I Want My MobiTV

Liane Cassavoy, PC World

BOSTON– I’m in the middle of Fanueil Hall, standing on tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of what has captivated the crowd ahead of me. “What’s going on?” I ask the woman next to me. “It’s Chris Matthews,” she says.

Apparently, MSNBC is broadcasting Hardball, Matthews’ popular talk show, live from Fanueil Hall this week during the Democratic National Convention here. Not that I could tell from back of the crowd; I couldn’t see a thing.

Luckily, I had my MobiTV.

What’s that? MobiTV is a subscription service that streams live TV to your Sprint PCS Vision cell phone.

So, standing in the middle of Fanueil Hall, unable to get a glimpse of Chris Matthews in person, I walked away from the crowd. I pulled out my cell phone and launched MobiTV. There–albeit on a pretty tiny screen–was Chris Matthews.

MobiTV launched last fall, billed as the first streaming service to broadcast real-time video to cell phones. It costs $9.99 monthly (on top of Sprint’s Vision plan cellular service fees), is adding new channels, and supports various handsets. (Sprint lists all phones supported at MobiTV.com.

My phone features 21 channels, some of them typical broadcast channels like Fox Sports and MSNBC, while others are designed for the mobile environment, such as NBC Mobile.

Put to the Test

What’s it like to watch TV on a cell phone? The TV junkie in me says it’s great. I really like the idea that I can pull my cell phone out of my pocket and catch up with the latest news and sports scores in an instant. (No sitcoms yet, although MobiTV offers the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel, and ToonWorld classics; but some shows don’t lend themselves to a phone-sized screen).

I also found MobiTV a nice convenience once I was inside the FleetCenter at the Democrats’ convention. The press seats are located to the back and sides of the main stage, so when John Edwards (news – web sites) took the podium Wednesday night, I had a great view of the back of his suit and, occasionally, his profile. I saw him straight on only when I pulled out my MobiTV and tuned in to ABC News.

Of course, a cell phone screen is small and hardly ideal for watching TV. I tested MobiTV on a Sanyo handset with a screen measuring about 1.75 inches long by 1.25 inches wide. MobiTV’s content only occupies about 1 inch by 1.25 inches of area, to maintain the aspect ratio of a typical television screen. While that means the picture is not distorted, it is very small. I could see Edwards quite clearly, but when I changed the station seeking a glimpse of a baseball game, the action was difficult to follow. And reading any text on the screen is a challenge.

The performance also varies depending on my location, much like cell phone reception. The video is never as clear as my cable TV at home; at times it is smooth, and at other times, the video freezes for a few seconds, then stutters along. Also, it may take several seconds (sometimes as long as 30 seconds) to connect to a new channel.

Still, if money were no object, I’d sign up for MobiTV in a flash.