Computer companies are developing a new generation of "convergence" products that give you access to the Internet using standard phone lines and, in some cases, a TV set but don't require the use of a PC. So far, these devices are limited to simple Internet access and home entertainment. But while you wouldn't want to use them as your primary Internet connection, they can be useful if you're on the road or at home and need to access the Internet. Here are some of your options:
- The iBOX by JCC Corp., priced at $500, is a compact device that plugs into a phone line and TV set to bring the Internet into your home or office without the need for a PC. (You do, however, need an account with an ISP.)
The iBOX has a handheld control pad with buttons and a trackball-like pointing device. Using the device, you select options from an on-screen menu to access any site on the Web as well as send and receive e-mail. You'll need an optional keyboard to input your e-mail messages, although you can retrieve e-mail without it. Inside the iBOX is a CD-ROM drive; a CD-ROM disk holds all the software you need for e-mail and Web access. This product is available only through JCC.
- The NetPAD from Momentum Inc. is a portable terminal about the size of a videocassette tape. It has a keyboard and an eight-line display screen. Just plug it into a standard phone line (you'll need an account with an ISP) to access a full range of electronic services, including Internet e-mail, Web browsing, and online services such as banking and brokerage. The NetPAD, available for $200, uses encryption technology to ensure your transactions are secure and private.
- ViewCall America is a service that will enable you to access the Web or send e-mail through a standard TV and phone connection. Subscribers to the service, scheduled to be available by year-end, will receive a small box that plugs into a phone and TV set. A remote control with buttons corresponding to buttons on the ViewCall service screen leads you to the desired services. An optional infrared, wireless keyboard, available for $50 to $75, can be used to prepare and send e-mail. As of press time, prices for this service had not been set but were expected to be comparable to other online services.
- Compaq Computer Corp. and Thomson Consumer Electronics have announced an alliance to develop a broad line of convergence products. While no products have been announced so far, the companies expect to start rolling out products in the first half of 1997.
Whether you're in the office, at home or on the road, more options for accessing the Internet are becoming available every day. With a choice of new products at a variety of price levels, there are fewer excuses not to get on the Web.