already
supplying short video segments of sitcoms,
sports events, and other content for a monthly
fee. But such efforts are only just the beginning
of what may become a huge new TV industry.
While most people surveyed over
the past years said no to cell
phone video, we are going to get it
nevertheless. This trend is not only
technologically driven, but also driven
by the need for cell phone operators
to develop new streams of revenue to
replace the decelerating rate of
new cell phone subscribers and the
gradual abandonment of regular
wired phones for full wireless.
Take a look at Figure 1. It shows
one of Nokia’s TV cell phones used in
Europe. If that turns you on, you may
be interested in how all this works.
HOW COULD THIS WORK?
Stop and think a minute about
the ways that video could be sent to
a cell phone. The first thing you
might think of is putting a regular TV
tuner in a cell phone. TV tuners these
days are just a tiny single chip
anyway, so it is a good fit. Yet, to get
reasonable TV reception, you will
need a big antenna. Most over-the-air
TV is still mostly in the low VHF
bands, so you need an antenna
several feet long to get any kind of
acceptable TV reception.
Think rabbit ears on a cell phone.
Who wants that? I suppose you could
use the earphone cable as the antenna like they do in cell phones with FM
radios in them. That will work, but
audio reception is far more forgiving
than video. Crummy video with noise,
snow, distortion, etc., is unacceptable
to most. A short wire is just not going
to hack it.
Another point to consider is that
regular TV is not just formatted for a
small screen. Text and screen details
are way too small to see on a typical
two-inch diagonal LCD screen. On top
of that, analog TV is set to be phased
out starting next year. The FCC has
said that, beginning in 2007, all TVs
will be digital using the ATSC
(Advanced Television Standards
Committee) High Definition (HD) TV
standard that is now already in operation in most cities. Few have it, but
soon all TVs will be digital only.
Converter boxes that translate the
HDTV signal into a poorer version for
older analog TV sets will be available
for those who can’t or won’t buy a
One thing’s for sure — the com-
plicated HDTV standard was not
designed with portable or mobile TVs
in mind. While you can jam almost
anything into a hand-held, just be
ready for the extra size and really
short battery life. This standard
operates in the existing (mostly VHF)
TV bands, so you are still facing the
antenna problem. No, HDTV on a
handset is not going to happen.
Another obvious solution is just
to deliver video over the cell network.
This can — and is — being done. Just
remember that video eats bandwidth
like no other application. A typical
digitized color video signal for a
QVGA (Quarter Video Graphics
Array) 320 x 240 color LCD display
put into serialized form needs a transmit rate at a minimum of 30 Mbps.
That is just a 15 frames-per-second
(fps) display — half the 30 fps we are
Huge bandwidth is required.
Luckily, video compression standards
like MPEG-2 and MPEG- 4 are now
available to greatly reduce that rate,
but it still means that you will need a
serial data rate of 100 to 300 kbps to
make it acceptable.
Can a cell phone handle data
June 2006 79