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bluejay

What exactly was the Videotex?

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What, exactly, was the Videotex? Was it a dumb terminal, receiving data through the "telephone" port it had on the back? Did it have an internal modem, and a special cable to connect the videotex to your phone and a land line? Could you attach an external rs232c modem?

 

What about the Videotex cartridge? Was it just a terminal program for CoCos, that used the modem attached to the serial port of the CoCo?

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Videotex was a page oriented information system using 40x24 text screens in 8 colours, with support for blocky pseudographics 80x72 pixels. If you have seen teletext on the TV, you know the visuals. It ran at split speed 75/1200, meaning that commands you sent over the phone line ran at 75 baud, and the pages you downloaded would be received at 1200 baud. You would need at least a modem and the videotex software. There were custom videotex terminals, and there were extensions to various home and personal computers.

 

There were several different sources of information to call, networks if you like. Each provider would have their suppliers of information, mostly finances but possibly also news and various booking services. I think it was mostly popular in Europe, little used in the US but with continuous notes about how expansion was planned.

 

Usually you would pay a monthly fee for the account, plus a minute fee for the phone call, plus a fixed fee for each page you downloaded. The latter might differ depending on which type of information you requested. I think that payment model was a bit too complex, at least the providers could've made sure to cut the minute fee for the phone call.

 

It was possible to upload stuff for a two way communication, but the most part was one way communication.

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4 minutes ago, carlsson said:

Videotex was a page oriented information system using 40x24 text screens in 8 colours, with support for blocky pseudographics 80x72 pixels. If you have seen teletext on the TV, you know the visuals. It ran at split speed 75/1200, meaning that commands you sent over the phone line ran at 75 baud, and the pages you downloaded would be received at 1200 baud. You would need at least a modem and the videotex software. There were custom videotex terminals, and there were extensions to various home and personal computers.

 

There were several different sources of information to call, networks if you like. Each provider would have their suppliers of information, mostly finances but possibly also news and various booking services. I think it was mostly popular in Europe, little used in the US but with continuous notes about how expansion was planned.

 

Usually you would pay a monthly fee for the account, plus a minute fee for the phone call, plus a fixed fee for each page you downloaded. The latter might differ depending on which type of information you requested. I think that payment model was a bit too complex, at least the providers could've made sure to cut the minute fee for the phone call.

 

It was possible to upload stuff for a two way communication, but the most part was one way communication.

So it was a dumb terminal except it's used for receiving data over the phone line instead of communicating with computers and it's worse.

Edited by bluejay

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I think you could download software too, to be run once you quit the session. I don't know if that would make it less dumb. Back then, there was no fiber or wi-fi, so the typical way to communicate with foreign computers was through the phone line, obviously.

 

To most part, I believe videotex services were meant for businesses, not so much for home use. There were some adventure or MUD like games played over it though, plus of course the famous French Minitel system evolved out of the same technology though not identical.

 

A few random snippets about videotex I found in my old magazines:

 

Early 1984

IBM, CBS and Sears, Roebuch & Co have signed a partnership deal about videotex. Many details are secret but according to a consultant involved in the deal, they will start in the Northeastern parts of the USA with teleshopping, bank and finance services and news. It may take a few years before the system is in full use. One of the primary factors why these three big companies seriously enter the videotex business is in order to reach many of the 7 million home computer users in the US, including the users of IBM's new PCjr. At IBM they imagine a majority of the US population will use videotex daily at work and in the home in the 1990s.

 

At the end of 1984, the Canadian videotex system Telidon will have invested 280 million dollars in videotex, of which Canadian industry makes up for 3/4 of the investments and the state puts in rest of the money. Telidon expects to make a profit within 3-5 years. Currently they have 5000 subscribers, which is significantly fewer than the original forecasts.

 

The American consultant firm Frost & Sullivan imagine that the option of electronic mail over videotex will become an established alternative to the telephone within the next 10 years.

 

Attempts let private people in the USA pay their bills through videotex, has shown that most people pay their bills at midnight, 12 AM. It is understood as if the demand of this kind of home banking is very big. So far no banks however have night open offices for sleepless, debt ridden customers.

 

CAPTAIN, the videotex service of Japan will now go into commercial operation after four years of experimental operation. CAPTAIN will be run as a joint venture between Nippon Co and a number of companies in the electronics business such as Fujitsu, Hitachi, Matsushita, Sony and Toshiba. In total they invest 1.3 million dollars on the commercialization of CAPTAIN. So far the most popular information in the system has been news, weather, games and guides to restaurants and cinemas. Information to households about stores and shopping centers however have proven to be less popular.

 

(It should be noted that in Japan, they ran some of their systems in full hires with a bigger palette, not just 80x72 pixels)

 

Early 1985

Finally, Keyfax opens in Chicago. After investing nearly 20 million dollars over the last 30 months, the population of Chicago is now offered Keyfax. The services consist of ordering functions, news, games, flight ticket bookings etc. The users can buy a Keyfax terrminal for $365 or pay $60 for a piece of software to use their own home computer. They also need to pay a monthly fee of $15 - $30. Keyfax has mentioned that they will invest 3 million dollars this year on advertising their service.



 

At the same time, Knight & Ridder have announced they're laying off 25% of their 169 employees at Viewtron, Florida. Currently Viewtron has 2800 users, much fewer than the expected 5000.

 

German Bildschirmtext now has 14000 subscribers. At the end of 1984, the system is planned to get another 150.000 installations and in 1987 they're expecting to exceed 1 million subscribers.

 

 

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I think I saw one at Tandy Assembly.  It's a rare system that's sort of a mystery.  It seems to be a CoCo that boots to a terminal program refined for Compuserve and Dow Jones.  It has a built in 300 baud modem, color graphics, a 6809E processor and 4K or 16K RAM, yet no cassette port, joystick ports, serial port or cartridge slot.  I don't think it was capable of running software, yet the one PDF mentions dumping and executing a binary program?

 

At $399 it was the exact same price as the 4K CoCo, but if you wanted to go online with the CoCo, you had to fork out an additional $200 for the acoustic modem and $30 for the software.

 

I bought the Videotex software on cassette for my Model III and got online around 1983 with Compuserve.  The service was originally $12 an hour.  Software was only $30 but I had to add the RS232 board and a 300 baud DC Modem I.  I basically had to mow 2 lawns for every hour I spent online.

 

http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/html/catalogs_extra/1981_rsc-04/hr035.html

https://colorcomputerarchive.com/repo/Documents/Manuals/Hardware/TRS-80 Videotex Terminal Owner's Manual (Tandy).pdf

https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2016/07/102727143-05-02-acc.pdf

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Sign-up kits (including a free hour of service, IIRC) were still being distributed well into the 1980s. A friend of mine got one with a Radio Shack 300 baud modem in about 1987 or 1988, though the service was very close to dead by that point. 

 

When I got a Tandy PC in 1989, it included similar advertising/promotional material for Prodigy. 

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Hm. Perhaps the baud rate was different for each area, since you both mention a 300 baud modem for the Tandy machines. We had 300/300 baud modems too, for connecting to regular BBS:es but I strongly remember that videotex services were 75/1200 over here. Some modems were switchable between the two speeds.

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22 hours ago, Turbo-Torch said:

I think I saw one at Tandy Assembly.  It's a rare system that's sort of a mystery.  It seems to be a CoCo that boots to a terminal program refined for Compuserve and Dow Jones.  It has a built in 300 baud modem, color graphics, a 6809E processor and 4K or 16K RAM, yet no cassette port, joystick ports, serial port or cartridge slot.  I don't think it was capable of running software, yet the one PDF mentions dumping and executing a binary program?

 

At $399 it was the exact same price as the 4K CoCo, but if you wanted to go online with the CoCo, you had to fork out an additional $200 for the acoustic modem and $30 for the software.

 

I bought the Videotex software on cassette for my Model III and got online around 1983 with Compuserve.  The service was originally $12 an hour.  Software was only $30 but I had to add the RS232 board and a 300 baud DC Modem I.  I basically had to mow 2 lawns for every hour I spent online.

 

http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/html/catalogs_extra/1981_rsc-04/hr035.html

https://colorcomputerarchive.com/repo/Documents/Manuals/Hardware/TRS-80 Videotex Terminal Owner's Manual (Tandy).pdf

https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2016/07/102727143-05-02-acc.pdf

Oh, that makes more sense. It doesn't seem to have the same connector as the Tandy laptops' internal modem connector. From what you've described it seems like a useless thing to have today :) 

I wonder what the motherboard looks like in contrast of the real CoCos'.

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1 hour ago, carlsson said:

Hm. Perhaps the baud rate was different for each area, since you both mention a 300 baud modem for the Tandy machines. We had 300/300 baud modems too, for connecting to regular BBS:es but I strongly remember that videotex services were 75/1200 over here. Some modems were switchable between the two speeds.

 

I may be mis-remembering; it could have been a 1200 baud modem. As far as I know, he only ever used it with an actual terminal (a VT-52 or something like it) to access the university's mainframe. (He was a Computer Science student at the time.)

 

I am fairly certain that he never accessed Videotex. That may have been due to the high cost, or that it was simply no longer available. 

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Going by the Wikipedia article, speeds may have differed. Canadian Telidon which I quoted above, supposedly used 150/1200. This quote also says something:

 

Quote

Unlike the UK, however, the FCC refused to set a single technical standard, so each provider could choose what it wished.

 

The article also mentions 300 baud modems, so it is possible that the ones you came across connected to a videotex type system at that speed, perhaps the host server even was able to serve pages at multiple different speeds so you could connect to it with any combination of 75/1200, 150/1200, 300/300 etc.

 

Technically I don't know if split speed is cheaper or so, but from what I can remember you mainly fetched content from the system, not so much posted or uploaded your own info so download speed must've been more important than upload speed. On a more traditional BBS where you to a higher degree posted messages, perhaps uploaded as much software as you downloaded (remember those U/D quotas), an equal speed for both directions made more sense.

Edited by carlsson

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On 9/24/2020 at 7:05 PM, Turbo-Torch said:

I think I saw one at Tandy Assembly.  It's a rare system that's sort of a mystery.  It seems to be a CoCo that boots to a terminal program refined for Compuserve and Dow Jones.  It has a built in 300 baud modem, color graphics, a 6809E processor and 4K or 16K RAM, yet no cassette port, joystick ports, serial port or cartridge slot.  I don't think it was capable of running software, yet the one PDF mentions dumping and executing a binary program?

Yes it's similar to a Color Computer with the Videotex ROM instead of BASIC, it's bit-banger serial port is there but wired to the modem.

 

It even has the same VDG just like the Dragon; I wonder if CoCo BASIC programs would run if you replaced the Videotext ROM with the Extended BASIC ROM.

 

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Videotext from Radio Shack was basically communications software.  The actual Videotext machine had the software built into its ROM instead of BASIC, as mentioned above.

 

I had the cassette version for my Model III as I didn't have floppy drives yet.  It was a very simple communications program that didn't allow downloading.

Eventually I upgraded to disk drives and Videotext 4.0.  The white binder simply says CompuServe and the file name on the disk is VIDTEX.

I was able to start downloading programs, mainly a lot of Orchestra 90 music files which I still have today.  I have the original white binder for disk 4.0 in front of me.  I don't know where the cassette binder went...I may have used it as a cool 3 ring binder for school.

 

If you had a 300 baud acoustic coupler in the early 80s, you were hardcore and living a dream.  1200 baud?  Yeah, maybe if you were a large corporation.  A DC1200 with autodial from RS would set you back $850 in 1983 ($2,200 today).  How many home users had that kind of money to toss away on a peripheral?

 

CompuServe was accessed through a Telnet #, and if you were lucky (as I was) it was a local call.

Going from memory here...I would call the # and connect.  Enter a string of numbers which would then bring up the login for CompuServe.  Enter your name and password and you'd be online.

It was $12 an hour and eventually $6 an hour evenings and nights.  If you used 1200, it was way more per hour.

 

GEnie was a new service that started years later in 1985 and I noticed in magazine ads that its access phone number was the same as CompuServe, but the login numbers were different.

At that point, I found that by punching in random numbers, I could log into other computers from God only know where.  Some with simple passwords, some with none at all.  Coolest was a NASA switching packet station with brutal warnings about accessing it illegally.  I still have the login codes written down for it. :)

 

Eventually I went to using XTERM software on the Model III for hacking and accessing BBSs, and I still use it till this day.

 

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For comparison, by November 1984 you could buy a Commodore 300/300 modem for 995 SEK (115 USD) or an universal modem that did both 75/1200 and 300/300 for 1495 SEK (175 USD). Sure that is more than a year later than your price example, but also 1/5 of the price. I do realize though that Radio Shack's offering was from 1980 while the references I posted are from 1984-85.

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