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Samsung signs deal with USA Today for Web on TV

Samsung and Sharp are trying web TV, but a cheaper version that what people have done in the past.

LAS VEGAS--First, Sharp unveils a program that will let TV customers get select Internet content on their TVs and Samsung follows up with a similar announcement two hours later.

Is the PC-TV coming back to life?

The South Korean electronics giant has inked a deal with USA Today under which stories, local weather, and other information from the newspaper's site will be delivered through high-end Samsung TVs. Flip your TV on and you get the headlines. The TV connects to the Net through an integrated Ethernet jack.

"Weather is the most popular feature (in trials). People use it to figure out what to wear," Nelson Allen, a director in the strategic marketing group at Samsung, said during a brief interview at Samsung's press conference at the Consumer Electronics Show taking place here. Technically, CES begins Monday, but many large manufacturers are holding press conferences today and Bill Gates, a retiring Microsoft employee, will deliver a keynote speech tonight.

The deal was signed just recently, Allen said.

Like with the Sharp service, owners of the Samsung can't surf the Net willy nilly. The USA Today content is delivered through dedicated servers. Consumers can not get video directly through each service, although Sharp says it will soon deliver video, and Samsung has an add-on that will let TVs harvest video from the Internet via a PC.

Both services are free. Sharp's TVs with the service cost about $200 more than a TV without the service, but the price will go down, said Sharp representatives. Samsung didn't put a price on it, but said the service now comes only on high-end TVs.

Both deals reflect the years-long desire to merge the TV and the PC. Ten years ago, PC makers like Compaq and Gateway grafted a PC onto big screen PCs. Customers didn't buy many of the expensive TVs. (Both Gateway and Compaq have also since been acquired, but for bigger, other problems.)

Then came WebTV and other intelligent set-top boxes. Despite huge fanfare, few consumers bought these.

Last year at CES, Sony unveiled a service that allowed consumers to get video and other information through an add-on box. It hasn't sold well.

Sharp and Samsung are banking on three factors. One, that people do want to get Internet information through their TVs despite past history. Two, that turning on a TV to get weather or headlines is more attractive than booting up your PC. And three, that they don't want to pay for the service or own another box.

Although new to the U.S. manufacturers have been experimenting with these services for a while. Panasonic and other manufacturers have shown off how they can deliver Internet headlines to large screen TVs in their product showrooms for the past several years. I've seen it a bunch of times and it's actually pretty cool. Sharp has also been offering a similar service in Japan for a little over a year in that country.