... quickest with the mostest ...

Shades of VIScorp! The TV internet revolution hits the market

By Paul Somerfeldt, Contributing Writer, p.somerfeldt@genie.com

Recently I was at a store that had a WebTV hooked up. I decided to play with the thing for a while, and had so much fun that I bought one. Not quite that shaver guy, but we do what we can with what we have.

A WebTV is a set-top box for "surfin'" the web. A set - top box is basically what it says it is: a box that sits on top of a television set. WebTV is about the size of a Nintendo game machine. It connects to your TV via RCA plugs, or you can buy an S-Video cable, or use an RF modulator. It uses standard telephone lines to connect to a local provider affiliated with WebTV. You control your surfing with a remote control very similar to a tv remote control, or you can buy a keyboard to use with it.

The concept is simple. You use your TV set to surf the world wide web. This unit costs about $330, and is much cheaper than going out and buying a PC with Netscape. Or, in our case, getting AmigaOS 3.x, and going through the torturous installation process of the current crop of surfers. Although cost effectiveness is your call.

This concept of using the TV set as a surfer is a halfway decent idea. Although the images on the screen are not as sharp as they would be on a standard monitor, most Amiga users use an RGB monitor, so we wouldn't notice much of a difference. All normal surfer functions are available, although they may work in a different way if you use just the remote control. On WebTV, when you attempt to go to a random URL, a virtual keyboard appears on the screen. This keyboard allows you to select all normal keyboard characters, and a few extra functions. However, if you plan to send any e-mail at all, you need to use a real keyboard. WebTV uses an IR remote keyboard containing all normal characters, plus several extra functions. You can also plug an IBM PS/2 keyboard into the back of the box as well, but then the functions are not labelled on the keys. Plus you wouldn't be able to sit across the room from the big screen TV.

WebTV can only view pages, not download them. They do have plans for future expansion. They have a slot in the front of the machine that will supposedly allow you to insert your credit card, and buy things from the online stores. There is also a port on the side of the machine that will allow you to connect a printer to the machine. That is all they admit to right now. According to some press releases, they do not see a market for connecting a floppy or hard drive to the machine. That is unfortunate, as it dismisses a large potential market. Those of us who would use the WebTV as our sole online provider will not be able to download files and transfer them to our computer. Personally, I use WebTV to find files I would like to download, and send the website addresses to my Genie address, and then use Lynx to download the files. Not pretty, but it works.

There are several other set-top box manufactures who have announced products, including VIScorp. Some say that they will include interfaces that allow you to connect items like ZIP drives to the box. There is quite a bit of potential in this market, both for non-users, and those who have computers that are difficult to connect to the web, such as machines like the old Atari 8 bits and C64's. Time will tell how all this pans out.

I titled this article with a portion of a quote that dates back to the American Civil War (I think.) Get there with the quickest and the mostest. WebTV (Philips/Magnavox and Sony) got here the quickest. So far, they have the mostest, too. Time will tell whether or not others get into the market. VIScorp, the company that is rumored to be the new owners of Amiga Technologies, needs to get on the playing field soon. They announced their set-top box about a year ago, and have a picture of their box on their website. To compete with WebTV, all companies need to get to the battle field soon, and with more than what WebTV offers. VIScorp is correct, this market can save the Amiga. But they need to be in the market in order to make any money at it. And this kind of item will sell primarily in the Christmas season. Less than four weeks until the busiest shopping day of the year.