1M Tuned into Mobile Digital TV in Korea

South Korean consumers bought 1 million mobile terrestrial digital TV receivers in just over six months since the service was launched, according to Korean government figures.

The service was launched in December and broadcasts seven TV stations and companion radio and data services. It’s currently available in Seoul, and its environs and should expand nationwide by the end of 2006. The broadcasts are free-to-air, a key reason why it’s attracting consumers, said companies selling receivers.

"People don’t want to pay extra money for their TV," said Jay Lee, a senior manager at Samsung Electronics’ digital media business unit. Reception for digital TV is already offered in several of Samsung’s cell phones, and the company expects to have it in a much larger number of domestic models soon.

Of the million receivers sold, about 32 percent are accounted for by cell phones. The others are devices such as laptops and digital media players. Initial assumptions were that cell phones would dominate the market for terminals, so the popularity of other devices surprised observers and manufacturers.

At this week’s SEK 2006 electronics show in Seoul, a wide range of terminals are on display. Companies like Samsung and LG Electronics have built receivers into almost any device with a liquid crystal display (LCD) monitor, while some companies are showing USB receivers that work with laptop computers, priced as low as 50,000 won (US$53).

The service is using a domestic technology called terrestrial digital mobile broadcasting (T-DMB) that transmits CIF (common intermediate format, 352 by 288 pixels) quality images at 30 frames per second using MPEG4 AVC compression.

T-DMB is based on the digital audio broadcasting digital radio standard that is used in Europe and Asia, but there are competing formats. Japan has its own system called ISDB-T, and there’s also digital video broadcasting-handhelds (DVB-H), which is based on the DVB standard that is used for digital terrestrial and satellite TV in most of the world. Qualcomm has also developed a system for cellular carriers called MediaFlo that is attracting interest in the United States.

Tests of the Korean T-DMB system are also taking place in several other countries, including this month in Germany alongside the World Cup.

Some analysts see a bright future for mobile TV. By the end of this year, there are expected to be 3.4 million mobile broadcast TV subscribers, jumping to 102 million in 2010, according to a report issued Wednesday by InStat. In South Korea, domestic estimates put T-DMB terminal sales at 8 million by the end of 2007.

SEK 2006 runs in Seoul until Friday.

-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service (Tokyo Bureau)

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