Electronic Design

All The Pieces Fit For A/V-Enabled Cell Phones

Some technology watchers are still scratching their heads about Sprint's pre-Thanksgiving rollout of MobiTV, billed as the "world's first live streaming television content delivered to mobile phones," as part of the company's PCS Vision services.

Writes one puzzled "weblogger" on Gizmodo, a "gadgets" weblog at www.gizmodo.com, "I'm completely underwhelmed by the prospect of paying ten bucks a month to watch choppy, one frame per second video on a cell phone."

The MobiTV service, developed and operated by Idetic Inc., is available as a J2ME-download to Java- or BREW-enabled phones with color displays. The service initially features 12 TV channels, including MSNBC, CNBC, the Independent Music Network, and CNET. More are expected to follow soon.

I might have been inclined to join those casting stones of skepticism at Sprint's announcement (www.mobitv.com), except that it seemed my whole week was filled with exciting news related to the next generation of cell-phone technology.

One of the great things about being part of the Electronic Design team is previewing emerging technologies before they've been designed into real-world products. Considering how these pieces will likely come together allows us to plot a trajectory of where the next generation of technology will go. Tying together this week's announcements, it seems there's a very strong 3G signal in the air! You don't have to be too much of a futurist to feel the force of the 3G wave and the coming convergence of wireless communications and entertainment.

I started the week by attending the press and market analyst day for Agere Systems, the AT&T/Lucent spinoff, and got the inside scoop on some big advances in wireless chips. One of Agere's key announcements was a new EDGE GSM wireless chip that enables download speeds of more than 200 kbits/s and upload speeds exceeding 100 kbits/s, which is roughly three times the data rate of current GPRS mobile service. The EDGE phones are geared to enable high-speed wireless data applications such as real-time audio and video streaming, digital photo imaging, MP3 music capabilities, MPEG4 video playback, and interactive games.

Of course, what good is all that data without a decent screen to view it on? I also got the inside track on what's coming in displays via a visit from Sharp Microelectronics engineers. Sharp, a pioneer in LCD technology, has created some high-quality miniaturized displays. For example, the engineers demonstrated their new Advanced Super View thin-film-transistor LCD for mobile devices, which can be used in portrait or landscape mode for easy video viewing. Sharp's representatives additionally told us about their involvement in the 3D Consortium and presented some more great "show and tell" items, like impressive 3D graphics on a handheld screen with no funny red and green glasses required!

I also got to meet with executives from ARM, whose processors are the cores of the majority of digital cellular phones shipped worldwide. The ARM core's ease of integration lets multiple development partners quickly bring new phone features to market. SRS Labs Inc. is capitalizing on this ability.

SRS Labs' WOW audio enhancement technology utilizes "psychoacoustic" audio techniques to enhance the sound of polyphonic ring tones, gaming sound effects, multimedia, video, and digital audio on hi-fi mobile phones. Its bass enhancement technology helps overcome the physical limitations of the phone's small speakers or headphones. WOW also optimizes digitally compressed music in MP3, WMA, and AAC formats for mobile phones with stereo speakers. For a demonstration, visit the SRS Labs Web site at www.srslabs.com/Demonstrations.asp.

Whether MobiTV will be hot or not remains to be seen. But the convergence of music, video, gaming, and other entertainment on the cell phone is truly ready to sizzle. Given the pieces that are lined up, those of you working on designing the projects are going to have some fun putting them together. The rest of us will just have to stay tuned to our phones!

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