Learning From Geek TV

by , Jun 14, 2007, 3:45 PM
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I have been playing around with two mobile video solutions that are way-way off-portal, but are helping me think through some of the hurdles mobile TV may face with consumers. Both SlingPlayer Mobile and Orb are favorites among the early (real early) adopter crowd. Both products let you broadcast your personal video experiences from home to Web or mobile outlets. In essence, they help us imagine a third way of approaching mobile video, and that is where they are valuable thinking tools.

There are basically two approaches to mobile TV now: live streaming and on-demand. There may be qualitative differences between the multicast and unicast technologies involved in delivering these two video types, but the real choice for consumers is whether to dip into a live stream or to pick and choose among clips that have been edited by others. The two models are similar in that both conceive of the phone as a discrete platform. Whether it is V Cast TV or MobiTV, you are accessing a small selection of the TV brands you get at home, and in most cases you are paying twice for access to the same brands.

Orb and SlingBox offer a third way, albeit more complicated. In both cases they simply use the mobile device to give you remote access to the media you already own or use. Orb is a downloadable remote access tool. It sits on your PC and lets you access whatever stored multimedia you have on your hard drive simply by logging into a MyCast account via the mobile Web. If you have a TV tuner card attached to your PC you may even access both live streams or schedule recordings.

I had no luck getting my desktop TV tuner to work with it, but the rest of the setup worked brilliantly for me. On an EV-DO network using a smartphone, the multimedia on my desktop we re-rendered on the fly and kicked open the mobile handset's media player. Obviously, the limitation here is that the model is PC-based, but if I had gotten the TV tuner to work properly, I would have had full access to my ordinary cable TV feed or at least on-demand recordings from it.

Even more dazzling is the SlingPlayer Mobile application, which gives you remote access to the $200 SlingBox that connects to a home theater. I had to rely on the demo box and a demo account the company provided, so I wasn't able to experience the entire process of connecting a SlingBox. Still, when running the SlingPlayer Mobile application on a Windows Mobile device I was able to access, navigate and schedule the Dish satellite network, and even dance across the on-screen TV controls for pausing shows and replaying recordings. It was pretty much like being in my living room.

What impresses me about the experience of using both of these products vs. the typical mobile TV experience is that they make me feel at home, as if I am simply accessing media I already arranged to have in my living room or on my PC. I don't have to choose all over again from another menu of selected brands that happened to partner with the carriers or a mobile aggregator. These solutions let me, as the consumer, mobilize my media experience. The other solutions are a little more about letting content providers mobilize their brands. Is there a difference there? I am not yet sure, but as I said, these two remote access products are making me wonder which model will make more sense to consumers.

As I said in the beginning, comparing the Orb/Sling experience to that of mobile TV solutions makes me think, but it doesn't necessarily help me conclude anything.

I have opined before on this issue of media brands double-dipping with consumers, but I have to say that after experiencing both Orb and SlingPlayer Mobile, I find the problem of seamless business models re-emerging. Should I, or will I want to, pay twice for TV brands -- once on my cable bill and once on my phone bill? If the goal of multi-platform access to video is seamlessness, then do multiple subscriptions represent an obvious seam for me?

Having mobile access to my DVR recordings, to my premium TV networks, to my familiar menu of channels, seems to me a kind of media nirvana. Of course I am a media slut of the highest order, so factor in this writer's native geekiness. Still, if there is a choice between mobilizing a set of media brands or mobilizing my personal media experience, which will I choose? Arguably, the quality of a MediaFlo network or even well-produced V Cast clips will be superior to SlingPlayer and Orb for now.

But I wonder how much of this kind of experience the mobile TV folks should be considering as they build out their models and technologies. Do we want mobile TV -- or do we want our TV mobilized?

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