For as long as I can remember, streaming to mobile devices has been one of the most talked about topics in the online video industry. For well more than five years now, companies have been saying that mobile video growth was going to explode and that mobile devices would be the biggest opportunity for the long term success of the online video market. While that’s not been the case to date in the U.S., which has seen slow adoption of video on handsets, with all the new tablets in the market and 4G services being rolled out, mobile video adoption in the U.S. is on the horizon.
Over the past few days I have been testing some of the latest video offerings in the mobile space via a Droid Charge using Verizon’s 4G service. I have to say I am blown away by the quality of the video being delivered over Verizon’s 4G network. For a mobile device, it really is a compelling user experience, which in my opinion, was something that had been lacking in the mobile market for some time. I’m testing a bunch of different apps and services in the market, including Verizon Video, a new on-demand service launched last week. I’ll have a review on that shortly, but for now, he’s a hands-on video of the Sling Android player running over Verizon’s 4G network.
The Sling app, which costs $29.99 in the Android store, is the best Sling player I have seen to date. The video starts up very fast, switching between channels has the lowest lag time I have seen of any Sling player and the quality of the video over Verizon’s 4G network is really, really good. While it’s hard to tell just how good the video quality is in the demo video I shot above, it really is incredible. I’ve never seen video quality this good on a mobile device that’s not using a WiFi connection.
From a technical level, in order for mobile video services to succeed, the app, the hardware and the network all need to work together to create a quality user experience and in this case, that’s exactly what happens with the Sling player on the Droid Charge over Verizon’s 4G network. Of course, from a customer adoption point of view, 4G data plans are still too expensive. Verizon charges $30 a month for 2GB of data transfer and customers get hit with a $10 charge for each 1GB over their quota. Verizon also offers a 5GB a month plan for $50 and 10GB a month for $80, all out of reach of the average customer.
While there is no bitrate standard when it comes to mobile, Encoding.com said they see customers encoding content at around 700Kbps for mobile and others I spoke with said it was between 500Kbps to 750Kbps. Using those numbers, that means the average consumer could get 6 to 10 hours of video streaming to their mobile device before they would break Verizon’s 2GB cap. So while that’s not bad today considering that most people view short-form videos on handsets, 8 hours of video a month on average won’t cut it as these services get more widespread adoption. Cap limits are going to need to increase and prices are going to have to come down for mobile video services to really take off.
The good news is that from a technology point of view, these services now work, they provide a very good user experience and Verizon along with other carriers are spending a lot of money to expand their 4G network. As that happens, costs for the consumer will come down and more video services will be adopted via mobile devices. It’s still going to take time, it won’t happen within a year or two, but video to mobile is the future of our industry and we are just now starting to see some real signs of what the experience is going to look like.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the Sling app and access to Verizon’s 4G network for a limited time, although I have been a Verizon Wireless and Verizon FiOS customer for a long time.