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WebTV Announces New Terminals, Upgrades

Microsoft’s WebTV division is preparing to offer updated versions of its WebTV Classic and WebTV Plus terminals, the company said. It also announced a new service upgrade that will allow WebTV users to shop online with greater security, build personal Web pages, and find topics of interest more easily.

The new service upgrade is scheduled to be available this summer and will be free to all existing and new subscribers of the Classic and Plus services, WebTV said.

WebTV said Sony and Philips are now beginning to produce more powerful Classic and Plus terminals with improved speed and storage capability over previous models but at no increase in suggested retail price. Both manufacturers recently have shown prototypes of the new Classic terminals, which are slightly larger than a personal CD player or about one-third the size of the original WebTV terminal.

The new Classic units are said to deliver “a much faster viewing experience than the original,” with a 150MHz processor, increased internal memory and a 56Kbps-capable v.90 modem They also feature a built-in printer port. The new Classic terminal will carry a $99.95 SRP, while the Classic service sells for $21.95 per month. Current WebTV Classic users will continue to receive their existing level of service at the $19.95 monthly fee.

The new Plus terminals add a 167MHz processor, more internal memory and a 56Kbps-capable v.90 modem. The suggested retail price is $199 for both the Sony and Philips models, while the monthly service subscription is $24.95. The terminals are scheduled to ship in July.

Regarding its new service upgrades, WebTV said it is working with First USA Bank to offer “a shopping guarantee” that protects users against fraudulent online transactions conducted with merchants featured in the WebTV Network shopping area.

Also, the system’s Home page has been redesigned, offering expanded information through the “WebTV Centers.” The new home page will let subscribers find information more easily in a broader range of categories. Improvements in search and help-center tools will let subscribers search the Web for specific information. The search function now has categories highlighting the “best” of the Web and showcases a special list of “things to try” on the Internet.

Users will have access to the latest updates on finance issues, shopping, sports, entertainment and news. The new WebTV Centers are expanded versions of the “My WebTV” information centers. Subscribers now have quick access to 20 categories in the redesigned Shopping Center (featuring local content) and may browse through the best of the Web. WebTV Centers also feature integrated community and search offerings that will enhance online chats about breaking news.

WebTV is also adding a “page builder” feature to help subscribers create personal Web pages accessible by PCs WebTV terminals alike.

Also, automatic bank payment and online billing statements are now available through the service.