Comdex Fall: Web TVs hit a home run

At a packed seminar session on Web TV devices, Comdex visitors were told their living rooms were "the next frontier for digital technology". The message was this: the spread of cable connections was complete, and it's time to head for the next frontier - the home.

At a packed seminar session on Web TV devices, Comdex visitors were told their living rooms were "the next frontier for digital technology". The message was this: the spread of cable connections was complete, and it's time to head for the next frontier - the home.

Four technology demonstrations were given. S3 Inc.'s chairman of the board Dado Banatao showed his firm's digital technology, which will be brought into PCs from next year. Two screens demonstrated the superiority of digital playback over analogue, with an altogether sharper, more detailed picture using S3's card. "The main problem was how to do cinema-quality digital stereo," said Banatao. "A lot of R&D has to go into this problem. There are a lot of issues to do with compression."

WebTV's CEO Phil Goldman showcased the latest version of the product, WebTV Plus, stating that his firm had just won its 100,000th customer, and was aiming for a million by late 1998. WebTV Plus will be launched in Japan in December, and in the UK next year. "WebTV is about making TV better, making the Web better and by combining the two, making something more powerful," said Goldman.

The combination of the Web and broadcast TV was demonstrated by playing an NFL game, in which the video was shown as a 'picture in a picture', within a Web frame, which the viewer could use to call up statistical information on players and teams.

WebTV is based on a $100 set-top box containing a 177MHz processor, 56kbps modem, and 1Gb hard drive. Kamran Elahian, PlanetWeb chairman and CEO, demonstrated his firm's software-based Web technology, which is being snapped up by several device manufacturers including Sega for its online gaming channel; and several makers of Web phones, which will roll out next year.

The biggest laugh of the session came from PowerTV's chief operating officer Bow Rodgers, who, feeling that he had a tough act to follow, said: "I feel like Zsa Zsa Gabor's fourth husband - I know exactly what to do, I just don't know how to make it interesting." PowerTV is rolling out a set-top box that's an enhanced TV plugged into the Web, similar to the Microsoft-owned WebTV. Rodgers said that the industry should focus on the TV, rather than the PC.

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