Gates' & Hundt's New Pie in the Sky

Bill finds a new way to make you pay

Francis Vale


According to County Data Corporation, more beauty salons than computer service shops were started up in 1996. And more people went into the lawn maintenance business than became communications consultants. In America, looking good, whether it be your grass or your hair, still counts for more than knowing something useful. This is also the premise behind most computer company's PR efforts -- Never muss up a new product's looks with the facts. Of course, this PR axiom becomes even more critical when there is no product at all.

This product legerdemain has probably reached its zenith (literally) with the announcement that Mr. Gates and Mr. McCaw (of McCaw cellular fame) have managed to get Boeing to put $100 million into their new Teledesic venture. This is an Internet communications scheme that intends to put 250 (!) satellites into low flying orbit around the planet. Once all aloft, the digital image of Smiling Bill can be beamed down to everyone, everywhere on Earth.

When finished sometime next century, this project will cost a reported $9 billion. But as of today, even with Boeing's $100 million, this great ego-in-the-sky effort is still 90% short of its total funding mark. Given that Bill and Craig own 70% of this celestial concern, you have to wonder why they just didn't write out a check for the balance. Well, you know what they say about billionaires never having any money on them.

But however Gates and McCaw find the missing Teledesic money, it will probably make for a great made-for-TV movie. And if Microsoft, Intel, and Compaq get their way, you will only be able to view this gripping satellite saga on one of their new "PC-TVs." This industry troika has made the decision to make all their new PC video receiver gear completely incompatible with the NAB's (National Association of Broadcasters) methods for sending digital TV signals.

Now in case you missed it, in late 1996, the Federal Communications Commission threw out all the digital broadcast guidelines that had been under development for ten years by the TV industry. But it seems that the (now departing) FCC's chairman, Reed Hundt, has become a great Friend of Bill (the one in Redmond, not the Whitehouse). This new FOB apparently had an MS epiphany. He came to the sudden realization that TV people are bad, and computer people are good. Thus, Hundt decided that free market forces, and not the NAB, should decide what your new digital TV picture should look like.

With the FCC's green light, Microsoft, et al, are now in a race to steal the digital TV market away from the NAB, and the entire consumer electronics industry, all of whom have pledged to stick to their original, ten year R&D, game plan. Come 1998, when the top ten TV markets in America have to be able to receive these new terrestrial broadcast digital signals, it will be interesting to see who blinks first, Disney/ABC/Sony or Microsoft/Intel/Compaq.

Certainly, the viewer will be squinting more when watching the MS Bob PC TV network. To make room for the new digitally broadcast services (E mail, Web, etc.) so earnestly desired by Microsoft, the PC TV's progressively scanned display will only offer low resolution images (480 lines for live video capture, 720 lines for 35 mm films.) In contrast, all of the interlaced-only programs beamed by ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox will sport super quality pictures at 1,080 lines x 1,920 pixels. But even when the big TV's scan rate is upped to 720 lines for 35 mm film, it's still only equivalent to 540 TV lines. This is because its computer progressive scan is happening at 480 pixels (720 x 480 = 540 equivalent TV lines.) This antique VGA resolution is necessary because any higher than 480, and characters become so small you cannot read E mail or Web page text from ten or more feet away; the typical viewing distance for watching a big screen TV. (To compensate for the PC's relative image loss, companies like Compaq are also putting line doublers into their PC Theaters.)

Naturally, this fact is rarely mentioned in Compaq's or any other PC theater maker's breathless PR. Who wants to hear that their new millennium PC Theater is no better than an antiquated PC?

However, Microsoft might want to hear about the PC Theater's instant-on mode. This mode brings up a TV programming schedule on the screen, and not MS Windows. But Microsoft has mandated its licensees that only the Windows logo is to appear on PC start-up.

Maybe that's how Bill intends to raise his missing Teledesic billions: every time the consumer hits the TV's on button, Bill gets another royalty payment!

Who said Gates wasn't a visionary?

Bottom Line

Home Users: Get out the reading glasses! You will soon be spending many entertaining hours squinting at the big tube, trying to figure out ways to wittily answer all that flame mail, as well trashing megabytes of junk Spam.

Business Users: What do you care about home TV? Besides, your business has so many other ways to help Bill get rich. (By the way, got all those security holes in NT fixed yet?)

Power Users: Someone has to run this new TV computer. Your parents are clueless, so that leaves you in charge. Yeh! Pass the remote, dad, you're fired. And oh yeh, go buy me some Twinkies.

Copyright 1996, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

21st, The VXM Network,