Mobile TV… May Not Be On Mobiles?

When broadcast television went all-digital in the United States, with the left-behind bandwidth to be auctioned off, many observers (including those of us at MMW) foresaw the dawn of mobile TV. It hasn’t happened, for a variety of technical reasons. At least one analytical firm believes television-on-the-go will take a different form, at least for now: Laptops. The potential payoff for mobiles, however, could be worth waiting for.

The research and consulting firm Frost & Sullivan announced today that its 2010 North American Frost & Sullivan Technology Innovation of the Year Award goes to CrestaTech, for its CrestaTV Universal Broadband Receiver. CrestaTV tackles the issues of reception and limitations due to geographical availability, which have hindered mobile TV in North America. The technology involves a broadband tuner, which scans the entire TV spectrum for analog and digital signals, and an integrated GPS. It’s able to determine device location and all channels receivable in only three seconds–as opposed to the 20 to 30 minutes that other PC-TV chipsets have needed to scan for broadcast channels.

“This product could transform laptop PCs into universal mobile media centers, capable of simultaneously accessing live broadcast TV, AM/FM radio, and GPS,” says Frost & Sullivan Industry Analyst Anil Vijayachandran. “The flexibility of the device will enable access to a wide range of future markets, including mobile phones, smart phones, and other portable devices.”

But those future markets–particularly phones–aren’t a done deal, Vijayachandran tells me. That’s because CrestaTV is a hardware-software solution, not a hardware-only solution, which means potentially more power consumption than even the top smartphones can handle. “Hand-held computing devices are significantly more sensitive to power consumption issues, and I believe they would have to work on the power consumption performance of their solution before it can be integrated into smart phones or netbooks,” Vijayachandran says.

CrestaTech, which is currently targeting just laptops with its CrestaTV receiver, isn’t the only one that needs to work on power improvements. Even the happiest EVO user will admit that the phone runs down by the end of the typical workday, requiring at least one overnight charge after a day of playing with its multi-media offerings. And while Apple’s devices have traditionally bragged decent battery life among smart phones, the iPhone 4 reportedly has seen that cut in half. So handset makers need to find ways for their devices to conserve more power, while battery makers need to make fuel cells that last longer and still fit without an unsightly expanded back plate.

If these hurdles are overcome, the result could be staggering: The engagement of TV consumers like never before. On computers, CrestaTV offers an open platform that allows user-generated content programs and enables users of social media websites to chat live while watching live content, and also allows users to create a custom channel with user-selected programs from the entire array of received content. Highly-customizable content? A way for consumers to naturally interact with fans and cement their relationship with the TV brand? Location-based technology translatable into into location-based services? It’s a match made for the mobile platform.