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Heard On The Beat / CORPORATE

Next Summer's TV Lineup Will Include the Net

September 02, 1996|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Web wizards have been touring the cyberworld for years, their delight in the joys of the Internet often incomprehensible to the millions who still can't get rid of the flashing "12:00" on their videocassette machines.

Now there's a big drive on to bring the World Wide Web, e-mail and other treats into the true American heartland--our living rooms, family rooms and dens. Out with the PC, some say, and in with Internet-connected TV.

Engineers at Mitsubishi Consumer Electronics America's year-old applied engineering center in Costa Mesa took that battle cry to heart. The first product they'll bring to market is a big-screen TV with Internet capabilities.

The TVs, with 32- to 40-inch screens, will be sold by regular Mitsubishi big-screen dealers beginning next summer. The package includes a single remote control that will operate the TV as a TV and then, with the touch of a dedicated button, switch you from "Wings" to the Web. An optional wireless keyboard will enable users to write e-mail messages from the comfort of their easy chairs.

And why would anyone want to surf the Net or wander the Web on a 40-inch television screen? "For the same reasons they want CNN and the Weather Channel: information and entertainment," says David Broberg, Mitsubishi Consumer Electronics' new technologies research manager.

Mitsubishi claims to be the first consumer electronics company to announce a web-linked television, but Broberg says competitors are working on their own products and it's a race to get to the marketplace first. Sony Corp. and Philips Electronics, for instance, are developing TV-top Internet connectors--sort of like cable boxes--that will add Internet capabilities to conventional televisions. And Gateway 2000 Inc. launched its Destination PC/TV in March.

Gateway's 31-inch screen unit is linked to a full-fledged PC, though, and retail prices start at about $4,000. Mitsubishi's DiamondWeb product is a television equipped with just enough hardware and software to enable users to access and navigate the Internet. Pricing, while not announced, will be "at the high end of the big-screen television scale," Broberg said. In other words, the $2,500-$3,500 range.

John O'Dell can be reached at (714) 966-5831 and at john.odell@latimes.com

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