The cable company
wants to be your PC's best friend. Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), one
of the country's largest TV cable operators, has announced @home,
a significant new entry into the Internet computer access business. TCI's @home
will allow about ten million digital bits a second to blast over your TV
cable, or almost 360 times faster than a 28.8 Kbs analog modem.
But TCI's eyes are roving farther than the Internet. Significantly, TCI also announced another major deal; a multimillion dollar investment in the Microsoft Network. These two megadeals by TCI will likely have a big impact on the soon-to-be-everywhere TV set top box.
A set top box is not your regular cable TV channel changer gizmo. Rather, it is a powerful and highly sophisticated multimedia computer. The set top box is the business-make-or-bust linchpin for Interactive TV. Movies on demand, real time games with players across the country, home banking, digital quality home theater, et al, will arrive in your living room via this innocuous looking device. When coupled into the Internet, this box's awesome capabilities rapidly escalate.
Features like video/audio viewphones, multi-user VR environments, and Web surfing will all vie for your attention. The TV set top box, being a highly complex computer, also requires an operating system to control it. Naturally, Microsoft wants to own all of that lucrative operating system action, and the conjugation of TCI's @home and the MS Network is a great way for Gates to do it.
So if Microsoft has its way, it will soon be bringing to your TV watching the added joys of deciphering the mystical meanings of the Win95 registry, pondering GPF's, and leave you wondering why the screen suddenly went blank just at the movie's climax.
But if your access to precocious nerd advice is limited, don't worry, because we all know how customer-responsive and technically proficient the cable companies are. Also rest assured that a new breed of TV Set Top consultants will spring up, thereby providing an unlimited growth industry for laid off computer software employees.
Once logged into the Internet via @home and MS Network, these consultants will cheerfully explain what 'http//:' means, why some Web addresses have this funny '~' in the middle, why grandma's FTP video download of the OJ Simpson trial reruns suddenly failed, and how granny can TELNET directly onto the UNIX video server and do an 'ls' and 'pwd' to see what is going on inside the remote system's file structure.
The consultants will also teach your family how to prevent your home from being spammed and flamed by irate Internet denizens. Or worse, prevent a mmeber of your family from exceeding the dreaded Breidbart Index. And you will learn how to 'disinfect' your TV of that nasty computer virus that's causing the screen to go all white with noisy snow.
Apart from these run-of-the-mill computer events, however, there may still be a fly or two in the TCI/MS global vision. A recent survey by United States Satellite Broadcasting (providers of direct satellite digital TV programming) found that 25% of those surveyed said they fall asleep in front of the TV at least three times a week, and 1% of the respondents said they also watch while buck naked. Somewhat surprisingly, only 17% admitted that their VCR clocks are still flashing "12:00". And 'I love Lucy' still ranks fifth among American's all time favorite shows.
So let's add this all up: We have a general population that is sometimes naked and snores in front of a device with a blink-blink-blink display watching hi tech content developed over forty years ago. Into this market, Malone and Gates intend to sell complex, quasi-stable devices whose proper operation require reading 'zines like the one now in front of your computer-bloodshot eyes? Right!
Maybe 21st should change its name to Digital TV Guide, and get a head start on this terrific opportunity.
-- February 1996
Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved
21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com