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Companies want to raise boob tube's IQ

EarthWeb and ACTV gave their take on the merging of television and the Internet today with HyperTV, the latest technology designed to help users surf the Web while watching TV.

NEW YORK--EarthWeb and ACTV gave their take on the merging of television and the Internet today with HyperTV, the latest technology designed to help users surf the Web while watching TV.

EarthWeb, a New York-based developer of Java applications, and ACTV, a company involved in interactive television trials in Los Angeles, unveiled technology that combines Java-enabled Web browsers with interactive TV services. The project, dubbed HyperTV, is the result of a partnership announced last month.

HyperTV ventures into the same territory being explored by Intercast, which uses a comparable technology that is backed by a consortium of industry heavyweights, including Netscape Communications, Intel, Cable News Network, NBC, and several cable companies.

But key differences between the two technologies may make HyperTV more attractive to the average consumer, analysts said.

Both technologies allow users to watch a TV broadcast on their PCs, as well as use a Web browser to interact with information related to TV programming. For example, with a single browser, users can watch a broadcast of a baseball game, access sports statistics from a Web site, and change channels.

Intercast, which is still in the development stage, broadcasts video and Web page information to users over a single TV signal, a method that analysts say will limit the data transmission speed. HyperTV, by contrast, transmits video through a conventional TV signal while data is sent over the Internet from a TV programmer's Web site. In theory, this will let users with high-speed Internet connections surf the Web more quickly than Intercast users.

According to EarthWeb, its transmission method will also allow HyperTV broadcasts to be tailored to individual users. "Intercast is broadcasting Web pages to users," said Nova Spivack, executive vice president of EarthWeb. "We're narrow-casting URLs [uniform resource locators] to users."

Furthermore, the Intercast plan will require a TV-tuner plug-in board for the PCs to receive the signal. HyperTV could work with such boards but doesn't require one. Users who don't want to invest in extra hardware can simply wheel up their TVs next to their PCs, watching video on one and accessing the Web with the other, Earthweb said.

A key component of HyperTV technology is a Java applet that lets TV programmers coordinate their TV signals with the data "broadcasts" on their Web sites. For example, while a sitcom is being interrupted by commercials, the Web page linked to that program could also display onscreen advertisements.

The same HyperTV Java applet also gives users a comprehensive listing of all HyperTV programming for a particular time so that they can change channels from within their browsers.

But despite what the companies claim are technical advantages for HyperTV compared with Intercast, no television programmers stood up with EarthWeb or ACTV today to endorse the project. HyperTV officials will say only that they are talking to "all the major broadcasters and cable programmers" and that they hope to have a pilot test available by this summer. Officials hinted, however, that HyperTV may be able to leverage programming from Intercast, which does have deals signed with CNN and NBC. "We will find ways to work with Intercast," Spivack said.

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