TI hopes to put Hollywood in a mobile phone

If you can't bear the thought of having to leave the bar before the end of the scoreless match during the next World Cup, or if you simply can't miss today's Oprah Winfrey television show, plan on picking up a new mobile phone with Texas Instruments' Hollywood chip in the latter part of the decade if the technology ever makes it onto store shelves.

TI is expected to unveil its Hollywood digital television chip Tuesday. Hollywood is an integrated chip that combines all the necessary circuitry to receive digital television signals into a package that is small enough and cheap enough to fit into mobile phones, said Remi El-Ouazzane, TI's Mobile Connectivity Solutions business manager.

"We're merging the two greatest technologies of the day, silicon chips and television," El-Ouazzane said.

Hollywood is the code name for the digital television chip, which is not expected to arrive until samples are distributed in 2006. It will cost less than US$10 in volume quantities and use enough power to allow for three to four hours of continuous television broadcasts using current batteries, El-Ouazzane said.

Some high-end mobile phones can support streaming video, but that is not good enough for most viewers, El-Ouazzane said. Streaming video is too choppy right now for most people to justify spending money on a service plan and TI thinks the best way to deliver mobile television is to use the same basic television technology that stationary TV sets use, he said.

Numerous issues will need to be solved before mobile phone users watch sporting events or talk shows on their handsets, said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts.

Field trials are underway in Europe, Japan, and South Korea, but no one is exactly sure how to commercialize mobile digital television, Slawsby said. Standards for digital television broadcasts are in place in Europe and Japan, but they are slightly different. The U.S. is expected to adopt the DVB-H (digital video broadcasting - handheld) standard used in Europe, but that isn't a given.

"We think this is going to happen, but much like 3G, lots of things need to fall into place to make this a mass-market phenomenon," Slawsby said.

Mobile-phone service providers and handset makers spent billions trying to get third-generation wireless services off the ground around the world, but after many years of hype and investment users are only just starting to embrace faster data services on their phones.

It will be much easier for the mobile phone industry to convince users of the benefits of television, a concept just about everyone understands, Slawsby said. The same people who don't understand the need of a fast Internet connection on their mobile phone will quickly grasp the concept behind mobile television, and will be more likely to pay for it, he said.

But a great deal of work needs to be done to prepare digital television mobile phones for the world's major upcoming sporting events, such as the soccer World Cup in 2006 and the Beijing Olympics in 2008. TI hopes to have a phone available by the 2006 World Cup, but that might be a tall order, Slawsby said.

El-Ouazzane acknowledged the difficulties in getting this type of technology off the ground, but said the company is committed to making live television a reality on a mobile phone.

"We could mess this up by not making it power-efficient, or not making it affordable for OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and end customers. But we want to make this technology a 70 percent attach rate within five years," he said, meaning that TI hopes that 70 percent of all cell phones ship with the Hollywood chip by the end of the decade.

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