Cell phone video -- the live transmission of TV images, or streaming video on-demand -- is a very different vision of multimedia's portable future than the video version of the iPod (or whatever the public ends up calling a portable media player). The iPod is based on the "filling station" model -- equipped with its own mini-sized one-inch hard drive, you load it up with content at your desktop, and play back on the go.
So which way is it going to go? Will portable video devices in the future be used primarily to playback recordings (see Archos Portable Media Player), or for watching live TV or on-demand streaming video feeds? (See Video snacking on cell phones.)
Personally, I think the answer is yes to both, but with shifting emphasis over time. As this technology starts to really kick in, the local drive will be the primary source of programming, functioning as a portable extension of TiVo, so to speak (and similar DVR devices).
Portable television, after all, has been around for decades, but enjoyed only limited popularity. It's the opportunity to personalize television -- the way the Walkman and everything since has personalized the portable audio experience -- that's different now.
Plus, the local disk drive -- or its solid state replacement -- has the distinct advantage of being impervious to drop outs, weak reception, etc. Local memory systems work reliably and consistently on subways, and in tunnels, and even in airplanes.
The local disk drive has just one drawback: size. However, with flash memory cards now exceeding 1-GB, and with small pocket-size screens utilizing just a quarter of the pixels in a standard-definition VGA quality image, solid state memory can now play a significant role in recording TV programs.
It's also possible to stream video, via cell phone transmission, to a portable device from your own personal TiVo or similar recording device at home -- that's the premise of the innovative new Slingbox from Sling Media. But this approach, while clever, is most likely an interim solution for early adopters that's probably a bit too complex for the mass market.
Over time, I believe centralized server-based DVR systems will become commonplace, at which point streaming, on-demand services may overtake the local disk drive or flash card, especially for ultra-portable devices.
It may take decades to get there, but when the day comes when you can order this week's prime time sitcoms -- or the networks' evening newscasts -- over video-on-demand cable-TV, you'll also be able to receive small-screen versions of these programs on your cell phone.
Cliff Roth is Site Editor of Video/Imaging DesignLine. Share your thoughts on this or any other topic relating to video and imaging design by visiting our Forums.