Thousands of broadcasters from around the world converged this week in Las Vegas. The annual broadcast-electronics convention sponsored by the National Association of Broadcasters gave special attention to new and emerging technologies that may revolutionize how the world watches television.
In the air-conditioned hum of the Las Vegas Convention Center, the more than 105,000 attendees at this event go through the usual exhibits of the latest innovations in radio, television, journalism and engineering.
The more than 1400 broadcast exhibitors included some companies previously not seen in this desert gathering.
They are touting new distribution methods for conventional television stations. The February 2009 deadline for conversion progression of all American over-the-air TV stations from analog to digital and HDTV looms on the horizon. However, mobile and IP television are capturing much of the attention, here.
Although these technologies are not new, proponents are hoping recent developments will be the breaking point to see their vision to a reality.
One of those is Bob Shallow of cellular telephone maker Nokia. As the company's director of multimedia experiences, he is promoting the new DVBH technology. When initiated, it is suppose to greatly improve the ability to receive a television station or network on a handheld cellular telephone.
He is hoping this will be the development that will make cellular or mobile television a popular reality.
"So, the biggest hurdles are quality of service and delivery to the device," said Bob Shallow. "To date, a lot of the services has been using streaming technology which means every new user coming on the network to watch a piece of content puts a greater strain on the network and has the potential to cause the quality of the content to degrade. What DVBH does is provides a broadcast footprint. So everybody, whether its one person or a million people within that footprint get the same quality of service as its guaranteed throughout a broadcast."
To help make this possible, Nokia was displaying their new DVBH-compatible N92 cell phone, which is to go on-sale in Europe later this year and in North America in 2007.
Izzy Abbass is with U Turn, a company that specializes in helping television stations move their programming to mobile phones and other devices, like cellular equipped PDAs.
He says that being able to watch television on a mobile device has many advantages.
"It's with you everywhere you go," said Izzy Abbass. "Nobody carries their laptop with them as often. I carry my laptop around, but there's a great analogy. They talk about how television is a lean back technology; where you lean back on the couch, watch what's going on the screen, its very passive. Computer is very lean forward. You're leaned over the keyboard, typing, and you're interacting that way. Mobile phones are great because its lean forward, lean back, get up, walk across the room, go outside, down the street, get a gallon of milk, come back home. So its with you wherever you are."
Mr. Abbass says that, for mobile television to work, stations should adopt an advertiser-based business plan instead of a user-pay system.
Another type of technology sharing floor space with proponents of mobile television is IP TV. This technology lets people watch traditional and streaming video channels over the Internet on a traditional television set.
Marek Kietczewski is with Sentivision, a Polish and Asian-based company that specializes in IP TV and video on demand technology.
He is confident IP TV will become a big hit if people can watch programming, such as specialized streaming media channels, on their home television set .rather than having to sit in front of a computer.
"The amount of programming you can get from the Internet is going to be increasing in the coming months and years," said Marek Kietczewski. "The Internet is an interactive medium, so you can have the feedback, you can have interactive programming where you can actually decide what to watch and not as it is thrown at you by the broadcasters. You choose what you want and when you want to view it. But, still, you don't want to move from that couch, you want to sit at that couch and choose the programs you want to watch, not using your pc [personal computer]."
Many other companies at this show, such as software giant Microsoft, are also investing in the concept of IP TV.
Still, a report from Accenture shows that supporters of mobile television and the IP TV concepts still have some work to do.
It found that respondents in five European countries and the United States are not aware of the technology or even the name of IPTV. The report did find that many of the respondents are interested in the technology.
The same report also found that mobile devices, such as cellular phones and video players, like Apple's IPod, were the least favourite devices to watch television.
Still, Dennis Wharton, spokesperson for the National Association of Broadcasters - the Washington based group that produces this annual gathering -says they want to make the industry aware of new ways to get their signal out to viewers.
"We can go about this in one of two ways," said Dennis Wharton. "We can bury our head in the sand and say were afraid of new technology. And you know what? We would last for a few years and then we would die. Instead we're going to embrace this new technology. We're going to provide new platforms under which our local stations with our network partners will deliver great applications that people haven't even thought of. It sounds trite; you can either embrace the future or can be afraid of it. We choose to embrace it."
To highlight these new technologies, many of the new mobile and IP TV exhibitors were featured in a special area on the convention floor.