• Jun 9th 2008 at 7:29PM
  • 31
To subsidize the BBC's programming, UK residents are compelled to pay a TV licensing fee (this is what we also call a "tax") if they choose to watch television programs in their homes. To encourage compliance, the Beeb invented the myth of the "Television Detector" van, which supposedly contained powerful antennae that were capable of zeroing in on any house that was watching television without a license. Hell, they could even tell what show you were watching, according to the ominous TV commercial we've embedded after the jump. Anyway, the BBC's fleet of Television Detector vehicles is really more silly than sinister, and oobject, a site that puts together interesting themed gadget lists, has a gallery of TV detector trucks as they appeared through the years. We wonder if there are secret field-ops TV Detector trucks in the U.S. "Got 'em. They're watching Top Gear." Remember, while you watch the BBC, the BBC is watching you.

[Source: oobject]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 7 Years Ago
      I'm not surprised. The Germans employ vans like this to find out how many devices you have in your house to make sure you're being honest in paying your tax (for every stereo, tv, computer etc.) It's not exhorbitant but it exist. One of their reps came into my shop once and stood there staring at my tv playing a dvd and i told them he couldn't charge me because it was an NTSC only system so i therefore wasn't receiving the PAL signal. He was quite livid. Also, Sky still monitors what you're watching. (the telephone jack in the back of the receivers) And no, it's not just to update and activate your cards
      • 7 Years Ago
      Simply turn the TV off. Much better.
      • 7 Years Ago
      BBC TV = "Big Brother Co. Teevee...
      • 7 Years Ago
      At least they don't have to put up with the BBC begging the public for money every few weeks. The BBC carries no advertising. More than you ever wanted to know...
      • 7 Years Ago
      okay. They charge you TV tax because they want to make their report un-biased, independent from government, independent from sponsors. That, my friend, is the purpose of charging the TV tax.
        • 7 Years Ago
        I guess that's why the bbc recently did an internal study to find out that they are in fact leaning far left on the political spectrum. I guess it's good at least they admit it.
        • 7 Years Ago
        Also there are no commercials.
      • 7 Years Ago
      Not so farfetched...
      My great uncle worked (at SRI) on something very similar in the United States many decades ago.
      The idea was that each TV station would include in the image they broadcast a small, unique symbol. It would be in the far corner of the image, and so would not display on the visible screen. However, the consistent frequency pattern made by the tube as it swept the identifying image would be picked up by antennae mounted on... yep, roving vans.
      The pattern could be identified to tell how many people, or with enough directionality, who in particular was watching certain channels.
      It wasn't to charge people to watch, just for statistics, as an alternative to polls. To my knowledge, it never came into use.
        • 7 Years Ago
        never used.....yeah right.
      • 7 Years Ago

      According to this article, there is a way to see what someone is looking at on their computer screen.


      The BBC TV detector van might actually be real.
      • 7 Years Ago

      Years ago, there were vans that roamed neighborhoods in the USA. They were looking for people who had small satellite dishes and receivers that illegally received HBO signals.

      I don't know if they still do this.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I lived in the Midlands in the '70s. BBC1, BBC2 and Thames Television were all you could get. The TV Tax was only 25 pounds. Most people hired their TVs. I remember the bloke living next door; you could hear him deposit 50p coins into his TV for and evening of viewing. And believe me, the Brits were in love with American shows.
      Now I've got digital cable; 151 channels and nothing on!
      • 7 Years Ago
      I was once caught in Japan by NHK for having their BS satellite dish on our roof. We bought the dish from a third party and never subscribed to the actual service.
      It was a guy in a black suit, and he had climbed on top of a wall to peek onto the roof.
      This was about 8 years ago.
      • 7 Years Ago
      I never ever even imagined that there were people in the world who were paying stupid taxes just for owning a television set.

      This TV tax has to be the most retarded thing I've ever heard of.

      I can't even imagine these silly gun-less blokes sloping around the neighborhoods in England looking for television sets.

      What a waste of human productivity, peeping through windows to see if someone has a color TV.

      Reminds me of North Korean secret police going door-to-door making sure nobody is tuning their radio to oversea stations.

      And you wonder why George Orwell compared BBC to totalitarianism?
      • 7 Years Ago
      It really is possible.

      Most tuners today (or at least back when the ads ran) are what are called superheterodyne tuners, which use a local oscillator a set frequency below the one they are trying to tune. I beleive an offset of 10.7 MHz is a common one. (If you're interested in why, search for "local oscillator" and "mixer" on wiki).

      Given the cheap components used in commercial appliances, quite a lot of this signal leaks out can be detected readily at short to medium distances. If you detect the 10.7 MHz signal, you know a TV (or radio..) is on.

      You can also try to detect the signal 10.7 MHz below the tuned frequency, which will tell you which channel is being tuned.

      I'm not sure how well they could locate the TV. The twin beams might allow some triangulation, but I think it'd be more on the order of "that house over there" rather than "in the front room by the window".

      Note that this local oscillator leakage is also the same method used for radar-detector detctors, and spawned an arms race of "stealth" detectors that used non-standard local oscillator frequencies.

      I'm not sure what's used today, it's possible that direct digital tuning or digitally synthesized oscillators might be cheap enough and common enough to toss all this out the window, but at least up to the 80's or 90's this was definitely possible.

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