Acorn plans network computer videoconferencing

While Web browsing is bring pitched as the killer application for Acorn's just-launched NetStation network computer, a bevy of companion services and products is also in the pipeline.

While Web browsing is bring pitched as the killer application for Acorn's NetStation network computer that was launched in London yesterday, a bevy of companion services and products is also in the pipeline.

Vision Plc, a Scottish company, is working on a cost-effective digital camera chip that will bring videoconferencing to NC users for less than £100, according to company sources.

Users who want videoconferencing will be able to buy an NC add-on package next northern winter. Using video compression technology developed by Acorn, customers will be able to carry on a videoconference over standard telephone lines, the sources say.

Acorn is also working on a Network Interface Card (NIC) that will also digitise video, audio and graphics from analogue cameras and sources, according to company sources.

A plethora of new companies are also ramping up for the product's arrival in October, including Entertainment Online, a firm that will publish PC games on the Internet.

The company will be launched next week in both the UK and the US and will offer subscribers 20 PC game titles for around £5 a month. Entertainment Online is an Internet publishing company rather than a games developer, and will be targetting Internet users, as well as NC users.

Another company aiming at NC users is Electronic Share Information, a UK Internet share dealing service. ESI is currently talking to similar companies in the US about globalising the service. ESI will also start offering health insurance and pension plans online by next Christmas, according to sources.

Acorn's NetStation will be sold by the company's new NC distribution wings, NChannel in the UK and NetChannel in the US. NChannel will resell Internet connection provided by local Internet service providers for around £15 a month. NChannel will also use a new US company called Broadvison Software to build up customer profiles so that customers can be guided to the right information on the Internet.

Meanwhile, retailers have met the launch of NetStation with enthusiasm. "I think the question you have to ask yourself is whether customers will go for a £400 NC or a £1500 pound PC," says Malcolm Gardner, managing director of People's Phone, the UK's third largest cell phone service provider. "But the attraction to People's Phone as a service provider is that the NC will take a lot less effort to support than a PC," he says.

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