AT&T’s CV Leaves Me Feeling Lost

When I sat down to watch last week’s episode of Lost on a mobile phone, I thought the hardest part would be squinting to see the video on a 2.8-inch screen. Turns out I was wrong: The hardest part was getting AT&T’s (s t) CV video service to work long enough to watch an entire episode.

CV delivers video clips to compatible AT&T cell phones; it’s not a live TV service like AT&T’s newer Mobile TV. (The name CV now stands for “Cellular Video,” but is really a holdover from the pre-AT&T days when the service was called Cingular Video.) CV requires 3G service, which AT&T says is now available in “most major metropolitan areas.” You’ll need to subscribe to a data service — either a MEdia Max Unlimited bundle ($35 per month) or MEdia New Unlimited bundled ($15 per month) — to access CV.

Much of what CV offers are pre-packaged streaming video clips, such as segments from shows like ESPN’s SportsCenter. But the service also includes a surprisingly large selection of full TV episodes, everything from Hannah Montana and Nightline to CSI: New York and 30 Rock.

I tested the service on the HTC Fuze, a Windows Mobile-based phone. Accessing CV was a snap, and the service’s home page is nicely organized and can be personalized to display your favorite shows. Full episodes are clearly labeled as such, and are broken up into chapters — a full episode of Lost, for example, is divided into six chapters — which makes watching a full episode easier to manage (and likely makes the video easier for the phone to stream).

cv-episode-listUnfortunately, the episode list lacks any context — any info at all, really — making it harder to navigate than it should be. Consider that three episodes of Lost aired on ABC last week: One clip show, plus two new episodes. When you venture into the Lost section of CV, however, you see nothing more than episode names and chapter numbers. I started watching the first episode on the list, and quickly realized I was watching the clip show. So I moved onto the second episode in the list, and settled in.

After about five minutes, though, I had absolutely no idea what was going on, and it wasn’t because of the trippy plot. I finally realized that I was watching the second episode of the season, rather than the first. As it turns out, CV had them listed out of order.  I realize that a mobile phone screen leaves little room for text, but even a sentence would help. 

Once I began watching the right episode, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality. Audio sometimes went out of sync with the video, but the quality of the video itself was much better than I expected, thanks both to a strong 3G signal at my home outside of Boston and the high-resolution 480-by-640 display on the HTC Fuze. Video occasionally looked a bit smeared, but overall, I was very impressed.

That is, when the service was available. During three days of use, it was unavailable more often than not. Several times, my video would appear to start, only to stop suddenly. I sometimes got an error message that there was a problem with the “streamingmedia.exe” file (the Windows Mobile phone uses the Opera Mobile browser to access CV, and plays video in a mobile version of Windows Media Player). Other times, I was told that CV was not available at my location, even though I’d been able to watch video clips about three minutes prior.  And sometimes I received a message that the service was experiencing technical

When I first started testing CV, I thought it might be the mobile TV service I’ve been waiting for. It’s easy to use, offers good quality, and has a great collection of full TV episodes available for viewing whenever you want. If only the service was more reliable, I’d be sold.