Can traditional TV viewing survive the onslaught of the internet or are the integrationists winning the battle?
The internet is being described as a 'forward-leaning' technology. And you knows there's a problem when a new bit of jargon is invented to sell something.

The tag is nothing to do with the progressive nature of the technology, but is meant to explain how you sit when you are using it. The realisation that people typically access the internet and other computer-based services from a distance of just a few inches is one reason why some companies positioning themselves for the digital future are thinking again about convergence.

Not so long ago, the collision between broadcast, internet and telecoms technologies was widely expected to occur in the nation's living rooms, with conventional TV viewing destroyed in the impact. Now there is less certainty as to how much convergence is really likely, with key players setting different strategies accordingly. Chief among the sceptics is BSkyB, which, with its Open ... interactive TV service soon to announce an autumn launch date, has a great deal invested in the idea that the PC and the TV will resist integration.

Open ... has been described by some as 'internet lite'. It gives consumers (viewers, to you and me) the chance to enjoy a limited amount of interactivity on their TV screens, while stopping short of the full internet experience.

There will be fun things like email and games and useful things like home shopping and banking, but not full internet navigation with the associated risk of finding unedifying material and the difficulty of learning new PC skills.

Open ... communications director Julian Eccles says: 'Open ... is a mass market proposition. It is made for TV. It uses a phone line for purchases but most of it is on the broadcast stream. TV and internet are different. We regard the internet as something in a different market that we complement. In all our research we have not found people asking for internet.'

BSkyB proper is similarly making dismissive noises about putting too much focus on the clash of internet and television experiences. Steve Billinger, the company's director of interactive programming, highlights the limited possibilities of convergence by pointing to the difference in resolution of PC and TV screens and the fact that websites consequently do not look good on TV.

But other major media players are less reserved about the prospects of convergence. While BSkyB prepares to launch its Open ... product from one corner, the cable operators and Microsoft are gathering in the other.

The cable operator NTL has launched its TV internet product this year, which involves a set-top box that, like Microsoft's Web TV, allows the internet to be viewed on a TV screen. The idea is that the operating software, which is based on the HTML and Java programming languages used to build websites, allows easy consolidation between broadcast and online content.

Andy Crossley, marketing director for interactive at NTL, says: 'We have positioned ourselves at the extreme end of those believing in convergence.

We have a number of convergent products and are in the vanguard of that convergent message.

'Sky are saying what they are because they have boxed themselves in technically. Both Sky and On Digital are broadcast media that have chosen software that is not internet compatible.

The way Open ... is set up, it means you cannot access the net and the TV at the same time. Obviously, they won't believe in the converged service if they have nothing to gain from it,' Crossley adds.

He accepts there is a problem in making internet pages look good on TV, but says the company is working with content providers on 're-purposing' websites to give them bigger text and different formats that work as part of a TV viewing experience.

Cable & Wireless Communications (CWC) also has a strategy based around integrating the TV signal with internet and online services and Telewest is expected to follow suit. Meanwhile, Microsoft has concluded trials of its Web TV product. It gave 150 homes in London and Liverpool set-top boxes, enabling internet use through the TV with a remote keyboard and handset. Consumers were given the option of clicking on a logo to download textual information into a separate box on the screen.

Microsoft has also started investing in its convergent-friendly cable bedfellows. The company has a stake in AT&T through which it has cable interests, including its recently acquired 30 per cent share in Telewest. It also has a stake in NTL and has been talking to the country's other big cable operator, CWC.

Observers suggest Microsoft's interest in cable is about getting its Windows operating system into the TV environment and that this an act of faith in convergence. Jolyon Barker, a director in the communications and entertainment practice of Arthur Anderson, says: 'Microsoft entering the cable industry is speeding up convergence. Microsoft has recognised that Windows should not just sit within the PC world but on TV too, hence their move into set-top boxes.'

Sharon Baylay, marketing manager for Web TV UK says Microsoft and cable operators are anticipating more convergence than Sky. 'Our view is that convergence of devices won't necessarily happen - the device will always be used for what it is most appropriate for, for example entertainment in the case of TV. But in our trials we have found there is certainly an appetite for using that device for getting more information, although still in a "lean-back" TV sort of way.'

Baylay suggests a middle ground is developing between the lean-back TV and lean-forward PC experiences with games now tending to be played on TV. 'Things do not have to be black and white. The trial finished last Friday and has proved to us that people want to interact online and go where they please on the internet,' she says.

Chris Marsden of Warwick University, joint editor of a recently published book, Convergence in European Digital TV, says convergence is certainly evident at the level of software. Set-top boxes run application programme interface (API) software on which the electronic programme guide (EPG) sits. Windows is generally the equivalent of the API on computers, and Microsoft wants the same domination in TV.

In the PC world there are two competing EPG equivalents in the market - the two browsers, Microsoft Explorer and Netscape Navigator. Microsoft's attempt to position Windows as an operating system for set-top boxes mirrors the company's battle with Netscape for the position of undisputed market-leading browser. In the TV environment, Sky is seeking to establish its EPG against terrestrial rival On Digital in the same way.

It's not clear whose vision of convergence will prove the right one.

But Sky's support for its less than 'all bangs and whistles' Open ... technology echoes the strategy that put the company in the pre-eminent position it enjoys today. In the early nineties, the company took a similar gamble on the public's satisfaction with a technologically inferior, but more accessible, technology (a low-power satellite system rather than the state-of-the-art BSB rival). It built BSkyB.