MobiTV for Windows Mobile gets a full review. The long-awaited mobile TV offering finally gives Microsoft PDA users the same ability to watch TV that MobiTV has offered to standard phones for years. Does Mobile TV on Pocket PC stand up to the typical phone? Read more to find out.
TV on Windows Mobile devices is something we’ve been having to deal with for years. By that, we mean we’ve had to constantly repeat the “coming soon” mantra for years to our readers. MobiTV certainly took their time reaching Windows Mobile, but, it is available, and yes, it does work.
MobiTV’s requirements are very strict. You must be running Windows Mobile 5.0, and cannot have a VGA (640×480) display device. No Windows Mobile phone in the U.S. has over a QVGA display, so that is not a major issue.
On Windows Mobile, MobiTV looks and works similar to its phone counterpart. It comes complete with a channel guide, full screen mode, and other PDA-specific perks such as a mini guide that you can view while watching a channel play. However, there are some glitches we experienced on our Sprint PPC-6700 (with latest firmware). The mini guide constantly exited while scrolling. More times than not, it takes three or four attempts to scroll to a particular channel, reach it, and be able to open it.
(Last Minute Update: Testing with the Treo 700wx has confirmed that the scrolling bug is limited to the PPC-6700).
Full screen was also riddled with minor glitches. Changing the volume caused the player to exit full screen. Changing channels caused it to exit full screen. And, minor losses in bandwidth caused it to exit full screen. Now, this normally wouldn’t prompt such criticism, however, MobiTV must fully re-buffer when entering full screen view. This causes a 10-15 second delay for taking almost any action while in full screen, every single time. Some of this appears to be limitations of the Windows Mobile OS, and others appear to be glitches on the part of MobiTV. MobiTV told us that some of this may be specific to the PPC-6700 and that they hope to address it in future versions.
However, MobiTV has competition. Free solutions such as Orb now offer wireless TV streaming with no monthly fee. Slingbox now also offers a Windows Mobile client with a one-time flat fee model for the hardware and software. MobiTV does however have the obvious advantage of not requiring any software or hardware beyond the Windows Mobile device itself. The $9.99 monthly fee avoids the costs of television service, encoding devices, and running hardware from home to supply the video.
Quality vs Quantity
The quality of MobiTV is important to examine. This is not cable or satellite-grade reception. It is signal dependent, and you’re only going to get the quality shown in the photos here if you have a near-perfect EV-DO signal.
However, as a standalone service, MobiTV is its own channel provider. Mobile TV is stuck in a loop currently, as most TV channels either are reluctant to enter a fiercely competitive, and early-adoptor battlefield. Others are locked into advertising contracts that preclude Mobile TV Simulcasting. As such, MobiTV carries a limited channel lineup.
Sprint customers will feel some burn, as channels such as the Fox News Channel are available from MobiTV via Sprint TV Live, but is absent from the Windows Mobile lineup. MobiTV is working to improve the lineup, during our review they added a custom content channel, Anime01. This mixing of traditional cable channels, with Internet TV channels, is about as good an idea as possible due to the limitations of the industry currently.
MobiTV vs Orb
In terms of quality, this is where MobiTV shines. MobiTV taps Windows Mobile technologies, but also builds on them. The key to MobiTV’s quality is that it constantly samples the available bandwidth speed. In our testing, we could move in and out of EV-DO coverage, and MobiTV automatically downsampled to 1xRTT coverage. While MobiTV is not able to perform as well when togggling between EDGE and GPRS, we were able to maintain video playback in very extreme low-signal, low-bandwidth coverage situations.
In short, MobiTV played where we couldn’t even make phone calls.
Orb on the other hand makes a single sampling, at the time of connection. This is fine if the device (and coverage) remains fixed, however, that is rare. Orb did however deliver better picture quality with our test setup.
The WiFi Catch-22
One major hinderance of MobiTV on Windows Mobile is that it does not work with WiFi. WiFi is one of the modern, key advantages that can separate smart devices from typical phones. It enables data applications to function with broadband, rather than weak signals. Even worse, MobiTV works fine when cradled to a PC, tapping the ActiveSync USB internet connection.
We asked MobiTV why WiFi wouldn’t work with the Windows Mobile version. We were told this was a content problem. MobiTV currently offers a separate version targeted at laptop owners who want to watch TV over WiFi (as well as a Palm OS WiFi version). They said they are working to enable WiFi in Windows Mobile MobiTV in the future.
The only other standalone option for Windows Mobile, SmartVideo, fully supports WiFi and cellular connections.
MobiTV performs as advertised. The service finally brings a standalone Mobile TV solution to Windows Mobile. Unlike competitors such as SmartVideo, the service does not rely on lowest-common-denominator. Also, unlike Orb, the service does not require you to jump through a dozen hoops to watch TV.
However, cost is in the eye of the beholder. MobiTV costs $10/month every month, and is priced similarly to SmartVideo. Orb on the other hand is free after purchasing a TV card, and leaving your PC on to stream every single cable channel to your phone. MobiTV is the most robust, standalone solution, and aside from initial-release bugs, the only true failure of the program is the inability to deliver WiFi viewing.
Pros: Standalone, adaptive bandwidth consumption, high quality Mobile TV. On Windows Mobile.
Cons: Lack of WiFi, limited channel lineup.
Final Score: 4/5