Teletext is a means of sending text and simple geometric shapes to a properly equipped television screen by use of one of the "vertical blanking interval" lines that together form the dark band dividing pictures horizontally on the television screen. Transmitting and displaying subtitles was relatively easy. It requires limited bandwidth; at a rate of perhaps a few words per second. However, it was found that by combining even a slow data rate with a suitable memory, whole pages of information could be sent and stored in the TV for later recall.
In the early 1970s work was in progress in Britain to develop such a system. The goal was to provide UK rural homes with electronic hardware that could download pages of up-to-date news, reports, facts and figures targeting U.K. agriculture. The original idea was the brainchild of Philips (CAL) Laboratories in 1970.
In 1971, CAL engineer John Adams created a design and proposal for UK broadcasters. His configuration contained all the fundamental elements of classic Teletext including pages of 24 rows with 40 characters each, page selection, sub pages of information and vertical blanking interval data transmission.
A major objective for Adams during the concept development stage was to make Teletext affordable to the home user. In reality, there was no scope to make an economic Teletext system with 1971 technology. However, as low cost was essential to the project's long term success, this obstacle had to be overcome.
Meanwhile, the General Post Office (GPO), whose telecommunications division later became British Telecom, had been researching a similar concept since the late 1960s, known as Viewdata. Unlike Teledata which was a one-way service carried in the existing TV signal, Viewdata was a two-way system using telephones. Since the Post Office owned the telephones, this was considered to be an excellent way to drive more customers to use the phones.
In 1972 the BBC demonstrated their system, now known as Ceefax ("see facts", the departmental stationery used the "Cx" logo), on various news shows. The Independent Television Authority (ITA) announced their own service in 1973, known as ORACLE (Optional Reception of Announcements by Coded Line Electronics). Not to be outdone, the GPO immediately announced a 1200/75 baud videotext service under the name Prestel.
The first teletext test transmissions were made by Ceefax in 1973. After proliferation of the BBC system in the UK, it was adopted in Europe and standardised as World System Teletext (WST). The World Wide Web began to take over some of the functions of teletext from the late 1990s and many broadcasters have ceased broadcast of teletext—CNN in 2006 and the BBC in 2012. In the UK the decline of teletext has been hastened by the introduction of digital television, though an aspect of teletext continues in closed captioning. In other countries the system is still widely used on standard-definition DVB broadcasts.
A number of teletext services have been syndicated to web viewers, which mimic the look and feel of broadcast teletext. RSS feeds of news and information from the BBC are presented in Ceefax format in the web viewer at PagesFromCeefax.net.
In 2016, the Teefax teletext service launched in the United Kingdom to coverage by the BBC, ITV and others. Using a Raspberry Pi computer card as a set-top box, it feeds its service to standard televisions. Teefax content is a mix of crowdsourcing, syndication and contributions from media professionals who contributed heavily to broadcast teletext services. Teefax is also syndicated to a web viewer.
The systems were originally incompatible; Ceefax displayed pages of 24 lines with 32 characters each, while ORACLE offered pages of 22 lines with 40 characters each. In other ways the standards overlapped; for instance, both used 7-bit ASCII characters and other basic details. In 1974 all the services agreed a standard for displaying the information. The display would be a simple 24 × 40 grid of text, with some graphics characters for constructing simple graphics. The standard did not define the delivery system, so both Viewdata-like and Teledata-like services could at least share the TV-side hardware (which at that point in time was quite expensive).
Following test transmissions in 1973–74, towards the end of 1974 the BBC news department put together an editorial team of nine, including and led by Editor Colin McIntyre, to develop a news and information service. Initially limited to 30 pages, the Ceefax service was later expanded to 100 pages and was launched formally in 1976. It was followed quickly by ORACLE and Prestel. Wireless World magazine ran a series of articles between November 1975 and June 1976 describing the design and construction of a teletext decoder using mainly TTL devices; however, development was limited until the first TV sets with built-in decoders started appearing in 1977.
By 1982 there were two million such sets, and by the mid-1980s they were available as an option for almost every European TV set, typically by means of a plug in circuit board. It took another decade before the decoders became a standard feature on almost all sets with a screen size above 15 inches (teletext is still usually only an option for smaller "portable" sets). From the mid-1980s both Ceefax and ORACLE were broadcasting several hundred pages on every channel, slowly changing them throughout the day.
The "Broadcast Teletext Specification" was published in September 1976 jointly by the IBA, the BBC and the British Radio Equipment Manufacturers' Association. The new standard also made the term "teletext" generic, describing any such system. The standard was internationalised as World System Teletext (WST), formalised as an international standard by CCIR in 1986 as CCIR Teletext System B.
In the early 1980s a number of higher extension levels were envisaged for the specification, based on ideas then being promoted for worldwide videotex standards (telephone dial-up services offering a similar mix of text and graphics).
The most common implementation is Level 1.5, that supports languages other than English. Virtually any TV sold in Europe since the 1990s has support for this level. Around the year 2000 some station adopted Level 2.5 teletext / Hi-Text, that allowed for a larger color pallette and higher resolution graphics.
The proposed higher content levels included geometrically-specified graphics (Level 4), and higher-resolution photographic-type images (Level 5), to be conveyed using the same underlying mechanism at the transport layer. No TV sets currently implement the two most sophisticated levels.
The Mullard SAA5050 was a character generator chip used in the UK teletext-equipped television sets. In addition to the UK version, several variants of the chip existed with slightly different character sets for particular localizations and/or languages. These had part numbers SAA5051 (German), SAA5052 (Swedish), SAA5053 (Italian), SAA5054 (Belgian), SAA5055 (U.S. ASCII), SAA5056 (Hebrew) and SAA5057 (Cyrillic).
The type of decoder circuitry is sometimes marked on televisions as CCT (Computer-Controlled Teletext), or ECCT (Enhanced Computer-Controlled Teletext).
Besides the hardware implementations, it's also possible to decode teletext using a PC and video capture or DVB board.
Adoption in the United States was hampered due to a lack of a single teletext standard and consumer resistance to the high initial price of teletext decoders. Throughout the period of analogue broadcasting, teletext or other similar technologies in the US were practically non-existent, with the only technologies resembling such existing in the country being closed captioning, TV Guide On Screen, and Extended Data Services (XDS).
NABTS was originally developed as a protocol by the Canadian Department of Communications, with their industry partner Norpak, for the Telidon system. It was similar to the European World System Teletext (WST, aka CCIR Teletext System B), but differences between the European and North American television standards and the greater flexibility of the Telidon standard led to the creation of a new delivery mechanism that was tuned for speed.
First demonstrated in the United States in 1978, NABTS was the standard used for both CBS's ExtraVision and NBC's very short-lived NBC Teletext services in the mid-1980s.
Station KSL in Salt Lake City, Utah premiered a teletext service using Ceefax. They were followed by television network CBS, which carried out preliminary tests on both the British Teletext and the rival French Antiope system.
One of the most prominent providers was the Electra teletext service, using World System Teletext (WST), broadcast from the early 1980s on American cable channel WTBS. Electra also carried another teletext service on its higher-numbered pages, a service called Tempo. Tempo mainly carried sports (and other miscellaneous) information on its pages. At the time of Electra's closing in 1993, it was the only existing teletext service in the USA.
A few other services were offered by some large-market TV stations in the US throughout the 1980s, such as Metrotext from KTTV in Los Angeles and KeyFax from WFLD in Chicago. Despite this, the system never caught on in the USA partly due to EIA-608 being deployed for captioning before Teletext was introduced and the higher cost of Teletext receivers.
In the 1980s a similar system called Telidon was developed in Canada by the Department of Communications. It used a simple graphics language that would allow a more complex circuit in the TV to decode not only characters, but graphics as well. To do this, the graphic was encoded as a series of instructions (graphics primitives) like "polyline" which was represented as the characters PL followed by a string of digits for the X and Y values of the points on the line. This system was referred to as PDI (Picture Description Instructions). Later improved versions of Telidon were developed into NAPLPS.
Although there were numerous attempts to introduce NAPLPS services in North America, none of these was successful and eventually shut down. A number of special-purpose systems lived on for some time, similar to Prestel's lingering death, but the widespread rollout of internet access in the 1990s ended these efforts.
Besides the US and UK developments, a number of similar teletext services were developed in other countries, some of which attempted to address the limitations of the initial British-developed system.
In France, where the SECAM standard is used in television broadcasting, a teletext system was developed in the late 1970s under the name Antiope. It had a higher data rate and was capable of dynamic page sizes, allowing more sophisticated graphics. It was phased out in favour of standard teletext in 1991.
The Acorn BBC Micro's default graphics mode (mode 7) was based on Teletext display, and the computer could be used to create and serve Teletext-style pages over a modem connection. With a suitable adapter, the computer could receive and display teletext pages, as well as software over the BBC's Ceefax service, for a time. The Philips P2000 homecomputer's video logic was also based on a chip designed to provide teletext services in TVs.
Prestel was a British information-retrieval system based on teletext protocols. However, it was essentially a different system, using a modem and the phone system to transmit and receive the data, comparable to systems such as France's Minitel. The modem was asymmetric, with data sent at 75-bit/s, and received at 1200-bit/s. This two-way nature allowed pages to be served on request, in contrast to the TV-based systems' sequential rolling method. It also meant that a limited number of extra services were available such as booking event or train tickets and a limited amount of online banking.
Teletext information is broadcast in the vertical blanking interval between image frames in a broadcast television signal, in numbered "pages."
Teletext allows up to eight 'magazines' to be broadcast, identified by the first digit of the three-digit page number (1–8). Within each magazine there may theoretically be up to 256 pages at a given time, numbered in hexadecimal and prefixed with the magazine number – for example magazine 2 may contain pages numbered 200-2FF. In practice, however, non-decimal page numbers are rarely used as domestic teletext receivers will not have options to select hex values A-F, with such numbered pages only occasionally used for 'special' pages of interest to the broadcaster and not intended for public view.
The broadcaster constantly sends out pages in sequence in one of two modes: Serial mode broadcasts every page sequentially whilst parallel mode divides VBI lines amongst the magazines, enabling one page from each magazine to be broadcast simultaneously. There will typically be a delay of a few seconds from requesting the page and it being broadcast and displayed, the time being entirely dependent in the number of pages being broadcast in the magazine (parallel mode) or in total (serial mode) and the number of VBI lines allocated. In parallel mode, therefore, some magazines will load faster than others.
More sophisticated systems use a buffer memory to store some or all of the teletext pages as they are broadcast, allowing instant display from the buffer.
The greater number of pages, the longer one is likely to wait for each to be found in the cycle. For this reason, some pages (e.g. common index pages) are broadcast more than once in each cycle.
A standard PAL signal contains 625 lines of video data per screen, broken into two "fields" containing half the lines of the whole image, divided as every odd line, then every even line number. Lines near the top of the screen are used to synchronize the display to the signal, and are not seen on-screen. CEPT1 hides the data in these lines, where they are not visible, using lines 6–22 on the first field and 318–335 on the second field. The system does not have to use all of these lines; a unique pattern of bits allows the decoder to identify which lines contain data. Some teletext services use a great number of lines, others, for reasons of bandwidth and technical issues, use fewer.
Teletext in the PAL B system can use the VBI lines 6–22 in first half image and 318–334 in the other to transmit 360 data bits including clock run-in and framing code during the active video period at a rate of 6.9375 Mbit/s ±25 bit/s using binary NRZ line coding. The amplitude for a "0" is black level ±2% and a "1" is 66±6% of the difference between black and peak white level. The clock run in consist of 8 times of "10" and the framing code is "11100100". The two last bits of the clock-run in shall start within 6995120000000000000♠12+0.4
−1.0 µs from the negative flank of the line synchronization pulse.
The 6.9375 Mbit/s rate is 444 × nominal fH, i.e. the TV line frequency. Thus 625 * 25 * 444 = 6 937 500 Hz. Each bit will then be 144 ns long. The bandwidth amplitude is 50% at 3.5 MHz and 0% at 6 MHz. If the horizontal sync pulse during the vertical synchronization starts in the middle of horizontal scan line. Then first interlace frame will be sent, otherwise if vertical synchronization let the full video line complete the second interlace frame is sent.
Like EIA-608 bits are transmitted in the order of LSB to MSB with odd parity coding of 7-bit character codes. However unlike EIA-608, the digital DVB version is transmitted the same way. For single bit error recovery during transmission, the packet address (page row and magazine numbers) and header bytes (page number, subtitle flag, etc.) use hamming code 8/4 with extended packets (header extensions) using hamming 24/18, which basically doubles the bits used.
The commonly used standard B uses a fixed PAL subtitling bandwidth of 8600 (7680 without page/packet header) bits/s per field for a maximum of 32 characters per line per caption (maximum 3 captions – lines 19 – 21) for a 25 frame broadcast. While the bandwidth is greater than EIA-608, so is the error rate with more bits encoded per field. Subtitling packets use a lot of non-boxed spacing to control the horizontal positioning of a caption and to pad out the fixed packet. The vertical caption position is determined by the packet address.
In the case of the Ceefax and ORACLE systems and their successors in the UK, the teletext signal is transmitted as part of the ordinary analogue TV signal but concealed from view in the Vertical Blanking Interval (VBI) television lines which do not carry picture information. The teletext signal is digitally coded as 45-byte packets, so the resulting rate is 7,175 bits per second per used lines (41 7-bit 'bytes' per line, on each of 25 frames per second).
A teletext page comprises one or more frames, each containing a screen-full of text. The pages are sent out one after the other in a continual loop. When the user requests a particular page the decoder simply waits for it to be sent, and then captures it for display. In order to keep the delays reasonably short, services typically only transmit a few hundred frames in total. Even with this limited number, waits can be up to 30 seconds, although teletext broadcasters can control the speed and priority with which various pages are broadcast.
Modern television sets, however, usually have a built-in memory, often for a few thousand different pages. This way, the teletext decoder captures every page sent out and stores it in memory, so when a page is requested by the user it can be loaded directly from memory instead of having to wait for the page to be transmitted. When the page is transmitted again, the television checks if the page in memory is still up-to-date and updates it if necessary.
The text can be displayed instead of the television image, or superimposed on it (a mode commonly called mix). Some pages, such as subtitles (closed captioning), are in-vision, meaning that text is displayed in a block on the screen covering part of the television image.
The original standard provides a mono spaced 40×24 character grid. Characters are sent using a 7-bit codec, with an 8th bit employed for error detection. The standard was improved in 1976 to allow for improved appearance and the ability to individually select the color of each character from a palette of 8. The proposed higher resolution Level 2 (1981) was not adopted in Britain (in-vision services from Ceefax & ORACLE did use it at various times however, though even this was ceased by the BBC in 1996), although transmission rates were doubled from two to four lines a frame.
While the basic teletext format has remained unchanged in more than 30 years, a number of improvements and additions have been made.Standard Electronic Programme Guides (EPG), like NexTView, are based on teletext, using a compact binary format instead of preformatted text pages.
Various other kinds of information are sent over the teletext protocol. For instance, Programme Delivery Control signals—used by video recorders for starting/stopping recording at the correct time even during changes in programming—are sent as teletext packets. A similar, but different, standard Video Programming System is also used for this purpose.
Teletext pages may contain special packages allowing VCRs to interpret their contents. This is used in relation to the Video Programming by Teletext (also known as startext) system which allows users to program their videos for recording by simply selecting the program on a teletext page with a listing of programs.
Other standards define how special teletext packets may contain information about the name of the channel and the program currently being shown.
A closely related service is the Video Program System (VPS), introduced in Germany in 1985. Like teletext, this signal is also broadcast in the vertical blanking interval. It consists only of 32 bits of data, primarily the date and time for which the broadcast of the currently running TV programme was originally scheduled. Video recorders can use this information (instead of a simple timer) in order to automatically record a scheduled programme, even if the broadcast time changes after the user programmes the VCR. VPS also provides a PAUSE code; broadcasters can use it to mark interruptions and pause the recorders, however advertisement-financed broadcasters tend not to use it during their ad breaks. VPS (line 16) definition is now included in the PDC standard from ETSI.
Some TV channels offer a service called interactive teletext to remedy some of the shortcomings of standard teletext. To use interactive teletext, the user calls a special telephone number with a regular telephone. A computer then instructs the user to go to a certain teletext page which has been assigned to the customer for that session. Usually the page initially contains a menu with options and the user chooses among the options using the buttons on the telephone. When a choice has been made, the selected page is immediately broadcast and can be viewed by the user. This is in contrast with usual teletext where the customer has to wait for the selected page to be broadcast, because the pages are broadcast sequentially. This technology enables teletext to be used for games, chat, access to databases etc. It allows one to overcome the limitations on the number of available pages. On the other hand, only a limited number of users can use the service at the same time, since one page is allocated per user. Some channels solve this by taking into account where the user is geographically calling from and by broadcasting different teletext pages in different geographical regions. In that way, two different users can be assigned the same page number at the same time as long as they do not receive the TV signals from the same source. Another drawback to the technology is the privacy concerns in that many users can see what a user is doing because the interactive pages are received by all viewers. Also, the user usually has to pay for the telephone call to the TV station. For these reasons, these services have since been superseded by the World Wide Web.
With the advent of digital television some countries adopted the misnomer "digital teletext" which, despite the previous teletext standard's digital nature, uses an interpreted binary language, such as MHEG-5 and Multimedia Home Platform (MHP).
Others use the same teletext streams as before on DVB transmissions, due to the DVB-TXT and DVB-VBI sub-standards. Those allow the emulation of analogue teletext on digital TV platforms, directly on the TV or set-top box, or via analog output, reproducing the vertical blanking interval data in which Teletext is carried.
A number of broadcast authorities have recently ceased the transmission of teletext services.International broadcasters: A live teletext is also no longer available on CNN International. Although many pages are still available, they have not been updated since 31 October 2006.
United Kingdom: the founder of the world's first teletext service, the BBC which closed its Ceefax service in 2012 when Britain adopted a fully digital television broadcast system. Elsewhere in the country the full service is no longer carried on any digital television services, although many channels on Sky still broadcast teletext subtitles and may still have a small number of active pages. Teletext ended in each region after analogue broadcasts finished. See Digital switchover dates in the United Kingdom.
Australia: the Seven Network shut down the Austext service on 30 September 2009. They claimed that the technology has come to the end of its useful service life and is not commercially viable to replace.
New Zealand: TVNZ Access Services announced the discontinuation of the service on April 2, 2013. A claim about equipment failures and that web sites have been used instead has been given as the reason.
Singapore: MediaCorp announced that they will discontinue its eponymously titled service Teletext, with effect from 30 September 2013.
(Subtitling still continues to use Teletext in these three countries with some providers switching to using image based DVB subtitling for HD broadcasts. New Zealand solely uses DVB subtitling on terrestrial transmissions despite Teletext still being used on internal SDI links.)