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Is Web TV a good alternative to a PC or Mac?
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology 
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Is Web TV a good alternative to a PC or Mac? 

Bit Player for Nov. 30, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Is Web TV a good alternative to using a PC to surf the World Wide Web?

The answer may disappoint you if recent Web TV ads have caught your eye. Although the idea behind Web TV makes sense—using your TV to view World Wide Web pages delivered through a cheap set-top box—the execution is far from satisfactory for normal Web browsing.

The problem is easy to see, and I mean that literally. TV screens do a poor job of displaying text. Small type is fuzzy and indistinct on a TV screen. You're not likely to be happy with Web TV if you plan to browse typical Web pages.

Why, then, do the TV ads for Web TV show lively, colorful pages clearly and distinctly on the TV screen? What the ads seldom tell you is that the Web pages shown in those ads are, as the saying goes, "cooked"—they're specially designed to look good on TV screens.

You won't find many pages like that. Web TV's own sites are exclusively made up of pages with big type and simple images, but you'd probably have a very hard time finding similar pages beyond the Web TV domain. Surfing the general Web is guaranteed to be a frustrating experience.

Web TV does have one big advantage. You don't need a computer. In addition to viewing Web pages, you can even send and receive e-mail without a PC or Mac. But the way Web TV handles electronic mail is awkward, even if you add the optional keyboard. (Without the keyboard, you have to use the remote control to enter a single character at a time, like you'd do when you're setting the timer on your microwave. You won't do it more than once.)

Web TV does not receive Web pages through your cable connection. It attaches to your telephone line just as a PC would. You won't get any faster connection through Web TV than you would through a normal Internet connection using a PC or Mac.

Someday, most TVs will be "Web TVs," and most PCs will be "Web TVs," too. TVs won't graduate to that level until their displays improve to at least the equal of normal computer displays—a challenging goal—and PCs won't reach that point until most of them come with TV tuners as standard equipment. Until then, you'll probably want to use your TV for what it does best, while sticking to your personal computer for browsing the Web.

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