Consumers in Washington, D.C., to be First to Test Mobile TV

Two other markets to launch industry trials in coming weeks as rush is on

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The first consumer test of new mobile TV broadcasts will launch this summer in Washington, D.C., says a group that represents TV stations. The consumer test will come on top of industry trials that will launch in the coming weeks in Atlanta and Seattle, as well as one that launched last week in Raleigh.

There announcements underscore how quickly mobile TV is coming. It's relatively cheap to get the broadcasts up and running, and TV stations are moving ahead at a fast pace.

That means that there won't be a chicken-and-egg problem in getting the mobile signals into place, unlike with the original digital and HDTV broadcasts. "We are ready to be the chicken," says Anne Schelle of the Open Mobile Video Coalition, the broadcaster group that is promoting the new technology.

This summer's test markets should allow consumer electronics companies to start testing and producing devices -- the egg needed to give birth to the new broadcasts..

Dell, for example, this week will show a prototype of a small laptop with a built-in receiver for the mobile digital broadcasts. Other companies are working on dedicated handheld TVs, dongles that can turn other laptops into mobile TVs, in-car systems and eventually cellphones with the new TV tuners and antennas. Prototypes will be on display this week at that National Association of Broadcasters meeting in Las Vegas.

A few, select consumers will get to test the signals in Washington, D.C. this summer. By year's end, the mobile video coalition expects to have more than 70 stations publicly airing the new signals in nearly three dozen markets.

TV stations have high hopes for the new mobile broadcasts, despite U.S. consumers who haven't taken to watching other forms of video on their cellphones. Those services deliver cable-like channels that haven't included live, local TV, Schelle says. "Consumers want what they have at home."

Unlike the existing services, the new broadcasts won't require a lot of consumer education, she adds. Consumers understand live TV. The broadcasts will also be free at first, as they'll initially replicate the same programming that arrives at living room sets. The signals later might include premium channels, video-on-demand and video-recording.

Stations have already made investments in production and broadcast equipment for the nationwide switch to digital TV. Adding the mobile signals doesn't cost much -- as little as $75,000, Schelle says. That amounts to about $10,000 a year over the expected life of the equipment.

It won't take many added viewers or premium subscribers to turn a profit, Schelle says.