Microsoft’s MSN TV, customer experience

From the growing list of ways to surf the Web on your TV, subtract one. This week, Microsoft announced it is closing down its MSN TV service as of September 30.

In 1997, the company bought WebTV Networks for US$ 425 million, which included set-top box technology for browsing the Net on TV sets. At the time, TV sets did not have the high resolution enjoyed by many consumers today, but making the Web accessible through a TV set and enabling it to become a group experience seemed like a plausible next step.

Photo Albums, Dial-Up

Microsoft renamed WebTV Networks, which had been founded in 1996, as MSN TV, added features, and later released MSN TV 2.

In a FAQ on the MSN website, Microsoft said this week that the decision to end the service was made in light of “many new ways to access the internet.” It noted that owners of the MSN TV 2 set-top will still be able to use that unit to access videos and music from a PC through a broadband home network, as well as view any photo albums stored on the box. Users are not required to return the device, and they can still subscribe to the MSN dial-up service for Internet access.

While it once seemed that the ubiquitous set-top box would become a single integrated unit for cable TV, Internet surfing, online video watching and gaming, the evolution to that integrated state has been more multi-faceted than one might have been imagined.

Many Options

Many cable companies now offer high-speed Internet access, many TV sets have wireless access to Web services like Hulu or Netflix, videogame consoles offer their own Web access, and various add-on boxes, such as Roku, have provided online video access.

The Apple TV box has built a modest following for its access to online content, and the company is rumored to be readying the release of a branded, Net-accessible TV, which could significantly change the industry.

Samsung, a major Apple competitor in consumer electronics, recently bought the assets, technology and engineering talent from Boxee, which provided a box for online content. Boxee’s cloud-based DVR service, which allowed users to record programs online, is being shut down.