South Africa: Mobile TV’s DMB adapter reviewed

Technology & Convergence

Mobile TV, the company looking to take radio and TV broadcasts to mobile devices in SA and challenge DStv Mobile in the process, has been running trials of Korea’s digital multimedia broadcasting (DMB) standard since late last year.

TechCentral’s Craig Wilson put the test service through its paces using a tivizenDMB adapter for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch. The DMB adapter offers Mobile TV’s test broadcasts of SABC1 and SABC2, a “visual radio” broadcast of Metro FM and digital audio of 5fm.

Expected to cost about R280 when the service is launched commercially, the tivizenDMB adapter offers SA’s first digital audio broadcasting (DAB) radio stations alongside “visual radio”, which offers visual content over normal radio.

Mobile TV’s pilot signal is broadcast from the Sentech tower in Brixton, Johannesburg using VHF spectrum, which the company says offers approximately a 70km radius of coverage.

Our results with the tivizenDMB device have been mixed. Installation and operation are simple enough: one need simply download an application and plug the adaptor into the dock connecter.

On first launch, the app insisted on a firmware update, but this was almost instant. After the update, the application opened and scanned for available TV and radio stations, which were displayed in a bar at the bottom of the screen.

At present, the application isn’t available in the SA App Store, and has to be downloaded via one of the European stores. However, Mobile TV says the application will be available in the local store at time of launch. The adapter supports the DMB, DAB and DAB+ broadcast standards.

Selecting SABC1 or 2 brings the channel up almost instantly, much like changing channels on a regular TV with a remote. The channels are displayed at a resolution of 320×240, which, although less than ideal on an iPad, is quite sufficient on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Subtitles are, nevertheless, legible on both varieties of device.

The application also includes a Web browser with shortcuts to Twitter, Facebook and popular sites like BBC News. When using the browser, the current channel is displayed in the top left-hand corner and audio is unaffected.

It’s also possible to record TV or radio using the application, with the amount of content that can be recorded dependent on how much space is available on the device being used.

The application automatically detects screen rotation and resizes automatically, and the adapter’s battery status is displayed next to a signal strength indicator. The adapter is charged via microUSB, but can also draw power from the device to which it is connected, if necessary. The adapter weighs a mere 20g, and is about the size of a matchbox.

We were unable to test either Metro FM or 5fm due a problem with the test broadcast. Mobile TV was aware of the issue and said it was working to rectify it.

Mobile TV has a 12-month test licence that is set to expire at the end of November. The company hopes to get a commercial license from the Independent Communications Authority of SA (Icasa) so that it can launch officially before the end of the year.

If Icasa does grant Mobile TV a licence it will become the second company offering mobile TV in SA following MultiChoice’s introduction of DStv Mobile. MultiChoice uses a rival European-developed technology to DMB called digital video broadcasting handheld, better known as DVB-H.