Cambridge-based NetProducts has launched a set-top box that can convert a TV into a Web browser and email client. About the size of a satellite receiver, #299 NetStation connects to a PAL or NTCS TV and plugs into the phone socket. The box comes with a smart card holding account details and an alphanumeric remote control.
CEO David Martin said the potential demand generated by the Internet and email could only be satisfied by a product designed to appeal to a consumer audience. "The PC can't perform the role of a consumer Internet appliance. NetStation, by using the TV, will be that product."
Internet entrepreneur and former analyst at the Yankee Group Sean Phelan agreed that the TV presented a compelling vehicle for the Web. "The company is dealing with problems like integration and choosing an ISP, which is very nice. They're applying the same formula as US-based Web TV, aiming at the same target market that doesn't want a top of the range PC but wants Internet access for the family. However, sales in the US have not been phenomenal."
Market research firm Forrester Research believes Web TV-like boxes won't take off until more consumer-oriented Web sites have been developed. Forrester reported that 76 per cent of US content providers weren't adapting their content for the viewing habits of those with Web TVs. Nor are those providers going to create special content until there are enough devices to justify development, the report added.
Once the necessary developments in hardware, software and content occur, Forrester predicts as many as 14.7 million households with TVs could be connected to the Internet by 2002.
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