Cellphones – Video on Cellphones: The Uncut Version
Cellphones, Many people can watch videos on their cellphones. But not everyone can do it like Avi Gulranjani. The 30-year-old Manhattan physician often reaches for his Apple Inc.
iPhone during work breaks. But instead checking out sports highlights or three-minute clips, he watches New York Yankees games and hourlong episodes of “The West Wing.”
Mr. Gulranjani has been able to watch longer programming on his iPhone since he began using a software application from EchoStar Communication Corp. subsidiary Sling Media. “I didn’t think I would get used to watching an hour or 30-minute show on my phone, but I’m hooked,” he says.
Until recently, cellphones’ video capability was limited to short clips, and the video selection was tiny. But now, people can watch full network and cable-TV shows and long movies.
The change is being driven by the arrival of new smart phones—the iPhone, Palm Inc.’s Pre and Nokia Corp.’s N-series phones, for instance—with big screens that make watching longer TV shows and movies on small devices more tolerable.
At the same time, services such as Sling Media’s Mobile Player, CBS Corp.’s TV.com and Nero Inc.’s Move It have begun providing ways for consumers to view everything from live sports events to “Project Runway” on their phones. These services let people use hand-held devices either to retrieve videos stored on their digital video recorders at home or to gain access to large libraries of long-form content owned by independent media producers.
In May, for instance, Sling Media launched its Sling Media Mobile Player for the iPhone. The service lets people send TV shows, DVR recordings and other media to their phones. For between $200 and $300, users get a device called a Slingbox, which connects to a cable or satellite set-top box, as well as software for the phone. Sling says nearly a million people have signed up for the service on the iPhone.
Also in May, TV.com launched a cellphone video-watching service, which people can access by downloading free software to their mobile phone. Using the software, consumers can play full episodes of TV series such as “Gossip Girl” and cult favorites like the original “Star Trek.”
So far, the increase in video options hasn’t boosted mobile-video viewership. According to Nielsen Co., mobile viewership is flat from a year ago, when about 13 million people watched videos on their cellphones.
That’s partly because smart phones like the iPhone and Nokia’s N97 remain a small portion of the overall cellphone market. Only about 18% of the 270 million cellphone users in the U.S. have smart phones, according to Nielsen. Most other cellphones still have small screens and hard-to-reach buttons, says Roger Entner, a Nielsen analyst. The screens of smart phones like the iPhone or the Palm Pre measure more than than 3 inches diagonally—nearly an inch bigger than the screen of the Motorola Razr V8 and some other flip-model phones.
Ira Frimere, portfolio manager for Nokia, says the company has worked to improve the video-viewing experience. For some of its smart phones, Nokia now includes a kickstand—a kind of mini-tripod—to allow hands-free viewing, as well as software that gives people the option of horizontal or vertical viewing. Nokia has also added memory and processing power to some phones in order to make images appear smoother and more fluid on the screen, Mr. Frimere says.
The new mobile-TV services aren’t hassle-free. Watching a movie on a phone consumes a lot of bandwidth—the capacity of a communications channel—and that limits where some of the new services can be used. For instance, Sling Media’s iPhone service is limited to hot spots, or public areas that provide wireless Internet access, which often have greater network capacity than cellphone networks. Consumers can’t access the service using AT&T Inc.’s wireless cellphone network.
When watching some mobile-TV services on cellular networks, consumers can run into “jitter”—that is, a video’s quality becomes degraded and hard to view, with images freezing or not appearing at all. Daren Gill, general manager of Veveo Inc.’s vTap service, which powers TV.com mobile, recommends that people generally watch TV on their phones at a hot spot.
Also, some of the video services require a lot of power, which can drain a phone’s battery life. Phones with high-resolution screens, which offer better picture quality, use as much as twice as much energy as a standard phone would need.
Some of the mobile-TV services don’t allow people to transfer music videos or movies from another hand-held device such as an iPod or Sony Playstation Portable. Such transfers also require some technical know-how to get the videos to work.
To make such moves easier, media software company Nero introduced its Move It service in March. The software, which costs about $40 and can be downloaded to a phone, lets consumers move content between cellphones and other hand-held devices. It also takes care of technical issues like resizing video for a cellphone screen.
Kertis Henderson, 31, a software developer in Burlington, N.C., started using Move It about a month ago to transfer episodes of “M*A*S*H” from his iPod touch to his HTC Corp. Touch phone. “I didn’t think I would have an easy experience transferring some of my videos to my phone, but [Move It] makes the process really simple,” he says.
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