Power for the PC-Challenged
By Jim Bray
If you covet cyberspace
but have no computer, covet no longer.
Thanks to Microsoft
and Sony's set top WebTV box, you can not only surf the World Wide Web
and correspond via e-mail, you can greatly enhance your TV viewing experience
at the same time.
WebTV is really cool
- and "techneophytes" may find it a marvelous compromise between
an unfriendly PC and the virtual world. WebTV comes wiht the set top box
and its "point and click" remote control. The remote is good
for all the usual audio/video functions (and is easily programmable to
work different brands and components) and it also works well for navigating
the Web Browser's screen.You
can even use it to hunt and peck on an onscreen keyboard - for typing
in e-mail or Internet URL addresses - but you'd have to be some kind of
nut to do this more than once.
A far better solution
is the cute little wireless keyboard that's available as an option. They
should really just mark the system up a few bucks and include the keyboard
in the price.
Anyway, the box that's
the WebTV system's heart is a little smaller than a VCR and plugs into
your TV either via cable or audio/video RCA patch cord. There's also a
parallel printer port for outputting the wonders of the Web.
Hookup and configuration
are easy, and an onscreen help/tour familiarizes you with the operations.
When you set it up, you type in your zip/postal code so it knows in which
neck of the woods you live, and your cable and/or satellite operator.
Then, and on subsequent overnights, it downloads searchable TV listings
and information and stores it on the system's built in hard drive.
TV" is really neat. It's similar in concept to the onscreen guides
you can get on some higher end TV's, or with digital cable or satellite
services, but it goes them a couple of steps more. For instance, if a
particular TV show has a related web site, you can visit it via WebTV's
built in 56K modem while you're watching the program (or anytime, really).
There's also related information made available through an "info"
You can also channel
surf on your TV, without disturbing the show you're watching, or visit
recently viewed channels or web pages. Incidentally, this picture-in-picture
facility is done digitally and doesn't require PIP capability in your
Enhanced TV can also
offer "information on the fly," which I witnessed during a hockey
game broadcast. During the game, a little i appeared at the
top right corner of the TV screen, and it was hyperlinked to player and
team info and stats from the teams Web site. You can surf the team
while the game continues onscreen at the same time.
Now if only if I liked
As a Web Browser,
WebTV leaves something to be desired, but remember this is new technology
and it will be upgraded automatically by download - and in fact has already
seen at least one upgrade since its introduction.
The biggest problem
with browsing via WebTV isn't WebTV's fault; thanks to the resolution
of today's TV's, its resolution is something like 544 x 378 pixels, as
opposed to the 640 x 480, 800 x 600 or higher of computer monitors. This
makes for a smaller, less crisp window onto the virtual world - and I
noticed that sites that use a lot of red tend to be a mite smeary.
But it's a real, live
Browser and, other than things like Flash movies (they say it shows Flash
movies, but during the short time I had WebTV for the test it only showed
a demo move for me and refused to acknowledge all the other Flash movies
I encountered), itll let you view pretty well everything that's
out there in cyberspace.
The 56K modem is slow
compared to cable modems and other high speed connections, but comparable
to what many PC users have.
The WebTV service
costs $24.95US ($34.95 in Canada) a month, for unlimited hours, which
seems a bit pricey when compared with some ISP services or cable fees
- but don't forget the TV extras you're getting in the price. You can
also access WebTV via a conventional ISP (WebTV then costs only $14.95US/month
- plus your ISP rates), as long as your ISP of choice can support WebTV.
WebTV says that 95% of ISP's can offer the service, so it shouldn't be
difficult finding one if you want to go that route - or if you already
have an ISP for your PC's Internet access.
WebTV can be the ideal
solution for people who don't want to buy a PC (or who can't afford a
decent one) but who want to surf and/or e-mail. Despite its shortcomings
as a Browser, it does almost everything a surfer could want - and what
it does for TV is well thought out and welcome.
Hopefully, more web
site designers will take WebTV into account when they build their sites.
I ran into several that required side to side scrolling because they didn't
lend themselves to the "scrunched" WebTV Browser, and many use
a lot of red, which as mentioned above looks smeary on your television.
To be honest, I didn't
expect much from WebTV. I thought it would be little more than a gimmick
that made a lot of compromises when it comes to the WWW - but I was wrong.
It's a slick and well thought out system that, despite a few birth defects
and other flaws not necessarily of its making, deserves a real shot.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think