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The Life and Death of Teletext (denofgeek.com)
84 points by isostatic 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

If you're interested in decoding Teletext, there is libzvbi [1] which can handle both data embedded in the raw "analogue" VBI stream [2] as well as the corresponding data from MPEG TS's used in DVB.

This library also ships with VLC, so at least in most European countries, where Teletext continues to be broadcast inside the MPEG TS, you can use VLC to browse Teletext. This includes transport streams that have been recorded (e.g. on a satellite receiver, see [3] for an example).

[1] http://zapping.sourceforge.net/ZVBI/

[2] https://linuxtv.org/downloads/v4l-dvb-apis/uapi/v4l/dev-raw-...

[3] http://streams.videolan.org/streams/ts/Darius-TS_Teletext.mp...


Teletext still lives on in Sweden despite the digital switchover. As late as last year, 20% of the adult population used it daily[0]

It's a very popular way to get the latest live goal-by-goal sports scores. During the current World Cup I've seen people access "TextTV" as it's called on their smartphones in pubs...

If you aren't at a TV it's served online on sites like https://www.svt.se/svttext/tv/pages/100.html or even styled third-party mirrors like https://texttv.nu and there are iOS/Android apps


It is funny how well it translated to the web, thanks to the pages all being referenced by numbers.

Teletext is such a clever usecase, it's a shame it's not more widely deployed, and on the way out. It fills some of the empty space among frames of a broadcast with dense text about news and current affairs, giving technologically effortless dissemination of popular content from a central source, scaling to infinite receivers with no congestion and no loss of quality. And the production of the content need not even be vertically integrated; individual programs and segments can be sourced and syndicated from third-parties.

In our rush to go point-to-point, full-duplex, and on-demand, with both cabling and wireless, we have occasionally reimplemented services that are one-to-many simplex on top of lower layers that aren't made for that, whereas broadcast has always fulfilled the same usecase with a different set of tradeoffs.

It's a bit ironic that new tech like HTTP/2 Push's cache fill is basically the same idea as Teletext's pages transmitted one at a time and cached at the receiver, but over a vastly different, pull medium.

> Teletext is such a clever usecase, it's a shame it's not more widely deployed, and on the way out.

It's on it's way out because other media offer a far better use case to hammer down ad our throat, trick us into click-baits, exchange information underneath while we are reading.

In a time of full blown multimedia channels, the simplicity of the channel is in favor of the user, that's why the providers are killing it. It's not bad enough.

Everyone interested should know minitel, something similar ( more like internet) but definately not the same https://spectrum.ieee.org/tech-history/cyberspace/minitel-th...

Or hn: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14681561

In a sense a government sponsored BBS platform.

Technically maybe, but culturally, it was in a lot of ways closer to the Internet . You could buy all kinds of services on-line, it was used by non techies. It even had something the Internet hasn't: Usable micro-payments.

I believe the open nature of the Internet is a much better base for growth than one where the slow-moving governmental phone monopoly controls everything.

Even so, humanity lost something by not choosing the minitel path: The ad-infested privacy-killing aspects of the net might be in a much better shape on platform with minitel-like governing.

First off, in hindsight i should perhaps have likened it to AOL or some such.

As for losing something, best i can tell this came about because ISPs were loath to become the "paymasters" of the internet.

Consider that for a brief moment, before all this hoopla about app stores, the mobile world had something akin to what minitel had. I could fire up a WAP page on my phone, pick out a game or similar, hit download, and the cost would be added to my mobile bill at the end of the month.

Nothing says that we could not see something similar on the web, except that ISPs do not want to be in the position to bill us for those downloads etc.

In America the Keycom/KeyFax system (based on the BBC's Ceefax) was tried in a few cities. You needed to rent a terminal that connected by telephone line to a server. While the US had other text only service-by-dialup systems like The Source and CompuServe, KeyFax was the predecessor of the graphical systems like Prodigy and QuantumLink/AOL:



(For astute viewers, watch the end of the video and see a very young Oprah Winfrey doing an ad for her morning show)

In Chicago, a read-only version of KeyFax was broadcast for a short while on Channel 32 (WFLD) during the overnight hours when the transmitter was usually dark.



Still in use in Europe. I know it hasn't had much widespread use in the US.

The limited format makes it very good for displaying only relevant information. Once fully loaded, it's faster then going to the website of the program, or just to receive e.g. sport outcomes.

Best i can tell, it is the national broadcasters that keep them in operation because they don't have to consider ad revenue. USA do not have anything like that, so it would not surprise me that their channels wants to phase it out (or forgo implementing it in the first place).

I don't know about the regular teletext menu, but in my country the broadcasters (public and private) are required to have teletext subtitles on page 888 in much of their programming, for accessibility reasons.

Yes, I just stumbled accross this the other day, and was surprised that it works pretty well:


RTP is a major Portuguese news outlet.

> much of the software is obscure by today’s standards (including a slightly dubious Star Trek game)

Anybody knows why is the "obscure" "Star Trek" game for BBC Micro described as "dubious"? Especially if it's this one:




Yes, that Trek game is a version of the standard Trek game that was popular on mainframes & minis in the 1970s. I suspect the "dubious" adjective is there because it wasn't at all licensed -- before computers were mainstream, enthusiasts just thought they could make games based on their favorite properties and nobody would care about the legality.

> it wasn't at all licensed

Is there any information that it was even possible to "license" a small game written in BASIC which appeared in various printed forms and various versions rewritten by various people?

Perhaps not, as computer games were probably unknown to lawyers at that point. But this sort of thing (even when done totally not for profit and purely out of love of a franchise) gets shut down quickly today -- there are many mods and such that were given cease and desist notices for using characters from Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc.

> this sort of thing ... gets shut down quickly today

That seems to confirm my belief that if that was the idea behind it, the attribute "dubious" is anachronistic, i.e. appearing to be so only when observed out of the context of that time, as if it would happen now.

I compiled "Chris Nystrom's 'C' port of Mayfield-style StarTrek, 1995" and the only adjustment needed was renaming the getline() function (getline()->xgetline()) to avoid a conflict with stdlib.

I'd say it's expected, from what I see the version is in "ANSI" C. I can compile it as-is (without renaming anything) with gcc and it runs, it just warns that "register i" etc. are treated as integers, which is what they were intended to be anyway.

You can download a BBC Research report on Ceefax from August 1977 that gives an overview of teletext from it's birth to initial launch.

Report summary:

> The development of the CEEFAX information broadcasting system from initial work in 1966 to the end of the two-year experimental period in 1976 is described.

> The background to the choice of transmission and display parameters is given, together with details of laboratory and field experiments. Particular emphasis is given to the selection of the addressing and coding systems to give reliable reception throughout the normal television service area.

> The basis for the choice of the many supplementary facilities of CEEFAX, such as colour and graphics, is presented together with indication of the provisions made for future expansion in the use of CEEFAX.

CEEFAX: evolution and potential (PDF): http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/reports/1977-26.pdf

Teletext is still very much in use here in Germany. As bare bones news and sport results fed by public broadcaster the 'www for retired people' is still somewhat popular.

My das still reads Teletext via an app on the iPad. I was perplexed and amsused that he uses a modern and expensive device for something well so old-school :).

The article mentions Teefax only briefly.

* https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17430660

Others in this discussion have mentioned that this is not the situation outwith the U.K.. The headlined article only discusses the U.K.. For a slightly less parochial view:

* http://radios-tv.co.uk/Pembers/Teletext/index.html#After

It's unfortunate that teletext is dying/dead. You could really quickly access the info you needed. Often overview pages on a certain topic were on the same number, so you could just blindly type a three digit number and have the (textual) info you needed. If you didn't know the numbers by heart, you could still navigate to the page through te menu structure. Simple UX.

One place I lived had train ticket machines from the 90's that were an analog of Teletext. If you knew the 3-digit zone code for your end station, you could just jam in the zone code, adult, buy ticket, pop in your magstripe card and have a ticket in 5 seconds flat. It was absolutely perfect.

They were then replaced with user-friendly Windows-powered machines where buying the most basic ticket took 2 minutes as you had to poke though pages of stations on a crap resistive display.

Some time back there was an article about the use of floppies in the Norwegian health service. The reason for it was that some doctors stuck to their DOS based patient journals, as they were fully keyboard operated. Thus they were able to operate them by memorizing the inputs, and could bring up various info without taking their focus of the patient.

And i have observed similar in stores that used DOS based POS terminals, where the operator could add your latest purchase and bring up warranty history with barely a glance at the screen.

And in a more modern sense, i see people getting all giddy about the Android based Blackberry phones because now they have an actual keyboard to use. Meaning that they can hammer out a text or similar on tactile alone.

I still see many shops with modern VESA mounted mini PCs running an AS/400 terminal emulator to access their inventory systems.

Airlines use a command line interface for managing passengers. It definitely looks like it has a steep learning curve, but they can get things done pretty quickly.

It certainly is. I worked on one of the first web flight booking systems. They ran over X.25 too, but you could run a very large office of agents over a single 64K X.25 link.

They were back ended by mainframes, which had page-based displays.

Actual command line, or just good old-fashioned terminal forms/curses/etc interface?

Usually it's a terminal emulator (in most cases implemented in Java) providing a thin client to a mainframe or Global Distribution System, such as Amadeus. This type of frontend is being phased out but the new systems usually have a requirement to maintain the exact same keyboard mappings so that the GUI can be navigated in the same way as the terminal.

Huh, found this video about one of those systems, pretty interesting UI actually. For most parts it is very much a true command line interface, and pretty hard-core with everything abbreviated to minimum.


Also the wiki has this interesting snippet:

> Amadeus is a computer reservation system (or global distribution system, since it sells tickets for multiple airlines) owned by the Amadeus IT Group with headquarters in Madrid, Spain. The central database is located at Erding, Germany.


Which kinda implies that all terminals all around the world are connected to one single database! I imagine they have fairly hefty mainframes in the backend.

The truly fun thing for someone working on these systems is each booking is just a flat text file with the line prefix indicating what is on the line. Sometimes when we need to implement new features/products we just have to use a generic remark (RX) and kind of coordinate with each other about what it means (or not, which sometimes causes fun when trying to manage interline bookings).

Another fun fact is that the booking records are recycled, the frequency of which depends on how many bookings there have been recently. The storage is "infinitely scalable" until the number of seats on planes starts to outgrow the number of bookings that we can hold.

I vaguely remember an experimental voice recognition system, where you could dial in and direct the content of pages. I fear I don't remember much about the application itself, but voice recognition was just magic in those days.

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