Canada's Telidon: Two-way TV is Here

Telidon -- The &quote;Internet&quote; before its time! (Dept. of Communications)

Canada's first live TV broadcast took place in 1931. Since then, television has developed by giant steps.

Colour television followed black and white. With the advent of cablevision, the number of channels at our disposal has continually multiplied. Now, videotex, a new kind of TV communication, has been developed. It converts the simple television set into a powerful information tool - a means of obtaining instantly a great variety of written or graphic information.

Although videotex was born in Europe, Canada was very much interested in the technology and undertook to further improve it.

The result is "Telidon", a second generation videotex system, invented at the Communications Research Centre, research arm of the federal Department of Communications. Telidon places Canada as a world leader in two-way TV technology, and offers the potential to revolutionize telecommunications in Canada.

Telidon at your service

Imagine a television set capable of changing, at the user’s will, into an electronic school, post office, bank, supermarket or library. A user simply presses a few buttons on a keyboard. The desired information will appear on his TV screen in a few seconds.

In the near future, subscribers may be available to access huge information libraries, receive ‘electronic’ messages and newspapers, use Telidon as an electronic catalogue to see, then order consumer products, or play chess with another subscriber. The possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

What makes up the Telidon system?

Essentially, it is made up of three components:

- data banks connected to a central computer

- a slightly modified television set, equipped with a Telidon terminal and keypad, and

- a transmission link, such as telephone lines, cable, optical fibres or even satellites.

How does Telidon work?

Telidon could eventually be connected to data banks located all over the world. These banks could contain a wealth of information on the most diverse subjects, from a yoga demonstration, to classified ads, to a course in photography or astrology. The information stored in the central computer is delivered by telephone lines, cables, optical fibres or satellites to a converter at the television set. The converter decodes the information and transforms it almost instantly into printed words or images on the TV screen.

Dialogue with Telidon: child’s play

Dialogue with Telidon is extremely simple. Information in electronic data banks is arranged in pages. Each page bears a number and represents the information which can be seen on the screen at one time. A Telidon guide lists the categories of information (such as news, weather, restaurant listings, and so on) and the page number for each category.

The subscriber proceeds, step by step, from the general to the specific, in order to arrive at the information wanted. For example, a user looking for a hotel in Toronto would use a keypad to press the appropriate number to call up on his or her TV screen a general directory for the city of Toronto. He or she then presses the number appearing opposite "Accommodation". From the new list which appears, the user only has to press the number corresponding to the heading "Hotels" and he will see on the TV screen several pages giving the names of hotels, their addresses, telephone numbers and the number of rooms available.

The Canadian lead

One of the major improvements of Telidon over first generation videotex systems is its high-quality graphic capability. High resolution colour drawings, intricate shapes, even photographs are all possible through Telidon technology.

The Telidon system was also designed to take full advantage of future innovations in data communications, and is much less tied to existing TV standards than first generation videotex systems. These and other features have aroused enthusiasm both at home and abroad.

Field trials

Interest in Canada in the potential of Telidon is spreading. Now that the technology is here, an important step is to try it out in a number of applications, to test the technology and use of Telidon, before deciding to launch commercial service. A number of organizations across Canada will be participating in fields trails over the next year or two-among them, cable TV operators, telephone companies, broadcasters, and information suppliers.

- Bell Canada is planning to incorporate Telidon technology in it "Vista" videotex trial. One thousand terminals and up to 100,000 pages of information are planned for this, the largest Telidon field trial.

- The Ontario Educational Communications Authority will try out a broadcast version of Telidon early in 1980. Linked to a Department of Communications computer, OECA plans to use the Telidon system directly as a teaching instrument. Tourist information, educational games and consumer rights are only a few of the Telidon offerings to be broadcast by TV Ontario.

- Télécâble-Vidéotron, a Montreal cable company, is heading a group which plans to test Telidon as part of a complete information distribution system. Among many information providers will be La Presse, using its wire service reports, and l’Université du Québec.

- Up to 150 families in the small rural town of Elie, Manitoba will benefit from Telidon service beginning in 1981. Transmission will be via optical fibres. The Department of Communications, the Canadian Telecommunications Carriers Association, the Manitoba Telephone System and Northern Telecom Ltd are jointly supervising the implementation of this first experiment in a rural area.

The beginning of a new era

Telidon is opening up new vistas….knowledge at one’s fingertips, electronic dialogue, creativity in a new form, and the potential to broaden freedom of choice. Telidon also has the potential for considerable economic and social benefits for Canada. Commercial service may soon be available at modest cost. The eventual effects of this new technology remain to be determined. Part of the answers may come through the results of the field trials currrently in progress. The Department of Communications is working to analyze the potential benefits and pitfalls as this dramatic new technology is introduced.

Reprinted courtesy of the Department of Communications