LG, KOREA: Seoul wrap, part one

Well, the LG UK press trip is over, and by now the rest of the group should be back home after their 12-hour-plus flight. I’m still in Seoul, for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.

For now, what’s striking about this city is that everyone’s watching TV. You see them watching Korean drama in their cars in the traffic, sitting on park benches soaking up the soaps, or moving slightly to music videos even on the subway system.

And a visit to LG’s Digital TV Research Lab, located on the campus of Seoul National University – think Korea’s equivalent of Oxford or Cambridge – showed why: just about everything in the company’s range able to receive a signal can get digital TV.

We were welcomed by Choon Lee, the head of the Lab, who explained that the facility was established six years ago, and works closely with the university on research projects, as well as recruiting graduates.

His colleague, Dr JR Kim, then gave us an overview of digital TV in Korea and beyond, and how LG is positioning itself to provide suitable devices wherever there’s a service.

The DMB – digital multimedia broadcasting system – has been in place in Korea for a couple of years, and has caught on like wildfire. It seems just about every mobile phone can receive live TV – at which point Dr Kim produced his own from his pocket, screwed in a little telescopic aerial and proved the point.

It’s in car navigation systems, too. In fact, even the least expensive satnav systems on the Korean market – and we’re talking around £60 or so – have DMB capability.

Why? It’s not just ‘because we can’: the traffic in Seoul is so bad that people do a lot of their TV viewing on the move. Or rather on the crawl.

Same goes for mobile phones. One of our hosts explained to us that she spends two hours a day commuting. Each way. So she’s glad that her phone can receive TV even in the depths of the Seoul subway.

The people at the lab have to struggle with competing standards, from the DMB-T/DMB-S (terrestrial/satellite) used here, via the European DVB-H (handheld), Japan’s ISDB-T and the ATSC-MH (Mobile Handheld) system in the States, or MPH (Mobile Pedestrian Handheld) as it used to be called.

It’s quite a technological struggle – the system needs 4Mbps data rates for standard definition, and up to 15.4MBps for high-definition, which you might want in the car, if not on the bus.

But they reckon they’ve got it cracked – the current system can receive a clear picture in vehicles travelling at 140mph/225kph, signal to noise and Doppler effect problems notwithstanding.

And in case you think all this is just another Asian thing, and will never happen here, on Thursday LG announced the launch in Europe of its LG-KB770 phone, which has a 3in display, 3MP camera, 3.5G capability, internet connectivity and DVB-T reception.

Initially on sale in France and Germany, it could come to the UK as soon as there’s sufficient service and interest.

And that’s about it, so I’ll wrap up from LG in Seoul with a shot of our novel greeting during a trip on a submarine to which the company treated us the other day – as you do.

I’m staying in Korea this weekend and joining a Samsung press event for the whole of next week – stay tuned for more posts giving the view from Korea’s other consumer electronics giant.

Have a good weekend!

Andrew has written about audio and video products for the past 20+ years, and been a consumer journalist for more than 30 years, starting his career on camera magazines. Andrew has contributed to titles including What Hi-Fi?, GramophoneJazzwise and Hi-Fi CriticHi-Fi News & Record Review and Hi-Fi Choice. I’ve also written for a number of non-specialist and overseas magazines.