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Avram Miller has a chip on his shoulder.

Enough talk about interactive TV, he says. The real interactive device is the PC.

The claim isn't surprising considering Mr. Miller, 49, is VP-director of business development at Intel Corp. and point man on the convergence of computers, consumer electronics and communications at the world's largest PC chip marketer.

Pushing a utilitarian product born in the '80s as an alternative to a futuristic TV set sounds vaguely like the wishful yearnings of a buggy whip maker refusing to yield to horseless carriages. Which has broader appeal, some scion of a device that calculates spreadsheets, or a new version of the couch potato's favored companion?

Against those odds, the PC is gaining widespread attention in interactive circles. The idea is simple: Combine a personal computer, color monitor and cable TV wire, and the PC can host the kind of interactive services, shopping and advertising that two-way TV promoters can only wish for.

Mr. Miller dismisses any assertion that Intel is pushing the interactive PC because that's all it knows.

"We choose to do this because we really do believe it," says the executive, a colorful 10-year Intel veteran who somewhat resembles a hip Albert Einstein. "If we really thought the interactive device was going to be the TV ... we could change our business."

The debate may prove moot. Even in Mr. Miller's view, the device in the living room could well be some PC/TV hybrid-though, he stresses, the computer will provide the horsepower to make the TV interactive.

Computer users who latch onto online services today are prime prospects to go interactive in the living room in a few years. But Mr. Miller contends PC power also will make it possible for computer illiterates to go interactive.

This is a hot topic at Intel. Company President-CEO Andrew Grove is presenting the keynote talk on June 28 at the PC Expo show in New York about the ubiquity of the PC and emergence of the computer as a communications device.

Within three years, Mr. Miller says, as many as half of U.S. households will be capable of running interactive PCs, a feat made possible by the use of cable TV wires for a new purpose.

By the end of the decade, more than half of U.S. households will have PCs, he estimates, compared with one-third now.

Within a few years, Mr. Miller says, PCs will be able to run full-motion video and provide instant information from far-off networks-an appealing combination for marketers wishing to interact with customers.

"I think advertising is going to be the killer [application] for the interactive PC," Mr. Miller says. "The thing that's going to pay for all of this is going to be the advertising."

The ads, he says, will be heavy on useful information. Local theater listings could also include movie trailers. A travel service might offer a video tour of a hotel.

In contrast to the true ubiquity of broadcast TV, Mr. Miller does not envision a single interactive standard because of the diversity of households in education, income and other attributes.

"We have to be very careful talking about `the home,"' he says, cautioning that there will be degrees of interactivity.

Looking five years out, Mr. Miller foresees little change in traditional TV. "Today's TVs will still be there, and today's TV programming will still be there," he says. Most people will watch shows at their scheduled times, because it will offer the cheapest access and because of the social desire to watch a program at the same time as others across the nation.

By the end of the century, TV set-top boxes will be sold as consumer products, giving TVs limited interactive features and more programming options, he says. Intel and General Instrument Corp., a major cable industry supplier, are developing such a box. The result, effectively, is a TV powered by a PC.

Increasingly, the home PC will be provided by employers to make telecommuting easier, Mr. Miller says. That also will allow businesses facing peak workloads to employ more part-timers.

He says it's also not far off when office workers will shop for mail-order goods on the PC while at work, presumably either on break or when the boss's eyes are elsewhere. Just as workers commonly use the office phone to conduct some personal business, he says, they'll let their fingers do the walking on the PC, perhaps through online services or CD-ROMs.

Just as electricity moved from producing a source of light to a source of power, Mr. Miller sees the PC going far beyond its rudimentary beginning as a business machine.

"We don't provide chips," he says. "We provide the energy source for the information age. This fuel will be as valuable for the 21st century as oil was for the 20th century ... The market for us is just beginning."

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