South Korea launches digital TV for handheld devices

South Korea's major broadcasters began transmitting programs on Thursday in a format intended to be received by handheld devices such as cell phones, they said the same day.

The service, called terrestrial DMB (digital multimedia broadcasting), is a lower resolution and more highly compressed digital stream than that targeted at conventional televisions making it easier to process for devices with limited power. It is based on a system called DMB, which is related to the DAB (digital audio broadcasting) standard used for digital radio in some countries.

The service launched in Seoul and the surrounding area on Thursday and is planned to be available nationwide during 2006. It's free and includes channels from South Korea's major broadcast networks: KBS, MBC and SBS.

A competing service based on DMB is already provided via satellite from TU Media Corp. That service has already picked up more than 200,000 subscribers, many of whom are watching programming on one of several cell phones available that include a compatible tuner. The satellite service carries several niche TV channels and a number of themed radio broadcasts.

The terrestrial DMB service was launched on the same day that terrestrial digital TV broadcasts for conventional television sets hit full-power in Tokyo and began in several other areas in neighboring Japan.

Like many countries, Japan is in the middle of a gradual transition from analog to digital TV and the launch of full-power broadcasting from Tokyo Tower means that most homes in and around the capital can now receive the programming. Japan plans to end analog broadcasting in 2011.

Japanese broadcasters are also planning a digital TV service aimed at handheld devices. It will be based on a Japanese standard called ISDB. Trial broadcasts are already under way and the service is due to begin in April 2006.

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