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Zenith Net TV misses Xmas

Zenith won't be delivering any Net TVs this Christmas to retailers, even though the products were expected to appear this season.

Zenith (ZE) won't be delivering any Net TVs this Christmas to retailers, even though the products were expected to appear this season.

Zenith's Netvision product, which will allow consumers to surf the Internet on their television using a built-in 28.8-kbps modem, was supposed to be available in late November. The company now says the products won't be in stores until sometime in the first half of 1997.

The design was licensed by Diba, a company which has created a real-time, multithreaded operating system built specifically to support information appliances. Zenith denied that the delays were due to problems with Diba's software. Industry observers said the delays were at least in part due to internal problems at Zenith related to its financial woes. Recently, the company announced they were laying off over 1,100 workers due to continuing quarterly losses.

"In late November...we determined we wanted to add some software and hardware features. [The original schedule] was a very aggressive schedule, frankly." said a Zenith spokesperson. Plans for the Netvision products included the ability to send and receive email and access Java terminal applications with an infrared remote-control trackball or a wireless keyboard, but the company wouldn't comment on what features the revised product will include.

"We want to make sure the product is highly competitive when it goes to market," the spokesperson added, noting that the company may introduce a set-top box as well. "We'll still be among the first with an integrated approach."

Nevertheless, the delay may be cushioned somewhat by market forecasts for Net TVs. These consumer devices are supposed to bring make the Internet accessible to the mass market, but most nontechnical users don't seem to be aware yet that they need to be online. A recent report from Dataquest indicated that only 3.2 percent of computerless households were interested in Internet-TV services, while 5.5 percent of households with PCs expressed interest.