Ray Van Eng (08/18/97)
The company which was formed as a result of a merger between Network Computer Inc., an Oracle Corp. spin-off and Navio Communications, a former Netscape company that specializes in thin client browser products claims to have a unique software solution for cable and TV companies, ISPs, and content providers to combine the Internet with traditional TV broadcasting.
Like many other TV set-top products, Enhanced TV will provide consumers with a mixture of traditional TV and web material such as news, sports, programming guides, stock tickers, games, e-mail, chat etc. But with Enhanced TV, the user does not have to turn off his/her TV set to access either the web or TV. Not only the two medium can be displayed side by side, the TV picture can be minimized to a small window and have the rest of the screen dedicated to receiving online material.
This will open up new ways for viewers to experience interactive advertising. For example, when a user clicks on an Enhanced TV URL link flashed on the screen during a regular TV broadcasting by employing encoding techniques presently used for close captioning, he/she will then be lead to a web site where additional material can be explored at will.
The Enhanced TV platform is just part of the network computing architecture which is a vision that Oracle has in building and deploying network computer systems to homes, schools and corporations. To that end, NCI offers NC Desktop, the system software for the network computer, NC Server, a suite of server management and administration software, and NC Card software for secure and personalized access to network computers using smart cards.
Of course, this grand scheme is not something that Oracle or any of its subsidiaries could achieve by themselves. They need the co-operation of many technology companies, consumer electronic manufacturers, content providers, television broadcasters, etc. To date, NCI has claimed the support of IBM, Nintendo, Sony, Sega, NEC, RCA, among others.
In Japan, the Interactive Cable Communications Inc. (ICC) is deploying the TV Navigator software from Navio as a way to gain high speed cable Internet access for consumers in that country.
In September, RCA and Zenith Electronics will introduce set-top boxes running the NCI software. The RCA/Thomson Network Computer (see picture above) with a remote control will cost $299. Versions for Enhanced TV are also in the works which will likely cost $300 to $500.
Nobody in the technology business runs a monopoly, so who is Enhanced TV's biggest competitor? Well, it is none other than WebTV, a company Microsoft has purchased earlier this year.
Looks like that the classic browser war between Netscape and Microsoft will spread to your living room and that is regardless of whether you have a home PC or not.
An interesting thing is that Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and CEO has joined the Apple Computer board of directors. It will be fascinating to see what role Apple will play in a networked consumer world. Apple is highly recognized as an early leader in consumer and simplified mobile computing products with such innovations as Pippin, MessagePad, eMate and the Newton personal digital assistant.