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Microsoft tunes in low-cost Net TV

The software giant is offering a low-cost version of its interactive TV service, enabling users to surf the Web for prices starting at $9.95 per month.

Microsoft is offering a low-cost version of its interactive TV service, enabling users to surf the Web for prices starting at $9.95 per month.

The company on Tuesday announced its MSN TV Internet receiver, which hooks up to a TV set and a phone line to access the Internet. Manufactured by Thompson RCA, it's based on the Web TV product that Microsoft acquired in 1997.

Microsoft renamed that service MSN TV last year and appeared to focus on more advanced interactive TV ventures, particularly its UltimateTV service, which combined TV-based e-mail and Web surfing with a DirecTV satellite service and digital video recorder technology.

But UltimateTV didn't take off as Microsoft had hoped, and the company recently announced it was restructuring that division and laying off some workers.

The new MSN TV box is priced at $99 and comes with two pricing plans: an economy plan costs $9.95 per month for 5 hours of service, with each additional hour costing $2.95. An unlimited access plan sells for $21.95 per month.

For a limited time, Microsoft will offer free MSN TV service for new or current MSN Internet Access subscribers who purchase the MSN TV Internet receiver as a secondary Internet access device.

"For people who have never been on the Internet and who are looking for an inexpensive, simple way to get connected, or for more experienced Web users looking for a secondary way to get online, the MSN TV service continues to be a great solution," said Richard Bray, vice president of MSN, in a release.

With the initial success of WebTV, many companies began researching other ways to combine TVs with Web access. But consumers haven't taken to the services as enthusiastically as companies had hoped. America Online and TiVo, a digital video recorder manufacturer, recently said they will discontinue joint production of an interactive TV product.