Vaporware TV tablet

Seemed good at the time. One of the highlights of our CES coverage back in 2013 was a combination Android tablet and portable TV that would even use the MDTV standard so that you could get reception in a moving vehicle.

The red flags begin

Yeah, it was featured by RCA, which should have been the first clue that it would never see the light of day. RCA is one of those companies that licenses its name to about half a dozen other makers of electronics, some good and some not-so-good. But I was excited. It seemed like a great way to have the best of both worlds. I raved about the idea in my report. Alas, the tablet never actually shipped, and in fact the specific distributor who brought it to the show seems to have gone out of business sometime in the summer of 2013. So much for that, right?

The house of cards collapses

In fact, the entire MDTV standard seems to have dissolved, after going through several iterations including being taken over by an outfit named Dyle, which has also been out of business for so long that their web site is up for sale.

The evolution of over-the-air TV on your device

No, mobile digital TV never took off. And I suppose that’s ok, because it was always going to be an inferior standard. It gave way to transitional technologies that will, eventually, pave the way for real mobile over-the-air TV someday.

About three years ago, DISH started showing its AirTV box with local channel support. This unassuming black box had the ability to turn local, over-the-air television into a network stream. Using the free Sling app, you could watch your local channels anywhere. While the box itself isn’t sold anymore (by Solid Signal or anywhere else) AirTV does sell a version of it on their site that does the same thing.

I thought it was a great idea at the time. But, for whatever reason it didn’t light up the world. Like MDTV before it, it failed to reach the right niche. The “new hotness” at that time wasn’t streaming local channels, it was internet-delivered local TV, like the service that would eventually become known as AT&T TV.

What will it take to get real over-the-air TV on mobile again?

We don’t have the ability to view OTA television while on the move now, and that was on purpose. Even though it was possible before 2009, the current digital TV standard was designed without that capability. At the time the standard was developed, there were two options for digital data delivery: either it worked really well when you were standing still, or it worked kinda OK while you were moving and standing still. The ATSC committee chose to make things more bulletproof while standing still.

It’s a shame, because data standards continued to evolve. Within a few years it was very possible to get a 19Mbps stream while in motion. Of course it was… because you do this almost all the time on your phone. Not only that, but the European DVB-T2 standard does it with live television. Folks in Europe can watch TV while in motion, and have been able to for a long time.

In order to catch up, we would need to adopt the ATSC 3.0 standard. This standard is in testing right now, but it could be years before widespread adoption. If it does happen, be prepared for a whole slew of portable TV options once again. But then, it’s hard to know if it will happen. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if I wrote a Throwback Thursday article five years from now talking about my high hopes for that technology. Let’s hope that by then, we’re all (finally) watching live TV in motion again.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.