Bandai Digital Entertainment will release the first Internet appliance based on Apple's Mac OS-based Pippin technology. Dubbed the @World, it is an integrated hardware, software, and Internet service offering access to online entertainment, email, and World Wide Web browsing. @World will connect to your TV set or a computer monitor via one of three video ports: composite video, super VHS, and VGA. The unit will have 1MB of VRAM enabling it to display 8- and 16-bit video, and will include special interlace filtering for NTSC/PAL video output to minimize screen flicker.
The most exciting news for readers of Pen Computing is that Bandai will ship a pen-based digitizer/keyboard interface device as standard equipment with the @World. The product includes a processor unit with a 66MHz PowerPC 603 chip, a 4X CD-ROM drive, 6 MB RAM and an external 14.4-Kbps (or faster) modem for $599 plus a six-month commitment for Internet access at US$24.95 per month. All @World Internet access services will be provided by PSINet of Herndon, Virginia.
The keyboard unit, which closes with a simple flap, provides a conventional keyboard for Internet commands, email, and word processing and a digitizer with pen that is designed for use with Bandai's TV Works software which lets users draw on the TV screen. The digitizer unit uses a pressure sensitive surface and absolute coordinate positioning (digitizer mode as opposed to relative mouse mode). The keyboard plugs into the front of the processor unit and can be used simultaneously with the separate, game controller-like multifunction control unit. The main processing unit will also have Mac-style ADB ports supporting Mac-compatible keyboards, mice, trackpads, trackballs, and pen tablets.
This first Pippin device will have no internal storage capacity aside from 128K of flash RAM to store user preferences. @World subscribers will instead store their files on the @World file server. At press time Bandai anticipated each subscriber will initially have 10 megabytes of storage available, with additional space available for a higher monthly storage fee. Iomega Corporation of Roy, Utah has announced its intention to market a version of its very successful Zip drive for the @World device, which would provide unlimited storage on removable 100MB cartridges that are roughly the size of a fat floppy diskette. The Zip mechanism will reportedly be integrated into an optional docking station.
Great video, underutilized pen
I had an opportunity to test drive a close-to-shipping @World machine, and came away impressed by two things. The quality of the video display on a standard TV was surprisingly good, and the pen interface was underutilized. On the unit I tested, the pen was only used to operate a simple painting program. I was itching to run the CD-ROM version of Netscape Navigator using the pen tablet, but the necessary driver code wasn't there-yet. Although I could not get a firm commitment from the Bandai and PSINet representatives I spoke to, they saw no reason why Netscape could not be navigated using the @World pen tablet. The supplied game controller-like trackball unit was adequate but frustratingly fiddly, particularly when "typing" on the on-screen keyboard window. The pen would be far easier, faster, and more natural in every pointing, selecting, and "clicking" operation.
@World will be available in the US in September. At that time, Bandai expects to have 30-40 CD-ROM titles available at product launch. Look for a full review of the Bandai @World in the next issue of Pen Computing Magazine.
/Bandai 310-404-1600 <firstname.lastname@example.org> <http://www.bdec.com>
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