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February 3, 1997updated 05 Sep 2016 12:39pm

IS THE ERA OF HYBRID PCS AND TVS ABOUT TO BECOME A REALITY

By CBR Staff Writer

Producers of TV, multimedia and print can be forgiven if they get the jitters at the start of 1997. A whole new world of potential revenue is slowly appearing at the horizon, and that means potential future commissions for productions companies. But the skills needed are only just starting to be comprehended. This new stage on which employees must perform – what marketing managers would have us call a ‘new paradigm’ for the umpteenth time – comes courtesy of Microsoft Corp, unsurprisingly, and has been a buzz word within the industry corridors since last summer, though formalized for the first time just a few weeks ago. It represents a quantum step for entertainment audio-visual services that embodies transforming the personal computer itself, both in its software and hardware.

By Jeremy Wall

As part of the Simply Interactive PC – SIPC for short – initiative Microsoft has been working with key companies in the personal computer, consumer electronic and broadcast, and semiconductor industries to enable Windows based desktops to receive broadcast programming and data, and to improve the Windows user interface for use in the family living room. This means that the vision of the hybrid personal computer and television is now formal. The Redmond-based company plans to ship software development kits, including Windows software extensions, device drivers, a software library and sample code, in February to those who need them, beginning its stream of impeccable developer relations that makes Windows the success it is. Interactive programming will be viewed on computer and television sets before the year is out. That’s the plan anyway. The programming that will emerge will combine traditional television shows and the Net – and will be viewable on the new big screen VGA monitors and Web-enabled television sets. The software will integrate and develop the Windows 95 operating system and Internet Explorer browser technology to enable support for requesting and receiving video, World Wide Web pages, multimedia magazines, news, stock quotes, sports scores you name it – these interactive programs could be a commission if the software giant follows the lessons learnt from commissioning outside sources as it is doing with its newly re-jigged Internet service, the Microsoft Network. Both the personal computer and the consumer electronics industries are predicting the evolution of home computers into a home entertainment appliance said Jim Allchin, senior vice-president at Microsoft. These technologies will help our business partners to deliver that vision by providing a common open platform for content creators, data services and network integration. The client list lined up is impressive and suggests that any television company not yet on it should begin to take it seriously: DirectTV Inc, the US premier satellite entertainment provider; NBC, the now tied-in-tight news supplier and Microsoft partner; IBM Corp, Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd, Sony Corp, VLSI Technology Inc, and even the Sci-Fi channel. At last year’s Comdex, Toshiba Corp – a key partner in the SIPC program – experimented with an attractively designed hybrid PC-TV. Combine this type of technology with Microsoft’s open standard and you can see that things aren’t so far away. While television channels begin grappling with the digital broadcast, there awaits a more awesome shift towards the future. Microsoft Corp’s logic is that the power of the personal computer means that it always will be a better vehicle to search for channels and programs, manipulate the image, bring up and display the net and that if the blended images are rich digital content – working visually in the living room – it will just become part of the rack where the stereo is kept. As such, Larry Ellison will have a window of opportunity, maybe four or five years, with his Network Computer but only as long as the prices of Microsoft’s new system are high. Phil Holden, Windows Product Manager said that Microsoft has targeted the high end of the consumer market. Not counting monthly programming subscription fees, it will cost upwards of $3,000 to get outfitted with a required entertainment PC, satellite dish, and large television screen. And before you catch a breath, another leap in technology is just around the corner. It is also set to bring the PC-TV closer to fruition. This time though it is not down to Bill Gates et al. It is the ‘Ka band’ satellite technology that Luxemberg-based Societe Europeene des Satellite’s ES Astra is set to launch on Astra 1H in the third quarter of 1998. Ka band technology provides a return path directly from the home via satellite, but is as yet a little used piece of the broadcasting spectrum the runs from 17.7GHz to 20.2GHz.

Back channel

At the moment should satellite programmers want to establish an interactive service they will have to send the back channel through the telephone. This is frustrating because of the time delay. It is thought that Ka band might offer a 9Mb data in stream with a 1Mb data back channel. This will not only be the PC-TV backbone but will also be video on demand and just about any form of distributed multimedia. There are rumors that Gates is working on this concept, so far unconfirmed. For the satellite pioneers it is acknowledged that it is possible. Claude Burgio vice president of Engineering at Intelsat said, I can see in maybe three years, television dishes converted into receiving programs and being used on your PC or interactive applications. Television as we know it will feel the effects like that of a software bomb. They must follow the lead taken by our American friends and work closely with this new open standard, and start to develop systems and management that will be able to exploit what is exciting and empowering technology for both broadcaster and viewer.

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