NetTV Pushes Convergence with ExtremeDVD

Convergence might be the brunt of jokes in some quarters, but not at 7 Mark Drive in San Rafael, CA. That's the home of NetTV, which has just announced its new ExtremeDVD home-entertainment system. ExtremeDVD is optimized for 3-D gaming, Internet access, satellite downloads, and high-resolution movie playback.

With ExtremeDVD, games offer an "unsurpassed degree of realism," according to CEO Ron Perkes. A recent visit to NetTV headquarters confirmed that this is more than an exercise in marketing superlatives. The ExtremeDVD system---which includes a 34" DTV-capable display, MMX-equipped computer with DVD-ROM drive, and TEAC multichannel receiver---lived up to the hype as Perkes blasted incoming jet fighters to smithereens in a game he was playing as I arrived. He then took out the radar installations and the nuclear power plant for good measure, using a wireless keyboard as a controller.

Perkes then played a segment of Air Force One to demonstrate ExtremeDVD's movie capability. Even with fluorescent lights overhead, the detail, contrast, and color saturation were excellent. "We use one of the best MPEG2 decoders on the market, and we can scale the display to 480p, 720p, or 1080i depending on the demands of the program. This is how 480p digital TV will look when it gets started this fall," Perkes noted as Harrison Ford slammed a terrorist against a wall and the presidential aircraft pitched and rolled.

The system is based on an MMX-equipped computer priced from $799 to $999, depending on installed options. Three sizes of high-resolution TV/computer monitors (29", 34", and 38" diagonal) are available at prices starting at less than $1995, which is significantly less than the prices of introductory HDTV receivers just coming to market in the $8000-$10,000 range.

Price variations among NetTV products are attributed to what Perkes calls "speeds and feeds differences." With a 56 Kbps modem (upgradeable to a high-speed cable modem), the system's net-surfing capability is exemplary. (Perkes and NetTV's marketing and public-relations man Michael Carrier were duly impressed by the elegance and depth of the SGHT Web site.)

"We expect that aggressive marketing will force the entry-level price down to something like $1495," Perkes says. At present, all the company's monitors sport a 4:3 aspect ratio, due to what he calls the "prohibitive cost" of current widescreen versions. "We will probably have a 16:9 monitor sometime later this year, and we expect to have a 42" plasma display perhaps as soon as December 15." Good news for home-theater fans: Perkes hopes that NetTV's plasma display will debut in the $5000-$6000 price range, which is approximately half the price of Fujitsu's 42" PlasmaVision display. NetTV currently has about 25 resellers.

NetTV's current monitors are capable of up to five times the resolution of high-quality NTSC receivers, and they can accept all DTV formats with a multiformat transcoder, which is a standard feature. A FireWire adapter will be available later as an add-on option for an estimated $800. "We don't see FireWire becoming widely available for two or three years," Perkes notes, "but we will certainly be there when it does."

Although the company has done quite well in the educational market, providing systems to schools and other institutions, it has yet to become a household name in the consumer market. However, this is likely to change dramatically in the next year or two. Perkes acknowledges that his ExtremeDVD player---a desktop computer not quite disguised by its black cabinet---isn't yet ready for prime time. "The next step is to repackage it so it more closely resembles a normal DVD player. We will be adding some software to hide the Windows environment, and we are also working with X-10 to integrate and simplify our remote controls." Making the system responsive to a few simple voice commands isn't out of the question either.

In related news, NetTV has entered into an agreement with NetFlix, another Marin County-based company, to bundle free movie rentals with each purchase. Some games are also included to get users off the ground in a hurry. Clearly, the company is solidly on its way up; all indications are that NetTV could be the next startup to break through the stratosphere. Hang on---it could be a wild ride.