Category Archives: Europe

Mainland Europe and the UK

Teletext still lives (just)

Teletext was developed in the 1970s in Britain as a way of sending information (text and basic colour graphics) in a PAL television signal.

The BBC implemented it as Ceefax (1974 to 2012), and numerous other broadcasters in PAL countries also used it. In Australia it was called Austext (1982 to 2009) and broadcast on Channel 7.

Apart from screens of information, the technology was also used to provide captions for TV programs (in Australia on page 801 on all networks).

In Australia, it ended in part because the original equipment was at end-of-life, no doubt combined with the rise of the Internet for getting that sort of information.


The Seven Network started providing test Teletext services in 1977, with live services commencing in 1982 in Brisbane and Sydney.

The Austext service today is still provided using the original 1970’s technology. This equipment has now reached the end of its lifespan.

Unfortunately,it is not possible to replace the existing Austext system with new equipment except at significant cost.

The BBC Micro and teletext

When the BBC Micro was introduced in 1981, this included a graphics mode (Mode 7) that natively supported teletext graphics. Given the computer only originally had 16-32 Kb of RAM, this mode using only 1 Kb was handy to have. It was mostly used by text-based programs, though there was the odd action game implemented in it — I remember a rendition of Space Invaders that used Mode 7.

In schools, BBC Micros could be networked together using the Econet system. A Teletext-like system was available that I think was called Eco-fax — we had that at my high school.

Less common, and only used in Britain, was a special Teletext adaptor, this could be used to download computer programs.

Teletext lives!

Teletext on broadcast television might be long gone, but there’s one place the technology is still used: in Australian racing.

Teletext displays in a TAB

Walk into any betting shop (this photo is from a TAB in Melbourne) and you’ll find these familiar text displays, with 8 colours, the capability of flashing and double-height text, and simple graphics, under the brand name “TabCorp Skytext”.

I have no idea how the signal is broadcast, but it’s definitely the same display technology. Nice to know it lives on, over 45 years since it was devised.

  • Ironically, this video from 2012 of highlights of 38 years of Ceefax isn’t playable on modern web browsers because it requires Flash

The spinning globe

I’ve long been a fan of TV idents, and I used to love seeing the late-80s BBC1 globe animation, when it occasionally popped-up on television here. As well as the Alas Smith and Jones spoof version.

Here are a couple of fascinating articles on how it was generated: by a standalone computer, which animated the 12 second rotation, at the PAL standard of 25 frames per second.

(Update: Found a better video)

Bye bye Teletext

In Australia the 7 Network’s Austext teletext service is to shut down at the end of September, with only Supertext subtitles/Closed captioning continuing to be transmitted. (I wonder if they’ll move them from the current page 801 to the default 100, to make them easier to use?)

Over in the UK, ITV’s Teletext service is to shut down in January 2010.

The BBC’s Ceefax will last until analogue TV is switched off in 2012.

Hardly surprising really. I’m sure demand for text-based news and other information has plummetted since the widespread adoption of the Web. In fact I’m surprised teletext has lasted this long — I struggle to think of anybody I know who uses it.

Google blurs Colonel Sanders? Maybe.

Oh lordy. I wonder if this is some kind of joke, or if it’s true?

The Telegraph reports that Google has blurred the image of Colonel Sanders on KFC signs in the UK, on the basis that he’s a real person.

The company says it took the decision because he is ‘a real person’ – despite him passing away in December 1980 aged 90.

If it’s true, then can I just say: IDIOTS!

1. It’s a cartoon image, not a photographic likeness.

2. He’s been dead for 29 years.

3. What, you think we won’t know who it is? “Hey, who’s that on the KFC sign?” “Dunno, could be any southern American military guy who knows about chicken.”

4. Are they doing the same for cartoons and photos of real people on billboards and the like?

5. How is the late Colonel’s privacy being spoilt if people could see the cartoon image of his face? Hasn’t the horse already bolted on that, given the image of him is up on thousands of KFC outlets all over the planet?

Of course, it could be that the whole story is a crock.

Or maybe they just haven’t implemented their policy (whatever it is) very well.

The reason I offer these two possibilities is that I found this unobscured KFC sign, and this one too, both in London.

Certainly it appears the Colonel in Australia is freely visible:

If they did institute such a policy in Australia, I wonder what they’d do about other cartoon face logos, especially of people who are still alive. Dick Smith is one who springs to mind, though now I think about it, I think they’re phasing out use of his face on their signs and literature.

Another day, another broken form

FormThis time it’s the BBC’s Children In Need appeal. Okay, so CIN isn’t meant to be seen outside the UK, but what with Channel BT and YouTube, it should be no surprise that bits of it (such as the superb Doctor Who short) have been seen around the world.

And I decided I wanted to donate. ‘Cos it’s a good cause and the dollar’s going well against the UKP.

A quick Google and I figured out what they were talking about when they asked about Gift Aid. Something for UK taxpayers only, alas.

But the billing address caught me out. Okay, let’s put my state name in the County field. That should work. Country… well they only seem to have continents, not countries. Australasia is it I guess. Dunno what the credit card company will make of that.

Submit… ah, it seems to be doing something. Uh oh, it rejected the postcode. Wrong length. Uh no, my four digit postcode is all I have. Tell you what, I’ll stuff it with zeroes. 0000003204. That would crack Aussie Post up, I’m sure.

Resubmit and… oh. It thinks it’s already running. “Your request is being processed….. Please be patient….”

Well I am normally, but at time of writing it’s been giving me this error for 20 minutes.

Has it gone in? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll check my credit card transactions in a day or two, and hope the Children In Need don’t need my donation that much.

(Oh what the hell, you might as well enjoy it here too.)

PS3 in PAL territories

Sony’s PS3 will be available from March 23rd in PAL territories such as Australia and Europe. The Age reports it’ll retail for A$999 in Australia, and it’ll be the 60Gb hard drive version — the cheaper version won’t be sold. The BBC notes Europeans will also get the more expensive model.

Now, how many people are umming and erring because they want a PS3, but are still officially boycotting Sony because of the rootkit debacle?

New iTunes stores

iPod (from has opened new iTunes stores in… Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, with a free track for every Swiss citizen. (Großmutter! Schnell! Was ist Ihr voller Name und Geburtsdatum?)

And Australia? Well The Register says It was claimed this week that only major label troubles prevented the company from opening ITMS Australia last month as planned. Damn labels.

Meanwhile Apple continues to dominate in sales of music players, with new stats showing the iPod Shuffle has more than half of the US flash player market, and iTunes recently sold its 350 millionth song download.

All this is good news for the continued availability of non-copy-protected music. While Apple continues to sell and support MP3, but not WMA, and remains dominant in sales of hardware, MP3 will remain strong.

I don’t want a music format that’s copy protected. I don’t want to pay for music and have it die with my player. Like CDs, it has to last (I’ve got 17 year old discs that are still going strong) and be copyable, so I can move the music onto whatever the Next Great Device for my music is — whether it be a replacement iPod when my battery eventually gives up, or some other new and shiny device in a few years when the iPod seems old and clunky.

Though of course, in Australia at present, even just ripping your CDs to MP3 is illegal.

PS. 11pm. Actually I should probably use iTunes Store before blessing Apple too much, since there seems to be a lot of rumbling about whatever DRM they use.

More on iTunes AU, CH, SE, NO, DK

Country flagsAppleInsider has found the icons for the new iTunes countries, thereby confirming iTunes is about to start in Australia, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. Not before time for those AU-ers among us. I’m seeing more and more of those white earplugs on the train to work.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. So far all the Australian online music stores have concentrated on selling protected WMA files. These haven’t been setting the world alight, partly of course because the files are useless for legions of iPod owners, and from observations, there are hardly any non-iPod portable music players out there in userland. And for myself, I’d refuse to buy files that won’t live beyond the (hopefully long but inevitably limited) life of my player.

Record companies must surely be waking up to it by now. They can’t copy-protect conventional CDs properly — it either breaks the Red Book standard (and thus compatibility) or it doesn’t work. Anything they try is either useless or has been hacked. So you might as well just sell MP3s. They’re no more vulnerable than CDs. And it’s better to be selling copyable songs than no songs at all.

And the reported Apple price of A$1.80 per track is competitive. A quick scout of some WMA-selling stores showed a typical price of A$1.89 per track, with top ten hits at A$0.99.

The other thing this week for Apple fans is the OS X “Tiger” release, though I’m sure they all already know that.

EU busts MSFT

Okay in theory I’m all for reining in companies when they’re being monopolistic, but this decision of the Europeans to make them ship a copy of Windows without MediaPlayer strikes me as just a tad silly. Microsoft are about to launch this version in Europe, which they’re calling — wait for it — Windows XP Reduced Media Edition.

From the sounds of it, it’s basically XP (in Home or Pro versions) without MediaPlayer. SoundRec and the movie making thingy are still included.

Why would anybody choose to buy this? Unless it’s cheaper… in which case, couldn’t you just go and download MediaPlayer from Microsoft later?

And bear in mind the major competition here is… well, it’s RealPlayer, isn’t it. Ah yes, that mob whose web site sneakily tries to steer you to the paid version when you’re looking for the free one (and there’s no direct URL to the free one), insists on an e-mail address they can send advertising to, defaults to including a useless applet that sits in your icon tray, splashes advertising over itself when you start it, and sends lots of juicy info back to home base. (I do use RealPlayer, for all the BBC webcasts… I really must check out the alternatives at Thankfully the BBC have their own licensed RealPlayer freebie download which isn’t quite so objectionable.)

Now the ruling on opening up the interface code, that sounds like the sort of thing that is more likely to level the playing field.