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Television The Internet Science

BBC Turns Off CEEFAX Service After 38 Years 160

Posted by Soulskill
from the retiring-after-years-of-service dept.
Kittenman writes "After 38 years (1974 - 2012) the BBC's CEEFAX service has ceased transmission. The service gave on-line up-to-date textual information (albeit in condensed form) to TV viewers in the pre-Internet era and afterwards. Its final broadcast signed off with, 'Goodbye, cruel world.' '... the real impetus for viewers came when BBC Television decided to use a selection of Ceefax pages, accompanied by music, before the start of programming each day. Initially called Ceefax AM and Ceefax In Vision, the Pages From Ceefax "programme" continued for 30 years, being broadcast overnight on BBC Two until this week. As viewers got a small taste of what Ceefax had to offer, millions of Britons during the 1980s invested in new teletext-enabled TV sets which gave them access to the full Ceefax service, which by now included recipe details for dishes prepared on BBC cookery shows, share prices, music reviews and an annual advent calendar.' An British ex-PM (John Major) said, 'From breaking global news to domestic sports news, Ceefax was speedy, accurate and indispensable. It can be proud of its record.'"
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BBC Turns Off CEEFAX Service After 38 Years

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  • good side of the BBC (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jerry Smith (806480) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:08AM (#41749209) Homepage Journal

    An example to many broadcasters around the world, very advanced in its views. Still one of my favourites.

    • by Taco Cowboy (5327) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:46AM (#41749381) Journal

      An example to many broadcasters around the world, very advanced in its views. Still one of my favourites.

      Unfortunately, it's no more.

      After Rutgers U turned off Usenet, BBC turned off Ceefax.

      Looks like good stuffs just ain't made to last as long as their rotten counterparts.

      Wonder what's next ... ?

      • by BenJury (977929)
        There is still a 'text' service on the digital platform. Although I confess to not using it that much as nowadays a device which can browse their news site is always just an arm reach away.
      • by DrXym (126579) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @05:49AM (#41749949)
        The BBC has moved to digital "teletext" which is basically the same service sitting over MHEG-5. So instead of news headlines as pure text you get news headlines as text and a thumbnail graphic. Instead of a weather forecast rendered in blocks, asterisks and slashes in garish mode 7 colours you get a nice picture. Theoretically it's more powerful since it can embed graphics and text, is interactive and can even use picture-in-picture and switch video streams. But it's still primitive compared to HTML + JS markup and I can't see this service lasting 38 years.

        The issue is compounded because it's quite slow. Most boxes I've used are not caching the content so feeling reminds me of teletext circa 1980. You have to sit there for ages waiting for the carousel to deliver the content the box is waiting on. To improve responsiveness the data stream has to keep repeating the indexes and main content more frequently. It also doesn't work with recorded content since most PVRs strip out the data stream unlike Ceefax which would survive. I assume some boxes would cache content so the responsiveness could be improved.

        The main other use of Ceefax was subtitles, and subtitles are handled through a different mechanism. Transport streams from the BBC contain a subtitle track and often also a separate narration audio track too for blind people.

        • by slim (1652)

          [Digital teletext] also doesn't work with recorded content since most PVRs strip out the data stream unlike Ceefax which would survive.

          If you recorded onto Series 1 Tivo, Ceefax didn't survive.

          *Some* VCRs would preserve enough of the frame for Ceefax to work when you played back a recording. I think it was more through accident than design though. More usually, it would be recorded in distorted form, which meant amusingly garbled subtitles, and some education in how a digital system might handle corrupt input data.

          • by DrXym (126579)
            Ceefax / Oracle et all sent packers attached to scanlines which were usually hidden in the overscan area. It's possible that the TIVO reencoded the analogue signal and cropped all that stuff out. VCRs probably just blindly copied the overscan area but due to degradation and lack of error checking, it was hit or miss if it survived. Teletext could also be incredibly flakey with a poor reception.

            On digital streams IIRC teletext was sent as packets in the stream and the SoC would reconsitute the packets into

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @08:29AM (#41750699)

          The BBC has moved to digital "teletext"

          Obligatory rant. As I commented on the BBC site, despite being piggybacked onto the analogue TV signal, old-style Teletext itself is- and always was- a digital service.

          This matters not simply because it was digital, but more importantly because it was probably the first digital service- or digital anything!- aimed at the consumer market, at least in the UK.

          And despite all the nostalgic ramblings, it has hardly been given any credit for what is probably its most significant aspect. Years before CDs came out, even before even the Apple II and friends launched the personal computer (and when the closest thing to a home computer was the Altair 8800 [wikipedia.org]), Teletext was digital and providing information on demand.

          I don't feel the need to defend its shortcomings by modern standards- of course it's dated and basic, it's over 35 bloody years old and came out when even the 1 KB of memory needed to store a page would have been expensive. However, it was a fantastic achievement at the time and still heralded the digital age, however primitive it looks today. And it hacks me off that almost no-one is giving it credit in that area.

          • by RoboJ1M (992925) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @09:04AM (#41750945)

            Yeah I hate it when they do that. Not only was it digital, it was interactive as well.

            Fast-text (the coloured buttons) even gave you hyper links.

            Hell, you could download software to your home computer over it!

            There were digital publications (Digitizer!! 8D)

            There were interactive games (Bamboozle!)

            There was even at one point a chat room (You had to phone up and type in your message using, I think, SMS style text input)

            Finally, I remember voice controlled teletext. You phoned up, set it up, browsed to one of the sub pages, spoke into the phone and the right page turned up on the screen.

            All that by the early 90s.

            • by RoboJ1M (992925)

              Forgot PDC, which started/stopped the VCR when you wanted something recorded, even keeping up with schedule changes.
              There was even a system that allowed you to select programs off of an EPG and the VCR would record them for you.

              So we had Tivo too.

    • by TheMathemagician (2515102) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @04:17AM (#41749527)
      It seems very appropriate for John Major to be commenting on the end of CeeFax. While other former leaders might be asked about the Middle East peace process, or the Euro crisis, or global warming, Major seems perfectly suited to topics like this, garden gnomes, the decline in the size of Wagon Wheels, the positioning of traffic cones etc etc.
    • This [Teletext/Cx, branded as CeeFax for consumers - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teletext%5D [wikipedia.org] is (one of the many) the standard that my department (BBC R&D) helped invent - http://www.bbc.co.uk/rd/publications/rdreport_1975_12.shtml [bbc.co.uk]

      I was a baby then but nowadays we still used the standard to test the next-gen DTV aerial signal 25 years on http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/rd/pubs/whp/whp-pdf-files/WHP160.pdf [bbc.co.uk])

      I was part of the team that moved the 'red button' services across to use same page numbers (with an e

  • Until now, I didn't know CEEFAX even existed - it sounds like it was a good use of technology for its time. However despite what some movie and music moguls believe, you can't halt the march of technology, and eventually time renders every tech obsolete.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Really? Time doesn't seem to have obsoleted the wheel yet.

      • Re:I'm not British (Score:4, Insightful)

        by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:26AM (#41749293)

        They don't have flying cars where you live?

        • by isorox (205688)

          They don't have flying cars where you live?

          Yes, but I still have to steer it!

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          They don't have flying cars where you live?

          Only on slashdot could this be modded as insightful rather than funny.

        • by sa1lnr (669048)

          They don't have flying cars where you live?

          No, but we do have aircraft and they still have wheels.

      • Time doesn't seem to have obsoleted the wheel yet.

        That's because "the wheel" isn't a specific technology.

        Almost every kind of wheel ever invented has been obsoleted. This is why cars roll around on radial tyres on steel or alloy wheels, rather than wooden wagon wheels with steel tyres or just roll on crudely cut logs.

        You may as well say "computing devices" hve not been obsoleted yet, even though almost every specific instance has been.

        • by tehcyder (746570)
          But ceefax, which is essentially news in text format accessed from a distance, isn't obsolete at all. I would happily read teletext on my TV instead of via the internet on my phone/computer (especially if I lived somewhere with slow or no internet). I don't see any reason to get rid of it at all
      • by Chrisq (894406)

        Really? Time doesn't seem to have obsoleted the wheel yet.

        Careful it could be covered by a patent. Its just a rectangle with very rounded corners

        • A triangular wheel has fewer bumps than a rectangular wheel, so its corners can be less rounded...
          • by Chrisq (894406)

            A triangular wheel has fewer bumps than a rectangular wheel, so its corners can be less rounded...

            Race you to the patent office ... oh no prior art [metro.co.uk].

          • by tehcyder (746570)
            Yeah but a triangular wheel would just look evil. Three is most certainly not the magic number, it is a harbinger of the end times, the mark of Satan and probably the number of the beast (if you muliply it by 222). Once triangular wheels appear, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth, the triple-breasted whore of Babylon will rule us all and Formula 1 and NASCAR will become even more boring than they are now.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by scsirob (246572)

      Several countries still offer this service under various names. In The Netherlands it is called "Teletekst" and besides being available on the TV set, you can also find it online: http://teletekst.nos.nl/ [teletekst.nos.nl]

      • Several countries still offer this service under various names. In The Netherlands it is called "Teletekst" and besides being available on the TV set, you can also find it online: http://teletekst.nos.nl/ [teletekst.nos.nl]

        I read Teletekst almost every day and I dearly miss Ceefax which since a longer time is no longer broadcast over satellite channels.

        The Dutch the web implementation has serious issues with synchronisation and page linking. Never noticed that sometimes you see half a page? Never noticed that the arrows sometimes just don't bring you to a linked page? Those are tedious little bugs which should be fixed. In more than 15 years of using the service I haven't found time to report them them. The shame is on me

    • Re:I'm not British (Score:5, Informative)

      by wvmarle (1070040) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:44AM (#41749367)

      One of the best parts of the BBC CeeFax was the subtitles. It was provided as service for the deaf (so you would get extra notes like "doorbell ringing"), it was also great for people who could not understand English so fluently as it was usually a literal transcription of what was being said. Fantastic help for learning to understand spoken English.

      • by BenJury (977929)
        This is still available on the digital platform.
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Subtitles are now included in the transport stream as bitmaps. Some programmes will also have a separate audio track for partial sighted / blind people.
      • by gsslay (807818)

        Subtitles are still freely and easily available on all BBC channels, just using different technology. So it's not as if anyone's going to miss Ceefax's ancient and quirky provision of them.

    • Re:I'm not British (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TomC2 (755722) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:44AM (#41749371)

      I personally think it is not that the technology of Ceefax has finished, it is more the content. Digital Terrestrial TV services in the UK also offer various text-based services in a much more modern interface, however, there is just not the same quantity of content that Ceefax carried. Ceefax was a bit like a condensed newspaper, whereas the current "Red button" services are more like just the front page of a newspaper. But then again, if you are receiving BBC digital transmissions you also have access to far more channels than when Ceefax was launched, including a 24-hour news channel, so maybe it is not necessary. But for me what is more telling is the BBC have not thought it necessary to completely migrate the Ceefax levels of content onto the digital "red button" services. There was nothing on there that nowadays could not be found on the internet, after all.

    • by dingen (958134)

      I'm not British either and English is not my native language. When I watch the BBC, I almost always turn on real time subtitling through their Ceefax service in order to understand everything better.

      Now that Ceefax is considered obsolete, those days are over. It sure makes it a lot harder for me to enjoy their broadcasts.

      • I'm quite happy those days are over myself, the teletext subtitles were hardly perfect. They performed their function well enough, however the rendering, timing and positioning was often a problem.

        In my opinion that sort of feature ought to be taken care of automatically by your viewing apparatus (TV, PC, phone or tablet). The information should either be available as a hidden data stream or interpreted live (speech-to-text). Subtitles should naturally adapt to your display's size and resolution, perhaps ev

        • by dingen (958134)

          I would like things to be better as well. But the reality is that I used to have subtitles and now I don't. It's hard to see that as an improvement.

          • by slim (1652)

            What technology do you use to watch BBC wherever you are?

            The BBC certainly provides subtitles for all their DVB streams. It would surprise me if a legitimate carrier didn't retain them.

            In many countries, there are legal reasons why broadcasters are obliged to provide subtitles for the deaf.

    • I've lived close to the British culture and deep in the French one. It sounds a bit like when the French turned off the Minitel (http://tech.slashdot.org/story/12/06/28/1241252/france-ending-minitel-service). Both early interactive services which came over an old delivery method (TV sets for Ceefax, telephone lines for the Minitel).

      It's sad to see them go, but it's probably also time to acknowledge that they are obsolete (and costly to maintain) compared to the Internet.

  • by Chrisq (894406) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:21AM (#41749273)
    I remember our first Ceefax set. It seemed magical having all that information at hand, waiting with anticipation as the page numbers rolled round to the one you selected. And there were the Ceefax subtitles - some of which added extra humour. I was tipped off on the subtitles on "Rab C Nesbit", which would translate Rab's colloquial Glaswegian into really pretentious English, including the odd "old chap", but would then translate a rather snobbish Englishman into Glaswegian. (Some English viewers actually needed the subtitles to understand the Glaswegian accent, so this was a joke on them).
    • Digital TV in the UK still has a text service, and still has subtitles it's just not called Ceefax anymore but "red button" ....

      • DTS (Digital Text Service) != Ceefax.

        Never was, never intended to be. DTS is about so much more than a 70-word soundbite. It's also a gateway to parallel channels.

    • Hey! I'm English and I found Rab C difficult to follow at first. Not just because of the accent but because of the dialect words used (eg. wain/wean = child).
  • by MonoSynth (323007) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @03:25AM (#41749289) Homepage

    It's still alive and kicking here in the Netherlands, known as Teletekst. Every journalist wants to be on page 101.

    There's even a web-interface and an iPhone app for it, which is a no-nonsense, clutter-free, low-bandwidth source of news, weather, stocks and sport results. I can't live without it :)

    http://teletekst.nos.nl/ [teletekst.nos.nl]

    I must say that I rarely use it on my tv anymore. Which is kind of funny, because nowadays it's still trapped inside the low-tech interface of the 70s although it's mostly used on devices so advanced that even the big visionaries of that age couldn't even dream about it.

    Is it nostalgia? Or more like the Stockholm Syndrome? Or does it just hit a sweet spot of usability and simplicity?

    • It is still alive in Norway (and I guess a lot of countries) as well. The message here is that as long as people use it, it will be there. However, the demographics of the user base (average age is pretty high) indicate that it has a limited future.
      Personally, I have not used it since we got triple play fiber ten years ago. Even when I used it, it was a pain, as my TV at the time did not buffer the pages. Any page change involved watching the page counter going through all the pages I did not want until it
      • by slim (1652)

        It is still alive in Norway (and I guess a lot of countries) as well.

        In what form? According to Wikipedia analogue TV was turned off in Norway in 2009.

    • by pe1chl (90186)

      One of the alleged problems of teletekst is claimed to be that everything has to be in a 24x40 character frame,
      of which in practice only 24x39 is usable, and of course all the standard headers and footers further subtract
      from that to leave maybe 20x39 available for each news item.

      But while that is limited space and the youngsters undoubtedly would want more space to express the content,
      those youngsters invented twitter and use text messaging, with even shorter messages!

      I think it actually is a strength of t

    • I use it a lot. Why should I connect my mobile to the internet if the TV is already on? If I only want to check the news / weather / train delays / the television programme, nothing beats teletekst.
    • Ceefax was Teletext.

      Teletext (or "broadcast teletext") is a television information retrieval service developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1970s. It offers a range of text-based information, typically including national, international and sporting news, weather and TV schedules. Subtitle (or closed captioning) information is also transmitted in the teletext signal.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teletext [wikipedia.org]

    • by david.given (6740)

      I can't get over how fast that client is... after sitting through broadcast Teletext and waiting for pages to cycle round, it's interesting to see how much more usable the system becomes when it's responsive. Those 40x24ish pages actually contain a reasonable amount of text to take in at one glance. (Although of course I can't actually read the Dutch version.) I think people are right, and the brevity required by the small pages is actually an advantage.

      (When I was small we had one of those modern Fasttex

      • by znark (77857)

        I can't get over how fast that client is... after sitting through broadcast Teletext and waiting for pages to cycle round, it's interesting to see how much more usable the system becomes when it's responsive.

        Many modern TV sets (from mid-to-late 1990s and onwards) and DVB set-top boxes can cache all Teletext magazines – including subpages – which makes browsing the content a breeze.

  • Q. Who was REALLY asked over analogue TV broadcasting and CEEFAX in the UK? A. Nobody
    • by slim (1652)

      ... and yet on another /. story, people are complaining about the price and availability of mobile internet.

      There is only so much spectrum. Analogue TV was not an efficient use of it.

  • Goodnight

  • by adolf (21054)

    As a USian, I'd like to remind folks that some of this tech once [wikipedia.org] leaked over to this side of the pond.

    I remember, 20 or so years ago, being at a BBS-friend's house and being totally enthralled with his then-fancy Zenith TV: Just tune to one of Ted Turner's many cable channels, push the appropriate button, and news, weather, cheesy games, and random became individually accessible...without modem or a phone line.

    I always thought it was very cool tech, and I'm still not sure if it is matched in any meaningful

  • That sounds like Teletext which we had in New Zealand from about 1984

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @04:39AM (#41749627)

    The Ceefax service to mainland UK shut off in February this year, leaving Northern Ireland as the only area left with coverage.

    Oh, and the original ad for Ceefax claimed "it is made up of two words: Cee and Fax." But of a silly one, that.

    • by drunkahol (143049)

      Those two words were "See" and "Facts".

      Makes more sense now yes?

    • by isorox (205688)

      The Ceefax service to mainland UK shut off in February this year, leaving Northern Ireland as the only area left with coverage.

      Oh, and the original ad for Ceefax claimed "it is made up of two words: Cee and Fax." But of a silly one, that.

      It was turned off in 2007 in Whitehaven. In Manchester it was 2009. It was only the stragglers in London, NI and the Channel Islands that hung on til this year.

  • This started life as a wonderful hack to allow limited broadcast of digital information, encoding data into the (supposedly!) non-visible parts of an analogue TV signal.

    This lasted for nearly 3 decades, and was only really obsoleted in the days of DVB-T. That's pretty good going, and definitely served a purpose: subtitles, news, stock market information and cheap holiday adverts...

    DataBlast, a small magazine that delivered pages of text at 5 per second (I think) during the titles of Bad Influence - a T

    • by jimicus (737525)

      DataBlast, a small magazine that delivered pages of text at 5 per second (I think) during the titles of Bad Influence - a TV programme in the UK devoted to computer games - was probably inspired by Ceefax/Oracle. You needed to record the section on video (remember them?) and then use pause to read the content.

      I remember that. Didn't work very well for a couple of reasons:

      - There were so many games out there on such a wide variety of platforms at the time that the likelihood of seeing anything particularly interesting was slim.
      - Our video didn't do a particularly good job of pausing. There was so much noise on the screen when paused that the Datablast was unreadable.

  • by Viol8 (599362) on Wednesday October 24, 2012 @05:13AM (#41749765)

    A system of realtime transmission of embedded digital data with live updates and multicolour graphics on a TV before most home computers with the computer actually built into the TV (not a set top box!) was pretty much bleeding edge for the time. Its was truly a quantum leap in home technology when up until that point when most people in the UK still didn't even have colour TV sets.

    • >not a set top box!
      Actually, it was intially. A great big box you could probably put your telly on rather than vice versa. I'm struggling to remember who made the early ones - they had one at the science museum. It wasn't a firm that usually sold to the public, more commercial/education as I remember.
    • by houghi (78078)

      The disadvantage I thought it had was that there was no caching.
      Changing channels and you would lose the information. looking at multiple pages? Wait till the one you want.

      Having it cached would have made it so much nicer and the feeling so much more instantaneous.

      What I liked about it was that they were forced to use a limited amount of characters to give you information, so you would only get the real information on the news pages.

  • Get an amateur radio licence, and build your own encoder:

    http://www.qsl.net/zl1vfo/teletext.htm [qsl.net]

    • Back when I used an Amiga, I always wondered if it was capable of generating a valid teletext signal, given it had tremendous versitility in terms of accessing overscan and generating TV signals. If I'd had the specs...
      • by Gordonjcp (186804)

        One of the great things about the Internet is now we have easy access to stuff like the teletext spec - stuff that was always public, just really hard to find. And when you did find it, most of it was in Dutch.

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