Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The end of Teletext

I've always been a big fan of viewdata, i even created a train timetable viewdata system for my final project when i did my Computer Science GCSE. When my parents finally got a TV with teletext capability  i quickly became an avid user of Ceefax and Oracle the BBC's and ITV's viewdata systems. Over the years i have committed key page numbers to memory and even possess 3 CDs of testcard music which often accompanied "Pages From Ceefax" where the BBC would show a scroll of teletext pages for those without the capability to view them normally accompanied by stirring music by the likes of the Ralph Boston Sound Orchestra...

However that is soon to change. The central TV area is switching off the analogue signal in September and i will no longer be able to access Ceefax (the ITV teletext has already long gone). There is some sort of teletext system on digital but its quite frankly rubbish and totally misses the point about why analogue teletext was such a great information system.

Thats because, if you memorised some key index pages, incredibly fast and powerful. Say for example you wanted the latest Warwickshire cricket score. After awhile you would know that the cricket index on Ceefax was 340 so you key that in and in a few seconds you could see the page number for the score you want and key that in. I'd say it was usually faster than looking up the information online especially if your computer wasn't to hand. The lack of high resolution graphics also made the pages simple with information paramount, though the often bizarre graphics that people attempted using teletext sometimes could distract from the information but usually gave the teletext experience an odd lo-fi charm.

On digital teletext you have to navigate by moving the focus cursor, akin to surfing the web using Lynx. Video and higher resolution graphics also just slow it down. The available information on digital is also, bizarrely, less than on analogue.

So after September i will no longer be able to access Ceefax, though i admit that these days i mainly only read the letters page on 145. It might not be the complete end, London keeps analogue until next year so in theory i could read teletext on my sister-in-law's TV but its unlikely i will. No teletext dies for me in September.

Or does it? Well maybe not. The first app i bought for the iPad when i got one last Christmas was a... teletext viewer. I will be able to continue to get my viewdata fix for the foreseeable future even if most of the available systems are non-English. It won't be the same though of course, a great technology will pass from use with no replacement. Like the passing of Concorde the demise of analogue teletext will leave the world a poorer and less informed place.

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