The Canadian Bell Alextel terminal. It can still do graphics!
Some time back, I acquired a Canadian Bell Alextel terminal. It’s very similar to Minitel terminals that are very common in France but the Alextel terminals here are not so easy to find. Below are some pictures. One of those pictures shows the main screen when I turned it on. Well, I put it away because it was nice to have but I couldn’t do anything with it.
The Bell Canada Alex service had long disappeared. I was not a subscriber because it was expensive and I wasn’t old enough to have the available income to afford such a monthly service. It intrigued me because it rendered graphical menus that you could interact with to access various services, all over a phone line. This type of technology, to me, was cool. My first experience with computer was when a Telidon terminal (a similar experimental service) was wheeled into my classroom in Grade 6 or 7 and I watched the magical graphics being drawn on screen as I watched in amazement.
Well, fast forward to modern day. I’ve been playing with a Telidon development board (a topic of another post coming) and I had heard that the Alextel did NAPLPS graphics but I had not seen it in modern day anywhere. NAPLPS was a standard created by several North American companies that expanded the original Telidon 709 protocol used on the Telidon development board. It has to so these graphics but how do I talk to an Alextel on a phone line and why did my Alextel screen not show the Telephone directory menu I had seen in other photos?
I had an additional issue with my contrast growing almost non-existent when I turned the Alextel on and it warmed up so I ended up opening it up to see if I could repair it. Let me tell you that if you attempt to open up an Alextel terminal, there are three screws that hold it together but plenty of very stiff tabs that make it almost impossible to move out of place to open the unit. My menu and configuration keys would not do anything so I took apart the keyboard and cleaned it up. I thought it might have taken a liquid spill at some point. I am certain I didn’t do anything to help the issue because it looked totally fine. While I first thought I might have had dodgy aged capacitors, they were actually all fine. However, the potentiometer that adjusted the contract level was shot. I replaced that. When putting it back together, I noticed that the bottom communication board did not snap into place easily and there had been a previous attempt at opening this unit before I got it. When I put it back together, I ensured this board mated properly and it worked!
Since this particular unit doesn’t have a direct serial port, I used a Viking DLE-200B phone line simulator to talk to it via a modem connected PC. Through some experimentation, I was able to send the Alextel terminal some graphic images. A sample Minitel videotex image file I found on the Internet worked as well as a couple of NAPLPS image files and it also did the older Telidon 709 graphic files. I was overjoyed to see this.
Here is a video of how it works: