CES Mobile Preview: More devices, more confusion

The CES convention next week is already shaping up to be the most interesting one in the past four or five years. While much of the emphasis in recent years has been on the steady move to larger HDTV screens at cheaper prices this year the emphasis is squarely on new mobile video and audio devices. Rumors are hot and heavy that Vcast, for example, will launch a new Vcast Music service at the show next Thursday, kicking off what promises to be a ton of mobile-related announcements.

For the sports industry the new devices provide a great new revenue stream that capitalizes on the passionate nature of the sports fan. Topping the list of must-see intros for the sports industry will be (in no particular order) more details on the Mobile ESPN phone service and more information on next-generation mobile video services from Crown Castle and Qualcomm.

Expect major announcements related to all three next week, particularly the latter two as both Crown Castle and Qualcomm will make their 2006 plans public knowledge on Jan. 5 (and www.sportsvideo.org will have all the details). The Texas Instruments booth also might be worth a visit as they ll be showing mobile devices and it s a TI chip that stands at the center of MediaFLO reception.

Of course, rumors are driving the CES grist mill this week. The latest? That TiVo will strike a deal with DirecTV and Dish to make it easier to transfer content from TiVo devices to portable media players.
First, the hot rumor concerning a device you might actually want to use for your business needs is the impending launch of the Windows Mobile Treo 700w. A couple of online forums are claiming that Jan. 5 will be the official launch date, giving users Windows Mobile 5.0, Exchange ActiveSync, EV-DO high-speed data and Bluetooth connectivity. Expect 64 MB of memory, an SD card slot and a price of $499 with a two-year contract.

When it comes to specific mobile devices that are worth a closer look the Nokia NSeries N80 cellphone promises to be worth a gander. The phone has a 40GB hard drive for storing photos, videos and other content and it also has a FireWire connection so it can download content to and from a PC

As for portable media devices, The Video Without Boundaries booth has an interesting new portable media player dubbed Flyboy HD. Complete with a 20 GB hard drive (and a slot for SD memory cards as well as a USB 2.0 port) the company is crowing about Flyboy s 960×234 pixel LCD screen which it calls high-definition. We won t get into the nuances of calling something that low definition a high-definition product but it does have more resolution than the iPod that currently stands at 320×240 pixels.

And last, but not least, a company called e.Digital is demonstrating eVU, the kind of device that could find its way into sporting venues across the country. It has a seven-inch screen and also an embedded credit card swiper. The company is looking to sell the units to hospitals and travel industry companies who, in turn, lease them out to patients and passengers. But there s no reason the devices can t be loaned out at sporting events like a NASCAR race so that fans in the stands can pay to watch a live transmission from inside the car of their favorite driver.

The plethora of new devices and standards introduces a new challenge to the industry: compatibility. The Vcast Music Service, for example, will rely on Microsoft’s digital rights management software. The result? Incompatibility with Apple’s iPod. And the same goes for many of the other devices as it’s expected that all of them will shun the popular Apple standards in favor of MP3 or WMV.

There will be plenty of more mobile news at the show as more than 300 mobile-related exhibitors will be on hand. Be sure to check back with www.sportsvideo.org during the show for relevant industry news.