Surfing the Web in the comfort of the living room -- without a PC -- will become a reality next month when Sony Electronics Inc. debuts its plug-and-play WebTV television Internet terminal at consumer electronics stores nationwide at a suggested retail price of $349.
According to John Briesch, president of the company's Consumer Audio Video Group, initial dealer response to the Sony WebTV Internet Terminal (model INT- W1OO) has been so enthusiastic that Sony has advanced its product launch ahead of schedule and is planning increased production capacity.
"Our dealers are looking for hot products for the critical Fall and pre- holiday selling seasons," Briesch said. "From their early reaction, I'd say that the Sony WebTV Internet Terminal will be at the top of the list."
"It's not surprising," Briesch continued, "with all of the consumer interest in the Internet. Our WebTV terminal provides a great opportunity for millions of families without a PC at home to get in on the action of Web browsing, e-mailing friends and relatives, planning vacations together, checking out movie reviews -- all on the Net, in front of their TV sets."
The Sony WebTV Internet Terminal is a small, low-profile device, designed to sit unobtrusively on or near the TV. It connects so simply to the TV and phone line that prospective Web surfers can be "seeing the sites" within 15 minutes of opening the box.
Once this sleek device is easily connected to a television and a normal phone line, it provides access to the World Wide Web through a subscription service offered by the technology developer, WebTV Networks, Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif. The subscription provides access to the Internet, as well as personalized e-mail addresses and profiles for up to five users per household, and is to be offered at rates competitive with direct Internet access.
"One of WebTV's fundamental goals is to make the Internet a simple, family-oriented experience," said Steve Perlman, president and CEO of WebTV Networks, Inc. "To this end, we have planned from the beginning to support multiple users while avoiding the complexity of traditional on-line services."
Sony is manufacturing its WebTV Internet Terminal in the U.S. at its San Diego Technology Center under license from WebTV Networks, a Silicon Valley company that was founded last year by three former Apple Computer technologists and multimedia pioneers -- Perlman, Bruce Leak and Phil Goldman.
The Sony WebTV Internet Terminal will come with an easy-to-use remote control that works with all major television brands, as well as a 25-foot phone line cord and phone line splitter for instant connection. Other packed- in accessories include an A/V connection cable and an S-Video cable.
Sony will also include with each Sony WebTV Internet Terminal a free, customized guidebook called "What's on the Web," published by Internet Media of Brooklyn, N.Y. (retail value $23.95). This easy-to-use guide categorizes and reviews thousands of Web sites, giving new, as well as experienced, users a wealth of information about the "sites to see."
"We're taking the guesswork out of navigating the Web," Briesch said. "Now even without a computer, and without any computer knowledge or experience, people can enjoy the benefits of interactive on-line communication right from their televisions."
Sony will offer several optional accessories for the INT-W100 Internet Terminal, including a wireless infrared keyboard, an RF modulator (for TVs without video inputs) and a printer adaptor that accommodates popular PC printers.
Sony expects its new Internet terminal will complement many of Sony's direct-view Trinitron and big-screen rear projection TVs with their S-video and Picture-in-picture features, giving people the opportunity to "surf the Net" while watching their favorite television shows.
"With a large screen television, it's a wonderful experience for the whole family," Briesch said. "WebTV changes the dynamics of Web browsing from a personal, solitary experience to one that the entire family can share," he continued.
"We also see WebTV offering a wonderful opportunity to be used as a learning tool, offering the ability to simply and inexpensively access the wealth of educational resources that exist on the Web, as well as encouraging written communication through e-mail," Briesch said.
When youngsters are Web browsing on their own, WebTV features a parental blocking system that utilizes SurfWatch(TM) to prevent children from viewing inappropriate adult material on the Internet, as well as passwords that prevent them from accessing their parents' e-mail.
"And while it's the Web sites that people will want to see," Briesch added, "we believe that once families experience e-mail communications with friends and relatives, this will be an application that really takes off."
From a strategic perspective, Carl J. Yankowski, president and COO of Sony Electronics, said that the new product, with its Internet access through the TV, is "a key element of our global business strategy revolving around the convergence of audio, video, computers and communication, or AVCC."
"For Sony, the related issue of whether the PC or the TV will drive this convergence is irrelevant," Yankowski said. "What we are anticipating is a whole landscape of products -- some more rooted in A/V technologies and others in communications or computer technologies, but all combining aspects of each -- serving a variety of applications in the home, at work, in the car and on- the-go."
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