The Communication Studio

Power of Graphics

Videotex International '85 Conference Proceedings cover

John Vaughan & Bill Porter (1983)

Presented at Videotex International October, 1985 (Amsterdam)

"Why put a geeky acronym like NAPLPS into the title of this talk?" Consider the venue.

It was 1985. Graphics on a low-cost personal computer was still new - a cutting edge concept - but expensive, non-standard, and difficult to deliver over the networks of that time - most of them still operating at less than 9600 Baud ( i.e. really, really slow).

And this talk was presented in Europe. There were already 3 major competing national browser standards in the marketplace: Prestel (Britain), Teletel (France) and Bildschirmtext (Germany). Though technically superior in many ways, the US/Canada NAPLPS standard was considered an unwelcome interloper.

My agenda here was to demonstrate the advantages and look to the future.

Note: Produced on a dot matrix printer. Classic.

Author: John Vaughan


The power of NAPLPS: beyond videotex

John Vaughan Creative Director

William B Porter Director of Software Development

The Communication Studio USA



NAPLPS is a powerful text and graphics protocol which is well suited to interactive videotex. But it also lends itself to a number of applications "beyond videotex", and provides the point of integration between conventional videotex and other, more successful industries.

John Vaughan is the Director of The Communication Studio, a New York based facility providing graphics creation, video integration, database design, custom software programming, and consultation services.

William B Porter is the Director of Software Development at The Communication Studio, and has written a number of NAPLPS software products now in use in the industry.

Presented at VIDEOTEX INTERNATIONAL: Online Publications, Pinner, UK, 1985.

The Power of NAPLPS

The North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax (NAPLPS) was initially introduced in 1982 as a graphically enhanced vehicle for the online electronic publishing area transaction services industry known oenerically as "videotex".

The videotex industry in America was originally based on monochrome ASCII ("text-only") presentation. NAPLPS was to provide videotex with sophisticated graphic presentation capapilities, thereby attracting service providers who might otherwise riot be interested in the medium (especially advertisers).

Unfortunately, tne videotex industry was not successful in implementing NAPLPS in America. Problems appeared at several levels: A failure to standardize effectively among decoder manufacturers led to confusion on the technical side. Lack of cooperation among system operators on issues regarding the exchange of common information meant much needless repetition of effort for information service providers. Exclusionary tactics by system operators limited the production and services market unneccessarily. Many information providers lacked adequate and appropriate software to effectively handle NAPLPS screen proouction aria file manamement. Hardware manufacturers were unable to deliver decoders in an affordable price ranee for consumers. Both information providers and system operators have failed to integrate their services effectively with existing and successful parallel industries. The explosive orowth of the microcomputer no doubt encroached upon much of•the anticipated videotex market, and the videotex industry as a whole was slow to perceive the microcomputer market as anything other than comoetition. As a result, NAPLPS vioeotex has been poorly implemented in America, althoudh ASCII videotex has shown at least modest growth.

What is NAPLPS?

NAPLPS is an acronym for the North American Presentation Level Protocol Syntax. It is a graphics encoding and compression technique developed by committees of the American National Standaros Institute (ANSI) and the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). It has been acceoted by the USA, Canada, and Japan to serve as their standard protocol for the communication of text and orapnic images.

NAPLPS allows for sophisticated graphics displays of varying resolution to be created, stored and transmitted in an extremely oyte efficient manner, while still supporting existing ASCII databases. The graphic compression capabilities of NAPLPS alone make it the superior choice of any service provider needing a graphics capability, whether it be for Advertising, Games, Retail Shopping, Musical Scores, Educational Tutorials, Statistical Displays or. Business Presentations.

Is there a future for NAPLPS?

Obviously, many of the mistakes which the industry has made thus far can be considered as part of "the learning curve". Should tne industry wish to pursue the ennanced presentation path (arid that is riot altouther unlikely), they can probably do better than tney have up till now.

So let's take a look at NAPLPS "beyond videotex". We may find ourselves looking at some new applications - as well as a getter way to implement some existing applications.

The Coding Structure

NAPLPS is fundamentally an ASCII superset; it uses the ASCII character set to create a byte stream which is decoded at tne local terminal into standard ASCII text, mosaics, dynamically recefinable characters (DRCs), and geometric shapes, according to procedures out in the standard. (NOTE: "Photographic quality" camera-digitized images can also be produced easily using the geometric mode.) Each of these modes of image definition is contained in its own coding table which is called a "G-set".

NAPLPS is an "open-ended" protocol, which means that it allows additional G-sets to be defined as needed for future applications, such as robot control data, audio/musical interface, videodisc and CD-ROM control, three dimensional modelling, and other special functions.

It is possioie to look at NAPLPS in anumber of different ways: 1) as an ASCII superset, 2) as a Text/Graphics Storage Technique, 3) as a Text/Graphics Transmission Technique, 4) as a Graphics Manipulation Language, 5) as an Information Coding Syntax and 6) as a Code Extension Technique.

The Service Reference Model

The NAPLPS Service Reference Model (SRM) is a set of guidelines which defines implementation requirements for videotex and teletext services. The SRM, though not mandatory, describes the maximum functional parameters for proposed videotex system information providers and tne minimum functionality for videotex decoders. Salient features of the SRM include:

Screen Display

PHYSICAL DISPLAY (256x256 minimum, 200x256 displayable on screen at one time)

COLOR (16 Colors displayable at one time out of a total palette of 5i2 colors)

MEMORY (3000 Bytes of addressable memory in the decoder, usable for storing DRCs and Macros)

G -Sets


MOSAIC CHARACTER SET (96 Mosaic characters, both contiguous and separated) DRCS (96 characters, downioadable to the decoder)

GEOMETRIC PRIMITIVE SET (Point, Line. Arc, Circle, Polygon)

MACRO SET (96 definable Macro positions)


COLOR BLINKING (Any of the 16 color positions can be blinked to any of the others, all 16 color positions may be blinked simultaneously, and each at different rates)

FILL TEXTURE MASKS (4 pre-defined fill textures, 4 user-definable fill textures)

LOGICAL PEL (User-definable drawing brush widths)

WAIT (Minimum wait interval between events of 1/10 second)


CHARACTER ROTATION (4 directions: right, left, up, down)

CHARACTER PATH (4 directions: right, left, up, down)

INTERCHARACTER SPACING (4 spacing sizes between text characters, including proportional spacing)

INTERROW SPACING (4 spacing sizes between text lines)

Code Literacy

If NAPLPS is to be used for videotex, then the Production Staff should be "NAPLPS-Literate" in the sense that they should have a functional grounding in "What it is". NAPLPS Literacy implies some understanding of how NAPLPS relates to ASCII, what are some of its adplications, some of its salient features, and the implications of working with it in a production environment. NAPLPS Literacy does riot imply a deep knowledge of NAPLPS as a coding structure, but it should de-mystify the technology for managers and artists alike, and provide the necessary common around for their working efficiently with each other - as well as with engineers and programmers.

Unique Features of NAPLPS

FLEXIBILITY The NAPLPS protocol accommodates ASCII, Mosaic and Dynamically Redefinable Character Sets, as well as Geometric drawing primitives, thereby encompassing all of the major computergraphic techniques for encoding images.

REFORMATTABILITY By using the Elemental Database design technique, it is possible to create layout and attribute modules which allow for the dynamic screen reformatting of a NAPLPS display.

ANIMATION it SPECIAL EFFECTS Sophisticated animation and special effects can be achieved through the appropriate use of the overlay, macro, scrolling field, color blink and dynamic color definition functions of NAPLPS.

ABSOLUTE/RELATIVE POSITIONING The NAPLPS protocol allows for images to be drawn in absolute mode (so that they will always appear in the same location on the screen) and also in Relative mode (so that they will appear "relative" to the last image drawn on 'the screen), thereby accommodating dynamic image generat ion.

THREE-DIMENSIONAL MODELLING The geometric (PDI) set allows for the definition of images using X,Y and Z coordinates, thereby producing a 3-D image shape.

OVERLAY DRAWING Unlike "page-based" protocols, NAPLPS allows for the selective overdrawing of portions of the screen display, thereby permitting dynamic display changes, animation, and more byte-efficient database design.

"PHOTOGRAPHIC QUALITY" DIGITIZATION Encompassed within the geometric (PDI) drawing set of NAPLPS is the ability to use camera digitization in the creation of images.

EASE OF DESIGN The geometric shapes used in designing NAPLPS screens are more natural and therefore easier for the creative artist to use than the Mosaic or DRCS character-based drawing systems.

LOCAL IMAGE STORAGE The Macro function allows the local storage of often-used images or attributes, which can then be recalled at a cost of only a few bytes.

UPGRADABILITY As an open-ended graphics protocol, NAPLPS is capable of being expanded to encompass many advanced applications, such as audio integration, videodisc and CD-ROM interface, robot and peripheral device controls, and higher resolution color and screen displays.

Applications: Beyond Videotex

We see potential uses of NAPLPS in three major areas of technical configuration:

  1. those which use a modern for communication with an external device or over a transmission line
  2. as a graphics support production utility for conventional video-based applications
  3. as the graphics display control for a microcomputer

Modem-based (Online) Applications

The NAPLPS protocol can be used in applications which require a modem (for integration with an external or peripheral device), but would not be considered "conventional videotex".

STANDALONE TERMINALS OR KIOSKS Retail Marketing, Point-of-Sale Advertising, Tourist/Travel Information, Product Catalogs

"SMART" BUILDINGS Building Directory, Company Logos, Electronic Mail, Systems Panel

CLOSED-CIRCUIT CABLE SYSTEMS Hotel Services, Updatable News Scroll, Security Monitoring

VIDEOTAPE/VIDEODISC OVERLAY Map Notation, Titling, Image Icons, Dynamic Text a. Graphics Authoring Utility

CD-ROM INTEGRATION Database Storage, Parallel Digital Audio, Software Library, Image Library

Video / Television Support

The NAPLPS protocol provides reasonable graphics and text duality to be available as a recordable and editable video sional.

  • INEXPENSIVE ANIMATION, SPECIAL EFFECTS AND TITLING Cartoons, Advertising, Industrial Training, Business-to-Business Programs
  • REMOTE PRODUCTION SUPPORT Easy to Store, Transmit and Update, Local Graphics Generation
  • UPDATABLE GRAPHICS Business Charts, Weather Icons, Team Logos and Sports Scores
  • CABLE TV INFORMATION CHANNELS Scrolling Text, Animation, Advertising
  • MUSIC VIDEOS Animation, Dynamic Graphics, Sync-to-Sound Images

Microcomputer Support

The emergence of NAPLPS software decoders on the market indicates substantial applications simply as the design, storage and display medium for microcomputer graphics.

  • COMPUTER AIDED DESIGN Shared Graohic Workspace, High-Resolution Graphics Production, 3-D Modelling
  • COMPUTER ASSISTED MANUFACTURING Robotic Controls, Work Flow Diagrams, System Monitoring Panel
  • EDUCATION/TRAINING Graphic Reinforcement, Easy Graohic/Text Updating and Customization, Maps and Charts
  • GAMES & SIMULATIONS "Face of tne Interface" for Microcomputers, Dynamic Modelling, Animation, Music and Audio Support
  • BUSINESS APPLICATIONS Graphs & Cnarts, Business Presentations, Graphic Continuity among Applications
  • TELECONFERENCING Electronic Mail, Image & Document Exchang4, Shared Working Environment

The Future and the Market

NAPLPS is an idea whose time has come. Its advantages over existing methods are apparent on paper, but not yet fully realized in terms of "real world" implementation. But with major North American communications and computer equipment manufacturers like AT&T, ITT, Digital Equipment, RCA, NBC, CBS, Rockwell, Macrotel, Norpak, Electrohome, Motorola, Sperry and Honeywell committed to the standard, the near future is very bright.

Computer marketing giant IBM now supports NAPLPS through its Series 1 minicomputers, and microcomputer-based PC-Videotex software decoder/database manager and frame creation products. Several independent software houses have also developed software decoders for the IBM PC, and there are a number of NAPLPS graphics boards now on the market. (Software decoders and boards have been developed as well for the Apple // series, Macintosh, and Commodore microcomputers.) This would seem to indicate the likelihood that NAPLPS will emerge as THE definitive business graphics display software of the future.

Nor should we overlook "Japan, Inc". The Japanese have committed themselves to several NAPLPS-based trials and services, and electronic production giants like Sony, Matsushita/Panasonic, Mitsui and Casio already have NAPLPS products on the market.

NAPLPS is unparalleled as a byte-efficient technique for both storing and transmitting text/graphic files. It is graphically sophisticated, dynamic, uogradable, highly flexible and expandable across a broad range of applications. Furthermore, it is supported by a number of exisiting products in the field. Whatever happens (or doesn't happen) to videotex, the future for NAPLPS looks very bright, indeed.