|Why would anyone who owns a computer and is somewhat proficient at it consider the WebTV? Ask me that question six months ago, and I’d tell you that it was a waste of money. Today I’d have to argue that point.|
|The Internet is touching everyone’s life these days. At
least once a day someone corners me to talk about the Internet. Everyone
is curious but not everyone has a computer or the time and interest it
takes to learn how to use it.
Come the WebTV.
The WebTV is not aimed at the computer user. It provides easy access to the Internet through your family TV via the WebTV provider, a service of WebTV Networks, a subscription based online service. The monthly subscription fee is a flat $19.95 per month with no hourly charges. It’s simple to use and no PC or PC experience is required. This is what attracted me since my father, who is into his 80’s, showed interest in the web, but was frustrated with the long road of learning computer jargon and technique. We also calculated that it would cost less to install Web TV than it would to upgrade his elderly Dell to be an effective Internet machine.
Comparing the only two entries on the market at this time, Sony and Magnavox, the only difference is exterior. I chose the Magnavox only because it had a simpler remote from which the majority of the functions can be controlled. I also sprang for the optional infrared keyboard which makes typing a heck of a lot easier, considering the only other way to type by tediously pointing and clicking the remote at a picture of a keyboard. The total came to $329 for the Web box and $69 for the keyboard with the only other option being an RF adapter which allows you to hook it up to a TV without a built-in VCR or audio/video connection. Much cheaper than a computer at this point.
Setting it up couldn’t be easier. Plug the box in the wall and 3 cables to the TV. Another cable will connect to a nearby phone jack for the web access. Turn the TV on along with the web box and it dials up an 800 number for your registration using its own 33.6 modem. Have a credit card handy. You’ll go through a simple registration and they’ll ask you if you want to update the box. Since there is no software per se, all the updates come right through the phone line to the terminal. No configuration, no software loading. It couldn’t be easier.
During operation, the terminal presents a selection menu on TV screen that acts as a front end to the Web. With a few clicks of the InfraRed remote control, you can navigate to the site of your choice. A large yellow square controlled by the arrow buttons on the remote highlights any URL that is on the page and a push on the “GO” button takes you there. You also can input your URLs directly. The browser is compatible with HTTP, MIME and HTML 3.0 websites. You can create a personal Favorites page, a place to store all you favorite Web pages that you’ve collected throughout your travels.
E-mail is also fairly simple if you have the keyboard. Frustrating at best if you don’t. You can attach web pages and set up six separate personal accounts.
Currently, there is no way to save or print anything on Web TV, although the terminal contains an expansion port for future accessories including printers, disk drives, smartcards and other storage devices.
A smartcard is an electronic device that contains memory. It is similar in size to a credit card but is used to hold data. A chip inside the card can hold information like your VISA card number and your shipping address. It can also hold your account data, username, password, etc. Banks will offer Smartcards for purchase in the future. You may be able to purchase goods and services off the internet as a secure transaction or log into a friends WebTV unit and receive mail at another WebTV terminal.
There are many different standards emerging for Smartcards right now, so it may be a while before the are offered. Netscape is working to develop a national standard for all computing devices so that one day you might be able to use your smartcard in another device.
Also supported is RealAudio and MIDI. Net news is not.
If you have friends or relatives who only want a computer to access the Internet, , this is a viable alternative. The only real limitation at this writing is the ability to store what you see and for some, TV screen resolution, although it’s not that bad. My father, who has had recent cateract surgery, had no trouble reading text on the screen. Give the novice a half hour and they’ll be surfing away on their own.