Qualcomm's FLO puts a TV in your hand

MediaFLO, the Qualcomm subsidiary that broadcasts digital TV to mobile phones, introduced its first device on Wednesday by taking the phone out of the TV.

The FLO TV Personal Television has a 3.5-inch (8.9 centimeter) diagonal LCD screen and a touchscreen interface that lets viewers change the channel just by swiping a finger across it. The TV is set to go on sale during the year-end holiday season in retail stores at a suggested retail price of US$249.99. Service will be priced as low as $8.99 per month.

MediaFLO can broadcast as many as 20 channels of live and prerecorded TV on a dedicated network that complements mobile operators' infrastructure rather than consuming more of their mobile data capacity.

Verizon Wireless launched MediaFLO on select handsets in 2007, and AT&T followed in 2008. The U.S. network operates on MediaFLO's own frequencies, former analog TV channels. MediaFLO has also tested the service in other countries, including Japan and the U.K. By promoting its FLO (Forward Link Only) technology, Qualcomm has set itself up against the widely espoused DVB-H (Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld) standard, a familiar role for the pioneer of CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) cellular technology.

The handheld TV is one part of MediaFLO's expansion beyond selling TV on phones. Last month, the company announced a partnership with automotive electronics manufacturer Audiovox to offer live in-car TV. That service will be sold through auto dealers as an added feature on new cars, typically with prepaid pricing for a year or more of initial service.

The company did not detail monthly pricing for service on the Personal Television, but the $8.99 per month rate will come with a three-year prepaid subscription. Up until now, through the mobile operators, the service has been charged on a monthly basis on phone bills. For example, Verizon sells a service with 10 channels for $15 per month. Consumers won't have to sign up for a contract to buy the Personal TV, but it can't be used for anything but watching MediaFLO's broadcasts.

The Personal Television weighs just over 5 ounces (142 grams) and measures 4.4 inches by 3 inches by 0.5 inch. MediaFLO estimates its battery life at five hours of TV watching or 300 hours of standby. The device includes built-in stereo speakers and a stand to prop up the screen. It has a software feature for users to set reminders of shows they want to watch, according to MediaFLO.

Like other outlets for FLO TV, the Personal Television will get a unique set of channels, but the major brands MediaFLO offers will be represented, according to a company representative. ESPN, Fox, MTV, CNBC and MSNBC are represented among channels offered on FLO TV now.

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