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I am by no means a professional critic or reviewer/rater of Internet Access providers, or of technology. I am a simple customer of the companies who provide it. But if my opinion is worth anything at all, I would advise anyone thinking about "getting connected" to avoid WebTV© if you are serious about true Internet Access with all the features you'd expect. WebTV© has its advantages, and I cannot deny that. Their e-mail program is teriffic, and their newsgroups are a hoot (if you are not easily offended and don't care much about your security and privacy). And recently, as I mentioned, MSN© and WebTV© have merged, and the future holds promise. I'm told exciting things will be happening in the world of "The Internet On TV". It remains to be seen, and I am skeptical. But there are cost considerations involved, and you should be aware of them.

If you buy into WebTV©, your initial investment will involve the purchase of at least one of its basic models, which are currently retailing for about $100 for the "Classic" and about $200 for the "Plus", which adds some features like Interactive Television and Video Capture. You will have to add the cost of a wireless keyboard, about another $50 (and it's an unreliable piece of junk). You will then pay either $21.95/month (for Classic service) or $24.95/month (for Plus service). All totaled, in the first year, you will have spent between $415 and $550, for equipment and subscription fees.

Again, in all fairness, WebTV© does offer rebates and discounts which can make the product more attractive. However, this is a recent development that has come in the wake of WebTV©'s recognition of a stagnant subscriber base, long-term problems with Customer Relations and Satisfaction, and a general disinterest by the Consumer Public for "The Internet On Television". It is indicative that the Service feels incentives are necessary to attract new customers, and this is not a healthy sign, in my opinion.

As far as the cost goes, for the same, or only slightly higher, outlay during the first year, you can now afford a computer. Access providers such as CompuServe© and MSN© are offering very large (in some cases as much as $400) "instant in-store rebates", which can be applied on-the-spot directly to the purchase of a computer, in exchange for a subscription commitment to their Internet Access service(s). In addition, the computer and peripheral manufacturers are offering their own mail-in rebates on many of the most popular products, such as scanners, printers, video cameras, monitors, etc. This can, in many cases, reduce the initial outlay to virtually $0 (or no more than the cost of a WebTV© unit initially) for a computer that is capable of far more than WebTV© in terms of productivity and entertainment.

WebTV© does not support some of the newer technologies that have become essential to even the most casual of Internet Surfers. WebTV© does not support Java, for example, which rules out subscribers' ability to visit many websites, or to use some of the more popular "chatrooms". WebTV©'s limited support of "frames" makes the loading of many webpages a slow and tedious affair, and, if accessible at all, makes the features that the webpage author provides worthless. WebTV© has a primitive version of Windows Media Player, but does not support some its features. There is minimal support for "streaming audio" and "streaming video" (and I have not been able to view ANY streaming video yet). There is a rudimentary version of MSN Messenger©, but there is no compatibility between it and, for example, AOL© Instant Messenger, which is not available at all. You cannot download anything with WebTV©, as there is no hard drive. You are dependent solely on the Service providing "Upgrades", which in the opinion of most subscribers to date, have caused more problems than they have solved.

The limitations of WebTV© as it exists today far outweigh any possible cost savings that were once attractive when compared to the costs involved with a computer. That is no longer the case, however. It is true that some improvements in WebTV© technology and service are on the horizon, but it remains to be seen whether these "improvements" will carry with them the usual "baggage" in the form of reduced efficiency in the overall access. From the "rumor mill" comes the possibility that in order to take advantage of significant upgrades in the near future, a new investment in equipment by the subscriber will be necessary. There seems to be a worry that the bulk of the subscriber base who owns earlier models of the set top box will have to purchase new boxes/terminals, because the existing units will not accomodate the large increase in memory space that will be required by a significant upgrade.

(I have read elsewhere that as I write this, the latest "Upgrade" is just starting to roll out to users of the WebTV© "Plus". Whether the Classic will be upgraded, and to what extent remains to be seen. Also remaining to be seen is whether this "Upgrade" is actually an improvement).

To wrap it all up, considering the limitations of WebTV© technology, and the seeming incompetence of its Technical Support Staff, anyone considering an investment in Internet Access would do well to shop for a reasonably priced computer in today's market, in my opinion.

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