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Tiny Video Screens Necessitate Brevity



Posted 4/20/2006

A word of advice to those creating video content for handheld devices: keep it short.

Users of cell phones and other portable gadgets appear willing to watch clips, experts say — but only if the videos last a few minutes at most. What they want is media snacking, rather than a full meal.

The screens on mobile phones, handheld computers and Apple Computer's (AAPL) video iPod range from one to three inches. That means they're too tiny to show long video programs without creating eyestrain or other discomfort.

And though some groundbreaking portable technology could make it easier to watch long videos, nothing like that appears imminent.

"Portable devices still aren't suited for delivering long-form video," said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Laszlo. "Most video efforts are going toward short snippets of content."

Other trends also could spur the growth of short video content. For one, younger consumers — those most likely to watch video on handheld devices — have shorter attention spans. They don't like viewing long programs or ads, analysts say.

Shorter Than 15 Seconds

What's the ideal length? "You're talking about ads or other content lasting no more than 10 to 15 seconds," said Jordan Rohan, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

Such content includes everything from cartoons and games to news and entertainment clips.

"The most popular genre will be short news clips, movie trailers, music videos, animated clips and weather reports," said Jupiter's Laszlo.

One emerging snacking genre: short cartoon strips lasting 10 seconds. Unlike regular strips, they have no dialogue boxes — since it's hard to read small letters on a handheld screen.

The cartoons are offbeat, even weird, and viewers must infer what the punch line or meaning is.

Advertisers also are embracing the snacking concept. Their ads mix sports, adventure and other themes with a marketing message.

In most cases, the snacking ads last five to 15 seconds.

Mobile Screen Experiments

For years, technology firms have tried to come up with an alternative to the small display screens on handheld devices.

IBM (IBM) developed a portable Walkman-style personal computer in the late 1990s. It had a headset-mounted display with a 3-inch monitor.

The idea was to make the screen appear much bigger by putting it closer to the eye.

The device also let the user go online and do simple computer tasks while walking around.

IBM mulled using the headset display with other wireless devices as well. But Big Blue didn't commercialize the product.

Other companies have toyed with the idea of using the video displays mounted in military pilot helmets for consumer handhelds.

Some have looked at using wireless video screens shaped like eyeglasses. Users would see images projected from inside the lens. Yet another idea is to have a small screen on a hinge that would swing in front of a user's face.

But components for these sorts of devices tend to be too costly or complicated for the consumer market. And there can be some side effects, Laszlo says.

"There are drawbacks like causing headaches and dizziness," Laszlo said. "It's going to be awhile before technology like that is ready for the mass consumer audience."

Headset monitors or eyepieces will have to be easy to understand and use, Rohan adds. "The more difficult it is to describe what these gadgets do, the smaller the actual user base will be," he said.

There's also a price issue. Cutting-edge technology is usually expensive until it can be mass produced.

So in the foreseeable future, the small screens on phones and iPods will be much more prevalent. That should put a crimp on the kinds of media they play.

Audio Options

While those devices may not be ideal for video, they are perfect for delivering audio content — a field that continues to evolve.

Mobile phone users, for instance, can get live audio information delivered to their phones.

UpSnap, which provides streaming audio services, lets phone users listen to Nascar races and other content. With audio, the length of the program is less important, says Tony Phillip, UpSnap's chief executive.

"There are no limitations," he said. "Phones have been handling voice calls since Alexander Graham Bell."

UpSnap's content comes from ESPN Radio, Fox News, Radio Disney and over 100 other music and entertainment channels.

UpSnap makes money by running pay-per-call ads with its audio programs. Advertisers pay only if consumers dial a phone number running with the ad.
Thanks to Dan.


At April 22, 2006 at 4:41 AM Anonymous said...

Check out

They are bouncing lasers off a fourier transform of the desired image to avoid the need to raster scan. They do not talk about Head Mounted Display applications at the moment but it would obviously be an applicable technology.

At April 22, 2006 at 10:08 AM Anonymous said...

I think Microvision should be contacting all these publications and informing them of their technology.

At April 23, 2006 at 4:28 PM Anonymous said...

Hey Ben -- totally off topic but...

Thought you could use your forum to encourage readers to move away from the mess the Yahoo board has become. The new Google board requires slightly more info to register, so we might get lucky and lose some of the seedier elements in the transition. Who knows? We might be able to leave the politics behind at Yahoo and encourage a more civil and productive discourse about MVIS. Just a thought.

At April 24, 2006 at 2:03 PM Anonymous said...

I like the goodgle finance page. Show all the info including this blog. very nice.


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