Arguing that current technology puts the Internet out of the reach of the general public, especially in Europe, a small French company has developed a package aimed at making the Internet and multimedia services accessible to anyone who can use a phone and a television.
The company, DMC, plans to launch its Looker hardware and software package in Europe at the end of this year. Looker consists of a cordless, infrared keyboard and a central processing unit that plugs into a television set at one end and into a phone socket at the other, officials say.
Besides providing access to the Internet, Looker's functions include allowing users to receive and send faxes, play games, play CD-ROMs and build a personal agenda.
The system is particularly adapted to European televisions because of a socket in the back of European sets used for video transmission and reception, into which Looker can plug. This gives the signals sent by Looker direct access to the television's sound and image system, resulting in high resolution, according to Valere Fontaine-Picoureix, a developer on the project.
The company also hopes to distribute Looker in the US, but American users will receive Looker's signals via the television's aerial socket, resulting in slightly lower resolution, says Fontaine-Picoureix.
The company envisages bringing out a standard computer keyboard and a simplified keyboard, as well as a joystick, Fontaine-Picouriex says.
The simplified keyboard allows users to hit a key to call up a list of various services. Users then select the service they want and hit a connection key. Through a simplified interface, most of the other functions can then be performed with up, down, left and right keys, officials say.
The fact that the keyboard is cordless means that a family with four separate keyboards can use, for example, interactive shopping services on the same television screen at the same time, Fontaine-Picouriex says. When the product is launched, the company plans to offer a multitasking user interface, purchased separately, which will permit more than one person to simultaneously use interactive services.
Looker users in France will to be able to pay for goods and services using a smart credit card. The card's microprocessor is read by a keyboard attachment and matched to the card holder's personal identification number. Different secure methods of payment will apply in other countries, officials say.
Data transmission is compatible with TCP/IP and the European ETSI 300- 177 standard.
The base price of Looker will be about US$500.
DMC is currently looking for partners to commercialise its product in Europe and the US. DMC can be reached in France at +33 1 53 21 90 072.