Montreal Radio Blog

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Do You Remember Videoway?

It was in 1989 that cable TV became more interesting in Montreal. If you were with Videotron, you will definitely remember the Videoway unit. It was available right through to around 1999, when it was replaced by digital receivers. I think you could still have held on to your Videoways until sometime in 2004.

In addition to being pay-tv decoders, these boxes offered the first true glimpse of interactivity between consumers and their cable service. This was before the Internet as we know it, so this kind of stuff looked super cool at the time, and was a precursor of things to come.

What could you do with one of these boxes? Well, you could use it to check the weather forecast, the lottery results and stuff like that, but I would say the most popular feature was its games. These were crude games even by early 1990s standards, but they proved to be very popular. You played them using your remote control, and that would easily ruin your remote in no time. They came out with an attachment and then a modified remote specifically for the games. At one point, there was even a Videotron channel television program dedicated to the games, where youngsters would compete against each other. There are still games available on Illico, although I have not played them. They appear to be just as crude by today's standards.

This was the first system in North America that introduced the concept of interactive TV. There were a limited number of programs available that would allow you to chose your vantage point, story option or camera. They tried this during hockey and baseball telecasts. You could chose the camera angle you wanted to see. It was way ahead of its time. There is still interactive programming, but interactivity has mostly come to mean something else today. It's more about accessing information at will than about choosing camera angles. But it would be neat to have those options nowadays when watching a hcokey game, for example.

One of the other features of this system that never really took off was electronic mail. You could receive messages from the cable company. I can't remember if you could send them yourself. Few people could have imagined what true email would become a few short years later. And then there was the first version of the interactive television guide. Suddenly, you could see a description of what you were watching and a schedule of what was to come. Another then-novelty that has become a standard...

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