October 10, 2002 1:11 PM PDT

An icebox with your white box

The Web-enabled refrigerator was once a symbol of dot-com excess. Now, that excess is available at a retail store near you.

Korea's LG Electronics is selling a 26-cubic-foot Multi-Media Refrigerator, with a built-in 15-inch LCD (liquid crystal display) screen for watching TV, surfing the Internet or looking at digital pictures.

But with a price tag of $8,000, the "first refrigerator of the Internet Age" costs well more than an upscale fridge and a top-of-the-line PC combined.

In addition to surfing the Web while searching for a midnight snack, people using LG's kitchen convergence device can store recipes and messages from family members.

The LG model also purports to be able to diagnose its own problems, letting an owner know if a part is not working properly. That's good, said one appliance store employee, as there are few technicians with the expertise to fix an Internet fridge.

One of the few places selling the Net fridge is Silicon Valley electronics retailer Fry's Electronics. The store has been pitching the device in recent newspaper ads.

The fridge has attracted attention over the past month at a Fry's store in San Jose, Calif., but the units have still been gathering a lot of dust.

"A lot of people are curious about it," said a worker in the appliance section at the San Jose store. "I haven't had anyone buy one yet."

In the late '90s, a Net-enabled refrigerator was a staple in Internet "concept homes" and for demonstrations of what companies envisioned Internet would bring. Some ideas even included a bar code scanner that could order milk or other goods from an online grocer if supplies were low.

But even the idea of more modest Internet appliances got a cool reception from consumers, with companies such as 3Com, Gateway, and Sony all introducing and then quickly scrapping Web-surfing devices aimed for various rooms in the home.

3Com's $499 Audrey, in particular, was designed as a kitchen device, with 3Com executives noting that it could survive a small spill.

Despite the wane of such devices, LG is not the only one still pursuing the dream of the Internet kitchen. Salton, best known for its George Foreman grills, also sells standalone Internet appliances under the Icebox name.

The Icebox is not actually a fridge, but a specialized flat-screen device designed to attach to a counter and flip down when needed to act as a television, DVD/CD player, security camera monitor or broadband Web-surfing device. That device, which Bill Gates touted at last year's Consumer Electronics Show, sells for $3,000--fridge not included.

 

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