America: Out of the Stream

If anyone is wondering if Linux will heavily impact streaming before long,
wonder no more.

Britain’s preeminent science weekly sadly reports that an
all-in-one portable digital TV set, cellphone and Web browser that works even
in speeding cars or trains has been developed by Nokia. But Americans won’t
be able to make use of such devices, because the digital TV standard in the
U.S. isn’t robust enough to support reception on the move.

Users of Nokia’s new device, called [email protected], will be able to watch TV, make
phone calls or scan the Net even if they are walking down the street or
travelling in a train or car. The set, based on the open source Linux
operating system, can display Web pages sent alongside digital broadcasts, as
Convergence brings the streaming Web and digital TV and radio into the same
package. Commands transmitted over the device’s built-in cellphone modem
select the pages.

But Nokia’s new device will work only with Europe’s DVB digital TV format.
Analogue TV and pictures transmitted in the American digital TV format,
8-VSB, cannot be decoded on the move because their signals are not rugged
enough.

The 8-VSB system has been under fire recently for its poor picture quality in
built-up areas, and some TV networks are pressing for the system to be
scrapped. DVB divides a signal into several thousand narrow carrier signals
that allow a receiver to reject echoes from buildings or hills, whereas 8-VSB
relies on a coding system which is prone to echoes that ruin mobile
reception.

“I am amazed that a country where people drive to the corner postbox has
chosen a digital TV system that does not allow mobile reception,” says Helmut
Stein, Nokia’s vice-president.

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