AT&T Archives - The Viewtron System and Sceptre Videotex Terminal (1983)





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Published on Feb 27, 2012

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Viewtron was AT&T's third attempt at a telephone-based information system that fed data to a terminal in the user's home. The first was EIS, from 1979. It was tested in a few regional markets, including the Albany, NY area. Viewtron was the next generation. This film gives an overview of the systems available internationally as well as profiling the features of Viewtron.

Viewtron ran on your television, navigated via Sceptre terminal and fed via modem. It used a teletext graphical interface with basic, early multicolor 'paint' type graphics — on the NAPLPS standard (North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax). The system was test-marketed in Florida by Viewtron, a company formed by the collaboration of AT&T and Knight-Ridder. It rolled out 4 years after EIS, in 1983. It offered many more services than EIS (which was limited to the phone book, Dr. Joyce Brothers' column, weather, headlines, and sports scores), including online shopping and games.

The system never went national, though other companies marketed their versions in other local markets (like Keyfax in Chicago and Gateway in L.A., among others). The best part of this film, in particular, is getting to see what kind of services were offered and what they looked like on-screen. But in practice, the service was slow, expensive, and maybe a little too far ahead of its time. There just weren't enough customers who could justify both the cost of the terminal and the monthly — and hourly — charges to make it profitable for Viewtron. In 1986, the company pulled the plug on the experiment.

Teletext (or videotex) systems still existed as late as the 2010s, but they were a disappearing medium. You still see them in use on cable television (circa 2012), especially on local public access stations for broadcasting events and schedules. The BBC cancelled their Ceefax teletext signal during 2012.

Footage courtesy of AT&T Archives and History Center, Warren, NJ


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