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Watch while you surf

Channel surfing and Web surfing will collide head-on next year when Zenith, with the help of TeleCruz Technology and TransCast, brings a 27-inch television to market with an integrated 56.6k modem and free Internet access.

The key technology is the TeleCruz TC702 chip, a single-chip product that has an integrated modem enabling two-way communication for interactive services.

Owners of the set will be able to plug their phone line into the set's telephone jack, turn on the TV and sign up for the free TransCast Internet service, which is designed specifically for TV sets.

"Two years ago, I saw that the other established players like Microsoft or AOL were going after the broadband market, and that makes a lot of sense for them," says Ramon Cazares, TransCast founder and vice president of marketing. "But I saw an opportunity being ignored: building the service right into the device because the electronics are there."

TransCast has created a TV portal that is similar to a traditional portal in that it aggregates content, Cazares says. Once viewers sign on, they'll have access to a "walled garden" of Internet services designed specifically for display on the television, according to Kris Narayan, TeleCruz founder and chairman. Giving room for the walled garden to grow will be 12 MB of DRAM and Flash ROM storage built into the set. That storage space will be capable of holding 30-plus e-mails and 30 pages of full-color information.

"The portal has certain elements that reside cached inside the TV in the Flash ROM," says Cazares. "Other content resides on our servers using the same templates and form factors optimized for the TV."

Having content cached inside the TV, Narayan notes, can improve access speed.

Another important part of the package is the keyboard. According to Cazares, it will have a number of function keys hardwired to elements of the service, such as e-mail or shopping. "If you want to switch to the portal while watching TV, you would hit the TV/Web button, and that would take you into the portal."

Picture-within-a-picture will allow the viewer to watch TV while surfing the Web.

A key advantage that Narayan sees over America Online's AOLTV or Microsoft's WebTV is that the consumer is not asked to buy a product or subscribe to a service. "You go to the store, and you decide to buy the TV with the feature, and it's a free service."

The set will be priced about $600, according to Zenith spokesman John Taylor.

Narayan says that TeleCruz expects to announce a deal with another manufacturer and a well-known ISP within the next three weeks.