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NCI to compete with WebTV

The Oracle subsidiary plans to unveil devices to compete with Microsoft's WebTV as early as late this summer.

ATLANTA--Oracle (ORCL) subsidiary NCI plans to introduce devices to compete with WebTV, possibly late this summer, executives revealed here today at Spring Comdex.

The devices, to be produced in cooperation with partners Zenith Electronics, RCA, and others, will be "competitively priced with what's on the market" and are slated for introduction in the July-August time frame, according to an NCI spokesperson.

NCI is also planning to bring out a device with Far East companies such as Akai of Japan, as reported by CNET's NEWS.COM in January.

Zenith plans to offer a family of Internet TV products: set-top boxes and integrated TV sets with interactive capabilities based on NCI's NC System Software, the company has said.

Zenith's "NetVision" set-top boxes and TVs will feature a printer port and smart card reader for home shopping and banking. In addition to a built-in 33.6-kbps modem, the products will include an Ethernet port for connection to high-speed cable modems.

Thomson Consumer Electronics, the parent company of RCA, announced previously that it plans to introduce an affordable set-top Internet access product that will let consumers use their TVs to surf the Web, send and receive email, bank, and shop.

This product is slated to cost about $300 in the United States. The set-top device, smaller than a VCR and also based on NCI's basic design and NC System Software, will easily connect to a color TV and said to provide hassle-free operation.

Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman, said here that information appliances based on the network computing platform will let people view and interact with broadcast-quality content.

"The whole cable industry is looking to replace analog set-top boxes with digital boxes. We think we offer standardized low-cost appliances that give them the ability to interact," Ellison said. "We hope that the industry goes that way."

Philips Electronics has also said it will build NCs and servers that use NCI's operating system.

Later this month, Oracle is expected to showcase production versions of the NCI-based set-top box and other NC designs.