Mobile phones to get PVR features next year, TI says

Watching TV on a mobile phone could get more interesting next year with new technologies that promise to bring TiVo-like recording functionality to portable devices, and perhaps give mobile phones the upper hand as they seek to compete against the iPod.

Texas Instruments is demonstrating PVR (personal video recording) capabilities for mobiles at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam this week. It is using its own Hollywood digital TV chip and OMAP 2 multimedia processor, along with software from partners PacketVideo and Software Systems (S3).

The technology allows people to record a TV program on their mobile phone and then watch it later, on the train on the way to work, for example. The TI package also provides “picture-in-picture” capabilities, allowing a person to watch a prerecorded program and also track a live sports event in a smaller, on-screen window.

The PVR technology should find its way into mobile phones in 2007, TI said. It didn’t name any handset makers but most of the big vendors, including Samsung Electronics and Nokia, are marketing phones for TV viewing.

Apple’s fifth-generation iPod is capable of viewing television programs and movies, either purchased from the iTunes Music Store or “ripped” and downloaded to the phone using third-party software. A slew of Windows and Mac OS X applications have been released since the video iPod first made its debut to help simplify the process, including PVR software like Elgato’s EyeTV. To date, however, Apple hasn’t stepped into the PVR market itself, and the iPod doesn’t have any built-in PVR capabilities.

Mobile phone makers hope the PVR capabilities will draw more people to mobile TV, which the telecommunications industry has been marketing heavily as a way to generate more revenue from consumers and make use of the high-speed 3G wireless networks that operators have been building.

Predictions vary for how quickly mobile TV will take off. In-Stat predicts there will be 3.4 million mobile TV subscribers by the end of the year, jumping to 102 million by 2010. Strategy Analytics, another researcher, said the hype around mobile TV remains out of proportion to the evidence of consumer interest.

Including PVR capabilities improves the value proposition of mobile TV, but it’s unclear whether it will make more consumers willing to pay for it, Strategy Analytics analyst Nitesh Patel said via email.

“It will be interesting to see how this products ties into how much memory gets bundled into handset,” he said. “I’m presuming that a lot of memory will be required to store a 1.5 hour movie.”

The demonstration at IBC used TI’s DTV1000 Hollywood processor, which is based on the DVB-H mobile TV standard and combines a tuner, demodulator, decoder and some memory on one chip. It also uses its OMAP2430 processor, which can decode two TV channels simultaneously, providing the picture-in-picture capability.

The OMAP chip also has video-out capabilities, which means people on the road could watch their prerecorded TV content on a TV in a hotel room, for example, so long as the phone maker provides the right outputs.

Other developments are under way to make mobile TV more palatable for consumers. Samsung said this week it is developing a new display driver that adjusts the brightness of a display according to ambient lighting conditions. Due for mass production at the end of this year, it It should make displays easier to view in broad daylight, Samsung said.

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