Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Killing Off of Ceefax is a Bad Idea

Thanks to Steve Morton for this guest blog post on the BBC’s CEEFAX service, now in its death throes with the final roll-out of digital tv and the “Red Button”. Steve’s career was as an RF engineer with various Government departments. Nowadays he blogs about life here in France and has a keen interest in new technology as well as the old tech Filofax.

It's a sad day when it was announced that the main TV transmitter in the South East of England shut down its analogue service and went digital only. Now I'm not against digital transmission, far from it. But along with the killing off of the analogue TV service saw the last of the Ceefax teletext service that first came on air back in 1974. It reminds you how old you are when you see a technology come in and go out nearly 40 years later!

For all its faults Ceefax has one big advantage over the internet, which is infinite bandwidth in terms of the number of customers it can serve at any one time. Being a broadcast only service it doesn't suffer from overload when lots of users are looking for information at the same time.

We are all so used to turning on our PC's and calling up say a travel news website to see what the current road conditions are etc. However think back to the bad winters recently when the trains have all ground to a halt due to a few inches of snow and you will soon see where Ceefax could still have a purpose. During these periods of bad weather the common complaint from train passengers is 'we couldn't find out any information' or 'the website crashed'.

Well it would with such a huge peak in demand placed on the servers during that sort of weather event, who will design their webserver to have such a huge capacity for those odd less than five percent time periods when the traffic demands soars to unseen levels....

With Ceefax there is no such problem, it just kept pumping out the information pages as required, the receiver filtered the pages to show just the information you wanted. As long as someone in an office or control centre somewhere could up-date the information everyone with a Ceefax receiver would have up to date information.

Going back to the 1980's some of you might remember the BBC B microcomputer, there was a teletext add-on for this machine, in a way it was a form of internet connection although you couldn't send data or emails only receive information.

The technology for a teletext decoder is so tried and tested and as cheap as chips these days that it could be easily be built into a tablet computer as a receive terminal for times when you just need to receive information not transmit it. This’d most probably be a function that could be designed in software.

Now you might say that's ok, but Ceefax is a bit 'blocky' and low res, yes but there were other higher res versions of the specification that were agreed but never fully implemented.

Maybe the new 'Digital Teletext' as used on the Digital TV systems might find its way in to tablets and mobile phones in the future for my 'receive only data service' which for a lot of people just wanting a news up date or travel up date will be more than enough... and cheap too.

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