One of the coolest things on your TV before digital set-top boxes, on-demand movies and Freeview.
Teletext is basically a continuously updated news feed transmitted through your TV (in gaps in the signal), developed in the United Kingdom in the 1970s and being used worldwide.
Most notable for its limited number of characters, the general BBC Micro-ish look of the thing note and the fact that you'd at times have to wait for several pages to load, Teletext doesn't crash under heavy user demandnote . Before the Internet, this was the way you got the footy scores note . Memorably described as a pound-shop version of the Internet.
Pages have individual numbers, which can get memorable. 888 is the UK code to get Closed Captioning. Interactivity however, was limited to a minimum. Typically, only the first 700 pagesnote are used normally, anything above page 800 was reserved for special services like captioning or real-time pop-up displays during special events. Due to teletext's broadcast-only nature, interactivity involves a "Show" button (essentially technology similar to the spoilers tag used here on TVTropes, except that it's triggered through a button on your TV remote), "Choose-your-adventure" style page-flipping, or on more advanced systems used in some European countries, calling a number on your phone (although the outcome of your choice is visible to everyone using the service). Notably, page search took some time before at least the transition to digital, and also at least in the past if a page did not exist, it would keep looking for it ad infinitum.
On most services, one can also get the time and channel name from Teletext; several TV sets from Sony sold in Europe and Asia could display the channel name under the channel number if Teletext was transmitted on the channel; additionally a button on the remote could bring up the current time and date for several seconds.
Teletext Limited, the company responsible for the ITV and Channel Four services, had a handful of other businesses, including a holiday shop TV channel, which will remain open—and oddly, continue to use the Teletext brand.
Teletext never really took off in the US, though. Multiple networks made attempts, but failed. TBS (or, as it was known then, Superstation WTBS) had a service called Electra for a while in the 80s, but it was shut down due to lack of interest and funding (the other partners in the venture, Zenith Electronics and Taft Broadcasting had stopped making Teletext-capable TV sets and undergone corporate buyouts, respectively). Complicating matters was that a competing, incompatible Teletext system backed by CBS and NBC called NABTS (North American Broadcast Teletext System) was also pushed to the market- TBS had used a modified-for-NTSC version of the World Standard Teletext system, which is what the Ceefax system is known as outside of the UK. NABTS was superior to WST in that it could display advanced graphics, but that only drove the cost of receivers and TV sets up as it required a far more powerful CPU for decoding the graphics and text. Adding to that, the fact that TV sets only supported one or the other but not both made choosing a Teletext-capable TV even harder and contributed to the waning of interests in the feature. Nonetheless, a lot of TV sets in North America are still sold with a remote with the red, green, blue and yellow buttons used for teletext, baffling consumers many years after teletext have been forgotten about in the region, and perhaps hinting that digital teletext may appear atop the ATSC digital standards someday. (Typically said colored buttons are used for various other functions by the TV, and if it can control other devices like a Blu-Ray player that also has colored buttons, then it can perform those button functions too.)
There was also an attempt to launch Teletext in Japan, with the service called Moji2 (pronounced Moji-moji). The system appeared to be an enhanced version of NABTS as it provided Japanese characters support in addition to the graphics mode NABTS was famous for. The fact that the west hears so little about it meant that the service most likely flopped, in a strange case where useful technology actually failed to take off in the country.
In the late 90s, an updated version of Teletext was introduced. Called Hi-Text, it finally caught up with the NABTS and Moji2 systems in that it offered a higher resolution display and vector graphics support. However, the system faced stiff competition from the Internet and waning interests in teletext technology, and thus was only adopted by several North European countries.
Side note: Teletext never really died, it just evolved. The successor to Teletext is made out of several digital text standards (mostly DVB-TXT, DVB being the digital standard that replaced PAL and SECAM which were used in countries where Teletext was popular, and MHEG-5, the markup language used to design a digital teletext page). As TV becomes increasingly digital, these services moved to a richer-experience albeit less enjoyable digital format, if not discontinued outright. ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 ended their service on December 15, 2009, more than two years before the analogue cutoff. However, the digital format is still in use in several Northern European countries as well as in Australia and Hong Kong. Likewise, Ceefax was reincarnated as Red Button when converted to it's Digital Teletext form, named after the button on the remote that brings up the service.
- Ceefax (pronounced "See Facts") for The BBC, which ran from 1974 to 2012 - surviving until the last analogue transmitter was switched over to digital broadcasting. In reality, it had reincarnated into the Red Button service after 2012, meaning an argument could be made that it survived the transition to digital and is still ongoing. It was scheduled to be shut down in 2020, but surprisingly rescued (if a little downsized) by protests from groups it still benefited, such as the elderly and disabled.
- ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5's Teletext, which ran from 1993 to (essentially) 2009.
- Which replaced the older ORACLE system, which ran from 1978 to 1992.
- And was home to Digitiser.
- Ireland's main teletext service is Aertel, which has survived the switch from analogue to digital broadcasting—just.
- An online version can be found here
- Major Polish television stations still use this, but this gets little love from the production team.note
- At least it survived the switch to digital and is still active as of June 2018!
- Singapore has the SBC (later TCS, then MediaCorp) Teletext service, which was revered by stock market players as it provided extremely up-to-date information about the Straits Times Index(the stock exchange of Singapore), even faster than the Internet could. This alone ensured the service stayed up long after neighboring Malaysia had shut off their Teletext transmission and was only discontinued after the first phase of analog shut down, in mid-2014.
- As mentioned above, Neighboring Malaysia also had it's own Teletext service under the name of Beriteks (a combination of the Malay word for news and text). Like Singapores teletext System, it too was revered by stock market players, but it was also well loved by lottery players as the results are uploaded live, a godsend back when basic internet costs hundreds of dollars in the early 90s and the only other option for lottery results was to wait for the next days paper. The service started in 1985, but was eventually shut down due to the Mahathir government's emphasis on the Internet in the late 90s and early 2000s, and as a result, suffered when the Mahathir government pushed telcos to introduce affordable internet to the public in the late 90s. The government-owned RTM channels stopped transmitting Teletext in the early 2000s, and Media Prima shut theirs off in 2008.
- In Spain, TVE, its state-owned network, has been using it since the late 80s and as of 2020 is still going on having survived the transition to digital. Other Spaniard channels, be public or privatenote , have also deployed Teletext but its fate has been more varied.