Mobile video squeaks out as top NAB trend

At an NAB devoid of a singular dominating trend, mobile video services took the crown as the big buzz, edging out low-cost HD solutions, NHK’s Ultra High Definition demonstration, and a wide-array of increasingly sophisticated storage and asset management systems.

The buzz around mobile video applications put products like the Snell & Wilcox Helios system front and center at the show for the 105,046 attendees. With sports content producers wondering how they’ll be able to shoot a game or program for massive HD screens and also easily port it over to small mobile screens Helios, which can track an object of interest within a picture frame is one of the top options.

“The big content owners trust us to make their brands look good,” say S&W’s VP of strategic marketing Joe Zaller who said he and the S&W team have been busy visiting mobile trade shows like 3GSM in Barcelona, Spain and CTIA in Las Vegas. “By delivering higher frame rates and lower bit rates at the same time we can offer a significantly better picture.”

Attending earlier mobile shows also helped Zaller and company become buzz-word compliant with mobile and cellular lingo. “We see multiple platforms and standards and Helios makes a file or stream standard compliant for those platforms by shaking hands on a system level and simultaneously outputting the video.”

For the sports market, which has the highest demands in the industry for real-time processing, Helios can be tied directly into S&W’s Kahuna production switcher and output a live stream.

Viz biz
While Helios optimizes the video quality for mobile devices Vizrt’s demonstration of 3G Live focused on optimizing graphics related to the video. Peter Drege, Adactus CEO, manned the Vizrt booth, demonstrating the system that works in conjunction with Vizrt’s graphics and character generator systems to make it legible on small screens. With the use of the MPEG21 standard, says Drege, the system can optimize the video quality for any mobile device, grabbing metadata from the device so it can tell how much memory is available and what resolution the device can display. That way the system doesn’t try to cram too much data and information down the delivery pipe, leading to a less-than-compelling experience.

But the real key for 3G Live is taking graphics and CG data and making it legible for the small screen experience. With sports coverage today relying heavily on graphics for coverage making sure viewers on mobile devices can read the information is important, says Drege.

Nine Systems, which was found in the IPTV World showcase, is already working with leagues like the NHL, NFL and PGA Tour to deliver video to over the Internet (the company helps the NBA deliver video to Google for the Google video service). Steve Christian, Nine Systems vice president of marketing, has the company squarely looking to mobile devices, but with a twist.

Net gains
“Right now the mobile situation is similar to the early days of the Internet where everyone went through AOL to reach the Web,” he says. The trick, he says, will be moving mobile video users beyond services like Vcast and letting them access URLs that take Web site content and reformat it for the mobile device.

When broadband Web sites can be easily displayed on mobile devices Christian believes the flood gates will open on mobile video and other services. Not only will it help content creators put their publishing and content creation efforts into one platform that easily gets ported to another platform but, by reducing platform delivery costs, it can lead to faster monetization of mobile services.

The lack of a clear business model is one of the reasons Chyron is sitting on the sideline while Vizrt, Snell & Wilcox and Nine Systems (among dozens of other companies) get into the mobile TV business. But the company has a possible trump card: patents that could help it quickly catch up to the competition.

“The patents relate to embedding metadata into the video stream that adds a decision-making process so the video how it should be played for a given device,” says Kevin Prince, Chyron CEO. “having said that, while we’re still trying to figure what the application is there is even less certainty around the business model.”

Waiting for mobile
That’s one of the reasons that, at least for now, Chyron is putting its emphasis on graphics products like Lyric Pro and Hyper X that can simplify graphics workflows today. “We’ve been working with Fox Sports to migrate their facilities to Hyper X and they’ve helping us develop some of the workflow parameters.”

While Chyron waits for business models to mature expect it and others to be ready for a future that Yoram Solomon, president of the Mobile DTV Alliance, says will be very promising.

“By 2010 the average hard drive on a mobile device will have 50-100GB, enough to store 30 days of material delivered over a 300 kbps stream,” says Solomon. “Think of it as a very reasonably priced Tivo in your phone.”

Pay-per-view, either paying upfront or later, cellular unicasts, live viewing, or delivery in the background onto the hard disk will all be in play as delivery methods. Toss in WiFi, Wimax and the DVB-H and MediaFlo delivery platforms and the mix and match of methods and platforms could be a maddening mix requiring more intuitive user interfaces.

“There will be so many ways to drive media into the phones the question will be which on to use?,” says Solomon. “The answers is all.”

Drive for live
Sports content, added Solomon, will need to heavily rely on live delivery. “There isn’t a lot of value in knowing stock prices from a week ago,” he says.

The Alliance, which includes companies like Intel, Microsoft, Modeo, Nokia, Motorola, and Texas Instruments, is focused on creating open standards related to DVB-H. “We want to make sure the ecosystem is competitive and fully interoperable at the lowest cost level,” he says. “By creating a reference set content creators and others can rely on DVB-H to make sure the different pieces are in place to deliver content through to the handset.”

Compression techniques for optimal quality, consistent program guides, and which components can be used to build the silicon chips and handsets for delivery are all factors that need to be clarified.

“We need to assure products are interoperable so everyone in the alliance can be under the same marketing umbrella,” he says.

Michael Schupert of Modeo added that software is the key to mobile video services like his company’s DVB-H-based service that will launch later this year. “Carriers want a user experience that isn’t fragmented,” he says. “They want consumers to be able to go into one place for live video, podcasts, blogs and games in a seamless environment.”

There’s little doubt that come next NAB (let alone IBC) mobile publishing tools will continue to flourish. The question facing everyone? While all devices promise similar services which ones will truly deliver the goods?