The consumer experience

Datacasting may seem like black magic, but in reality it's quite simple, sort of

The biggest question concerning datacasting is the simplest: If consumers had trouble figuring out how to program the clock on their VCR, is there any hope for a medium that involves screwing off a PC chassis and inserting a DTV tuner card?

With DTVPlus and the retailers with which it is working in the Raleigh, N.C., area facing this consumer challenge next week when they begin selling a datacasting pack, it seems the perfect time to get a primer on what the consumer experience will be.

First is getting the DTVPlus tuner card installed. Sam Matheny, vice president and general manager of DTVPlus, says the easiest option is for a PC retailer to offer systems with the card already installed. Or, a technician could do it in consumers' homes. Or consumers could try to install it themselves.

"Simply open up the PC, insert the card into an available PCI slot and then close the case," says Matheny. Then the consumer should follow prompts to install the software.

When the user turns on the computer, the DTVPlus software will automatically launch and run in the background. "At this point, the datacast software is basically 'sleeping,' but it is running," Matheny explains. "This is similar to how virus protection software runs: It is always there but is only activated when needed."

When a user wants to access the DTV signal, he or she double-clicks a desktop shortcut or selects the program from the menu. AccessDTV is launched; the user will have a video window and a remote control.

"WRAL-DT will be the default channel so WRAL is always the first thing a user sees," Matheny says. "At this point, our data receiver recognizes that data is available and begins to download data. If the user selects a channel where data is not present, the DTV Plus software returns to 'stand-by' mode."

The remote control will have a button that will launch the DTVPlus. That's similar to a Web browser, although it is customized to look only at content that has been received via datacast. From there, users will have access to multiple channels of datacast content.

What services may WRAL-TV viewers expect from datacasting? Matheny says there are three main products: WRAL-TV Video On Demand, Microsite and WRAL FM Live. The video-on-demand service offers three separate segments (news, weather and sports) from the 6 p.m. newscast in the Windows Media Format. The Microsite is a datacast version of the site. It won't contain all the information on the site but will provide top stories, as well as links back to the WRAL-TV site. And WRAL FM Live will be a stream of WRAL-FM (101.5) live using the Windows Media Player without the need for Internet connection.

He notes that DTVPlus has also worked out deals to lay the groundwork for future subscription, PPV and other revenue models. They include Cinema, which will offer a channel of short films and animations; Games, delivering PC games to the desktop, additional sports programming, like local university highlights, and streaming of niche-market events.