Sunday, September 14, 2008

BPN 1220 Pre-internet (6): Online from Europe by television

Online was started by the Americans using computers. Information was shown on a terminal screen or on paper. But another development came from television. The basic idea was that a central computer would send textual and rough graphic information to a television screen. The information was transported by television waves at first and later by telephone.
The US company RCA started the development of a text system for television under the name Homefax. In 1971 Mitre Corp. started the first text tests bundled on a television wave. However the company was passed in its ambition by the British broadcast company. The BBC announced that it had developed a system Teledata in order to broadcast news in text form to an adapted television independently of the programme broadcasted at that time and without interrupting the program. On the other hand the texts could be coupled with a television programme for subtitling or translation. BBC described the system in 1970 in an internal memo of December 14, 1970 and a patent was applied for on February 9, 1971. The BBC named the system Ceefax (see facts) and started trials from 1974 till 1976. An official Ceefax editiorial staff was operational from 1976 onwards. However the success was dependent on the number of adapted television sets (10.000 sets in 1978 and 40.000 sets in 1980). The commercial broadcast company started a teletex service in 1973 under the name Oracle (Optical Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics). Both systems started to present the weather, stock quotes, news- and sports items.
The British system was exported to the Netherlands, West-Germany, Flanders in Belgium, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Australia and Hong Kong. France developed a system of its own under the name Antiope (Acquisition Numérique et Télévisualisation d’Images Organisées en Pages d’Ecriture). There were also other standards developed like in Japan (Captain) and Canada (Videotron).

From teletex to videotex
The development of Teledata by the BBC was followed with great interest by Sam Fedida of the British Post Office Research Department. In 1970 he combined the Teledata system with the Telephone system and developed the viewdata concept, an online system via the plain old Telephone system with the television as information delivery system. (The generic system name viewdata became obsolete due to depositing the brand name and was dubbed videotex – the Latin word combination for I see text). With the consumer in mind and the absence of a personal computer – which only was introduced from 1995 onwards -, the system was seen as the Volkswagen of the online industry: a costly central computer, a common telephone network and a mass consumption television as delivery station. Only a modem and decoder were needed, but these devices would become cheap through mass production. The advantage of the telephone transmission was the interactivity between the user and the central computer; with the transmission through television waves information could only be sent one way.
Sam Fedida made his first presentation on January 13, 1976. In the same year the UK Queen Elizabeth II sent a first message by videotext. In October 1978 the first test service was opened on the Waterloo computer in London. In the same year the Financial Times and the financial information company Extel started the financial service Extel. In September 1979 the British Post Office officially started the commercial videotext service Prestel (see illustration of opening screen of the service) for business and consumer services.

Cover of the book book Viewdata Revolution by Sam Fedida and Rex Malik; Associated Busines Press, 1979

Blog Posting Number: 1220

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