Brainy idiot-box

Hang it on your wall and do not worry about scanning for your favourite programmes. This new television knows what you are looking for

Published: Monday 15 July 1996

-- THE idiot-box has remained more or less the same in the past 57 years of its history - a bulky structure that brings sports, news and movies to our living rooms. But in the coming months it may well grow a brain for itself - it will take multimedia into a new dimension, allowing viewers to interact, surf the Internet, order for sandwiches, download environmental statistics or settle in for the screening of Toy-Story. One model could even suggest the shows that you may like, based on your past preferences. And rather than finding a space for the big entertainer in the corner of your room, you may just have to hang your big screen set on the wall.

One of the immediate concepts in home entertainment is the merger of television with personal computers (PC). The 'Genius Theatre', under development by a subsidiary of the Frech electronic giant Thomson Consumer Electronics is an example of such a concept. It proposes to widen the scope of home entertainment services: the viewers will have the option of switching between on-line programmes and television, game playing and watching movies, transmitted via satellite or phone lines with communications access to the World Wide Web. With a 52-inch wide screen, the model would allow several people in a family to view a computer programme comfortably, rather than crowding around a tiny monitor. "What the Genius Theatre will make possible is an instant access to things like multimedia titles that you can download," says Lou Lenzi, president of design for Thomson.

The Genius Theatre's sound system, CD-Rbm player, modem and connections for telephone line, digital satellite system, cable and standard antenna are all placed in a small cabinet. To help users with its many functions, the set provides an on-screen menu depicting a living room with point-and-click icons. But the remote control has been replaced by a compact wireless keyboard that allows you to manage the entire system from where you are seated. Lenzi believes that this multi-function television set would reach the viewers by next year and is expected to cost us $4,000 for a 36-inch model and us $6,000 for a 52-inch model.

Another major American mail-order company, Gateway 2000, has introduced the new Destination televisions; each model combines a PC with a 31-inch video monitor. The Destination is compatible with VCRs and laser-disk players, and signals could be fed from home hi-fi systems for surround sounds. It comes with a Microsoft Windows 95, an electronic version of TV guide, a wireless keyboard and a mouse. The cost varies from us $3,500 to us $4,700 depending on the software and the sound system.

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