Sony expects to sell the box-shaped device for $349 next month at consumer electronics stores nationwide. The WebTV is about the size of a VCR and can sit on or near a television set. Users connect the device to a standard phone line with an A/V cable for standard TVs or S-video cable for use with Sony television sets.
Users can surf the Web through a subscription service with WebTV Networks, the company that has licensed the devices for manufacture. The service includes personalized email, software that blocks access to undesired sites, and a customized Web directory to help make surfing easier.
Allen Weiner, a principal analyst with research firm Dataquest, isn't sold yet on the idea of a set-top Internet access device.
"The marriage of the Web and TV is sort of pointless, frankly. The problem is that nothing on the Web resembles television programming...There is not enough compelling rich content," Weiner says. "The applications are missing."
Sony says the WebTV is a key element in its strategy for addressing the convergence of audio, video, computers, and communication devices.