Tech Industry

NCI demos Pentium-based set-top

The demonstration is the latest sign that TV-based computers will be a focal point for the industry, even if there's only tepid interest.

Network Computing Incorporated demonstrated a 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 provider.

NCI's software, the company stated, now runs on six different processor platforms.

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 RISC architecture.