*Teletext-Inspired Throwback Suffers Unusual Popularity
Bravo for the acronym, guys!
A young man who would have been around 10 when the plug was pulled on Ceefax has recreated the BBC's teletext information service online, replete with a digital remote control to punch in the number of your choice. What's stranger is that Nathan Dane, 20, was just 14 when he started work on the project. You might be asking: …
"I've no idea how their comments made it from the users' living rooms onto the tellybox"
Imps, listening to everything you say.
If I recall correctly, it was actually done by post. I remember seeing PO box numbers. Could still have been imps too though if your TV was fancy.
The Paramount Comedy Channel had their own very good teletext service. They answered viewers questions but I can’t remember how you sent them other than by Royal Mail. I miss Ceefax and the ability of higher end tv’s to store the pages as they were received making looking something up blisteringly fast. I use the BBC text service on the bedroom telly to check the weather and travel every morning before work.
> I've no idea how their comments made it from the users' living rooms onto the tellybox though - this was way before email and SMS were a thing. Did you have to physically send them in by Royal Mail?
Duh. What do you think the TV Detector vans were for?
Surely you didn’t believe the government propaganda that they were to detect licence evaders? No! They cruised up and down the nation’s streets, their sensitive microphones listening for people yelling at their TVs. If the aforementioned yelling was a Teletext Reader’s comment, it would be taken back to Broadcasting House by the detector van.
Me too, long before the internet was a thing the live Test match scores were on page 341 and you'd wait for the page to tick over and the batsman's name to change colour to show a wicket had fallen.
Used to happen far to often when England were batting so, I suppose you could say, at least some things haven't changed!
Considering the beeb were wanting to close down Ceefax spiritual replacement the red button interactive service in 2020 because they couldn't afford to keep it running and only changed their mind at the very last minute. Yet this young lad can throw together this service in his spare time using a few bit of kit from ebay and pull all the necessary data from the BBC website, I think the BBC should offer this guy a job.
I don't know how the red button pages are created but judging by the number of duplicate stories on the regional pages, and the frequent truncations where you get just the first teaser paragraph of some overambitious BBC blogger's output, I can only assume it is a script of no great complexity. IIRC the claim was they would save £39M by dumping the service, but I can't see where that much is going!
It's a pity, as I think the red button data pages could be really helpful to people with no internet access. The BBC missed a trick not having some COVID information pages for example, instead of share prices.
I suspect, as Red Button is another stream on the DVB multiplex, that there is some charging mechanism for data capacity. If so that would dwarf the cost of running a server. This is where the Internet scores: the charging model is different, and small, so we get the amazing variety of stuff because the up-front cost is small until you need scale.
I suspect, as Red Button is another stream on the DVB multiplex, that there is some charging mechanism for data capacity. If so that would dwarf the cost of running a server.
I have a funny feeling that the costs mentioned were for both the text and video service combined. It was pointed out by those who wanted to keep the service running that even £10m was a bit steep for running just the text. I think (but may be wrong) the BBC declined to separate the costs for the two and agreed to keep the text element going instead. The text element from memory doesn’t use much data from the Mux and nothing like as much as the video element.
I think the text is scraped from the articles on the BBC website. This is somewhat proven by the current number two headline and story on the F1 section of the text service.
Quiz: How well do you remember F1 in 2021
The 2021 F1 season is over but here is your chance to test your knowledge of the season.
Will younDNF or sit on the top of the podium?
Because Ceefax was "stored" in the top few scan lines of each TV picture frame, it gave us TV engineers a fine old time running around people's houses in the early 1970s as older TVs started to display the "funny moving dots" at the top of the screen. We had to either adjust the height* but some sets with iffy flyback also required some of the internal vertical alignment settings poking around with as well.
* for those customers incapable** of doing it for themselves.
** there were plenty of those - though they weren't as bad as the ones that took the backs of their rented TVs and played with the controls themselves. We even had one guy who had a habit of swapping valves around and then phoning up to complain that his set had stopped working!
Now that takes me back! Our first TV was rented from DER when the family lived in London - it was probably around 1960. The first one we had was actually a combined TV + radio receiver. We were forever calling the engineers out because the radio part kept going wrong. I think it got swapped out for a TV-only type after a while (we already had a separate valve radio at the time). I do remember that you had to turn both the TV and radios on at least 5 minutes before the start of any programme you wanted to watch or listen to as they needed that time to "warm up".
Though I never saw it myself, one Rediffusion customer still had a BBC-only TV that was still going strong in the mid-1970s. He'd had it since before ITV went on the air in my area (which, by then, was East Anglia - so 1959). Like your parents, I seem to remember the guy was very reluctant to upgrade.
Slightly inaccurate article, me thinks.
The system and technology was called Teletext. It was pretty much a joint development between BBC R+D and the IBA in the mid 70's.
When the service launched to the public, the BBC called their teletext service CEEFAX. The ITV companies, and later Ch4 when it launched, called theirs ORACLE.
In the early/mid 80's, the ITV/Ch4 ORACLE service was far better than CEEFAX. Far more pages, far more news and information, and loads of local content.
This was pretty much all lost when the ITV network was destroyed by the broadcasting act 1990, and the ITV and Ch4 services just became known as plain old teletext and just about all useful and local content was lost, and it became mostly a way of pushing adverts and commercial services - ie. holidays, bookies, etc.
A teletext Tv in the late 70's early 80's was probably the first "digital" device in the home (cf. pocket calculator) , and almost certainly contained the first mircoprocessor "chip" running software in the home. It was also the first gateway into a world of remote servers and online information retrieval.
Teletext services were adopted in many countries around the world, with the exception of the america's which showed little interest. Probably a case of "not invented here"
Speaking of info in the US... my local station had a info channel that was just a camera sliding along a wall of instruments.
There was a clock, thermometer, wind direction, wind speed, barometer, a handwritten weather forecast note, and a couple other things I've forgotten.
The camera would slowly pan along, reach the end of the track and reverse, so you had to wait a minute if you missed the reading of interest. It would dwell on the clock and forecast note at each end for a couple seconds.
So anyone else have this? Nobody else seems to remember such a thing.
This seems like someone in the station's labor of love, really. I've not seen it anywhere aside from your description.
There was a cable channel here that was just the local weather radar with roads marked. That was it. No commentary, no cut-ins with breaking weather info, just radar.
Not really. Their system had 525 lines, but only around 480 were used - the rest were overscan. Just like how PAL has 625 lines, but only 576 were actually used. In fact, their system would be faster because the signal refreshed at 29.975 frames per second, as compared to 25 frames of the PAL system.
and almost certainly contained the first mircoprocessor "chip" running software in the home.
The early Pong consoles might have a claim there. They were available 3 years before the Speak & Spell and Simon arrived in 1978. In the late 70s and very early 80s the Teletext was only on the higher end TV sets. Ours didn't even have a remote control in those days.
I don't think pong consoles used microprocessors, way too expensive at the time.
I have a rather knackered old Grandstand match of the day 2000 pong type console, with 4 games.
The switches and control pots all need replacing badly. (and probably the capacitors and other bits).
The way the screen flickers as the contacts make/break randomly gives the game away that internally there's just a bunch of registers, counters, comparators and other glue logic to make it work. There is no frame buffer, the video signal is created in real time with digital logic circuits, using digitised analogue paddle signal, game select/mode switches, and horizontal/vertical video counters as input.
I think it may be stretching things a little to describe speak&spell as being microprocessor based, but I don't know much about that. I do know it's somewhat inaccurate to say it had a speech synsthesis chip in it, it used audio compression with a very low data rate.
"I think it may be stretching things a little to describe speak&spell as being microprocessor based, but I don't know much about that. I do know it's somewhat inaccurate to say it had a speech synsthesis chip in it, it used audio compression with a very low data rate."
It used a TMS5100 Digital Signal Processor.
from TI's Richard Wiggins:
Each word was represented by a series of phonemes. This speech data was stored in the device’s memory (on 2 128 kilobit ROMs, at the time the largest capacity ROM in use); then when the Speak & Spell was told to say a word, the command was processed through a 4-bit microprocessor and speech synthesizer.
In 1975/76 Wireless World produced a set of articles to build your own Teletext decoder, reproduced here:
All digital logic without a microprocessor in sight, and you can see from first principles how to decode the signal.
"All digital logic without a microprocessor in sight, and you can see from first principles how to decode the signal."
Also a starting point to building a Macravision[*]<??> copy protection defeat device.
* The one one that used to flash full white/full black across the top few lines of the frame where a Teletext signal would go, so as to screw up the picture/colour lock when copying VHS tapes.
Apropos not invented here: the BBC used a couple of lines, blanked before they got to the transmitters so the public didn't see them, to carry internal messages from Presentation in London to the regions.
For reasons of (I assume) ASCII, the decoding chipset used in the BBC internal displays didn't include the UK £ symbol - which at the time was 0x23. So the BBC, with typical attention to detail, carefully decoded the data, and when it saw that 0x23 being used to address the video rom, arranged that for the first three or four lines it showed (IIRC) the top half of an 'f' and then the bottom half of an 'E'...
In far too long at the BBC (thirty-odd years) I don't recall ever seeing the £ sign being used on a Presentation message...
The problem in America was there was too many cooks - as there were two competing standards.
Superstation WTBS had invested in a modified-for-NTSC version of World Standard Teletext (ie the Ceefax system). Meanwhile CBS and NBC tried pushing a homegrown system called NABTS (North American Broadcast Teletext Standard). Guess what happens when TV stations take sides and you are told that the TV you bought to receive TBS' Teletext isn't compatible with NBC and CBS' system, and vice-versa.
Also, the NBC and CBS' system receivers cost more to manufacture because they had to use a more powerful CPU, because in an effort to one up the UK, they designed NABTS to support vector graphics. It was too ahead of it's time.
When your teletext-enabled TV costs thousands of dollars and can't receive the teletext signal from all stations, you're definitely destined to fail.
>with the exception of the america's which showed little interest. Probably a case of "not invented here"
This might be the case but technical reasons might be more relevant. One is the limited video bandwidth -- TV in the UK on VHF was limited to about 3.5MHz video bandwidth, moving out to 6.5MHz for UHF. The US just stuck with 3.5 and VHF (it did have UHF channels but they were definitely minority fare, low budget stations). The US never did co-sited transmitters; although transmitter masts might be in one location for practical reasons they were still a forest of masts rather than a single one. The British setup, UHF with co-sited transmitters allowed directional antennas which kept multipath problems down; they would have rendered Teletext unusable.
Traditional US TV sucks in quality, its awful, but that's what happens when you're the first out of the gate. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the UK got there first but in terms of mass production, wide geographical distribution and color the US was the early adopter and the picture quality shows it)(even the color phosphors are 'wrong' but that's all you could get in the 1950s). TVs here only became usable when the Japanese took over the market; they built for a global customer base.
Teletext Character Generator IC
SAA5050 Reverse Engineering
available from Cricklewood...
Not all. It depends on how the VCR was calibrated or built. There are certain VCRs that have a built in teletext decoder, of course those will be calibrated to record teletext signals. However those that didn't have a built-in decoder are hit and miss. I had a Singer VCR (actually OEM made by Sharp) that could record Teletext to a certain extent, there would be pages missing from the recording. However a later Sharp VCR could not record Teletext at all, it may grab the first line (ie the channel name, service name and time and date) if it was in the mood but the rest of the page would be missing completely.
It was always interactive - just that your TV had to have a text decoder to display it, and that didn't come as standard till the late seventies or so. I think the rolling pages were mainly intended as a more entertaining replacement for the test card in the wee small hours.
From the article: The user would press those on their remote to be taken to the relevant page with more subdirectories – after a few seconds of watching the number at the top tick over to the right one.
Well yes. Unless you had a sub-optimal signal due to being in a Welsh valley, or it was raining (but I repeat myself…) or the pigeons had knocked the aerial skew-wiff.
…in which case you’d key in your desired number, watch the index number in the top-right corner tick upwards.. upwards… …and right past your number without picking up the page. So you’d watch it go round again, in hopes that this time it would get it.
After a while you’d think “huh, boring ol’ ceefax, I’m going to go out in the garden and play keepy-uppy ‘till The A-Team comes on”
Or worse, the page did appear, but it was partially corrupted, either by missing text or text from other (the previous/next?) pages.
And another thing that really used to bug me was when my Dad fell asleep holding the remote control and the result would be either: a) a static page; b) a page no-one was interested in; c) one or two of the three numbers had been pressed, but not the second/third ones.
I seem to recall that each line of data (once decoded from the broadcast signal) started with the line number of the line - it meant that they could update 1 or 2 lines without having to send a full page, or if a page was mostly empty, they could just transmit the required lines preceded by a "clear screen" code.
[ this was useful for newsflash and subtitles ]
If the signal was dodgy, you could get lines appearing at the wrong position. Also, if a "clear screen" code was missed, you could get the next few lines that could be decoded appear as corruption over what was on the screen previously. And the main one was if the "switch to graphics character set" code was wrongly interpreted, the rest of the line could appear completely corrupted (each new line default to the normal character set until the alternate set was selected)
As an aside, the page number consisted of the first digit (whose name I forget, but it was something along the lines of a "magazine set number") - followed by a 2 digit hex number. (i.e. an 8 bit byte)
Effectively, the 2nd and 3rd digit was binary-coded-decimal, but Oracle did transmit pages not for direct public consumption using hex letters.
The display could be set by the broadcaster so that any pages outside the "magazine set number" you had selected would not appear in the updating first line.
This made it look cleaner when more than one "magazine sets" were multiplexed together from different sources... (oracle / tvam on itv, and oracle / 4-tel (?) on ch4)
I seem to remember a full whole page took less than 1K
Yes, quiz pages like bamboozle often used pages with numbers above 9, to keep the space clear, and to stop people cheating i guess? I remember having a cable box in the mid 90s with built in teletext but you COULD enter pages in the "Hex" range.. there were several test pages with graphics character set dumps, full character sets etc in the 7A0-7FF range on one channel, but i forget which now :(
There is a good reason it is popular. Brain is not cluttered with junk and mouse actions. Every now and again I have to open up an old clinical system of the 90s that used a telnet session. It seems SO slick compared to its modern versions if clinical systems, The quick keys, discipline the telnet session it enforced on programmers makes it SO fast and quicker to use than modern GUI. It gets information in and out that you need ergonomically. I often wonder if there could be conversion of telnet sessions for Ipads and Tablets. We need to get back to clear uncluttered text for so many applications.
Or even just simple web pages where the vast majority of the content is static and a whole page can load in the blink of an eye on a modern system.
AFAIK Monochrome is still up & running - not over telnet any more but I SSH’ed into it just a few weeks ago, as I do every so often for nostalgia’s sake.
> ssh firstname.lastname@example.org
What’s scary is that almost 30 years since I first used that BBS, I can still muscle-memory the key sequences to get to particular sections.
The dutch use a teletext system too. Public broadcaster NOS calls it "teletekst".
Teletekst is alive and kicking!
Available on the air/cable, through a mobile app and on the web: http://nos.nl/teletekst or https://teletekst-data.nos.nl/webplus
Who will be the last TXT man standing?
Here in Malaysia they call the sevice Beriteks- a amalgamation of the local word for "News" (Berita) and Text. Sadly tho, they shut off the service very early. By 2008 no TV stations were transmitting teletext anymore. And yet all local TVs made still have a text decoder built right in.
The national broadcaster YLE in Finland does it too. We call it Teksti-TV ("textual television"). Survived the switch to digital TV just fine, apparently the DVB standard has provisions for it. Also has an online version, which you can see it here: https://yle.fi/aihe/tekstitv (go to page 190 for some English text, in case your Finnish is rusty).
Oh man. I started as an apprentice TV engineer in 1969 and the excitement of colour was still in the air. Then in 74 came Ceefax! A very slow start, but it caught on eventually. I loved it, although it could be a bit slow to find the pages as they were transmitted serially in the vertical blanking interval. I recall some older TV's with a slow field flyback showed the 'dots & dashes' diagonally near the top of the screen. When I later bought a BBC Model B micro, I was delighted to see those 'mode 7' graphics. Happy times, simpler times.
British Forces Broadcasting Services used Teletext in BAOR.
During GW1, someone asked for a 'message' to be posted asking if any unit had surplus stock of a particular item, in exchange the unit could offer items x, y, z.
Within a few days BFBS had set up "swapshop" pags, units were 'advertising' all their carefully hoarded "spares", often asking for nothing in exchange, whilst others were requesting "spares" of such-and-such.
And it worked. rare-as-rocking-horse-sit items such as AA batteries, right angled torches, and 8" adjustable spanners came pouring out the woodwork, with nary anything being asked for in exchange.
Hugely successful. Too much for its own good, as Army staff officers and MoD bean counters realised that numerous units had a lot of buckshee and 'diffy' items, and before GW1 ended were cracking down on item accounting and buckshee kit.
These days, nary anything buckshee to be found anywhere in the Forces unless you are *very* good friends with the SQMS.
There is a client (open source, cross-platform) available from the Matrix Brandy developers, which can access some online Viewdata/Videotex and a Teletext service based on Teefax but with additional content not part of the main Teefax service. They also supply standalone builds of the client for Windows and RISC OS, Linux users are expected to build it themselves (or build Brandy and run it from the examples directory!)
Here in South Africa we also had a similar system, but I cannot recall what it was called.
The SABC would display it in its glory after-hours.
I have to agree with other posters above - less cluttered, use little or no bandwidth. Unlike today's bandwidth-hogging websites who tend to fall over as soon as facebook.com throws a wobbly.