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Sean Berner tipped me about his mobile streaming video site ZooVision. It's pretty neat and to me represents the beginning of a trend - off portal streaming video. But first a disclaimer, I don't have a phone that is capable of handing streaming media - so this review is based on browsing ZooVision and similar sites on a PC along with some Googling. If you want to click through to these sites and check out the videos yourself on a PC you'll need the latest versions of RealPlayer, QuickTime and Windows MediaPlayer.
ZooVision is quite nicely done and features a lot of free mobile streaming video content attractively presented and conveniently organized. There are three featured news clips from the Associated Press - News, Business and Entertainment - which are updated daily (second image). Other content includes 20 episodes of a video podcast called the 'The Blachole', and lots of Music Videos, Anime clips, Movie Trailers, and classic cartoons like Popeye, Little Lulu and Superman. Most of the content is short - 1 or 2 minutes, although the Blachole Vodcast I watched was quite long - 15 minutes - way too long to hold my interest. The videos come in three formats although the majority are 120 x 160 3gp. There are some Windows Media videos that are in larger 240 x 320 format and are noticeably higher in quality and three "3G Demos" which are encoded with the latest h264 codec. The h264 clips didn't work with any of the players on my PC although my version of QuickTime Player claims to support h264.
According to Sean as well as users on HowardForums, the ZooVision videos work with a variety of phones and carriers including:
- Cingular's LG CU500 (HSDPA), Samsung ZX10 (W-CDMA), and even Edge phones like the SonyEriccson w600 and Z500a and Nokia 6620, 6230 and 6270
- Sprint's MM (multi-media) series phones - EVDO units like the Samsung NMM-A920 and the LG Fusic and also 1xRTT devices like the Sanyo MM-8300
- compatible phones on T-Mobile US but only with the $20-30/month "web" plan, not with the cheaper T-Zones.
- Samsung D600 (GPRS!) on Orange UK and the Samsung A920 (EVDO) on Fido Canada.
No joy for non-Windows Mobile Verizon customers however, as the Brew media player on V-Cast phones only plays content with Verizon specific DRM.
ZooVision actually isn't the first to offer off-portal streaming mobile video either. Rocketboom has had a mobile edition (bottom image) of their daily 3 minute tech newscast in 3gp format for over a year and seems to be carrying on pretty well without Amanda Congdon. RocketBoom's mobile streams are hosted by MoveDigital.com which has it's own MoveDigital Mobile Site with hundreds of mobile videos. Microsoft's had a mobile version of WindowsMedia.com for about as long as RocketBoom but the site hasn't been updated in ages and several of the video links are currently broken.
Sprint, Verizon and Cingular are pushing video streaming as way of selling 3G to the public and are including some video streams with their basic $15-$20/month 3G data packages which offer unlimited 3G browsing on the handset (an unlimited plan that allows tethering is 3 to 4 times as expensive). To get this price of course you also need to have a voice plan at $40-50/month including taxes. These prices aren't bad and are comparable to 2.5G voice and data plans without the video. The carriers also have premium video offerings like music videos and live sports events at extra cost.
Sites like ZooVision, Rocketboom and MoveDigital are significant in that they demonstrate that off-portal video is possible on many phones and networks. Sprint and Verizon's bundled content must be accessed from the phone's media player application which seems less convenient and intuitive than following a link in the browser. I don't see video as a separate application on the phone with it's own unique GUI as having much of a future. On the web we watch video by clicking on links in news sites like Yahoo or the BBC. All sorts of sites post links to videos that complement other content on the site and of course sites like YouTube featuring user-generated and user-submitted content have achieved a huge following. I firmly believe that Video on mobiles will also become an adjunct to browsing - accessed through the browser from links on news sites, blogs and video specific sites like ZooVision. The clips may open in a media player but the navigation will be browser driven. Any day now I expect to see YouTube or one of the many YouTube want-a-bees offering a mobile version where users can upload content created on their phones. The MoveDigital site I mentioned above can apparently seamlessly convert large format videos to mobile sized 3GP so it seems that it would be possible to offer all of YouTube in a mobile edition as well.
As an example of what the future looks like consider UK provider 3's SeeMeTV. It's registered 4 million downloads in it's first five months and that's all on-portal. Admittedly, SeeMeTV has a gimmick that an off-portal site would have a hard time duplicating - content creators get a penny every time their video is watched. Still 4 million downloads is pretty amazing as Three only has 4 million UK subscribers. Nobody gets paid for watching so the monetary lure seems to be gathering some compelling content.
There are links to ZooVision, Rocketboom, MoveDigital and WindowsMedia on YesWAP's Mobile Video page - from the front page browse to Entertainment/Mobile Video