In 10 years, experts suggest, the American family will receive digital audio, video, and text in every room of the house with just the click of a mouse, or an oral command.
The networked home, operating without wires and at incredible speeds, is actually available to homeowners right now. But many families are just beginning to take their first steps into the digital world.
The following should serve as something of a trail guide for the fledgling electronic consumer.
What it may be time to buy
*DVD player: After several years on the market, they've fallen quite a bit in price (entry-level models run about $200) and quality has improved. The boxes can play DVD movies, as well as compact discs and the latest DVD audio discs.
There are ways to save a little money. Pioneer, for example, offers a TV, VCR, and DVD player in one for about $900. You can also find them in some video-game consoles, like Sony's PlayStation 2, which sells for $299.
*Digital video recorders: These devices, offered by TiVo and Replay TV, allow the user to pause and rewind television programs and record more than 30 hours of programming on an internal hard drive. Best of all, they do it simply.
TiVo offers scrollable, point-and-click menus of current and future shows. You can also do searches for specific genres, like "mysteries." TiVo will even suggest programming based on your tastes. Price: $400 for the box (about the size of a DVD player) and a $10 monthly subscription fee. It works with cable and digital satellite boxes. But don't throw out your DVD player - neither TiVo nor Replay play video discs.
Where 'wait and see' seems wise
*Internet radio: 3Com's Kerbango radio (pictured above) is the first Internet radio to hit the mass market.
Most people access Internet radio broadcasts from their PCs. But the $300 Kerbango is different. It looks and operates like a regular radio. Like the TiVo, the Kerbango has an easy-to-use menu screen that lets you choose from local broadcasts or transmissions from overseas - whatever stations stream programs online.
There is a catch, though: You need a broadband hookup to make it work.
*Internet appliances: You've probably seen a picture of 3Com's Audrey by now. It's a monitor-and-keyboard combo the size of a toaster. Audrey lets you surf the Web and send e-mail. It's the optimal tool for families who might want Internet access in the kitchen, without the girth of a PC.
But Audrey and its counterparts from Compaq and Gateway/AOL may not be the best value for your dollar. They come at a steep price: $500 to $600. You can find laptops and PCs for just a few hundred more. As with most new models coming down the pike, including wireless ones, prices will likely go down.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society