Last night, I went to the launch party for Modeo's Mobile TV NYC beta service and walked away with a fully functional HTC smartphone loaded up with its live Mobile TV service. (No, that's not my hand in the picture.) The timing is certainly conspicuous but the execs say it's only validation of their business model—where have I heard that before?
So how does the "VIP beta" stack up to the competition? Gallery (from the party since my camera died after I got home) and rundown below.
We've run down the phone specs before, so I'm not going to rehash them, other than to note that it's running Windows Mobile 5. It feels rugged with the rubber backing and is a good size to slip into my pockets. I'm not too big on the orange though. Using the TV service destroys the battery life as well.
Of course, this is what really matters. Does Modeo deliver? If you're satisfied with just a few channels (for now, Fox News, Fox Sports, MSNBC CNBC, E! and Discovery, though they're obviously working on getting more content providers) then overall, yes. The live feed is a few seconds behind what's on my actual TV, but who's counting? For the most part, the picture quality is solid. All text is clear and readable. CNBC is the exception for some reason—every time I've turned to it, it's heavily artifacted and skips. Anything that moves too quickly on any channel also seems to play hell with the service, throwing it into a fit of artifacting.
While at the event a number of executives emphasized that only "some content" really needs to be streamed live—like news, which is true to the extent that you probably don't need to see Everybody Loves Raymond live (or ever)—I'm guessing part of the reason it's news-heavy is that talking heads don't move a whole lot.
Startup is also jittery and slower than I would like, taking as long 10 seconds to switch into TV mode, and then another 5-10 to steady out skipping frames and audio. Changing channels takes another 5-7 seconds—you get the Modeo logo, followed by a black screen with skipping audio and then the video feed gets going. Once it's going though, generally it's smooth and clear, with solid audio to boot (though you have to turn it up all the way to hear it, which can be annoying if you don't want a loud ringer, so I've set the ring to vibrate).
Speaking of audio there are also 8 "Music Choice" radio channels, which, with more channels, could turn into a strong feature for the service, particularly as it makes its way to other devices (more on that later). The sound quality through the phone's speakers is better than say, standard radio, but nothing mind-blowing. Obviously, bass with its speakers leaves something to be desired, which is readily apparent on the Rob Zombie track its playing right now. It improves a fair bit if you use headphones, naturally, but still not amazing.
Coverage throughout last night and today have been excellent, as I've trekked from midtown Manhattan to downtown, and from the East Village to the West Village. The only place it let something to be desired was on the 8th of the Fairchild where the daily paper I write for is located. Even there, though, aside from a couple of dropped frames, everything came through and was definitely watchable. I could go into detail about the number of transmitters they're using (65) and where they're located (like on top of the Met Life building) and such, but it seems beside the point: Coverage (in Manhattan) is great—since the beta only covers NYC and a bit of the surrounding metro area, it had better be.
The Future and Final Thoughts
Many of the problems I have with the service—slow channel-changing and start up time—will be addressed before the public release. (They're aiming for a sub-2 second channel change time.) So when's the public release, you ask? They wouldn't give a date. Or a price point. And with big cell phone companies launching their own mobile TV networks, a future cozying up to Verizon, for instance, probably isn't in the cards. Which is why they're aiming to bring the service to devices other than cell phones, like cars, portable media players, etc. For instance, you can plug in an SD card attachment to just about anything with an SDIO port and pick up the service. (Pictured in gallery.)
I'm not totally sold on Mobile TV, especially after they emphasized the ability to deliver personalized ads to phones during the event. More than that, though when I've been out or waiting in line somewhere, I've had to actively think about using it. I'm not sure how useful it is in transit—it's hard to watch while walking, and obviously more so while driving. It won't work in the subway or on an airplane. Its coming DVR capabilities mitigate this to an extent, however. Whether not all content providers will allow recording is another question. I'm going to keep using it during the beta, but for now, consider me unsold on the concept.
Product Page [Modeo]