Mobile video is a moving target. Hardware manufacturers, software developers, and content suppliers are scrambling to capture this rapidly growing market. Several companies have forged alliances to set standards and stimulate development. Let’s take a look at several recent developments in mobile multimedia, as well as others that are in the works.
Mobile Alliances and Open Standards
Last November the Open Handset Alliance was formed. It’s a consortium of companies including Google, Intel, NVIDIA, and several wireless phone firms that set out to develop open standards for mobile devices. Google’s contribution was Android, a software development kit (SDK), together with a $10 million competition for the most innovative applications for the Android platform.Then in March of this year, Apple introduced its iPhone SDK, including iPhone 2.0 software that enables users to view PowerPoint and Word attachments.
iPhone 2.0 allows wireless downloading of third-party software applications. According to Apple, "The iPhone SDK will allow developers to create amazing applications that leverage the iPhone’s groundbreaking Multi-Touch user interface, animation technology, large storage, built-in three-axis accelerometer, and geographical location technology to deliver truly innovative mobile applications." Shortly after Apple announced the iPhone SDK, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers offered $100 million in venture capital to invest in companies developing applications and services for the iPhone and iPod touch.
Also in March, Verizon and AT&T won $16 billion in licenses for the FCC-auctioned airwaves—those bands that will become available in early 2009 when all broadcast television goes digital. Frontier Wireless, a partner of satellite TV operator DISH, also bought a portion of the band, raising speculation of a nationwide video network. While none of the companies had commented by press time, it’s a good bet that the carriers have mobile video in mind, given the popularity of this medium.
Google, which champions open platforms, did not bid high enough, but Google spokespersons Richard Whitt and Joseph Faber said, "Consumers soon should begin enjoying new, internet-like freedom to get the most out of their mobile phones and other wireless devices." What this means is you can expect to see multimedia phones emerge as a medium for distributing your work and showing samples to prospective clients.
Adobe Flash Lite
A month before Google announced Android, Adobe released Flash Lite 3 to enable delivery of video on mobile devices. Flash Lite 3 supports Adobe Flash Player-compatible video so users can browse Flash-enabled websites. Adobe reports nearly 500 million Flash-enabled mobile devices and handsets delivered, and it predicts a billion Flash Lite phones in users’ hands by 2010.
Nokia partnered with Adobe to develop Forum Nokia to provide SDKs and resources for Flash developers. Lee Epting, vice president of Forum Nokia, said, "Flash Lite 3 will enable us to deliver richer content to our customers, such as videos and animated ringtones. This … provides an exciting new channel for content delivery and consumption."
Flash on the iPhone?
Will Adobe and Apple come to an agreement to put Flash on iPhones? It would make it easier for iPhone users to view Flash Video. Right now, the iPhone can only play Flash videos that have been transcoded to H.264 by a hosting site like YouTube for display on the iPhone. Playing directly from Flash could speed things up, if not improve the quality.
So why no Flash on the iPhone? One reason is that when you open Flash, it executes additional applications, such as Java. Apple’s terms do not allow for other programs to operate in the background. Additionally, Apple won’t allow any other software that it doesn’t approve of to be installed, and it has a mechanism to monitor that.
Last March the video community got a jolt of hope when Adobe’s CEO, Shantanu Narayen, said that his company is committed to developing a Flash player for the iPhone. Adobe’s press team quickly "clarified" that conference call statement. Here is what Narayen said, followed by Adobe’s editing: "We believe Flash is synonymous with the internet experience, and we are committed to bringing Flash to the iPhone. … We think we can develop an iPhone Flash player ourselves."
We called Adobe, and spokesperson Stefan Offermann replied with this: "Adobe has evaluated the iPhone SDK and can now start to develop a way to bring Flash Player to the iPhone. However, to bring the full capabilities of Flash to the iPhone web-browsing experience we do need to work with Apple beyond and above what is available through the SDK and the current license around it. We think Flash availability on the iPhone benefits Apple and Adobe’s millions of joint customers, so we want to work with Apple to bring these capabilities to the device."
Microsoft Windows Mobile
Microsoft reports nearly 20 million users of Windows Mobile. The company recently licensed Adobe Flash Lite, even though it has its own video viewing software, Silverlight. Silverlight’s new 2.0 release includes adaptive streaming, which allows applications to automatically select the appropriate bitrate and coding for video.
However, Microsoft watched its Windows Mobile share of the U.S. smartphone market decline after Apple’s iPhone was released. Mobile devices powered by Flash Lite mean that mobile users will be able to send and view video over a wider range of mobile websites than with Silverlight alone.
Google and Opera Mini
Google’s Android platform is only the latest effort by the search engine behemoth to provide products for mobile media. Google collects data on web access by cell phones. That information helps them to develop faster web services for particular model phones, such as the Nokia and BlackBerry. Matt Waddell, a product manager for Google Mobile, said, "We have very much hit a watershed moment in terms of mobile internet usage. We are seeing that mobile internet use is in fact accelerating."
Google entered the mobile phone arena some time ago when it partnered with Opera Software to release Opera Mini, a web browser designed for mobile phones. It uses the Java ME platform, and any cell phone that wants to use Opera Mini must be capable of running that Java application.
Opera Mini processes and compresses webpages to optimize them for display on a mobile phone. The transfer time is shorter than with a desktop browser, and the processing works with webpages designed for cell phone display as well as those that were not. More than 40 million phones have been shipped with Opera Mini installed.
The 3GPP Video Format
In 2000 several telecommunications associations collaborated to create the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) to develop a worldwide third-generation (3G) mobile phone specification called 3GP. Most 3G mobile phones support recording and playback of audio and video. Apple’s iMovie uses 3GP in its "Tiny" setting to export video to iPhones and the iPod Touch using the company’s .Mac Web Gallery service.
EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) is a technology that was developed for high data rates and improved reliability. It is the current mobile phone technology in the U.S., and it is supported by most North American GSM operators. GSM (Global System for Mobile) is the most popular standard for mobile phones. Considered 2G technology, it allows mobile phones to be used internationally.Storing video streams in MPEG-4, 3GP was designed to decrease storage and bandwidth requirements. 3GPP is the protocol for GSM-based phones, and it uses the file extension .3gp. 3GPP2 is for CDMA-based phones and may have the file extension .3g2. CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is a digital cellular phone standard developed by Qualcomm that lets several phones share one radio frequency.
One of the newer technologies is downloadable animations together with ringtones. Mobile service providers have researched the market for these animations, and handset manufacturers want their units to be capable of displaying them clearly. Each year the 3GPP releases new standards, with Release 8 expected in 2009.
Upload to Mobile
You can convert your video files from your computer to a BlackBerry and other mobile phones using the AVS Mobile Uploader. The U.K.-based AVS4YOU (left) offers several choices of downloadable video converter software. The software lets you upload MPEG-4 video for use on GSM- or CDMA-based phones. The company makes different applications for different devices.
The software offers MP4 for mobile phones with MPEG-4 video support. It also provides 3GP for phones with 3GPP and 3GPP2 video support. According to the company, the AVS video converter converts video files between almost any formats: AVI (DivX, XviD), DV AVI, MP4 (Sony PSP and Apple iPod), WMV, 3GP, 3G2, QuickTime (MOV, QT), SWF, DVD, VOB, VRO, MPG, OGM, MKV, and FLV.
The result of the conversion should be a video file with .3gp extension that can be transferred to your mobile phone with the help of the AVS Uploader service. It is launched automatically when the conversion process is over. Turn on your phone and connect it to your computer via USB, infrared, or Bluetooth. The AVS Uploader service application guides you through the upload process so that you could send your converted video file to your phone.
YouTube Mobile Uploads
YouTube for Mobile is a version of its website that is designed to be viewed on streaming-capable phones working in the 3G specification. Users have access to tens of millions of YouTube videos on their phones, with video optimized for mobile screens. Not only can they view YouTube videos, they can upload the videos from many mobile devices.
The mobile platform allows access to users’ accounts, Favorites, Channels, and Videos. Users are able to instantly send a text or video comment and may rate videos. Additionally, owners of J2ME (Java) MIDP2 devices with streaming video capabilities may download software to provide more interactivity.
The goal of YouTube is to encourage users to develop innovative, original content directly from their mobile devices and encourage new users to share and engage the community.
The iPhone’s large touchscreen and multimedia features, together with an advertising blitz, made it an instant best-seller. However, other handsets have a similar form factor, and several more touchscreen phones are in the works. The website iPhone Killer posts news of releases and rumors on nearly a daily schedule. It even posts video clips sent from visitors to electronics fairs who captured a glimpse of a prototype on display.
One such handset is the Nokia N96 (left), slated for release in the third quarter of this year. It has a 2.8" screen and up to 24GB of memory, combining the 16GB internal with another 8GB from an optional microSD card. It supports Flash Video and Windows Media Video, and it has a high speed USB 2.0 connector. It even has a TV receiver to display live broadcast television. The unit’s 5MP camera has a video light as well as a still camera flash, and, like its N95 predecessor, it captures VGA-quality video at 30fps. Nokia calls its unlocked phone a "mobile computer," and it is expected to retail for $800.
LG, which makes the Voyager for Verizon, may introduce a phone with a 3" screen, according to the iPhone Killer website. Contributors to the website have given high marks to the Voyager because of several features absent on the iPhone such as a keypad, vibration feedback, a microSD card slot and reportedly faster download speeds than the iPhone.According to the website, the new LG LH2300 will have a 3" WVGA (wide VGA) 800x480 touchscreen that includes image magnification and supports web surfing. The 3MP auto-focus camera is said to include anti-shake and face recognition technology.
Another LG phone, the Verizon VX9700, may also be on the horizon, according to iPhone Killer. Sporting a 3.2MP camera with a slot for microSDHC cards and a micro USB port, the phone uses the touchscreen as a QWERTY keypad.
Samsung is another player in the multimedia handset game. The Glyde U940 has a 2.78" touchscreen, a 2MP autofocus camera, and a side-sliding keyboard. It plays video in a variety of formats including MPEG-4, H.264, and Real. With only 150MB of built-in memory, it has a slot for microSD cards.
Live Streaming From Your Phone: Meet Qik and Kyte
Cameras in phones are always increasing their pixel counts and improving their feature sets. A new breed of videographer is emerging—one armed with only a cell phone and vision. Once the FCC opens more bandwidth to mobile providers, these video pioneers will be able to instantly upload and distribute their cinematic masterpieces.
Two companies have released software in alpha and beta to venture into this new frontier. If you have a Nokia phone that supports video streaming, both companies encourage you to contact them to participate as testers.
Qik (left) is free software that lets you stream videos directly from your phone to the web. You can also send the videos to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. When you stream live, Qik saves the video on its website, so you can access it at a later time. At your Qik profile page you can manage which videos are public and which remain private.
The company currently supports video streaming on Nokia phones that use the S60 protocol with software based on Nokia’s Symbian operating system. Qik suggests you purchase an unlimited data plan because video streaming can consume a lot of bandwidth.
Kyte Mobile Producer (left), in private beta at press time, lets users of mobile phones connect in real time as a chat or video conference, and broadcasts a continual video stream to multiple locations.
The program is limited to Nokia N95 users. After you register with Kyte, you download the software to your phone. In the picture mode you can optimize the video size to minimize upload time. Included is a gallery application where you select the video you wish to upload to your own website or to a social networking site. You can view the new show in the mobile web version of Kyte by selecting "Open in Browser."
For some internet users, their cell phones are their only computer. Why lug a laptop when you can purchase a mobile device that operates much the same way, such as the new Nokia N96? If you can manage email, surf the web, use online business software applications, and record and play videos, why use anything bigger than a handset?
The iPhone made a major splash when it was released. Several similar phones are now in the works. Considering the huge market share that the iPhone gobbled up in its first few months, we are certain to see more choices of advanced mobile devices with multimedia capabilities.
The developments in the mobile video arena are happening at breakneck speed. In 2009 when the FCC releases the airwaves to the highest-bidding mobile providers, broadband mobile multimedia will be better, faster, and cheaper. So stay tuned for updates in this exciting video production and distribution platform. Mobile video is indeed a moving target.
SIDEBAR: iPhone for Event Video Marketing
Last October, Marc Smiler (left) of Marc Smiler Video Artist wrote a review of the iPhone, and he compared its functionality with the Treo and the iPod. Smiler loads his 8GB iPhone with 20 shortform videos of events and promotional clips, and he brings it with him to wedding industry networking luncheons. Smiler shoots in 720p and edits in Final Cut Pro. To create files for the iPhone, he uses the Compressor application bundled with Final Cut Studio 2 that has presets for the iPhone as well as Apple TV. He can also create files to upload directly to the iPhone, and he places files on his website for progressive downloading to a client’s iPhone. He set up a "bonus area" on his website with an iPhone-optimized section so he can show clients his demos.
Smiler encodes with QuickTime H.264, reducing the screen size to 640x320—the maximum size playable on the iPhone. Smiler mentioned that Apple sells cables to connect the iPhone to a composite or component monitor. "The images look amazing," says Smiler. "They are not full 720x480, but they come pretty darn close."
Smiler also has a Palm Treo and has tried using Adobe’s Flash Lite and other video formats on it. He says, "Flash Lite mobile is clunky." He previously used an 80GB iPod Classic to show clients his videos. It has a lot more storage than the iPhone, but the screen is smaller, and clients have to use earbuds for audio. The iPhone has built-in speakers.
Smiler goes to luncheons and networking meetings for such organizations as ISES (International Special Events Society), NACE (National Association of Catering Executives), and ABC (Association of Bridal Consultants) as well as his local videographers guild (Greater Philadelphia Videographer’s Association) and the Chamber of Commerce. "When I see people at these meetings, I’ll tell them I recently shot this great event and pull up my iPhone," says Smiler. "Everyone thinks that the presentation on the phone is cool."
If he gets a call during a demo, the video goes into pause. He can hit a button to send the caller to voice mail and return to the demo, or he can take the call. He can also turn off the network capability of the iPhone so his demos proceed undisturbed.
"The iPhone lets you have your return on investment right away—with your first gig," says Smiler. "A video camera takes much longer."
For more information, read these two articles in the Streaming Media Industry Sourcebook 2008:
"Time Has Come Today: Mobile Video Year in Review," Jose Castillo
"Producing Content for Mobile Delivery," Ron Garrison
Stu Sweetow (sweetow at avconsultants.com) runs Oakland, CA-based video production company Audio Visual Consultants. He taught video production at UC Berkeley Extension, was associate editor of Wedding and Event Videography, and was a contributing editor to Camcorder & Computer Video magazine.