In six weeks? time France will be the first country in Europe with an Internet TV box, when French start-up company Net Gem launches its Net Box product.
The company will offer the product under OEM deals to Internet service providers and resellers over a year before other Web TV manufacturers launch machines in Europe. US authorities class Web TVs as data scramblers and so Philips and Sony cannot export their US models to Europe. They are due to launch similar European products in 1998 but the French product should ship in April, and will be offered to other European countries including the UK shortly afterwards.
Net Box uses a standard telephone line and TV to deliver Web browsing and email to the living room in an idiot-proof package. The box will sell for about $360, with a keyboard for $90, including a 386 processor and a 33.6Kbps modem. Its founder, Joseph Haddad, claims the box takes five minutes to install.
"We just try to address the very simple thing of accessing Web content and communication via email in the easiest and cheapest way," Haddad said. He recognises that Net Box is not a stripped-down PC but is merely an Internet browser, designed to become a permanent attachment to the TV like a satellite receiver, without most of the complication of a PC.
Net Box also offers users the chance to choose an ISP while US Web TV systems connect to one particular service. It uses cards to personalise its capabilities for each user, supporting custom configuration for every member of the family and enabling parents to decide where their children are allowed to browse. Net Box can also send vocal email, which appears as a .wav file for PC recipients. Designed to be inoffensive to technophobes, it is the size of a book and looks innocuous, like a old-fashioned modem.
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