*Internet Enthusiasts Make First Showing at ERA Conference

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MIAMI -- The Electronic Retailing Association conference here marked the first time that up-and-coming technology companies were invited to demonstrate their vision of the interactive TV future.

Scott Campbell of WorldGate Communications Inc., Denver, and Kyle Ringo of Encoding.com Inc., Seattle, both demonstrated how television will work with the Internet and how computers will deliver video on demand.

Interactive technology is predicted to have a major impact on the ways products are marketed through television, but several technical barriers have to be overcome before interactive television becomes a reality for most consumers.

"We still need the wider pipes," Ringo said, referring to the limited capacity of most telephone networks today. His company, which encodes video and audio content in a format that can be sent through the Internet, is seeing growth in Internet video, but most activity is still in music. He expects that the Internet will need to evolve another few years before wideband multimedia is more pervasive. In the mean time, it is unclear which technical standards will be adopted, those of market leader RealNetworks Inc. or the 800-pound gorilla in software, Microsoft Corp., Seattle.

"The battle for video streaming is really heating up," he said. "We're not really taking sides in the battle -- we like to consider ourselves as Switzerland."

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