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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: New PDA Technology Not Ready to Replace DVD

26 Oct, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

Although new Pocket PC personal digital assistant (PDA) storage cards like Taiwan-based Pretec Electronic's 640 MB compact flash card (due late November, $649) are beginning to enter the marketplace with the promise of delivering 10 hours of movie video, hardware constraints like the battery life of a typical PDA and the lower quality resolution of a PDA screen limit the portable's entertainment offerings.

“PDA batteries have 10 to 14 hours of life based on occasional usage on low-end power programs like Microsoft Outlook,” says Ken Dulaney, analyst with Gartner G2. “Although there are now flash discs hitting the market that may have the potential to store 10 hours of video, the cards cost more than the PDA itself and I don't see battery life to support movie playback on PDAs for another five years.”

Microsoft's Windows Media Video 8.0, which comes equipped on the newest Pocket PCs, improves compression efficiency 30% over the last installment, 7.0, allowing the new, high-end cards to play up to 10 hours of video. Drain on battery power, which is why Nintendo doesn't include backlit screens on Game Boy Color or Game Boy Advance, remains the major obstacle for video compression. The high cost of these new cards also will factor into the picture. Most importantly, the Hollywood studios that own the content won't be in a hurry to provide movies to this new medium any time soon, at least until the technology and costs can provide a mass market audience to purchase the content. And analysts don't expect PDAs to be used for watching movies.

“People use the entertainment features on their PDAs to fill the gaps of time in their business day,” says Amy Francetic, senior wireless analyst for Cheskin, a research and consulting firm in Redwood City, Calif.

“They purchase the PDAs for business use and then discover and use the entertainment features once they have them," Francetic said. "These gaps of time are usually small, hence the popularity of games on PDAs. They can complete a game or a level in a few minutes. This usage pattern reflects the highly mobile behavior of the user. Under what circumstances would they watch 10 hours of movies, much less an entire movie? Sitting on a plane? The person that has one of these new Casio PDAs probably also has a fairly new laptop with a DVD player in it and, given the choice of watching a movie on a plane, I would guess that most people would opt for the PC whose screen is five to six times larger than the PDA's.”

“If you want to watch a movie, buy a portable DVD player or use a laptop PC, because the picture quality on a PDA movie is nowhere near the resolution of a DVD,” says Dulaney. “These machines weren't built for watching movies.”

Peter Mo, Pretec's tech support manager, said that the price of the 640 MB card will drop as soon as the 1 GB card is introduced to the market place, which could happen as early as the first or second quarter of 2002.

“I think you'll see a 30% to 40% drop in price for these new cards, which should open up the market,” Mo says. “Right now, the cards are best used for video clips, versus entire movies, due to the complexity of downloading and compressing movies to the PDA format. Obviously, the 10 hours of video only works with a PDA plugged into an AC adaptor, but you could download a two-hour movie, assuming you're good with computers, and watch it on a plane.”

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