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Review
The DishPlayer Experience: Part 4 - WebTV Side


By Wolverine_X
(August 29, 1999)

The DishPlayer's internet access is provided by the WebTV service. WebTV is a subscription service that provides low cost access to the internet.

Subscription to WebTV costs $24.95 a month. If a local WebTV access number is not available then you must find a local ISP (Internet Service Provider) to connect to WebTV. If an ISP is needed, WebTV will only charge $14.95 a month for its service.

As I mentioned before, WebTV provides low cost access to the internet. They are able to do this by gearing their products towards three things: email, chatting, and surfing the net, thus reducing the need for added hardware. On the flip side computers are used for a large variety of tasks and the hardware of a computer reflects that.

Also important to many is the issue of cost. Even low end computers sell for $399 without a monitor. The DishPlayer sells for between $49 and $199 based on where you buy the unit.

Like the previously discussed TV side, the Web side also has a home page. Here you will find access to your email, favorite files, a community section and a search engine.

Also prominently displayed is the WebTV Today section. This area deals with the latest news, sports and information around the globe. MSNBC provides the content. As you can imagine with MSNBC providing the coverage you have a wealth of information just a click away.

WebTV provides up to six different user accounts for the $24.95 subscription fee. Each account is independent of the others. For parents who are concerned about their children accessing the internet, fear not. You can institute child safety parameters that will block anything you feel unseemly. In fact if the "kid-friendly" option is picked only content approved as "kid-friendly" is available. They even have a completely different and colorful home page for kids.

The ability to send and receive email seems to grow in importance almost daily. WebTV makes this easy. You can email family and friends and even make new friends. You may even save some money on your phone bill by sending email rather than talking on the phone. You can also include graphics (or photos) and/or sound in each email you send. Many people utilize this feature to personalize their email.

As noted previously when discussing the hardware, there is a mic input on the front of the unit. By using a microphone one has the ability to record thirty seconds worth of sound and send that audio via email. Microphones are inexpensive and can be found at most retail stores for around $10.

Sending still pictures is also a lot of fun. With a camcorder or VCR you can connect a set of A/V cables to the DishPlayer and send still images via email.

All in all, emailing has never been easier and the DishPlayer provides this feature in an easy to understand and straightforward way.

The favorites section is an area where you can store your favorite pages or sites on the net. Each user name can have up to 20 favorite folders. Each folder can hold 32 favorites. That's a total of 640 sites or pages that can be saved for easy retrieval.

If you like football you could save NFL.com. If you like video games you could save videogames.com. In fact at any site when you want to save it, simply click the options button on your keyboard or remote and hit save, pick a favorite file and hit enter and it's saved in your favorites. It's that simple and it's that easy.

Also on the top row of the keyboard are seven keys labeled F1-F7. You can assign certain favorites to one of these keys for one click access to a site.

Community is broken up into four distinct separate areas; Page Builder, Around Town, Chat and Discuss.

Page Builder is a part of the WebTV service that allows you to build homepages and store them on WebTV's server space. Anyone can build a homepage and this is one place where you can start.

Around Town simply gives you the news and happenings in your own hometown. You'll get information on everything from the weather to what's playing at the theater.

The Chat section takes you to a chat server called Talk City. Talk City has a variety of rooms that range in topic and participation. This is a great place to meet other WebTV'ers or people from around the world.

The Discuss section leads you to the world of newsgroups. Like chatrooms, newsgroups are discussion areas based on different topics or range of topics but in written form. They are a wealth of information and can be quite fun. I cannot fully describe the amount of newsgroups out there except to say that if you can think of a topic, there is a newsgroup for it.

While there are many search engines on the internet, WebTV has an exclusive deal with one, Infoseek. If you have an interest or want to find info on a particular subject and have no idea where to look you use a search engine. Search engines are an invaluable tool on the internet and WebTV provides a good one.

The settings section found on the WebTV home page provides users with the ability to change many aspects of the service including the size of the text and music choices. You can actually listen to music while surfing the web with a choice of 14 different categories of music.

So you think you may need help or you have a question you just can't find the answer to. Well, there are areas to answer those questions and provide the help you need. Each section on the home page, whether it be Mail, Favorites, Community or Search has its own help area. Also on the home page itself there is a help section to answer most any question you have about WebTV. If that's not enough there is 1-800-GoWebTV that lets you actually talk to a live WebTV customer service representative.

A very nice feature I enjoyed of the DishPlayer was the ability to watch television while surfing the net. The DishPlayer actually employs a picture in a picture window to view any show of your choosing while on the web side of the service. The window can be moved to either corner of the screen at the push of a button. This is done regardless of whether or not your television has picture in a picture capability.

My one complaint with the feature is that it would've been nice to have the ability to move the pip to any corner of the screen.

Another nice feature of the DishPlayer is the ability to switch back and forth from TV side to Web side using the View button. I like the feature but there is a noticeable lag when trying to switch between sides.

Two very important aspects of owning a DishPlayer over a computer is that the hard drive will not crash and the DishPlayer cannot get a virus. Those are important issues in this day and age as so many people lose their info due to hard drive crashes or viruses that can truly devastate a computer system. The DishPlayer and WebTV provide risk free internet at a reasonable price.

WebTV says that they will endeavor to keep up to current internet standards and provide WebTV users with the best service and product possible.

Unfortunately while I like the WebTV service and its ease of use I found them to be lacking in the internet standards department. Real Audio is a format for music and sound. WebTV employs Real Audio 3.0; the current standard happens to be 5.0. This means if you want to listen to a press conference at NFL.com you won't be able to. If you wanted to listen to a new song from your favorite group you might not be able to.

To their credit, WebTV has made a deal with Real Networks(the creator of Real Audio) and WebTV will be getting the newest standards.

Java is also another internet standard not yet met by WebTV. Java enables computers to use buddy lists, instant messaging, access to online games, java based chats and more.

In short WebTV provides an easy to use service that lets you explore and utilize most all of the internet. The only limitations besides the standards issues is ones own imagination.

Pros:
  • Easy to use
  • Affordable
  • Upgrades to current internet standards
  • Upgrades that give new features
  • Free Upgrades
  • A 1-800 number for support
  • Performs common tasks like Email, Surfing and chatting VERY well
  • Hard Drive will not crash
  • Not susceptible to viruses

Cons:

  • If an ISP is needed monthly charges to access the internet could range from $25 to $35
  • Doesn't currently meet some internet standards such as Real Audio 5.0/G2
  • Does not currently offer Java support needed for games, ICQ or Buddy Lists
  • Often slow access times both in connecting and surfing
  • Needs better communication with its users
  • Lag time with view button.

    The Rest of the Story

    Part 1: Introducing the DishPlayer

    Part 2 - The Hardware

    Part 3 - The TV Side

    Part 4 - The WebTV Side

    Part 5 - The Future


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