The Massive Move to Mobile Media
By Carlo Longino, Tue Jan 04 23:45:00 GMT 2005

A couple technologies to take users' home media mobile have come into focus this week, pointing the way to a future when they'll be able to access any of their personal media from their pocket.

Neither TiVoToGo or Orb Networks are necessarily new, though the TiVo service (an open secret for months) was officially announced this week, and Orb popped back up in the blogosphere. TiVoToGo lets TiVo users transfer their recordings to laptops and some forthcoming portable video players, while Orb currently lets owners of Windows Media Center PCs stream any media content they've got photos, music, video, even live TV to an Internet-enabled mobile device.

Both offer a glimpse of a future a fast-approaching one at that where location and time are irrelevant to personal media consumption, with the mobile phone at the center. A future where users have access to any of their content at any time, with the home computer or living room becoming little more than a content collection and distribution point with a connected theater.

The paradigm shift started with disk-based MP3 players like the iPod letting users carry around their entire music collections, and now Apple's moved on to photographs. But giving users constant access to their video and TV libraries, wherever they may be, is far more compelling, even moreso than being able to watch live television on a mobile phone.

TiVo and Orb come at this from different angles. Orb takes the over-the-air approach, and is a far more complete solution if you've got a Media Center PC and don't take into account the current state of wireless networks. The TiVo solution is based around syncing your laptop or PVP to a TiVo unit, which likely delivers higher quality, but limits mobile use to whatever you've remembered to transfer over before you leave the house.

Of course, patient users can already re-encode video and transfer it to their mobiles, and there's been plenty of suggestion that TiVo could include this functionality in its future products. But what makes things really exciting is that the limitations on both the TiVo's sync and Orb's over-the-air approaches are diminishing. As flash- and disk-based storage gets cheaper and the technology improves, the storage capacity of mobile devices will skyrocket, making it possible to carry around all your music, photos and movies on a phone validating the sync approach. But as networks improve, accessing content stored at home over the air won't have the drawbacks it does today.

When a phone has a huge amount of storage, letting users sync something relatively static like a music collection to it, there's little need to be able to retrieve songs from home over the network. But for media that's constantly changing, like DVR recordings of TV broadcasts, the ability to access content or sync remotely is crucial.

TiVo hackers have already got their units spitting out RSS feeds of what their owners have saved. Some content providers, like ESPN, are tinkering with pre-loading video downloads to handsets, sacrificing immediacy for quality. Combine the two ideas in some sort of mobile RSS with video enclosures amalgamation (hey, I'm no developer...), and you've got a mobile phone that's synced up with your TiVo.

These services will converge on the mobile phone because it's the one device we've got with us pretty much all the time, and could dislodge the home living room as the central point of media consumption. DVR manufacturers talk about their devices enabling the timeshifting of TV shows. Mobile technology will add placeshifting to the mix as well.