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New Yorkers get to try interactive television.

You've seen the ads on TV. Make a dinner reservation over the television, call up CD-ROM discs for information on nuclear power plants, see a live concert or watch a movie when you want to watch it. By the next time President Bill Clinton has to raise money through simultaneous home parties, people will crowd around the television instead of speaker phones.

For a number of Manhattan apartment dwellers that scenario will become a reality later this year.

In conjunction with New York Telephone Co., LibertyCable, affiliated with Douglas Elliman and part of the Milstein group of companies, is beginning an experiment in interactive television using three residential properties. Two are rentals -- the Normandy Court at Third Avenue and 95th Street and the Windsor Court at Third Avenue and 31 st Street, while the Bristol Plaza is a 200--unit condominium.

"We got hundreds of calls for buildings that would like to be a test site," said Peter O. Price, president of Liberty Cable.

The test buildings are large, he noted, and have a diverse group of tenants. They are also passed by fiber optics telephone lines, a critical component of the venture.

While Price says there are hundreds of cable systems that have fiber in the ground, what Liberty is experimenting with is video dial tone. This provides television via telephone company facilities and happens to be transported by fiber.

The key component, however, is a special switch that provides access to an infinite variety of programming. Price explained the switches are "huge machines" that will relay video signals in the same way a call across the country is routed by another kind of switch.

"This will do that for video and it's the first switch access video in the U.S.," he said. "Fiber is merely the way we are transporting it to the home. It's a very high tech experiment that has never been done before."

The FCC decided last year to permit television and other video services to be provided over telephone company cables.

Price expects FCC approval in the next two weeks for the Liberty venture. NYNEX is already starting to deploy fiber optic cables and build the switch while Liberty is lining up the order of the programming and making sure the software works. It will then start introducing the system into selected homes next year. "You have to get the bugs out and get the feedback," Price said, before it begins offering it to more buildings.

The system will also be full y interactive and will be the first broad band network to the home with infinite channel capacity. It will contain an electronic menu to tell the apartment dweller what is available and what to do to access the information.

Price says the user will be able to access a variety of things they couldn't get before. "It's not that they will have more channels," he notes. "It will be one channel that will be a gateway to cable television, data bases movies, Lincoln Center, airport reservations."

One feature that is planned is a shopping service so the home shopper can actually interact with a salesperson in the selected store. This interpersonal aspect is similar to the set-up that is used at Epcot Center to make dinner reservations, and similar to current video phones.

What the Liberty system does, Price continued, is to make your television set a computer. The challenge, he says, is to make it usable with a simple, hand-held remote control so human beings can operate it. It will have big buttons, he assured a skeptic who shares with him slower focusing eyes. "It has to be simple and you have to be able to get to the good stuff, he agreed.

"We are lining up the programming now," said Price, "working with New York Telephone to design the operating system and working with the subscriber, the end-user to market and explain the values of the system through focus groups and interviews."

The user would be able to access a variety of information stored on CD-ROM (Read Only Memory) m the Liberty "video jukebox. "You won't need a modem or to talk to Prodigy since this is a broad band network and you won't need to translate it from one form to the other," he said.

While an interactive television service is a complicated operating system to activate from the company's end, it can operate on the same cable wiring that is already present in a building. "So the building owner will probably get more and more people asking if the building offers this service," Price predicted, noting it will be a universal service that people will ask for when they go to rent or buy. "It will happen sooner than people thought," he said.

Currently, the Liberty basic monthly service is $12 for any number of television sets for an entire apartment. The interactive television will probably be offered as an add-on for more money. Additional charges would incur for each "call" to the Liberty office to access information.

"You don't have to use it," Price noted, "and if you don't need it or want it you call Aunt Sally on the telephone."
COPYRIGHT 1993 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:test being conducted in New York, New York
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:May 12, 1993
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