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Mobile movies: New cell phone fit for video viewing

In the never ending race to pack cell phones with more elaborate features, Samsung Electronics and Geo Interactive Media Group unveil one that plays streaming video.

In the never ending race to pack cell phones with more elaborate features, Samsung Electronics and Geo Interactive Media Group scored a potential coup Thursday by unveiling one that plays streaming video.

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Mobile movies: Will you pay to watch?
Sasson Darwish, president, GEO Interactive Media group
The device will allow people to receive and play video from the Internet and from email. Although several other companies have released prototypes of the product or have announced plans for development, Korea's Samsung, using a Geo chip, is believed to be among the first to create a working product.

The phone, which streams MPEG4 video, uses Geo's Emblaze A2 video ASIC chip. Video quality and speed will depend upon a particular phone's wireless carrier network.

What has been holding back other companies from creating similar products is the fact that "third generation," or 3G, networks are still years away. With its much higher bandwidth, 3G systems are expected to enable many new wireless applications, including full-motion video. But Samsung and Geo assert that current wireless networks can support their video phone.

Peter Friedland, a senior analyst with WR Hambrecht, said he doesn't imagine the product will cause much of a stir until wireless networks upgrade to 3G networks.

"You've got to have the bandwidth available first and then the products out there and then see if people are interested in those types of services," he said. "Today the existing wireless networks only support wireless data bandwidth of about 10 to 20 kilobits per second (kbps). Streaming video would require much higher bandwidth."

Israel-based Geo said the phone is compatible with existing Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) systems at speeds of 9.6 kbps, 64 kbps and CDMA2000 1X that is capable of reaching a data transfer rate of up to 144 kbps.

"People kept thinking (video cell phones) were two or three years away, but it's not because GEO has designed a chip that allows people to access video over current 2G networks," said Deborah Brenner, director of marketing for Geo's U.S. operations.

Geo has also designed its A3 chip, which Samsung has licensed. This chip would add additional video functions, allowing cell phone owners to record video and send it via email. This chip would also allow people to do live video teleconferencing with their cell phones.

"People could use a small camera installed in their cell phone and send your friend in Paris a video of yourself talking, and show them: 'Look this is the Golden Gate Bridge,'" Brenner said. "Once we approach the 3G networks, we'll approach teleconferencing where we'll be talking to each other live looking at each other over video."

The video cell phone will be first distributed in Europe and Asia, followed by the United States. Sasson Darwish, president of Geo's U.S. operations, said the phone should be on the market in all three regions within 12 months.

Video has emerged as the latest obsession in the high-tech world. Now that entertainment content has been converted to digital, a slew of high-level PC executives at this week's Comdex trade show in Las Vegas said the PC will become the center of the home entertainment center.

Additionally, improved networks and increasing processor power will allow companies to integrate digital streams into email and instant messages. MP3 music has also paved the way to acclimate people to look to cell phones and computers for entertainment.

"We're going from 'you've got mail' to 'you've got video,'" Paul Otellini, general manager of the Intel Architecture Group, said at a presentation at Comdex.

News.com's Michael Kanellos and Natalie Weinstein contributed to this report.