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Switched On: The TV is personal again

Posted by Dark Legion 12/04/2009


The short history of digital content includes several examples of on-the-go services like Audible and Slacker that were started out on own devices before expanding to others, But FLO TV, which started its service on handsets from Verizon and then AT&T, has gone the other way.
After being stalled by the digital TV transition delay that held up spectrum it needed to launch and expand service in several markets, FLO TV has launched a dedicated $250 device, the HTC-branded Personal Television, even as it seeks to expand the number of handsets supporting its receiver.

Like a Kindle, iPod nano, or Flip camcorder, the pocketable Personal TV has a straightforward, optimized purpose. And for technophiles who live in a world of Hulu, TV-on-DVDs and Apple TV, it recalls a simpler time when TV content and device were an integrated pair. Turn on the device, press a GPS-style safety disclaimer, and you're watching TV. Apart from power and volume/mute controls, it has only a single front-mounted button brings up the electronic programming guide, which can be navigated by touching and swiping its 3.5-inch touchscreen. A laptop battery-style power status button lights up a series of LEDs to let you know how much charge is left in the device.

But in an age when iTunes and other services allow one to download just the shows they want for a small fee, not all of Personal TV's limitations are so charming. Like other wireless products, it won't work on underground trains or planes, and there's no way to record video, or even perform tricks less objectionable to copyright holders such as pause or instant replay. Fortunately, the Personal TV's screen is quite watchable outdoors. And, unlike the analog portable TVs of yore and the digital portable TVs that will come to market in 2010, FLO TV is a subscription service. The company includes six months of free service with the device, but then it is $15 per month, the same rate that AT&T charges for the service on its handsets that support it. And unlike in shows downloaded from iTunes, there are plenty of commercials.

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