MSN / Microsoft
MSN TV 2: an upgraded WebTV
By Columnist
updated 10/5/2004 6:12:07 PM ET 2004-10-05T22:12:07

Last year I wrote that the TechXNY show was in bad shape. The show only took up a small portion of New York's mammoth Javits Center and what was there wasn’t that interesting.  You would think that since both Comdex and CeBIT America announced they were closing up shop either TechXNY NY would get better –- or get the hint.  Neither is the case.

This year’s edition of TechXNY (formerly known as PC Expo) is even smaller than last year’s.  I don’t think I’m exaggerating by estimating that the show takes up maybe 20 to 25 percent of only one floor. That wouldn’t be so bad if there were dozens of exhibitors crammed inside that space. But the aisles are very, very wide and there was lots of empty space to walk around.

Interestingly, one of the largest group of exhibits was from far-off places like Romania, Dubai, Argentina, the Philippines and the Czech Republic. They were there to boast about their countries' cheap labor and how they'd be a great place for American companies to outsource.

Finding something interesting to see at this show was not very easy.  But your intrepid reporter answered the call and has come up with what could underwhelmingly be dubbed as The Best of TechXNY.

Not your father’s WebTV
Microsoft is on a tear.  First, there was the big Personal Media Center/Windows Media Player 10 announcement last month –- and a huge media announcement is coming next week.  In between, the people at MSN TV used TechXNY as the place to announce a complete overhaul for what used to be known as WebTV.

MSN TV 2 is a standalone box which allows a user to connect to the Internet and get their e-mail. It uses a TV monitor instead of a computer monitor to surf the Web.

(MSNBC content is distributed by MSN. MSNBC itself is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

WebTV, now something like 8 years old, used to connect via dial-up modem only.  It was a big favorite with people who didn’t want to own (or were afraid of) computers: senior citizens and families.  My mother-in-law still has hers.

MSN TV 2 can still connect via a dial-up modem, but now it also connects via a built-in 10BaseT Ethernet port or an 802.11b wireless network (you'll need to buy a USB WiFi adapter). That means faster downloads and more services. MSN Video (click on a video on this site and you’ll see MSN Video) is available to MSN TV 2 subscribers -– as well as MSN Radio Deluxe –- with hundreds of streaming radio stations. Dial-up subscribers don’t have access to these premium services.

If you’re connected to a home network, MSN TV 2 will allow you to stream photos, music and video files from other computers on the network. The ability to view copyright protected video files will be an automatic software upgrade sometime early next year.

Inside, the box contains a 733 MHz Celeron processor, 128 MB of RAM and 64 MB of flash memory. It runs on the Windows CE operating system.  There are two USB ports for connecting printers, WiFi adapters, etc. It comes with a wireless keyboard and a remote control in the box.

As for software: there’s Internet Explorer 6.0 technology, Windows Media Player for TV, and readers to view Microsoft Word and Adobe PDF documents.  Word files are read only.

MSN TV 2 retails for $199.95, with a $25 discount for current subscribers who wish to buy the new device. Service plans are not cheap.  Connecting via a broadband connection only is $9.95 a month or $99 per year.  If you still use a dial-up connection, that will set you back $21.95 a month or $199.95 per year.

Rhythm Touch

International Housewares
The Rythm Touch: accupressure without the needles?
There was a line in front of a small booth in the middle of the floor from a New Jersey company named International Housewares Inc.  They were demonstrating their Rhythm Touch massage machine. People couldn’t wait to hook up to this thin, pint-sized electronic device and have their various aches and pains disappear.

The Rhythm Touch controller is the size of a small PDA or transistor radio –- and is designed to deliver electronic pulses into acupuncture and accupressure points to improve blood circulation and relieve stress, aches and pains.  Demonstrators were attaching pads to willing show goers and letting them use the hand controller to adjust intensity, frequency polarity, time and massage modes.

I guess the device works.  I didn’t have time to try it myself.  But I did see a number of people waving credit cards -– a sure sign that they wanted to take a Rhythm Touch home with them.  The massage device sells for $499.95.  There’s a special facial massage roller that sells for another $50 and an Accu-pen (for pin point therapy) for another $50 –- for a grand total of $599.95.

Appreciate the Journey

Johnnie Walker
Red and Gold, Black and Blue - only one missing is the new Johnnie Walker Green.
The longest lines at the show, by far, were at the huge Johnnie Walker booth.  That’s Johnnie Walker as in Scotch whiskey.

As the lovely PR lady explained to me, TechXNY show goers are Johnnie’s target audience – and what better place to offer 20-minute testing sessions as part of their Journey of Taste program for Johnnie’s 12-year old Black Label.  After very little prodding, I agreed to be educated at the first class of the day -- at 11 am.  

I entered the Journey of Taste suite where there were there were 80 stools at tables and five little glasses in front of each stool. In those glasses was, in order of appearance, Johnnie Walker Black, three single malt Scotches that go in the blend, and then another shot of Black so you can compare.  All together there was barely one regular-sized shot of whiskey.

Now I know everything I need to know about Johnnie Walker Black, how it’s made and how it tastes.  I’m not sure what this has to do with computers, networking or even outsourcing but I think we need more demonstrations of this sort at trade shows.  Maybe the people who run TechXNY really do know what they’re doing.

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