Philips > Introduction


Almost totally hidden from the public, the Philips group of companies were busy developing and utilising viewdata throughout their business right from the very start.  

Subsidiary company Mullard had been instrumental in developing the chips necessary for displaying viewdata on TV sets, and in 1976, only shortly after the Post Office gave their first demonstrations to the industry PRL [Philips Research? Lab?] was using a "spare" P800 series minicomputer to develop and run a viewdata service computer to test and demonstrate the products.  Philips had been producing Minicomputers through the 1970s after gaining experience selling Honeywell systems, and the P800 was one of their products.  It's hard to imagine any company having a "spare" one in other circumstances!

When in 1978 the Managing Director tasked Tony Metcalf to "find out about applications for teletext and videotex" the route was set for a long and productive association with the technology.  Initially being involved with the modified TV sets for Prestel's trials, over the following ten years, a range of dedicated terminals were developed, and television technology was improved and made safe enough to allow full keyboards, printers, etc. to be attached.  Under his direction, the test viewdata service, dubbed "MOVIES", expanded it's role to become an integral part of the company.

There were some attempts to sell the P800 and server software commercially, but these were soon abandoned due to the poor performance.  Even the in-house system was replaced with a Rediffusion minicomputer in 1980.

Working with Rediffusion, the software was improved until by 1982 it was being termed the "Prestel Look Alike", and the increased capabilities were allowing integration and data exchange with the business side IBM mainframe applications to be developed.  Philips had had static pages and online order forms on Prestel since 1979, but these relied on the messages being downloaded and re-keyed into the order system.  The new applications allowed live orders to be created on the MOVIES service, and, with the opening up of the system in 1984 to Philips Service's dealer network, it was claimed that Mullard Distribution doubled it's business within a year, with no need to increase staff numbers.  

At the end of 1989, another change of hardware, this time to the Digital Equipment VAX, and with the vastly improved performance, the service was opened up further to allow retail sales..