Opportunities are multiplying for squinting at the small screen—the really small, 2-to-3.5-inch displays of a mobile handset or smartphone. Movie and TV studios hope they've found a "third screen" for their video after the TV and PC.
Not many American consumers have embraced clip snacking on the go—fewer than 10 percent, according to market surveys from M:Metrics. But it's popular overseas. "It's just a matter of time for us," says telecom analyst Jeff Kagan. Many predict mobile video will generate big profits for carriers and studios, which are even creating shows for tiny sets.
Bigger screens, meanwhile, are popping up (or down from ceilings) in cars with video from satellites. Live TV extends the DVD watching that's become standard for anyone traveling with kids. And broadcasters have high hopes for mobile digital TV that could be transmitting by year's end. "If it works as planned, it changes the whole game of broadcasting," says Gerry Kaufhold, a market analyst with In-Stat.
Here are current options and others coming soon to a screen near you—one that might already be in your pocket.
Flo TV: Sold under different names by Verizon and at&t, this broadcast service delivers 10 channels of television to selected cellphones. The signal arrives from a TV tower and not over the cellular network. The quality is good, with a TV-like experience—no buffering, no waiting—and it comes with a programming guide. But getting good reception can mean walking around or swaying the handset, much like jiggling a TV's rabbit ears. The service is available in more than 50 metro markets and offers channels from CBS News, Comedy Central, ESPN, Fox, and MTV. It costs about $15 a month.
SlingPlayer Mobile: With a smartphone and a SlingBox at home, this software will, er, sling whatever's playing in the living room to a handset. The video stream arrives over a wireless Internet connection, so it can be smooth and it can hiccup. Much as with the PC SlingPlayer, it controls a TV, a cable box, or even a TiVo using a sometimes balky software remote. It works on many phones that run Windows Mobile, Nokia Symbian, and Palm systems—and soon the BlackBerry. The software costs $30, and a SlingBox starts at about $130, with no monthly fees.
MobiTV: Network and cablelike channels arrive on handsets offered by Sprint, Alltel, and at&t. Quality can be good, but the video starts after a bit of a lag over cell networks, meaning it can also stutter or die as can voice calls. (Can you see me now?) MobiTV includes live streams from the Weather Channel, espn Sports, and ABC News. Or download movies and full-length tv shows at your convenience. MobiTV, whose many parent subscribers are entertaining the kids, recently added a Disney channel and Hannah Montana episodes. Carriers also might offer channels from creators like GoTV. There's a monthly charge of about $10 in addition to fees for data plans.
Sirius Backseat TV: Satellite radio is no longer just about radio. Sirius sells a kit at electronics stores that adds a three-channel video feed to car LCD screens. New-car buyers can also get the system preinstalled on some of Chrysler's vehicles. They include minivans, not surprisingly, as the service is aimed at half pints with channels from Disney, Nickelodeon, and the Cartoon Network. It isn't high-def TV but looks good on small LCD screens. The kit costs $300 plus installation, and the service adds $7 to the $13 monthly charge for Sirius radio.
Updated May 29, 2008.