Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Thursday 7/9/2006 It's hard to know where to begin with the unplumbable depths of naffness that cloak BT's Movio mobile TV service, as launched today with Virgin Mobile. Let's start with all the good things that digital TV can give us.

Thursday 7/9/2006

It's hard to know where to begin with the unplumbable depths of naffness that cloak BT's Movio mobile TV service, as launched today with Virgin Mobile.

Let's start with all the good things that digital TV can give us. You can get hundreds of channels, programmes on demand, subscription-free services from the BBC, ITV and their various offshoots, personal video recording — a rich set of options.

Now, let's have a look at the mobile phone market and all the innovations that make it exciting: 3G's selection of music and video services, a constant stream of new handsets from loads of manufacturers, the ability to take it all with you when you pop abroad, ever-increasing integration with the Internet.

So Movio is going to be a mixture of the finest aspects of the above, right? All the best bits of digital telly, all the best bits of mobile tech, all wrapped up in one irresistible package?

Naw. This is BT, remember. What you get is a choice of one — that's one — 2G-only handset, which, while it has a certain modernist rakishness, looks like it might double as a gas cooker lighter. And that handset runs Windows Mobile, which may not be everyone's cup of tea. It has to, though, because the TV pictures are all locked down with Windows Digital Rights Management. That means you can't record them, move them off the phone or do anything else with them other than watch them at the time they're transmitted.

But that's OK, because the rights of the broadcasters are being protected from all those mobile TV piracy rings — so there's lots of great content, right? Wrong. You have a choice of BBC1, ITV, E4 and some form of pre-recorded Channel 4. But those channels are further limited: some sports, some films and some American stuff will be missing, because they haven't managed to get the rights for them. They also can't get the rights for the adverts, of all things.

So that means pay-as-you-go Virgins get to pay five quid a month extra for a reduced set of four otherwise free-to-air channels, with a chance that BBC1 will go away after a year because that's only on there as an experiment. People on £25 a month or higher tariffs can get it for free. Lucky people.

Still, it's digital. Top quality. But sadly, no. DAB hasn't got much bandwidth, so the pictures are cut down to fit the display — and while we haven't had a chance to play with the service, we know all too well how good DAB is for radio on the move. It burbles. It crunches. It makes that odd DABby sound like a frog gargling marbles. Whatever that does to TV pictures, we don't know — but you're unlikely to mistake it for HD.

There are good things. There's a seven-day electronic programme guide. There's a red button for interactiveness, although heaven only knows what it'll do. There's Pamela Anderson fronting the service: ironic, given that Movio is highly unlikely to have the rights to any of her famous oeuvre. There's nothing else to say.

If you really must have TV on the move, you can get analogue telly and radio for £45 or mobile Freeview for £120. Neither will cost you a penny more ever, you can watch them while making a phone call, and you can keep your choice of handsets and services.

You'll still have to light your cooker yourself, though.