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xDavid Knell

Websites on Television

Part One | Part Two

Continued from page one

The Main Points

Internet Explorer

WebTV browser


Perhaps the most immediately striking feature of the WebTV browser is the size of the text. In order to overcome the resolution limitation of a TV screen and ensure that text is readable, the browser enlarges fonts (generally, 16 - 18 pt.). Bear in mind that unlike a computer monitor, a television is normally viewed from several feet away. The only text unaffected by the browser is that contained in images.


The browser has compressed the width of the page. The WebTV browser will accommodate an area of only 544 - 560 pixels wide and although it allows vertical scrolling, it cannot scroll horizontally.

The height of the area shown on the screen is only 376 - 384 pixels high. That limitation and the large font size mean that only a small proportion of the page normally visible on a computer monitor will be visible on a TV screen without vertical scrolling.


NC browsers generally use a keyboard and/or remote control rather than a mouse for navigating. A highlighted link is shown by a yellow rectangle in WebTV (in the screenshot above, it is visible surrounding the "Guides" link on the left).


Images may be distorted if they are resized during the width compression of a page. WebTV will convert a .gif image to .jpg if it is necessary to reduce file size.


Colours may be represented differently by a WebTV browser. Both pure red and pure white can cause distortion, and horizontal lines of less than two pixels wide will flicker.

Final Comments

Some traditional HTML features are supported by the WebTV browser; some are not. The results may be far from what was intended, as shown by the text in the centre of this screenshot of the BBC News website:

WebTV browser

WebTV was designed as an interactive way to view television - providing the ability to do such things as play along with game shows, participate in polls and chat with other viewers. Browsing the Internet was only a secondary consideration but in this field it leaves the impression that it is a poor man's answer to the "real thing", a sorry attempt to import a form of media onto a medium for which it was clearly never intended. The fulcrum of the Internet is not only its interactivity - the ability to navigate, interact and browse effortlessly - but also its primary accent on text rather than sounds or graphics as a means of intellectual exchange. It must be viewed up close. The Internet is a medium founded mainly on text; television is one founded on sounds and images. WebTV has attempted to integrate the two and inevitably has fallen short.

Although WebTV successfully provides the simple interactivity it was designed for, it is a profoundly unsatisfactory tool for browsing the Internet. Its inherent limitations wreak havoc on the pages it presents to its viewers. The subtle nuances of a carefully designed page are transformed into a big-text ragbook for toddlers while its restrictive demands mean that those sites specifically designed for it are limited since they are relatively unattractive if seen on another screen, that of a conventional computer monitor. Perhaps worse still, one of the Internet's finest assets - its ease of navigation - is reduced to an awkward fumble.

New generations of NC units and browsers may improve the situation but the inherent incompatibility of the two media poses a huge obstacle to successful integration and the ultimate solution (if there is one) may lie in a different direction altogether.

The MSN TV Developer Support website provides information for web designers intending to use that platform and for those without access to an NC unit, the site includes WebTV Viewer, a downloadable software program which simulates the WebTV browser on your computer.


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