You might call it the Pong of the 1990s. The latest gadget to hang off television sets around the world is the network computer, linking couch-bound surfers to the Web through their trusty TVs.
Today, one of the first companies to jump onto the NC bandwagon, Akai, unveiled its consumer-oriented NC at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The Akai Internet Connection, priced at $349, attaches to standard TVs and includes a 33.6kbps modem, Java-enabled browser, printer port, and built-in support for RealAudio and Macromedia Shockwave. An infrared keyboard is optional.
The NC connects to the Net by reading connection identification codes from a smart card which plugs into the system. The smart card carries sign-on information, including user names and passwords, and phone numbers for a variety of Internet service providers. Users can plug the smart card into any system built on the NC specification, to access the Net and retrieve email.
Akai plans to introduce later this year a product combining television, Web access and Digital Video Disk capabilities.
Recent studies suggest the Web TV and NC market will be slow to develop. Problems cited include poor TV resolution--compared to computer screens--and clumsy Web navigation controls.