UK television viewers can participate in games shows from their armchairs with a new system from Two Way TV Ltd. The service follows trials in 200 homes in the Birmingham, West Midlands region. Up to four players in each home can participate in 30 different shows each week using the Two Way TV handset. Scores are accumulated in the handset during the game. At the end the scores are send back via a built-in modem to the company’s central computer in London and the winners are identified on screen. The phone call back to the central computer takes only eight to 15 seconds and is paid for by Two Way TV. Some prizes are on offer for the winners – ú20 is the going rate at the moment, but company chairman Bill Andrewes said he sees scope for advertising promotions here. The system works by sending a stream of data synchronised with the television programme’s signal, using the Vertical Blanking Interval. This makes the service available to UK homes. The signal is decoded by the handset. This puts a graphic overlay on the television screen so both the picture and text can be seen. Other services enable users to click a button to view full horse racing text and a fast results service as well as racing coverage with Channel 4 and the Football Association Carling Premiership Football as broadcast on Sky. PA News is also providing the up-to-date sporting information to subscribers.
Similar information services are available on other television shows including facts about the stars in Coronation Street and background and information about artists performing on Top of the Pops. Quiz shows that users can participate in include Mastermind, Fifteen to One, Wheel of Fortune and Family Fortunes. There are programmes for children as well. Two Way TV tested the service to 200 homes in Birmingham and said it found it increased ratings. The Two Way TV box uses a Motorola Inc 68000 chip and Hitachi Ltd H8 processor, 1Mb RAM and 512Kb Flash EPROM for operating system storage. The central computer system is a real time Unix network running proprietary software. The handsets can be bought outright for ú200 or rented for ú6 a month. In both cases there is a ú6 monthly subscription. Two Way TV was founded in 1991 when the development of the system began. It has around ú11m backing from companies that include Electra Investment Management Ltd, Mercury Asset Management Ltd and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.