After a long wait, Verizon's ballyhooed V Cast service has finally arrived in the United States, following the rollout of the carrier's high-speed EV-DO (third generation, or 3G) network. In other words, you now can get on-demand video and lightning-fast data transfers, provided you have a 3G-enabled Verizon cell phone. While V Cast falls well short of TV-quality video, and the one- to five-minute clips lean toward the cheesy side, there's more than enough eye candy to keep you busy while you're waiting at the dentist's office or killing time at the airport. Even better, V Cast does a great job of turbocharging Web browsing and game downloads with promised data speeds of between 300Kbps to 500Kbps on your mobile. If you're a Verizon subscriber and you're curious to see what 3G is all about, V Cast is well worth the modest $15 monthly fee.
V Cast's claim to fame is its (mostly) all-you-can-eat buffet of 300-plus on-demand video clips, which run between one to five minutes in length and come in four main categories: news, entertainment, sports, and weather. Under news, you get about 35 videos from CNN, ranging from on-the-hour news updates to clips covering world events, sports, business, and entertainment; 9 clips from NBC News, including breaking news and a handful of features; and 8 segments from MarketWatch, covering the latest market news and a few feature stories. In the wide world of sports, both ESPN and Fox Sports each weigh in with about 40 clips of breaking news and featurettes on pro and college teams, while NBA TV boasts highlights from 10 recent games, and NASCAR To Go has about 15 news and feature clips. Meanwhile, Accuweather.com offers daily clips covering 40 individual cities, as well as national and regional weather updates.
Not bad, but the real goodies come in the entertainment section. That's where you'll find the much-hyped, one-minute mobisodes, episodic programming produced specifically for mobile devices. Among the content, you'll find episodes for Love and Hate, a reality-style show about couples and their relationships; Sunset Hotel, a Melrose Place-type soap opera; and 24: Conspiracy, a minute of somewhat cheesy thrills instead of an hour, sans Jack Bauer. Other highlights include a dozen movie and DVD trailers; about 15 clips and highlights from various Fox and ABC shows; a dozen snippets from Sesame Street; 20-odd entertainment and gossip clips from E; three Unplugged-type videos from VH1; four recent clips from the Daily Show; and about 10 full-length music videos from the likes of Michelle Branch, Green Day, and Faith No More.
When you're bored with video, you can get a variety of 3D games in both sports and adventure genres. Titles include JAMDAT Bowling 3D, Spider-Man 2 3D: NY Rooftops, Evel Knievel Evolution 3D, and SWAT: the Movie. Games cost from $2.49 to $2.99 for a monthly subscription or $8.99 to $9.99 for unlimited use.
If you're expecting TV-quality (if somewhat smaller) video from the V Cast service, you'll be disappointed. The videos we saw ran at about 15 frames per second (fps), in contrast to 30fps for broadcast-quality video, resulting in a relatively smooth if occasionally choppy viewing experience. The actual resolution is fair, if not razor-sharp; images looked a bit blocky, making it tough to recognize faces unless they were in close-up. That's not much of a problem when watching talking heads on CNN, but good luck identifying your favorite stars on E's red carpet clips or telling one twenty-something actor from another on Sunset Hotel. We also noticed that the video and sound were occasionally out of sync. That said, it took only 30 to 45 seconds for the clips to download and begin playing, and the videos rarely--if ever--paused for rebuffering. But in reality, replicating your TV viewing is not the idea here. V Cast and the EV-DO service behind it are more about fast data speeds and quick download times.
Besides the videos, V Cast subscribers get unlimited Web browsing through Verizon's Mobile Web 2.0 service. While browsing the Web on traditional 1xRTT or GPRS networks can be a tedious slog, surfing over the 1xEV-DO V Cast service was a pleasure; pages and images loaded in a flash, and the service never timed out on us. Games and other mobile applications also downloaded quickly; for example, we downloaded the new JAMDAT Bowling 3D game in less than a minute. We then tried playing the bowling game on the LG VX8000 and were impressed with the overall experience. Graphics were great and were among the best we've seen on a cell phone. Just be advised that your particular experience will vary depending on the game you play and the phone you choose.
Pricing and availability
While the $15-per-month flat fee covers Web browsing and the lion's share of the videos, not all of the content is free. The music videos cost $4 each, while the NASCAR videos go for $1 a clip, and NBA highlights will run you 50 cents per video. The typical subscription fees still apply for the games and mobile applications, naturally. The service is now available in 31 markets nationwide (see our guide to 3G service for a complete list), but several large metro areas such as Cleveland, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Charlotte have been left out for now. There's no word from Verizon on when these not-so-backwoods cities will be added. And as noted previously, you must have an EV-DO-equipped cell phone to use V Cast. At the time of this writing, these include the LG VX8000, the Audiovox CDM-8940, and the Samsung SCH-A890.