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An expanded Web version of segments seen on CNN

Cable companies aim to lure public with 'magic boxes'

Combined TV/computer modem
Combined TV/computer modem   
May 7, 1998
Web posted at: 1:04 p.m. EDT (1704 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- The National Cable TV Convention, under way this week in Atlanta, reveals a noticeable push by cable companies:

In an attempt to brush up their battered customer service image and to fight off competition from satellite broadcasters, cable companies are turning to improved multi-media services and increased programming selection.

The trend was much in evidence at the convention in Atlanta, where representatives of the cable industry were eager to show off their newest "magic boxes."

Watch the full report
icon VXtreme streaming video (2:10)

These powerful computer-cum-modem combos can deliver not only hundreds of TV channels but also give customers Internet access, phone service, and instant pay-per-view (also known as "video on demand").

"They'll be able to bring movies when you want them (and) information when you need it," said Michael T. Harney of Scientific-Atlanta Corp. icon 310K/7 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Screen
The new "set-top" computers have simple interfaces like this compass, top, and scroll-through menus   

The new set-top computers are so powerful and versatile that they may be the only computers a lot of families will ever need to buy, analysts say.

However, the boxes will not act like traditional computers, since they have simple interfaces in the form of, say, a navigation compass or scroll-through menus.

"You can't just replicate a computer model or it's going to fail. So that's a challenge," Digital Network Systems' Dave Robinson told CNN. icon 355K/8 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

The cable industry hopes that the relatively low cost of the new technology will help attract more customers. Prices have dropped from an original $5,000 to $300.

The industry admits that, despite what it considers to be an attractive price, it first has to repair its reputation for poor customer service.

Dave Robinson of Digital Network Systems highlights the benefits of digital cable
video icon 1.0MB/28 sec./160x120
QuickTime movie

But Robinson was optimistic and predicted that cable companies would succeed in bettering their tattered public image.

New channel operators are waiting in the wings to join the high-capacity digital cable of the future. The Puppy Channel is one of them: all puppies, all the time -- a broadcast that backers say will be "relaxing" to watch.

Man at screen

And there is G.E.T., Gay Entertainment Television, which will target the largely untapped gay television audience.

"If we accept the 10 percent number that is generally used to describe the gay population, we're talking about 27 million people," said G.E.T.'s Marvin Schwam. icon 157K/14 sec. AIFF or WAV sound

Correspondent Rick Lockridge contributed to this report.


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