This is the last in a series of 4 reports on the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Convention held April 9-14 in Las Vegas, NV.

All of us are familiar with the recent switch of all U.S. TV stations to Digital TV (DTV), now offering us a clearer widescreen TV picture at home. A follow-on to that DTV transition is an additional specification called Mobile DTV (mDTV). The mDTV transmissions come from your local TV stations just like the DTV signal you view at home, but mDTV is a separate signal meant strictly for mobile reception. Mobile DTV is being rolled out by commercial TV stations in 20 markets this year. In addition, $2M in funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) will assist Public TV stations in 20 markets to launch mDTV. Manufacturers such as LG, RCA and Samsung are already making dedicated mDTV receivers with three- to five-inch screens, as well as portable DVD players with embedded mDTV tuners. Adapters for mDTV are also hitting the market for use on laptops, tablet computers, and the iPhone and iPad. Of course the “killer app” will be mDTV on cell phones. LG is leading the way on that effort, having already developed the needed chip for cellular handset integration. Handset makers are now in the process of finding real estate within their handsets for the chip and we should be seeing mDTV-enabled cellular handsets soon. Some of the cool new mDTV features shown at the NAB Show included 3D TV without glasses, interacting with the show you are watching via Tweet-TV, on-demand shows using NRT (non-real-time) technology, and virtual coupons you can scan at a local store right from your smart phone.

Great, but what does all this have to do with Alerts & Warnings? Well, in an NAB session I sat in on there was a lengthy discussion by guest speakers from Japan on how well Mobile DTV worked in their country during the recent earthquake and tsunami. When citizens felt the shaking and opened up their cell phones for information, they found that cellular service was down – but Mobile DTV was up and running, since the signal comes from local TV stations not the cellular towers. The public could watch real time video of the happenings in the affected area, getting current information on demand. At the end of this convincing session, Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Chief Technology Officer John McCoskey announced that PBS will be participating in a year-long pilot program to deliver emergency alerts using audio, video, text and graphics via Mobile DTV. PBS will partner with LG Electronics, and its R&D lab Zenith, which will develop mDTV devices and will fund the project. Also, CPB will provide matching grants to local public TV stations for the mDTV transmission equipment. This new system will be different, and in addition to, the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) which delivers only text messages via the cellular network infrastructure (referenced in my previous NAB reports). The pilot messages will be CAP-compliant and will be integrated with the FEMA IPAWS system.
Link to the PBS Press Release:

A different session at NAB highlighted yet another warning method used in Japan for emergencies, DTV Datacasting. This is data that is delivered to your home TV, and then displayed on your TV screen. A demonstration was shown of the system in action during the earthquake; the normal program picture reduced to one-quarter-size and the rest of the screen was emergency data such as evacuation routes or shelter locations. During non-emergency times, the system is used by local officials on a daily basis for routine community announcements to increase public awareness of the system. While this system would be another excellent example to follow in the U.S., it was disappointing to hear that the data is based on Japan’s own TV Common Markup Language (TVCML), not the worldwide standard Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).

We hope you’ve enjoyed our NAB 2011 Reports on AWARE – see you next year.

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