Product review: O2 mobile TV application

27 Mar 2007

There aren’t many jobs that allow you to sit at your desk and watch TV — unless of course you’re downloading stuff on the sly from in which case you deserve to get your fingers rapped by an irate IT manager.

So, as a lucky sucker reviewing O2’s mobile TV application on a Nokia N92 (pictured)I was able to watch news, music and the occasional documentary with impunity. There’s actually something exciting about writing news while simultaneously a 2.8-inch screen next to your keyboard is beating out Sky News live.

O2’s mobile trial in the Greater Dublin Area is being conducted in conjunction with Irish firm Arqiva and is the most extensive trial undertaken by O2’s parent firm Telefonica.

At present around 350 O2 customers are testing the new service. Currently 13 channels are available throughout the trial, including RTE1, RTE2, TV3, TG4, Sky News, Sky Sports, Setanta Sports and The Discovery Channel.

At first glance the N92 as a phone is reminiscent of a big and bulky 1998 Nokia device. It resembles an electric shaver when closed.

But it’s actually an exceptionally advanced piece of kit that can be shaped into three different viewing modes – one minute it’s a phone, the next a video camera and ultimately a TV – and comes with a technology called DVB-H (digital video broadcasting over hand-held).

The N92, which comes with a two-megapixel camera, was chosen because it is probably the most reliable format at present to trial mobile TV. It is about to be upstaged by the arrival of a slim ‘n’ slinkier N93i, which comes with a three-megapixel camera. Yet another model, the N95, will come with satellite-navigation abilities.

The first shock of the O2 mobile TV application is just how immersive it is to view programmes.

When mobile operators first started talking mobile TV it was really about people paying for clips of goals being scored during football matches. It is questionable as to just how successful this has been.

In this instance, however, the quality of the images and the size of the screen mean you could watch entire shows.

This paves the way for the next shock: the transmission is very stable. The only real delays occur when switching between channels as it takes approximately seven seconds to move from one channel to the next.

It worked well enough that one colleague was able to watch an entire hour-long episode of CSI Miami one night recently.

The DVB-H mobile TV service, if handled right, could pave the way for mobile services that work where 3G so far has failed. It is solid, immersive and brings mobile TV to life.

It also raises the question around TV licensing. Will people who watch TV on their mobile have to pay for a TV licence? Under the recent Broadcasting Bill it has been suggested that laptop PC owners with TV tuners may have to fork out for a licence.

A spokesperson for O2 confirmed that such regulatory hurdles are indeed an issue. “From O2’s perspective we would be hopeful that mobile TV would be commercially available to customers by 2008. This is dependent, however, on a couple of factors: the allocation of spectrum to DVB-H and the awarding of a commercial licence to broadcast mobile TV. The trial licence that O2 currently has is the first step in the process,” she said.

Pros: Very stable transmission of TV programmes

Cons: Slight delay when switching between channels

By John Kennedy