You're sitting on the beautiful Baga beach in Goa, soaking in the last rays of the evening sun on a deckchair. But there's this nagging feeling gnawing at your insides, after all, it is the England Vs Germany game tonight! You did promise your wife that this would be a football free vacation. And the worst part is, even if you do muster up the courage to cheat on that promise, your beach side cottage doesn't have a TV, you've checked into an ecotel. So what's the solution? How can you catch up on all the live action while travelling…how about on your mobile phone!
That's exactly what TATA Photon Plus gives you the option to do, live TV anytime, anywhere, on your mobile handset.
The Tata Photon Plus mobile TV service has been launched on five handsets so far, the Samsung Corby TV, Samsung Metro, BlackBerry Tour 9630, BlackBerry Curve 8530 and LG 510 Cookie Zip - all CDMA handsets since the service is available only on this network currently. We reviewed the service using the Samsung Corby TV, a CDMA version of Samsung's popular social networking phone.
To access Mobile TV, all you have to do is press the ‘Mobile TV' icon on the menu screen, and thumbnails of all the available channels show up. Although the adverts claim that you can watch up to 50 channels, we had access to nearly 66 channels, since more have been added recently. The channels are all free-to-air and are provided by the service ‘MimobiTV', powered by Apalya Technologies. The service amalgamates content from different content providers, and then makes them suitable for small screen viewing. It is a vendor that provides content not only for Tata Photon plus, but also to Reliance NetConnect.
We liked the variety of channels on offer. There were kids channels such as Cartoon Network and Pogo; news channels like NDTV 24x7, CNN IBN and BBC World and general entertainment channels such as Star One and Zoom, among others. What we found to be lacking was the choice of English entertainment channels. Apart from Hollywood movies there was nothing else to choose from. This could be due to the fact that the English channels are all priced and at a premium.
While some content is available as live streaming, such as news on NDTV and CNN, other channels give you only pre-recorded programs. For example, in Cartoon Network, you can choose between selected episodes of Dexter's Laboratory, Powerpuff Girls, Johnny Bravo, etc. For the sports fans amongst us, we could watch ESPN mobile, which lets us catch some of the matches at Wimbledon live, TNA and the FIFA World Cup. According to Apalya's website, there is also an IPL channel, but we weren't able to see that in the list of options. This channel is probably broadcast only when there is live IPL action. A point to note is that for live streaming there is approximately a 5-10 second lag between what is broadcast on TV and what you see on the handset.
We checked the pre-recorded programs on different days, and often the episodes changed everyday. However there were some exceptions, for example Hollywood movies had displayed the same two movies since we got the handset. Movie channels are usually updated once a month as of now.
The videos took a while to stream, sometimes even a couple of minutes. The fluctuation in time taken to load videos depended on signal strength. The service was quite fast outdoors, and continued streaming even in a moving vehicle. Sometimes there was a lag in streaming, causing a delay in pre-recorded programs. With live TV, any delay caused due to streaming resulted in pixellation. Picture quality was surprisingly clear, and looked quite crisp on the Corby's TFT screen. Scrolling between the icons and selecting channels or shows was a breeze with the Corby's capacitive touch screen. The phone offered a slight haptic feedback which we liked, and preferred to a resistive touch which is quite outdated.
Volume on the Corby was average, and sound was only audible in a quiet room. We would recommend using headphones. However, the phone doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack so you'll have to use the company supplied ones. We would have preferred a volume toggle switch though, because adjusting the volume with the help of the touch screen controls uses up a lot of the display space.
If you want to watch TV on your phone, you will have to subscribe to a data plan, which is the same as what you use when browsing mobile internet. An hour of watching TV takes up about 60MB of data. To use the service, both postpaid and prepaid customers will first need a base tariff plan, plus Rs 100 per month as a TV subscription. In addition, you have to subscribe to Tata Photon Plus' data plans, which start at Rs 500 for postpaid users and Rs 110 for prepaid users. Depending on the plan you choose, you get a certain amount of data free, which you can then use for either watching TV or internet browsing. The plans will not be good value for money if you are a couch potato. For example, as a postpaid customer, if you pay Rs 500, you get 512MB of data, which gives you just a few hours of TV and browsing time. However, if you want more data, the plans get progressively cheaper, Rs 600 gives you 1GB, Rs 750 gives you 2GB and so on. The plus side is that you don't need these data packages if you're only looking for net browsing, there are cheaper options that the service provider offers you.
Watching TV on your mobile phone seems like a unique experience, for the present. As the technology improves, there will be more channels and programs available for the viewer. We were impressed with the streaming speed as well as video quality, but it comes at a price.