One of the big tech stories of 2009 was the transition of the U.S. broadcast TV standard from analog (NTSC) to digital (ATSC). But while ATSC broadcasts offer crystal clear high-def images, they have at least one drawback: unlike analog broadcasts, digital TV is tough to receive if you're on the move. That means that even "portable" digital TVs have to be locked down with a carefully pointed antenna before you can really watch them.
Thankfully, Mobile DTV is aiming to change that. The new standard is optimized for small screens and access on the move. Several hundred Mobile DTV channels are slated to get a wide rollout across the U.S. this year. That will include mobile-friendly versions of existing broadcast networks (ABC, Fox, and so forth), as well as cable premium channels that can be accessed on a subscription or pay-per-view basis.
So what's the catch? You'll need to have Mobile DTV channels broadcasting in your area, and you'll need a Mobile DTV-compatible product to access that programming. The initial slate of products includes portable DVD players, laptops, Netbooks,, and in-car entertainment systems--many of which will be unveiled at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show. But existing products will also be able to latch onto the Mobile DTV bandwagon, thanks to accessories and add-ons. In addition to USB dongles for PCs, a networking device called the Tivit will enable PCs and many smartphones to access Mobile DTV programming via Wi-Fi.
Made by a company called Valups, the Tivit is a tiny gadget that doubles as a Mobile DTV receiver and a Wi-Fi access point--think of it as a MiFi for TV. Download the viewing software to your device and log into the Tivit, and you can enjoy the Mobile DTV channels in your area. Compatible devices include the iPhone 3G and 3GS, third-generation iPod Touch, BlackBerry phones with Wi-Fi, and Windows PCs. The Tivit's built-in, rechargeable battery lets it operate on the go for 3 hours at a time (or you can leave it plugged in to the wall).
A similar version of the Tivit is already available in Japan on that country's version of Mobile DTV (known as DVB-H), which is why you can already find references to the Tivit iPhone app. The Tivit is expected to hit America in the spring, where it will retail for between $90 to $120. We'd like to see the price on the lower end of that spectrum to further delineate the Tivit from the Slingbox (which also lets you stream TV to a variety of mobile devices). Still, we could see the Tivit becoming a handy peripheral for on-the-go couch potatoes--assuming we see more DTV Mobile stations popping up to supply the necessary content.