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1m Koreans tune into mobile digital TV

Free service proves popular

One million mobile terrestrial digital-TV receivers were purchased in South Korea in the first six months or so after the service was launched, according to government figures.

The service was launched in December and broadcasts seven TV stations and companion radio and data services. It's currently available in Seoul and its environs and should expand nationwide by the end of 2006. The broadcasts are free-to-air, a key reason why it's attracting consumers, said companies selling receivers.

"People don't want to pay extra money for their TV," said Jay Lee, a senior manager at Samsung's digital media business unit. Reception for digital TV is already offered in several of Samsung's mobile phones and the company expects to have it in a much larger number of domestic models soon.

Of the million receivers sold about 32 percent are accounted for by mobile phones. The others are devices such as laptops and digital media players. Initial assumptions were that mobile phones would dominate the market for terminals, so the popularity of other devices surprised observers and manufacturers.

At this week's SEK 2006 electronics show in Seoul a wide range of terminals were on display. Companies such as Samsung and LG have built receivers into almost any device with an LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor while some companies are showing USB receivers that work with laptop computers, priced as low as 50,000 won (about £29).

The service is using a domestic technology called T-DMB (terrestrial digital mobile broadcasting) that transmits CIF (common intermediate format, 352x288 pixels) quality images at 30fps (frames per second) using Mpeg4 AVC compression.

T-DMB is based on the DAB (digital audio broadcasting) digital radio standard that is used in Europe and Asia, but there are competing formats. Japan has its own system called ISDB-T and there's DVB-H (digital video broadcasting-handhelds), which is based on the DVB standard that is used for digital terrestrial and satellite TV in most of the world. Qualcomm has developed a system for mobile carriers called MediaFlo that is attracting interest in the US.

Tests of the Korean T-DMB system are taking place in several other countries, including this month in Germany alongside the World Cup.

Some analysts see a bright future for mobile TV. By the end of this year there are expected to be 3.4 million mobile broadcast TV subscribers, jumping to 102 million in 2010, according to a report issued on Wednesday by InStat. In South Korea domestic estimates put T-DMB terminal sales at eight million by the end of 2007.


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