With thousands of shows to choose from, it is not easy picking something to watch during the Edinburgh Festival.
But a new wireless video service is offering visitors a new way to use their mobile phones to sift through what is on offer.
Video clips from performers at the festival are available, together with reviews from critics, and festival goers do not need a third-generation mobile phone to watch them.
The service, which is available for free, provides an indicator of how people could interact with large events like this in the future.
Mobile networks have been offering reviews and information via text message for some time now, but this service takes that idea one step further.
The company behind it, Pocket Video, believes it offers people “a whole new way of interacting” with the Edinburgh Festival.
Anyone interested must register at the Pocket Video website, where they will be provided with a media player which is installed onto their phone.
When installed, a list of available video files is downloaded and organised into playlists, with one list for reviews, and another for recordings of actual festival performers, for example. When you pick a video clip to watch, the program downloads it onto your phone at speeds of up to 26kbps, while providing more detail – in text – about the show featured.
The data is streamed onto the phones using GPRS data connections which work over standard second generation mobile networks. A high-end processor is used to prepare the files, but a much less powerful chip can be used to play the video back, so the content can be seen on as many phones as possible.
Files are designed to start playing within a short period of time, and are stored on the phone to be watched as many times as required.
Festival newspaper Three Weeks has been helping to produce content for the new service. The paper’s publisher, Chris Cooke, said that at events like the Edinburgh Festival, mobile media really comes into its own.
“For audience members who are actually at the festival, web access isn’t always easy to come by, so the facility to get the latest info between shows via your mobile is an obvious way forward,” he said. “However, most of the shows have very visual components which you can’t represent through SMS – so this technology opens up endless possibilities.”
Performers have been very quick to make use of the new technology, according to Mr Cooke. “The festival is a very competitive place, full of outgoing performers – so when you point a camera at someone they just start talking,” he said.
Crews employed by Pocket Video have been touring the streets of the Scottish capital during the festival, demonstrating the service to a generally favourable response.
When shown the service, Edinburgh resident Emma Johnstone said she thought it would be “dead easy to use”, once she got used to it, but that there were would be other benefits for the city.
“The flyers used to promote the shows are such a waste of paper – this’d be much better for the environment,” she said.
More than 90% of people questioned at the festival would use their mobiles to watch video, according to the company behind the service. However, Alan Ogilvie, Pocket Video’s director, believes that the mobile networks will play a major part in determining whether the service is a success.
“GPRS works well, when it is working well, though we have recently suffered from the knock-on effects of events such as the power failure in the United States,” he said
While they have had, on the whole, “a very good reaction from the networks”, Mr Ogilvie says they could do more to help develop this and similar services.
“We have been unable to get access to network data that could help us understand how we can make our service better and more stable. GPRS costs are also fairly high. But some networks are encouraging customers to use more data, so hopefully this will bring the cost down.”
If the networks can provide a stable, cost-effective service, then the belief does seem to be, that mobile video could transform people’s festival experience, although widespread acceptance could take time.
Or, as one of the Pocket Video crew members put it; “no one who looks over 40 goes for it”.