Teletext for Windows v1.51


Teletext for DOS is a great little program, but really it is about time we had something that, you know, multitasks!

That something is WinTTX.

WinTTX offers a way to connect your old Ground Control / Octopus teletext receiver to any PC with a parallel port and compatible operating system - and this includes Windows XP!.
Now I know I don't need to explain teletext - we've all seen it. However be aware that the inventors of teletext (the BBC) plan to phase it out when the analogue transmitters are shut down (starting year, completing in 2012). It has already been phased out on SkyDigital, to be replaced with the more comprehensive digital text services (but you can't interrogate any of that stuff using a computer). In short, enjoy teletext while you still can!

This is WinTTX in action...



This demonstrates some of the teletext attributes, thanks to the test frame. If you are European, Japanese, Australian, etc... chances are good that you have come across teletext services. Developed by the BBC and IBA in the late '70s, this simple text service provides a 40x25 text screen which can display text in eight colours (which may include coloured backgrounds). Text can 'flash' and also be 'concealed' (press the 'Reveal' button on your remote controller to make the text visible). Early video programming systems and electronic programme display data was broadcast using the teletext system as a base. Back in the early '80s when 32K was oodles of memory, the BBC broadcast software using teletext - intended for reception by specialist computer-controlled teletext receivers such as the UTA-3 you'll need for use with WinTTX.
In addition to the text, the specification provides for a 'mosaic' graphics system, where the text display can be replaced by dots on a 2x3 matrix. This gives the maximum screen resolution as 64x72. The display memory can be stored in 1 kilobyte of memory, though often 2Kb is used per page for the reception of extension packets for additional features such as FastText.
Teletext, as a system, is dying out, losing in the face of better-looking digital information services such as those provided by channels on the SkyDigital platform. However there is still confidence in teletext due to its simplicity and reliability - remember that teletext is over thirty years old. I think the only system of similar vintage still in use today is the French Minitel (which is much like teletext via phone lines, and it itself is suffering due to the uptake in broadband). This confidence in teletext is reflected in the fact that many European satellite receivers can display teletext information to you (the Sky Digibox is an exception, it can only insert the teletext data into the output picture). Some broadcasters have so far rejected "interactive" services in favour of teletext on various grounds, such as cost or complexity. The Irish, in particular, still make extensive use of teletext. Likewise, teletext is still frequently used for subtitling (most major European broadcasters provide subtitles via teletext). It is an interesting omission that many satellite receivers have an option to "display subtitles", but no option to determine what language to display, if even this is supported in DBS. Using teletext, multi-lingual subtitling in cross-over areas is easy. The Welsh broadcaster S4C offers subtitling in Welsh and English. I can see applications in similar regions (Gaellic/English, Breton/French, Basque/Spanish) as well as in countries with multiple languages (Flemmish/French, German/French/Italian, Swedish/Norwegian), etc.
Oh, and remember that as teletext information is carried with the television picture, it is totally free. You don't pay anything extra for teletext, and no special teletext subscription is required. All you need is a teletext-capable TV (or satellite receiver, computer interface, etc - something that can decode teletext for you).

If you look at a map of teletext use, and discount developing nations and places where there was no desire for teletext or a variation on the theme (such as the France's 'Antiope', which was phased out in the early '90s and replaced by traditional teletext), there is one rather amusing omission on the map:

Teletext operates by inserting digitally coded data into the broadcast signal. It appears as random dots up the very top of the picture (the part that is usually hidden). There is a reason I'm telling you this geeky stuff, so stay with me... Anyway, each line of television picture can equate to a line on a page of teletext, four to sixteen 'lines' of the television picture are used, with 25 frames transmitted per second (PAL; 30 frames for NTSC and PAL-M) - this equates to around 10 complete pages per second, along with ancillary information (such as broadcaster ID, accurate clock, etc).
As you can appreciate, the service was not rapid. However it did offer the capability of a few hundred pages of information with a maximal lag time of around 30 seconds. By using rolling pages (i.e. "page 1 of 3") the service could be really quite large, and the receiver would automatically 'refresh' as the page changed.
This did not please the Americans. They thought crappy 40x25 totally sucked. The service was not glossy, was not "feature rich", was not very quick. The Americans don't tend to hold much faith in the maxim "content is king", far better to contain lots of gloss and whizz-bangs. I'm sure any geek can name several American-based corporate websites that look really great (on MSIE, that is) but which, when you get down to it, have remarkably little information of value on offer. That's not to say that that Japs/Brits/Frenchies/Etc don't make crappy websites as well, but for some reason the Americans were totally sold on loads of Flash dodahs, complicated JavaScript for no real reason, applets, and all manner of unnecessary technologies that epitomise the very concept of the phrase "eye candy". But can you find a PDF datasheet? Can you 'eck!
This was doubly confounded by the fact that teletext-capable televisions were pricey. Several companies tried different wholly incompatible systems but they all hit one huge problem that not even the American mindset could cope with - namely the fact that piggybacking electronic data on a television signal meant there was not much bandwidth available. The Americans could have put together the world's greatest televisual information system, but if it didn't work within the existing TV signal it was useless. Pretty much the only American manufacturer supporting teletext was Zenith. In the early '90s, the FCC (goverment agency that oversees broadcast/communications stuff) required that televisual equipment support "Closed Captioning" (essentially subtitles) and because it was not practical for Zenith to design their televisions to support both teletext and closed captions (same idea, rather different implementation), they dropped teletext. And there ended America's mostly-failed attempts at teletext.

If you think I'm not being nice to the Americans, perhaps that is true. In the heyday of teletext (the '80s and '90s), there were incredible feature-laden services in the United Kingdom and many televisions in the late '80s came with teletext as an option; and in the '90s more or less "as standard". The TV I bought myself in the UK (circa 1999) was the cheapest little Japanese portable I could find in a large Tescos. It offered PAL, NTSC, dead-easy automatic setup, nice colour reproduction, low power consumption, and teletext. These are all "base" technologies - I wouldn't purchase a TV if it didn't offer at least those features. Want something even more impressive? My Daewoo video recorder (PDC compatible, that's "packet 8/30 format 2" in teletext terms) was also capable of responding to the format 1 of "packet 8/30". How do I know this? When it received off-air signals, it used to set its clock automatically and perform summer-time adjustment all by itself. This is one of the less obvious features of teletext, but certainly a useful one!
It would be a scenario repeated across Europe. Spanish TV? Offers teletext. French TV? After a brief foray into a home-grown solution, they switched to teletext. German TV? Offers teletext. Dutch TV? Swedish TV? Swiss TV? Belgian, Irish, Portuguese... the list goes on - you can see the Italian RAI in the example at the top of this document.
Countries across Europe routinely fail to agree on many things, but they all agreed on teletext.

Perhaps America's problem was they expected too much, set their hopes too high, and didn't fully appreciate that 10 pages a second is a good data rate to extract from a television broadcast. Because of this, they never really appreciated what teletext could offer them.
Oh well, their loss.

I only include this length description here as there may be Americans who stumble across this software and are like "what's teletext?". There was some use of WST (World Standard Teletext) in the US - Wisconsin, Los Angeles and vicinity, and Chicago; as well as the cable channel WTBS - most of these services being fairly short-lived and occurring in the '80s.

It is perhaps ironic that the two American network channels that are freely available on European satellite offered extensive teletext services.
CNBC had a fairly simple service in 2001, which was expanding by 2003. It is still going today however the channel sold out to Sky. You need a viewing card to watch it at 28°E , while it is free-to-air at 19°E. Shame, I liked watching Jay Leno.
The leader of the pack, and perhaps second only to BBC's unimitable Ceefax service, was CNN. Their teletext service was abandoned in 2005; along with MTV ceasing their teletext service in the UK and (I think) Germany also.

The sad quirk, talking of cessation of service, is that the BBC provide a full and complete teletext service by terrestrial analogue. On digital satellite, only BBC2 carries a tiny (i.e. 15 page) snippet of the service listing TV schedules, recipes (none when I looked) and stuff for schools (will return in September, it said). I would imagine that when the last British analogue transmitter ceases broadcast in 2012, the BBC's Ceefax service, and the service that gave teletext to the world, will simply vanish into history. Teletext will probably still remain, for subtitling, but the text services that have kept viewers informed for what will be nearly forty years will be nowt but a memory - however those of you with access to BBC World (not 28°E) will be able to access a slimmed version of teletext news. That, and sometimes RTÉ, are how I get my news now that my Digibox is non-functional (hence I cannot receive BBCi's news any more).

So here is WinTTX. Get it running, enjoy teletext while it is still around...



The latest version is interim release #2 - v1.51 (2008/08/15):

Here's what was new in the previous version, 1.50 (2008/08/08):




You will need: Mini viewer (introduced in v1.37).



An artistically weird picture of the Ground Control UTA-3 teletext receiver.This software is designed to work with the Ground Control UTA-3 teletext receiver, which I believe is the model that was also marketed by Octopus Systems.

Other IIC-connected receivers may work...
Does your receiver work with my !Teletext under RISC OS? Does it work with Paul Skirrow's !Teletext+ under RISC OS?
If the answer is yes, then it should work with WinTTX!

If you have any teletext equipment that is no longer required (i.e. the Morley receiver, a Ground Control UTA-1, the Acorn Teletext Adaptor (not the 1MHz cheese-wedge one), the DezignIT receiver, the XOB receiver, etc), please consider sending it to me so I that I may provide support for that device within WinTTX.


An interesting persective of the Acorn Teletext AdapterI am sorry to say that the Acorn Teletext Adapter (the one housed in the big 'cheese wedge' case) uses an interface specific to the BBC range of machines (the 1MHz bus) and also extremely specific timing (so it won't even work on an A5000 with a 1Mhz bus add-on). Thus, while this unit is quite a capable receiver, it looks unlikely that it will be supported on anything non-BBC; in the many years that the Archimedes range of computers has existed, I've not seen or heard of anybody who has managed it.
HOWEVER, it is commonly known that 'I Have No Life'™, so if anybody out there happens to be in possession of a circuit diagram and details of the interfacing and timing... I'd be interested in at least giving it a go...



Here is the schematic and a picture of my lead as assembled. Full details are given in the help file...

Schematic of WinTTX lead.



WinTTX download
Version 1.51
WinTTX standard distribution, interim 'test' release #2.
The script language guide is not included, you can download this further down...
This is an interim release because the help file has not been updated.
Version 1.50
WinTTX standard distribution, interim 'test' release #1.
This is an interim release because the help file has not been updated and there may be bugs/quirks in the script interpreter.
PtrIIC parallel port driver
Version 0.10
PtrIIC, current version.
You don't need this if you download WinTTX v1.40.

If you experience problems using WinTTX (missing DLL, missing OCX),
then you need to download and install the Various Dependencies, 3,240K.


 Script information 

Script interpreter guide
For script v1.08
Teletext script interpreter guide, CHM (HTMLhelp) version.
Use your browser's "Save this as..." function, or else it may try to show you this file...literally!

You can also...


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Copyright © 2008 Richard Murray