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TV listings: Windows 98 feature the experts missed
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
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TV listings: Windows 98 feature the experts missed

Bit Player for Aug. 30, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

Will you find anything really new in Windows 98?

Leave out the technical nerd-type stuff and you have only a few things that are new. You can use more than one display monitor—although not many of you would ever want to—and you can watch what Microsoft calls Web TV if you have a fancy-schmancy TV capture card in your computer. Ho-hum, right?

Wrong. Built into Windows 98, almost hidden away in the Web TV functions, is a powerful feature that everyone who has an Internet connection can take advantage of. You don't need a special TV card or video-capture device. If you have any kind of connection to the Internet, your Windows 98 PC can give you a peek at the future marriage of computers and television.

Web TV is not installed as part of Windows 98 unless you choose it. It's at the bottom of the list of the optional features of Windows 98, so you might not have seen it on the list if you've ever looked at the options. To add Web TV, open the Control Panel and double click Add/Remove Programs. Click Windows Setup. Scroll to the bottom of the list, then click Web TV. If you see more than one optional component under Web TV, install everything. Don't leave any part of it out.

If your PC has an ATI All in Wonder or All in Wonder Pro video card and you have a cable TV connection to that card, Web TV is almost a must. You'll be able to receive Internet Web pages over the TV signal without a separate Internet connection. (If you don't have a cable connection, you can hook up an antenna and receive Web pages over the airwaves.)

Let me back up just a little. The technology of Web TV seems to have slipped in without much notice.

I'll repeat: If you have an ATI All in Wonder or All in Wonder Pro video card and you've installed Web TV, you'll be able to view Web pages without an Internet connection. I'll get back to that part of Web TV in another column, but I wanted you to know about it if you're planning on getting a new video card. Web TV makes the All in Wonder cards more enticing. (They start at less than $120 if you shop around.)

The other part of Web TV, the one that everyone who has Windows 98 can use, is a TV program guide that updates itself every day, at a time you choose. This is hidden away so thoroughly that even the "experts" who write about Windows have missed it. As far as I can tell, no one else who writes about computers and software knows this function is available for all users of Windows 98.

If you don't have a video-capture card—in other words, if you have a normal Windows 98 PC with a standard display—you'll get an error message after you install Web TV. Windows will tell you it can't find your video-capture device or it will tell you your capture card isn't working. Just humor Windows when it tells you that.

Web TV's video-display icon will show up only in the Taskbar's Tray area, near the clock. If you don't have a capture card, you can right click on it and disable it. (The TV part of Web TV won't do anything unless you have a capture card anyway.)

But you'll find another icon either in the Start Menu or in the Quick Launch toolbar that looks like a TV screen. Click it to start the Web TV interface. Eventually, you'll see another reminder that you don't have the right hardware. Ignore it and click various buttons until you get to the section that will show you a program guide of what's on TV. Tell the program your area code and it will then go to work downloading that the current list of programs. You can also tell it to update the list at a specific time each day.

The guide itself looks much different from most Windows programs, mostly because Microsoft didn't develop it. (The company bought it from its original developers and added it to Windows 98.) But it works very nicely, showing the channels in a ToolTip as you hold down the scroll bar and listing all the channels in a view that looks a lot like a fancier version of the familiar list you see on the Preview channel on your cable network.

The program guide does not arrive over the airwaves or through a cable-TV line; it comes from the Internet in the standard way, so you won't be able to use it if you don't have an Internet connection. And I'll admit it's not as handy as the weekly TV book published in the newspaper. But it's fun to use. And, most importantly, it shows where our connected lives are heading—toward the day when information of all kinds is delivered automatically to our computers and TVs by a variety of methods.

It's a small step, maybe just a preview. But it's exciting nonetheless.

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