Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The end of a teletext era

The West Midlands digital TV switchover has begun, i had to retune my Freeview box this morning over breakfast (by the time the muesli was ready to eat it was done). BBC2 has apparently gone from analogue already, in two weeks the switchover will be completed and analogue TV will be gone for good. Not that that bothers me so much as analogue TV looks dreadful on a widescreen TV, what does bother me is the loss of Ceefax.

There is a digital teletext available but compared to old Ceefax its rubbish. Although i tend to only read the letters page on p145 these days i've always loved teletext as an information retrieval system. When i was a kid (talking primary school here) we couldn't afford a TV with teletext, it was one of those amazing luxuries only the rich cool kids could have. Luckily one of my friends' (who in hindsight was neither rich or cool) parents did have a teletext TV and, as we were a load of plane spotters back then, we used to look at the flight departures from Heathrow page with an awe that is usually only reserved for the presence of a deity.

If you did not have a suitably equipped TV however there was a way for people to still get Ceefax. The BBC would display "Pages from Ceefax", a collection of pages running on normal TV and accompanied by a stirring selection from the testcard music archive. This helped me develop speed reading skills as the viewer had no control over the display of pages and had to read them before the BBC decided to move onto the next page.

Sometime in the 80s we did get a teletext TV of our own and now we were in control! We could read news, sport, TV listings when we chose. This was the start of my very own information revolution, well over a decade before the web. It is amazing how it is taken for granted now but viewdata truly was an amazing system and its a shame the UK did not develop it to the extent as some European countries did (there was Prestel of course but we didn't).

I loved viewdata so much i actually created my own viewdata system running on an RM 380Z for my GCSE Computer Studies final project. My system displayed train times (i was a train spotter by then natch).

The great thing about teletext systems like Ceefax is that once you remember a small amount of information, i.e. key page numbers, then its a very fast and flexible way of viewing information. I will likely remember the important index page numbers like 101 (news) and 340 (cricket) for the rest of my life. Digital teletext relies on having to navigate menus to get to information that you can jump to immediately in an analogue system. So its much slower and the available information much less... that is progress i guess.

Its not all over, the first app i bought for my iPad was a teletext viewer so i will be able to read Italian and Singaporian teletext at least for the near future. London will keep analogue TV until next year so next time i'm visiting my sister in E6 i'll have to see if i can get a final Ceefax fix...


  1. I seem to remember from my parents' digibox that the virtual world behind the red button also had page numbers that you could type in to access pages, so maybe some consolation there!

  2. yeah i've seen that, doesn't work very well though, its all wrong like making a cup of coffee in a microwave