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Mobile video streaming: the killer application for 3G?
Posted on 13-Sep-2003 21:42 | Filed under: Articles


Each mobile technology has a killer application. 2G (GSM) have SMS. 2.5G (CDMA and GPRS) have e-mail access. 3G promisses video streaming, but some say it's already here. Is this really the the case?

I was reading about British Telecom developing a streaming technology with Vemotion. Don't we have other technologies out there for this? What about Windows Media, RealOne Player and Oplayo, all already available for mobile devices? Is this Vemotion technology better? So, using a GPRS connection (Vodafone New Zealand), I tried some of these products.

RealOne Player (Pocket PC, Palm OS, Symbian, Windows):

The RealOne format is probably one of the most widely available on the internet. Free content is available, just have to find it - a few sites list radios and TV sources for this format (see later in this article). Vodafone signed an agreement with Real for media distribution using its platform.

I tried the RealOne Player on Pocket PC first. Its Media Center is accessible through a web interfae, using Pocket Internet Explorer. It's really just a showcase, with some video trailers, music videos and news content (the most useful thing). Once a link is selected, the control is transferred to the player. Playback over GPRS is smooth, with some pixelation when the scene involves lots of movements. Some buffering happened. I couldn't get a screenshot of the content window on the Pocket PC, I think the graphics on the Pocket PC just don't allow this kind of operation (hover the mouse over each image to see the description):

RealOne media center, Pocket Internet Explorer RealOne player, Pocket PC

Then I tried the same content on a Nokia 3650. The quality is surprisingly a little better.

RealOne media center, WAP browser RealOne player, Symbian Series 60 RealOne player, Symbian Series 60

Windows Media Player (Pocket PC):

The Windows Media Player is present in all Pocket PCs, and with the new Windows Mobile 2003 version it's compatible with codecs version 9. For playing local content it's the best one. I have the BMW Films series on a SD card, and the quality is really good. For streaming content it's acceptable, again with some buffering.

Windows Media center, Pocket Internet Explorer Windows Media Player, Pocket PC

Oplayo (Symbian, Java enabled browsers on Windows, Mac and Linux):

Oplayo is being used by some content companies to produce and stream media. There's not much content I could find, and it seems as a niche market - organisations deploying special videos, some mobile carriers in Europe with pay-per-view content. The good stuff is that there's no need for download on the desktop version, since it's a Java applet. The quality is lower when compared with the other Symbian offering, RealOne, but it's watchable. TelecomTV is a website offering content, focused on telecommunications news. TIM (Telecom Italia Mobile) uses Oplayo for content delivery. A few bands use the platform to stream from their sites, which is cool initiative.

But content is coming. Oplayo just announced that its player will incorporate Windows Media Player 9 codecs, making it possible to have Windows Media content on Symbian and Java based mobile phones.

Oplayer media center, built in the program Oplayer player, Symbian Series 60 Oplayer, Symbian Series 60

Vemotion (Pocket PC, Symbian, Windows):

The British Telecom development with Vemotion is available for people wanting to test it. I'm not showing the screenshots of the player during playback for two reasons: couldn't make it work and the Licence for test prevents this. Because it's in its early stages, I can't say much about content:

Vemotion media center, WAP browser Vemotion media center

Vemotion Player

How to find content?

Good question. I know of a few sites with links to live streaming content. If using a Symbian smartphone you'll need a HTML browser to find content using the websites listed later - and not all of them are mobile friendly in terms of resources needed to load.

Free content is available from the Media Centers. Both most used formats (RealOne and Windows Media) offer this facility, but it's mostly a showcase, with short clips.

Mobile carriers in Europe and Australia offer video content, but seems to be limited to short films (up to 15 minutes) and latest news or sport actions (just the goals, thanks).

Perhaps one of the most complete listings for live content is on Radios.com.br. It's in Portuguese, but there's a menu on the left side with live International TVs and radio stations. Content is split between RealOne Player format and Windows Media Player format.

Another site is a publisher, PPCVidz. Subscribers can watch to full length movies, and there are plenty of free options there. Not all of them optimised for mobile networks, but some will work quite well. The site contents are in Windows Media Player format.

Oplayo's website lists a showcase with some interesting links.

MobileMediaClub offers content, around 1.0 per stream for six hours access.

And a new listing is Foneflix with sport and entertainment videos. USers in UK just have to send an SMS to a special number to subscribe to the service and download the player for Java based mobile phones. The platform is also based on Oplayo player.

Conclusion

3G will have to do better than what we have now with 2.5G to convince me to leave the couch potato days behind. And currently, although some content is available, the bandwidth available on 2.5G is not good enough for some of these codecs. RealOne and Windows Media are really heavy formats for the current networks. And the cost structure is prohibitive. Users will not watch a full length movie having to pay per MB (unless you're on some all you can eat GPRS plan like T-Mobile).

By the way, you can order a free DVD (S&H US$7.75) with the complete BMW Films series from their website. I've got it and it's really cool.








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