It seems inevitable that the computer and television are going to have a head-on collision. Soon you’ll be able either to watch television on your computer or surf the Net on your television.
Maybe I’m missing something here, but why do I want to do either?
Actually, watching television on your computer is no big deal. Companies have offered plug-in cards for several years that let you hook cable up to the computer and channel-surf.
What is new are the efforts to put the Web on television. A lot of companies are racing to make so-called set-top boxes - small, stripped-down computers that use the television as a monitor and offer limited functions, such as getting on-line. Don’t confuse these with the $500 Internet computers that companies like Sun are talking about. Those are machines aimed more at businesses.
The latest into the set-top fray is WebTV (www.webtv.com), a new company with heavy endorsements from Sony Electronics and Philips Consumer Electronics.
They plan to offer a $200 to $300 box this fall that will bring the world of cyberspace to your television. There’s no actual keyboard, only a remote control that can call up a keyboard on the screen. The box also has a modem that connects to a special on-line service WebTV will launch, and there’s a slot for your credit card or ATM card.
Any box that plans to put the Web on a television screen faces some mighty hurdles, which WebTV claims it has mastered.
Most notable is the problem of picture quality. On your TV, images may look pretty good, but that’s really just a trick the screen plays on your eyes. When you see that same image captured off television and reprinted in a publication or on your computer screen, it looks blotchy and ill-defined. That’s because television uses fewer lines of resolution than a computer.
Will people buy WebTV? Some will be attracted by price, figuring this is a cheap alternative to a computer. It’s not. Today you can buy a decent 486 PC for less than $600, and that has tons of capabilities WebTV won’t.
The market will be for people intimidated by the computer. WebTV and others will offer the on-line experience without the learning curve. In a world where 89 percent of the people still aren’t on-line, there’s a huge target market.