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For those who travel, but still haven’t learned how to set the VCR while they’re away, an increasing number of online delivery channels is coming on stream for viewing a favourite television programme on the road.
Laptops can be turned into TVs via services from Orb Networks and Sling Media that stream content from cable or satellite boxes over the internet. The cellular phone industry is starting to deliver TV channels over its wireless networks, and a new generation of handheld media players are making portable video possible.
Orb Networks is a free online service that taps into feeds from a TV tuner card in a Windows XP PC at home and streams TV channels live to a user’s laptop, PDA or smartphone wherever they are in the world.
The service requires no special software on the remote device. It is accessed through a web browser and plays video through standard programs such as Windows or Real Networks media player software.
Orb can show pre-recorded programmes stored on the host computer’s hard drive as well as photos and it will also play your music collection. But set-up can be less than straightforward – your broadband router may need to be specially configured and the latest versions of Windows Media Player are necessary to view video on the remote device.
A fast broadband connection at both ends is necessary and this also applies to the Sling Media Slingbox, sold in North America for $250 and due to arrive in Europe and Australia next year.
The Slingbox is a piece of hardware designed to sit between a set-top box and a broadband router. It does not need a host PC but the remote Windows PC or laptop has to install Sling’s software to view and change channels and watch recorded TV.
Slingbox users find the streaming video to be much less than DVD quality but still acceptable, and that installation is bug-free.
Handheld devices and smartphones are not yet catered for, but a lucky few are now able to receive TV over their cell phones as trials and services begin using the Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld (DVB-H) standard. In Europe, the operator O2 launched a six-month trial in Oxford, England in September, broadcasting 16 TV channels over mobile phones. Orange was launching a similar trial in France this month.
In the US, Verizon Wireless plans a DVB-H service in the first quarter of next year, while Sprint and Cingular in the US and Orange in the UK have been using MobiTV’s technology to deliver live TV over phones using 2.5G and 3G networks.
Qualcomm, the chipmaker, has made a big investment in a subsidiary MediaFlo that has the licence for a UHF channel in the US and is building a network of broadcast towers to deliver television to phones separately from the cellular system, thereby relieving operators of network congestion problems.
It expects to deliver 20 live channels in about a year. Asia has led the way in developing TV for mobile phones, although South Korean operators seem split between DVB-H and their own Terrestrial and Satellite Digital Multimedia Broadcast (T-DMB and S-DMB) standards.
In the UK, the BBC is planning to simulcast one of its channels over the internet and make programmes available on demand through its interactive Media Player.
A trial of the service is due to begin this month with the past seven days of TV and radio being made available through free downloads.
Owners of Tivo digital video recorders can also make their recorded programmes portable through the TivoToGo service, which moves them through a wireless connection to a PC or laptop and from there on to a portable media player such as the Zen Vision.
Transferring the large Tivo files can take a long time and converting and compressing them into smaller ones for portable players can be even more laborious.
“You have multiple standards and transcoding video from one format to another is a very long process, which, right now, is for the über-enthusiasts,” says Michael Gartenberg research director at Jupiter Research.
All the solutions for TV on the move are very much works in progress at present.
Anyone other than technophile TV addicts should consider taking refuge on a comfortable couch with a remote control until the standards and services for mobile TV are sorted out.