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TV driving digital technology

Consumers are focused on television as the basis for future digital devices, according to a newly released report.

Despite the wide array of emerging digital technologies, consumers are still most interested in watching TV--including digital TV, TVs with DVD players, and PC-TV.

In fact, consumers are focused on television as the basis for future digital devices, according to a newly released report.

The finding isn't all that surprising, reports International Data Corporation's 1998 Consumer Device Survey, considering that almost 100 percent of U.S. homes have at least one TV and over 54 percent have more than three.

Consumers are far more aware of emerging television-based technologies than most handheld Internet devices, Internet screen phones, or online gaming consoles, said Sean Kaldor, vice president of consumer research for IDC.

"A TV-centric device tends to be more favored than anything else," he explained. "TV is more visually compelling, a more exciting set of deliverables."

However, consumer awareness does not always make for a hot product. While 26 percent of respondents were familiar with Net TVs such as WebTV, only 7 percent indicated they were planning to buy one in the next year. "Look at Apple's Newton," Kaldor said, referring to the ill-fated handheld device that received notoriety for its garbled handwriting recognition.

Digital devices that integrate television, online connectivity, and low cost are most likely to do well, Kaldor suggested. New technologies should also be simple to use and offer compelling features that consumers feel they need.

Cost is first and foremost, followed by usability. "It has to be low cost--either free or under $199," he said. "[The ideal device] has to be extremely easy to use, no buttons at all, and simple onscreen prompts."

Kaldor noted that some simple set-top boxes already offer a similar proposition, but cautioned that next generation set-top boxes with cable modems may not be as successful.

Moreover, while nearly all homes have televisions, about one-third do not subscribe to cable services, a potential obstacle for cable modem set-top boxes. "You have to work within the existing households and narrow down to those who can have the service. [Set-tops] can't be an every household thing unless some serious technical obstacles are overcome," Kaldor said.