Network Computing Incorporated
set-top box built around a 166-MHz Pentium processor today at the National
Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas, the latest sign that
TV-based computers will be a major focal point for the high tech
industry, even if customers are still showing only tepid interest.
The demonstration set-top box is built around the 166-MHz Pentium chip and
uses NCI's TV Navigator software, an operating environment which allows
home users to access the Internet via their TV sets. TV Navigator, which
essentially serves the same functions as the WebTV operating system, can also provide
users access to email accounts and other applications, depending on how
the set-top box is configured by the computer vendor or Internet service
NCI's software, the company stated, now runs on six different processor
Processing power is expected to become an important issue for
set-top boxes because Web pages are growing increasingly
complex. Microsoft, for instance,
recently previewed a 3D web application called "Chrome." To fully enjoy
?Chromatic? Web pages, consumers will have to have a box built around a
350-MHz Pentium II or an equivalent chip.
To keep up, set-top boxes will
likely continue to adopt faster processors. Today's demonstration is
symbolic of the trend, but certainly not the last step.
NCI admitted that today?s demonstration unit was just that. No
computer vendors have announced plans to make a Pentium-based set-top based
around the NCI software. "It's more of a statement," said a source at NCI.
Despite all of the publicity generated by set-top computing, not many have
been sold or even deployed, according to most analysts. That picture is likely to begin to change as the large cable providers cement
their future set-top box plans.
Vendors that have already adopted the NCI software platform for
set-top boxes are using chips from RISC vendors such as MIPS or previous-generation
Intel-compatible processors. Acer?s
set-top boxes are based around the 486 chip architecture, which preceded
the Pentium chip. (Intel is an investor in CNET: The Computer Network.)
Although allied with NCI, Intel has not been successful in getting its
processors into other types of set-top boxes. Most use chips based on the