The Buggles had the first video to play on MTV. The song was called Video Killed The Radio Star and it ushered in the MTV generation.With the release of the Tapwave Zodiac, my attention has returned to a favorite interest of mine – video on Palm OS devices. Since color first appeared with the Palm IIIc, putting pictures and video clips on my Palm has been something of a fascination with me. I may be acting a bit like George Costanza, but being able to combine passions can only make things better right? I love Palm OS and I love movies so why not combine them?

Currently, I have all the Matrix Revolutions TV and Theatrical trailers on my 256MB SD card on my Tungsten C. It’s been nice to be able to fire up a video clip and see a preview. It’s been like getting a mini-fix in anticipation of Revolutions release. In fact, I’ve watched all the clips so much that when I went to go see Mystic River, I mouthed all the words to the Revolutions preview. But there’s more to video clips than simply fixating on an upcoming movie. There’s a lot of applications that I can think of where having video on your Palm device can be handy.

What If…
What if you could view a complete movie on your handheld. Instead of renting a DVD, you could rent an SD card that had the latest release for you to view on a plane? Owners of Pocket PC handhelds can already do this with PocketPC Films. Granted the movie selection is meager, but the option exists.

What if you could sync your Tivo content with your handheld? While taking the train into work you could watch a Simpson’s episode, or skim through the news while you eat breakfast at a cafe.

So Why Isn’t This A Reality? Technically you could do some of what I just described. It would take you a long time and a bevy of tools to make it happen, but you could watch a movie or tv on your Palm now. If it takes you an hour to put 30 minutes of Tivo content on your Palm, why not just watch the show? The issue right now is that it’s not seamless and easy. So what are the hurdles?

A Standard Format
At CES last year, I asked the guys at PocketPC Films why they didn’t release any content on the Palm OS platform. Clearly there is a bigger market with Palm OS than with PocketPC, so it only makes sense that you would relase a product to that market first. Their answer was that there wasn’t a clear standard for video for Palm OS. With PPC devices, they know that every device has Windows Media Player already installed on it.

My response was that Kinoma is more-or-less a standard now for Palm OS and that they could easily release their content for Palm as well. However, appearances can be deceiving and that’s not exactly the case.

Kinoma Is Great, But..
If you have a Palm OS device, you owe it to yourself to grab a free copy of Kinoma Player. It’s a great application that allows you to view video, 360 degree images, and even play movies directly from the Internet. With Kinoma Producer you can easily convert existing video content into Kinoma format and put them on your Palm. That’s what I used to put the Matrix Revolutions previews on my Tungsten C. With Kinoma Producer, you optimize the video content for your device, so that you get the best quality possible for your handheld. As nice as that is, therein lies the problem.

Since Kinoma files are optimized for each device, if you want to support multiple devices then you have to have multiple files. For a single user that may not sound like a big deal, but if you’re a content provider this is a nightmare. Don’t believe me? Let me count the number of types of files you would have to create just to support one video clip.

1. Black and White
2. Greyscale Hi-Res (HandEra)
3. Color 160 x 160
4. Color 320 x 320 (Hi-Res)
5. Color 320 x 480 (Tungsten T3)
6. Color 320 x 320 (Sony 1)
7. Color 320 x 320 (Sony 2)
8. Color 480 x 320 (Zodiac)

Clearly you could drop off the B&W and Greyscale support and maybe even the 160 x 160 support, but that still leaves you with 4 other formats and I didn’t include other formats such as format for Smartphones.

Possible Solution
One solution would be for Kinoma to provide one file format that could support a variety of video options. Instead of having the file formated for a particular device, have the format “heavy lifting” performed by the program and/or the device itself. I’m not a Palm OS programmer, so I don’t know what it involved with this, but it would seem that this would be a more elegant solution. It would certainly make it easier to provide content. A vendor would only have to provide one file, instead of 10.

Other solution could be to use a standard video format – however just saying “standard video format” is a bit of an oxymoron. There’s so many formats to choose from: H263, MPEG 1,2,4, DivX, DV, MJPEG, etc. However, if you had a player that could support DivX then you wouldn’t have to convert the video prior to viewing it on your handheld. This would make it easier for content providers to add support for handhelds without having to convert their content. A DivX movie could be released for PCs and Handhelds with the same file.

Hope Is On The Way
Kinoma has just released version 2 of their software and they have quickly become the defacto standard for video on Palm OS handhelds. Kinoma Player is bundled with the majority of devices shipping today. Hopefully this will lead to innovation and possibly a single file format.

What is more promising is a new file player called MMPlayer. MMPlayer stands for Mobile Media Player and the goal of this project is to provide an application that can support a variety of codecs, formats and protocols in their native format. It’s a bold project and so far they have made remarkable progress.

Unfortunately, you still have to convert video files. To quote from their website “In theory, MMPlayer should be able to play any DivX movie you care to throw at it. The problem is that most DivX movies are made for viewing on a much larger screen than the 320×320 screen MMPlayer currently runs on. And even if MMPlayer was able to scale the video size to the 320×320 area, it would still lack the CPU power to decode large video sizes.”

In The Mean Time
It would appear that we are standing on the very edge of the “What If…” scenarios that I proposed earlier. Technically the tools are available to bring rich video content to your device, but they don’t call this place the bleeding edge for nothing – it’s going to be somewhat difficult.

For now if you’re happy with finding a video clip here or there, or creating your own content, then the world is your oyster. You can easily make video content for your Palm OS device. For $30 you can convert just about any type of video you can put on your computer.

In the meantime, I’m keeping my eye on MMPlayer and the rest of the horizon in case another new application appears. I know that one day I’ll be able to watch Family Guy with the tap of the stylus. Now if I could find a way to incorporate it with a pastrami sandwich, then I’d have something! 😉