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Broadcast Once, Watch Anywhere
JSR 272 Aims to Deliver Interactive TV on the Go
by Frank Sommers
May 18, 2005

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Digital broadcasting has recently emerged to bring live television to cell phones, PDAs, and other mobile devices. Such broadcasts carry not only video and audio, but also metadata, and even software applications, in a digital broadcast stream. The new JSR 272, Mobile Broadcast Service API for Handheld Terminals, aims to define a common Java API to control and access digital broadcast content from mobile devices.

Tough luck: You just missed the final episode of your favorite TV show. Perhaps you were stuck in traffic, on the train, or in a boardroom meeting. While the JCP can't bring you back The Donald [1], it can help you find consolation in a recent JSR that aims to bring live TV programs to a cell phone in your pocket. OK, you have to be a nerd to find consolation in that, but read on, because this new JSR has implications not just for how we watch TV programs, but also for an entirely new category of handheld applications.

JSR 272, the Mobile Broadcast Service API for Handheld Terminals [2] aims to define a common API layer for interacting with broadcast services, such as digital television, from a mobile device. While mobile telecoms operators already offer streaming video services through third-generation cellular networks, the one-to-many broadcasts, or mobicasts, addressed by this JSR don't use the cell phone network, and are received instead via a special digital broadcast tuner resident on a cell phone, PDA, or some other gadget.

Over half of the respondents to a 2003 European survey said they'd be willing to pay 10 Euros a month to watch TV on their cell phones. Considering that digital broadcast decoder chips are expected to cost around $10, mobicasting may turn into a very large business.

"I don't expect mobile digital TV to replace your existing TV set. It's a completely different experience, " comments Antti Rantalahti, a JSR 272 expert group lead, and Senior Research Engineer at Nokia's Multimedia Research Laboratory. Rantalahti catches up on soccer games via his mobile handset, thanks to a digital broadcast trial under way in the Finnish capital. "But that's not something you watch actively [on a small device], because you can hardly see the ball. But news works on a small TV as well as on a large one." Still, Rantalahti sees new kinds of programming developed specifically for mobile devices.

Digital broadcasts not only deliver video and voice, but may also include data files and entire applications. For instance, the broadcast of a talent show or political debate may include a software application to facilitate voting by the viewers. "That back-channel capability, and the ability to deploy applications alongside a TV program, make digital broadcasts an exciting new territory for developers," says Ivan Wong, a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at Motorola's Mobile Device Business, and JSR 272 co-lead.

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