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From the New York Times, Oct 21, 2004:

Coming Soon to Your Pocket: High-Definition TV Phones


Miniature mobile phones, which already double as cameras, Internet devices and music players, are poised to merge with the largest of home appliances, the television.

The cellphone industry is working to build phones able to receive high-definition television signals over the air, even though HDTV has yet to make its way into most American living rooms.

Texas Instruments, the largest maker of computer chips for mobile phones, plans to announce today that it is developing technology that will allow wireless handsets to receive hundreds of high-definition channels. The phones would not be marketed until 2007.

Although Sprint and AT&T Wireless currently offer a service that allows cellphone users to watch live streaming from more than a dozen television channels over the cellular networks, the picture delivery is very slow and not much like a real TV viewing experience.

The push into high-definition television reception by Texas Instruments and a handful of other chip makers could change all that. Qualcomm, the world's second largest maker of chips for mobile phones, is also working on a chip to enable phones to receive digital television signals, the company said Tuesday.

Both companies said the HDTV phones would be in widespread tests by 2006. Already, a telecommunications company in South Korea is testing a television phone in Seoul.

The new chips would receive digital signals that would display uninterrupted images while a user is moving. Texas Instruments and other chip makers envision consumers receiving television signals, not over the existing cellular network, but from a separate network, like a satellite television network.

"There's no reason why, in three to four years, you won't have 200 channels on your cellphone," said Marc Cetto, a general manager in the handset division of Texas Instruments. He said he expected that the technology's appeal would be "event-driven," attracting consumers who want to watch programming like sports and news.

Analysts and phone company executives said future programming might be similar to existing television content, but might also emphasize shows of shorter length.

But before consumers can carry true HDTV sets in their pockets, substantial technological challenges need to be overcome. The companies have to create phones with enough battery life that users will not have to choose between making calls and tuning into shows.

On the other hand, mobile phone makers and cellular carriers have successfully added new functions and features like color screens to the ever-smaller gadgets - making the move into television less of a leap. From a business standpoint, finding popular new uses is crucial to the growth of the cellphone business.

In the case of television technology, there are a number of unanswered questions, like whether consumers would want to pay for programming as they do now for standard satellite TV or how much they would be asked to pay. Mr. Cetto said he did not expect the actual handsets to cost much more than the current generation of phones.

Another question is whether consumers who have become accustomed to watching television on huge sets at home would be interested in watching shows on tiny screens. Allen Leibovitch, a semiconductor analyst with IDC, a market research company, said the technology might actually be a dangerous distraction to people who use their mobile phones while driving.

The concept of miniature televisions is not new. Sony, with its Watchman, and other consumer electronics makers have for years sold portable televisions with small screens, but those devices have had very limited markets.

Rich Templeton, the chief executive of Texas Instruments, conceded the appeal of the tiny appliances has not been vast. But he said the phone-based television would be more widely used because most users would be carrying them anyway.

In Seoul, SK Telecom, a major telecommunications provider, is testing phones that receive a television signal, said James E. Katz, director of mobile computing studies at Rutgers University. Mr. Katz, who saw the tests in Korea this week, said the screens were small, but the picture and sound were quite sharp.

"You can sit in a cafe and watch your show by yourself," he said, "or you can gather around it with a couple of small-headed friends." But he added that he was not sure whether American consumers would take to the technology. SK Telecom is delivering TV programming over its existing cellular network, Mr. Katz said.

Phone makers have not offered analog TV service, Mr. Cetto said, because analog signals can be easily interrupted. By contrast, he said, the digital signal can be processed in such a way as to compensate for interruptions in the frequency. But while digital technology makes it easier to display a constant stream of images while the phone user is moving, digital programming has been slow to develop.

Mr. Cetto said Texas Instruments was already participating in tests in Berlin, Helsinki, Finland and Pittsburgh, that have shown that disruption can be overcome. "A month ago, I was in Europe going 60 miles an hour in a car, watching television on a cellphone," said Mr. Cetto, who added that he was in Berlin and that he was not driving at the time.

Sanjay Jha, president of Qualcomm's chip set and system software division, said digital TV technology on phones was the next logical step.

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Personally, I would not want one until they have a matching pocket sized HD TiVo.
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