DirecTV: UltimateTV

Ultimate TV was a partnership between DirecTV and Microsoft, who were looking to expand their WebTV platform. The DISH Player had launched a year prior with DISH network, and has also used the WebTV platform as a basis of its DVR software.

DirecTV also launched a DVR with Tivo, known as the DirecTivo which integrated two DSS satellite tuners into the Tivo system, which allowed for two channels to be recorded at the same time. Something that could not be done on the regular Tivo’s of the time, which required an external set top box to be connected.

Hardware was manufactured by RCA and Sony who had also made standalone WebTV hardware. Receivers typically came with a 40GB hard disk and twin DSS tuners

My Shows

List of all recordings made, and any upcoming shows to be recorded

Another screenshot of the My Shows section, this time with recordings grouped by title name

More recordings of different episodes of the same show

At launch dual channel recording was not possible, and inital functionality c

Interactive

An interactive prompt, WebTV was one of the main interactive platforms

Pay-Per-View

PPV movie and events could be ordered and recorded

Favourite Channels

Separate lists can be made to store favourite channels

Category Search

Searching for a specific program, you can choose from various filters

Searching by actor and a combination of categories

Someone here was clearly a fan of Friends

Searching by Day

You can filter to a specific feature that a program supports, like subtitles

Search by age rating

Filtering by the period of day

Or by decade period

Or by a search term / keyword. This was similar to what Tivo had offered

Additional Search terms

DISH Player

Dish Network also had their own DVR which ran using the WebTV middleware, known as the DISH Player. This was very similar to the UltimateTV but was released one year prior. Two models were released, the 7100 and 7200, both manufactured by Echostar and feature a single tuner. The 7100 has a 8GB Hard Disk, whilst the 7200 has 17.8GB.

A software update was released in December 1999 that enabled full DVR functionality. Prior to that it was only possible to live pause TV for 30 minutes. A $10 subscription fee was required, reducing to $5 if you took out a WebTV subscription also.

Images were originally captured from iwantptv.com before the site went offline

Channel 1 is the PTV (personal TV) channel, which is where the DVR is managed. You can view recorded shows which the DVR can self manage, older watched shows are deleted automatically to make space for upcoming shows.

  • TV Home: The main screen where you can access the guide, personal TV and any other services offered by WebTV and DISH Network.
  • Settings: Change receiver settings
  • TV Listings: The main TV guide and search engine
  • Web Home: Opens the WebTV browser
  • Help: Gives you information on how to use the receiver
  • Purchases: Pay Per View shows will appear when when purchased
  • TV Sites: TV Channel related sites like Fox News, CNN, etc
  • Games: Basic games that have been downloaded to the hard drive
  • Notices: Displays any messages sent to the box like service announcements

Only satellite programs can be recorded, OTA terrestrial ATSC channels can not be recorded, only watched live.

Conclusion

Microsoft didn’t last long in the North American DVR market, and the WebTV based DVR’s would be replaced not long after. DirecTV continued their partnership with Tivo and would eventually introduce their own branded DVR’s running NDS XTV software. DISH would replace the DISH Player with their own DISH DVR models.

Part of the reason was the poor initial reception due to the poor and buggy software during the early years of WebTV DVR’s, with reports of freezing and missed recordings, along with audio and visual glitches. It would be some time before these issues were sorted out, and Microsoft wasn’t very engaging on the software side of things which made it difficult for DirecTV or DISH to push software updates.

This wouldn’t be the last we would see of Microsoft attempting to enter the set top box market, the Mediaroom middleware would launch and power the ATT U-Verse and BT Vision services, and would also demo the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition for the Comcast/Motorola DCT platform.

The Simpsons Bowling

A bowling game developed by Konami and released only in arcades. Here you can choose from a select amount of Simpsons characters, each with their own unique stats and ending animations.

Bowling has always been one of the main pastimes shown in the actual show and several characters have had plots involving bowling, or the location Barney’s Bowlarama, where Homer sets up a minor Bowling league, or where Marge tries to take an interest in Bowling and nearly end’s up having an affair. It would also appear in the background, Homer would occasionally be seen playing bowling.
With Bowling being a popular concept of The Simpsons, it’s inevitable they would make a game out of it.

Despite running on PlayStation-based hardware, the game was only released in arcades. It’s possible a home port was planned but was abandoned when Konami lost the Simpsons license

Gameplay

There are two types of game modes that can be selected:
Standard Game – Typical bowling mode, on default settings you can score up to 300 points across 10 frames.
Spares Game – Same as standard, but there is a money mechanic. The player needs to make the most money in order to win. The bowling pins are randomly selected and require a lot more strategy in order to win

The game has the option of a normal control scheme or an easier mode. The difference is the process of firing the bowling ball, the easy mode just requires you to spin the trackball to launch the bowling ball, whilst the normal mode requires you to press the 1P button when the icon moves in the green area, sort of like a QTE/Timing minigame. Both modes can then be chosen by the players instead of the arcade operator.

You can change your character’s starting positions, and adjust the curve on their ball with is a key component of scoring.

HP Vectra VEi8 (86Box)

Vectra is a line of desktop PC’s by HP that are targeted towards the business/Home Office segment, like the Dell OptiPlex or the Compaq Deskpro series of computers. Typically come with Intel Celeron/Pentium processors and onboard video.

The VEi8 can feature a Pentium II running at 350/400MHz or a Pentium III at 450/500MHz. with a Intel 440ZX chipset. Onboard video is the Matrox Millennium G200 with 8MB of graphics memory, which 86Box does not yet emulate

Not much branding here…

Recovery Disc

We have the option of restoring either a Windows 95 or Windows 98 image.

Windows 95 didn’t go as planned as we encountered a protection error upon boot up. At first I though the CPU used was too fast for Windows 95 as early builds had issues with CPU’s over a certain speed due to a race condition that’s executed upon boot up. A patch is available but you need to be in the Windows environment in order to install it. Downgrading the CPU and its speed had no effect in 86box.
Sadly I wasn’t able to fix this, and went for the Windows 98 option instead.

Post Install

There isn’t much to see here, since its pretty close to a vanilla Windows install compared to the Compaq Presario, just a few HP utilities. I guess the Vecta line were intended to be used in business and office environment who would prefer to control and maintain the software that they would install.

Upon the first reboot a tutorial is run which gives a basic demonstration on how to use a computer. This looks like some sort of Windows 3.1 environment and only appears once.

Installed Software

HP TopTools

HP TopTools

Looks to be a hardware diagnostic application that shows detailed information on your system.

McAfee

McAfee Antivirus and crash monitor are preinstalled by default and provide basic protection.

Supplementary Hardware

The real motherboard supports two floppy disks, and four IDE devices across two channels. Additional drives can be added by installing a SCSI adaptor in 86Box. Here I was using the Tekram DC-390 which Windows 98 detected as a AMD PCI SCSI controller automatically and installed a driver for it.
This wasn’t 100% perfect as adding a hard disk or a writable ZIP or Magneto optical disk would cause a blue screen upon boot up. Since we want to attached a writable drive to the computer, this was far from ideal
I tried installing a driver I found online but it had no effect, there is an issue when using this adaptor in 86Box. I switched it out for another PCI SCSI card, Buslogic but it had the same issue with a BSOD upon boot up when a writable drive is attached.

That’s a lie, it wouldn’t continue normally

Couldn’t find anything online relating to the BSOD above, any results turn up of that video of Windows 98 crashing in front of Bill Gates after plugging in a scanner.

In the end I tried to use another SCSI card instead, this time a ISA based card which required me to disable PCI IRQ steering for IRQ 10 & 11 to free up an IRQ slot for both the SCSI and the sound card.
Which made no difference, it still BSOD upon boot up.

I even mounted the image as write protected but it made little to no difference.
The rest of the devices (Zip 250/CD-ROM drives) worked fine, just hard disks and the magneto optical drives caused the BSOD.

I did notice an odd issue when I added the slave IDE hard drive, where Windows would BSOD with an error about drive D: which it would have been mounted as. Booting from the Windows 95 start disk and formatting as FAT32 seemed to fix it as after booting up the system was fine, and the new volume was detected and mounted in My Computer.
My guess is HP are using some unorthodox driver that interfacing when another volume or partition is added.

For networking the Realtek RTL8029 was used, which Windows 98 has built in drivers for.
3D acceleration is possible by adding a 3DFX Voodoo card, which Windows 98 will also have a driver for but you will be better off installing an updated driver instead.

In terms of expansion, the motherboard itself has 3 ISA and 3 PCI slots

  • ISA: BusLogic BT-545S, IRQ: 10, 0x334 DMA 7
  • ISA: Realtek RTL8029AS
  • ISA: Crystal CS4236B
  • PCI: S3 Trio64V+
  • PCI: 3DFX Voodoo graphics accelerator

Technical Manual

Uh Oh…

Simpsons Cartoon Studio

Create your own Simpsons episode

The games introduction and user interface, characters can be added from the main Simpsons roster. First the cartoon background is selected which are taken from the show. Props, characters and special effects are later added which can include music or speech quotes.

Whilst the program is easy to learn and pick up, the challenge is trying to get all the animations to line up with each other, since each character animations are set in pre-defined sequenced like a walking, jumping and running being separate set animations. If you wish to chain multiple animations together, care must be taken to ensure this is seamless since its possible for animations sequences to be placed freely in the frame, the previous animations might end on a different position to when the new frame starts resulting in jerky appearance. Custom animations cannot be made, you are limited to what the game has shipped with and for the additional Simpsons characters there are a limited amount.

The only real good use of the game is to make screenshots, getting good animation is a pain to do.

Changing the background image of the frame from the predefined section

Marge gets fed up with Krusty showing violent cartoons and takes matters into her own hands

Homer and Ned decide to have a race at the power plant

Principal Skinner, concerned with Bart’s grade tries to talk to Homer and Marge

Microsoft Windows

Installing the game which uses a 16bit installer which means it won’t install under a 64bit operating system, but will work finer if you manually copy the files over. Something crashed towards the end with a device read error. This didn’t seem to impact the game in any way as it still ran just fine.

Mac OS

There was also a Mac OS release which runs on the classic Mac OS

The Sims Hot Date

The third expansion pack and one that brought a major change to the mechanics of the game, the main one being the introduction of community lots and the concept of your sims leaving their lots (well they could technically leave to go to work in the base game)

Also included a nice jazzy soundtrack when editing or vising downtown lots.

Installing the game requires the original game CD, or the House Party disc if that expansion pack is installed, as the game will install the original audio files to the hard drive. Previously the game would stream the audio from the CD to save disc space at the expense of performance.
If installing over the Deluxe Edition expansion pack, the user will need to run the deluxe edition installer before they can play the game, this is because the deluxe edition was released after Hot Date.

No new neighborhoods have been included with this expansion, but if you are missing the created neighbourhoods from the House Party expansion (Hoods 5-8) then the installer will create them for you. They will be typical blank neighborhoods without any houses or premade sims.

Upon starting the game, new sims will be generated. These will be your townies that are used for downtown.

Downtown, a new sub-neighborhood. Each hood has its own version of downtown with its own generated set of townies. Sims cannot visit a downtown from another hood.

The user interface has been updated with new features

Original user interface
From Hot Date onwards

The house meter and the friend’s meter have been removed and have not been replaced. They were removed in favor of adding the inventory and interests panels.
The inventory panel shows objects that are stored by the sims, these can be gifts that have been received by other sims, or prizes won by various games.

Downtown

A new sub-neighborhood, and the first to be included in the Sims engine. There are lots that your sim can visit with other sims.

You can have different themed downtown lots that cater to a specific
Restaurants typically have a podium, a kitchen with a commercial over, and a dining booth or dining table/seats

Shops generally have till’s and can have clothes racks that sims can browse and buy new clothes, or skins as they are referred to. There are also entertainment lots that have activities like pool tables, pinball machines and slot machines

The default lots for Hot Date make use of objects from the base game and the expansion itself, but not objects from other expansions. With this in mind, you can create new downtown lots using objects or themes from other expansions, like a nightclub using the DJ booth and dance floor from House Party. A spare downtown lot exists (23 Wright Way) for this purpose.

Objects

The buy mode catalog has been updated, and new sub-categories have been added to help classify items better. Downtown lots also have their own categories, depending on what type of lot you wish to build. Here objects are sorted into shops, restaurants, outdoor

Niagra Love Tub

A hot tub that can seat two sims, who can cuddle and woohoo play

Dawnette Hooded Stove

An oven that occupies two titles, can be placed downtown and is required to operate a restaurant

Bachmeier Grand Piano

A more expensive piano, placing this downtown will spawn a dedicated piano player NPC

Boggs Home Canning Center

Allows your sim to make preserves at home to sell, also increases the cooking skill

Laguna Vista Instand Pond

A fish pond where your sim can feed fish and place boats, multiple sims can use this

Bel-Air Dining Booth

Sims will sit after they order a meal at the podium, works as part of a restaurant set otherwise function as a regular table and chairs

Kiosk

Items such as flowers, toys, chocolate, and a copy of the game itself are sold here and can be bought by your sim, A cash till nearby is required to order

Food Counters

Two exist, one for ice cream and another for burgers, bars also exist for drinks

Social Interactions

New social interactions have been added, and the social system has been revamped for each sim to better handle interactions. Many have been grouped into one main social interaction, which then has a few sub-interactions. E.g. Talk has the ‘About Interests’, ‘Gossip’ & ‘Brag’ interactions. Entertain has ‘Joke’ and ‘Juggle’ interactions.

Compaq Presario 4500 (86Box)

86box has been able to emulate a large amount of motherboards, and has recently added a few OEM desktop systems to its roster. These are mostly faithful to the original hardware to the extent that you can access their bios. Quite a few OEM recovery discs have popped up on Archive.org which will only run on those actual systems they were intended for, since they often include an OEM copy of Windows.


Whilst this emulates the motherboard and the BIOS firmware that was shipped, certain pieces of hardware are left unemulated like the graphics adapter or the soundcard. Fortunately you are able to substitute alternative components, but you might run into issues upon first boot up since Windows may not have drivers preinstalled. The machine here I’m trying to emulate is a Compaq Presario 4500, of which the specifications can be found here: http://h10032.www1.hp.com/ctg/Manual/bpb12296.pdf

Compaq QuickRestore Utility

This ran straight off the CD-ROM which was bootable from the BIOS and performed a few tests before initialising the hard drive, which had been newly created and had no partitions. After copying was done, the system rebooted and Windows 95 started up.
This utility did require me to enter the serial number of the system, which I was able to find online.

Setting Up Windows 95

After the first reboot Windows seemed to have problems finding the graphics driver and reverted to using the failsafe VGA driver instead, which limited us to 16 colours. At this point we were prompted to register our system and to fill out the registration form. I somehow doubt Compaq (Or HP as its now known) have the registration servers active.
After manually installing the graphics drivers for the S3 ViRGE that I had selected for the system, Windows went to the desktop and we are presented with the default Compaq desktop theme.

Bundled Applications & Utilities

Compaq Quick Access: Runs in the background and provides functionality for shortcuts to be used on the keyboard that would have shipped with the system. Here you can reconfigure the different ‘Easy Access Button’ to perform different function. By default they are used for the calculator and to open in the internet browser.
This utility also manages the on screen display, which appears when the volume keys are pressed or if one of the media control keys (Play, Fast Forward, Rewind) are used. I’m not sure if 86box is capable of passing these commands through since it only emulates a regular PC keyboard.

Compaq Diagnostics: Displays information about your computer system and the Windows OS. You can view the specifications here

SPRYNET Connection Manager: Manages internet connections for the dial up analogue modem, replaces the standard Windows utility.

The Palce: A third party application that was bundled with the system, it seems to be some sort of online chat room server, similar to IRC but uses animated avatars and colour backgrounds to give the illusion of environment. Users could join different room dedicated to certain subjects. This Compaq system would have come with a free trial allowance to entice the customer to subscribe, beck before social media mould datamine the hell out of you.
Sadly the servers are long gone.

SimCity 2000: Not sure what this is doing here, its just the network client and not the full game, maybe it was bundled with the Palace as a game that could be played using it? The full game is not bundled here.

Microsoft Works: The OG Oxymoron, this was a basic version of Microsoft Office bundled with OEM systems to give them basic Office functionality. It is considered productivity software suite which combines a word processor, spreadsheet and a basic database system. As it was a lot cheaper than Microsoft Office, it was commonly bundled with OEM systems to increase their value, although it was also available separately.

Money 97: Software to help manage your bills and bank accounts, before internet banking was widespread. I like the interface design and art used here, you defiantly wouldn’t expect to come across design like this in accounting software

AOL: Also bundled with the system and serves as the recommended ISP

Compaq Quickrestore For Compaq Presario 4500 Series

86box Github

The Palace (Archive)

Mac OS X Puma (10.1)

Windows XP caught us off guard…

Cheetah wasn’t well-received in terms of performance and compatibility and understandably so, given that this was a completely new OS environment with steep hardware requirements compared to OS9. With this in mind, Apple continued to improve OS X and released Puma a few months later.
System requirements were still the same, you still required 128MB for adequate performance (despite the iMac G3 shipping with 32MB as standard a few years before), for most users installing OS X necessitated a few hardware upgrades.

Install

Here we installed over Mac OS 9.2 as an upgrade which would have given us compatibility with the classic applications by using the classic environment. Compared to OS X Cheetah, more languages and print drivers are included. Again like Cheetah we miss out on the graphics acceleration and sound support.

Setup Assistant

Mostly is the same as the Cheetah version, a lot of the forums are compulsory like the address and contact details which is pointless in this version can no longer connect to Apple

Login Screen

Login screen

Desktop

Most improvements are made under the hood, the user appearance resembling the same as Cheetah.
Many of the existing applications that shipped with Cheetah were included in Puma, being slightly updated versions of Internet Explorer and QuickTime.

Browsing the filesystem using the Finder. Seemingly it has issues displaying the filename on CD/FAT filesystems

iTunes

iTunes makes its Mac OS debut in Puma. This version functions as a media player that is capable of importing CD’s and managing a CD library. A basic internet radio station is supported here, but the servers are no longer functional. I’m not sure if this build can sync with an iPod since it was released before the first iPod was released.

Mail

iMovie

Create and edit moves imported from a digital video camera, typically used on Mac with built-in Firewire. iMovie would later be included in the iLife suite.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer has been slightly upgraded compared to the previous release and is running a later build

Acrobat Reader

Acrobat reader is included with the operating system. One of the early features of OS X was the use of PDF rendering embedded into the operating system. A separate version is provided here since it includes features the embedded version lacks.

iDVD

For Macs with DVD drives and an MPEG2 accelerator, a DVD player is offered which was once offered in Mac OS 9. Since QEMU does not emulate an MPEG2 decoder and there is no graphics acceleration we are unable to access the interface.

System Preferences

The system preferences panel has been redesigned and applets are sorted into groups for easier navigation.

Imageviewer

Classic / Start up

Changing the startup mode, on an actual Mac will change which operating system boots the machine, but on QEMU it will brick your install. The classic environment will still work as normal

Screensavers

A nice selection of screensavers that take advantage of the new graphics engine.

System Profiler

Gives much more detailed information on your system, including the software components and the hardware installed in your Mac

Applications & Games

We had better luck getting apps to run in this version compared to Cheetah

The Sims

We were finally able to run The Sims, which we had failed to do previously. This was a Carbon-based app which was an API that allowed for use for Mac OS Classic and OS X. OpenGL is the main rendering engine used here, and this is integrated into OS X.

3D titles however are more of a problem with the emulator, which lacks 3D acceleration which means we have to rely on software rendering, and many games of the time were starting to require hardware T&L

Microsoft Office X

Microsoft’s popular productivity suite had a version specifically for OS X and takes advantage of the user interface elements. Functionality is similar to Office XP which was released at the time.

Norton

Norton had released their Utilities for OS X, which is a collection of software typically geared towards maintenance. Here you can run tasks that can check your mac’s hard disk, and access Norton AntiVirus if it’s installed.

PageSpinner

An HTML text editor for OS X and one of the first to be carbonized for OS X.

Windows Media Player

Opera

One of the other alternative browsers for OS X, If Internet Explorer or Netscape isn’t your thing. Curiously I did try Netscape navigator 6 but this required classic environment and wasn’t a native OS X application.

Mac OS 9.2

This was the last release of the classic Mac OS operating system, before it was discontinued in favour of Mac OS X. The emulator used here is a custom build of QEMU that has sound support.

QEMU config file, remove the ^ and collapse everything onto one line

qemu-system-ppc-screamer-fpu.exe ^
-L pc-bios ^
-M mac99,via=pmu ^
-m 256 ^
-sdl ^
-boot c ^
-drive file=quicktime.img,format=raw,media=cdrom ^ //CD-ROM Drive
-drive file=MacOS9.2.img,format=raw,media=disk ^ //IDE Master HDD
-drive file=Software.img,format=raw,media=disk //IDE Slave HDD

Up to four disk drives can be accepted by QEMU?OS 9.2, five if you use USB

Install

Mac systems will boot into a live cd like environment where the hard disk can be partitioned and formatted. In some circumstances, the Mac firmware can be upgraded here, which may be required to install.

The setup assistant that runs after you reboot following the install. It mainly helps with connecting to the internet or a network and configures sharing options

Applications

OS9.2 comes with plenty of bundled applications, many of which can be configured from the installer. This allows for you to pick and choose applications to install, and to disable un-needed applications

Apple Extras

A folder on the CD-ROM that has additional applications, similar to the VALUEADD folder on Windows discs that contain various optional utilities.

Apple Video Player

Plays back MPEG video and works best with an MPEG addon expansion card.

AppleCD Audio Player

The CD player of which QEMU does not pass the audio data to the virtual machine, so it wasn’t possible to test the CD Player functionality.

Internet Explorer

Internet Explorer Mac OS

Internet Explorer 5 shipped with Mac OS 9.2 and was the default browser on default installations. Unlike the desktop version, the Mac version used the Tasman rendering engine rather than the Trident engine the PC versions used. The interface is remarkably different with sidebars being used for favourites and history

Netscape Communicator

Netscape was the other popular browser of the time and was bundled with the operating system. This was the precursor to the Gecko rendering engine used in Mozilla Firefox

Outlook Express

Microsoft’s mail client for Mac OS, which was replaced by the Mail client for OS X

QuickTime

A view of sample channels in QuickTime, these would provide links to online video content such as trailers and previews. Similar to what modern YouTube is like now

Sherlock2

Sherlock was an integrated search engine for both local files and online websites. Various different categories could be used to find a certain website like in the shopping category you would find links to Amazon and eBay.

SimpleText

A basic text editor, like Notepad for Windows

Sound Support

A build of QEMU exists that enabled basic sound support using the Apple Screamer chipset which was used in the early Power Mac G3 (Minitower, not the blue/white version). By installing the latest QuickTime version for this operating system (QuickTime 5) it’s now possible to have basic sound support and acceleration.

Games and Third Party Applications

OS9 was compatible with many of the existing software for OS 8 and below

Simcity 3000: Works well but lacks content in comparison to the later unlimited release. Has a different intro and some music was changed compared to the later release which I’m more familiar with. All base cities and scenarios are present.

Duke Nukem 3D Atomic: Tested the PowerPC build, seems to work fine but the desktop seems to have issues after exiting the game

Driver: You Are the Wheelman: Did not work as it failed to start in software rendering mode, the game thinks there is a glide capable card upon startup but fails to load. Since OS9.2 came out around the same time as Driver I would assume this game would have worked as intended.

Unreal Tournament: Possible to run under software rendering, adequate performance at 640×480. Whish we had some 3DFX emulation in QEMU though. The master server for this game went offline a while back after GameSpy had shut down, but new master servers have been hosted and can be accessed by amending the unrealtournament.ini file

The Sims: Worked just fine but had to change to mac99-pmu as the mouse wasn’t being picked up correctly in-game, and would randomly recenter in the middle or off-screen which made it cumbersome to play

Microsoft Office: Office 98 was released around the same time and was the popular office utility suite back then, which had full compatibility with its PC counterpart

Uh Oh

Netgem TV

A Freeview service with a few additional services bundled alongside the regular Freeview offering, making full use of IPTV to deliver streamed TV channels in HD.

The service is very similar to Youview provided by BT or TalkTalk (Of which the latter now offers Netgem as an alternative to Youview) in that it melds Freeview and on-demand (Or catch-up services) with one interface, ideal for an alternative to smart TVs. Live TV channels are also offered and is one of the standout features of the service, whilst this requires a subscription fee – typically £15 a month, or £10 if you have a bundled internet plan with a service provider.

History of Netgem

Not many people are aware Netgem offer a subscription TV service of sorts
Netgem was previously known in the Freeview market for the iPlayer (before the name was squired by the BBC for their on-demand service), the Netgem iPlayer was an advanced internet-connected Freeview box that contained an internet browser and a basic media player, which put it leagues ahead of other Freeview boxes of its era.

Netgem TV

Some internet service provers will offer Netgem TV as part of the service, designed to be an alternative to subscription service from Sky or Virgin. In reality, many of the channels are different in scope and serve a niche interest. There’s no Sky Sports or Movies, and many common subscription channels are missing. MTV, and Comedy Central make an appearance, but Syfy, Discovery, Sky Showcase, and GOLD are missing from the lineup.

You can also purchase the box standalone which functions as a typical Freeview HD smart device, but this does not include the streaming channels. It does allow full access to the streaming apps (an additional subscription is required as usual) and the Freeview Play catchup services.

Also unlike a typical Youview box, the Netgem box is not classed as a PVR as it contains only a single tuner and lacks a hard disk drive. With it is intended to be used for catch-up services instead. Despite this, the box is capable of recording by connecting a USB drive to the USB port located at the rear of the box so you get the very basics of PVR’s

Netgem box on the right, in comparison with the BT Youview box

Appearance-wise the box maintains a low profile look, with an LED strip that indicates the power status of the box. Sizewise It’s similar in footprint to the basic BT Youview box

Install

Typical connections include Ethernet, HDMI output (Capable of supporting a 4KTV at 50FPS, so it mus the HDMI 2.0 capable.

When powered up for the first time you will be taken through the set up process which will search for channels, check and download for updates (If you connect the ethernet cable before powering on the receiver will automatically install before going through the install) You will also be prompted to set up a PIN number as a few of the streaming channels require a PIN to access, depending on the content being shown. After all is done you will be notified of the Netgem TV apps for Android/iOS and will then be taken to the main TV interface.

One complaint is the lack of RF output or a proper loop-through. This assumes that you will be exclusively using Freeview with the Netgem TV and whilst that might apply to the majority of people, some may prefer to loop the output for the TV.

One reason for this is to emulate a dual tuner PVR, with the Netgem box busy recording, the TV is free to tune into a Freeview channel so long as it can receive a Freeview channel. This is a good consideration considering the Netgem box only features a single tuner, meaning it can only record one channel at a time (With some exceptions, being it can record two channels if they are on the same multiplex)

Of course, you could add a splitter into the setup, and split the signal between the Netgem box and the TV, but you live in a weak signal area this could affect your reception unless you invest in a signal booster.

Although in my case since it was connected to a computer monitor it wasn’t so much of an issue, but just a weird oversight if you wanted to integrate it into a smart TV setup.

No, I don’t think I will

Interface

Netgem had developed and built its own TV Guide interface, which integrates internet streaming channels and content with the Freeview platform. It’s very Youview-like in its presentation and its graphics-heavy with TV show thumbnails being used to show currently broadcast programs and recommendations.

The home screen features a tab-like an interface which gives access to the different genres of channels, with a dedicated section for movies, sports, kids, documentaries, lifestyle, news

You can see what is being currently broadcast, what is upcoming later that day per channel & any on-demand content that is related to the genre.

Coming out of standby takes a few seconds to start up, likely due to the box entering a low power state during standby. Unlike Youview there is no way to adjust this.

The onscreen keyboard is not QWERTY based, and I didn’t have much luck plugging in a USB keyboard, nor can you use the remote number pad to type anything in, instead it’s all done through the directional arrow buttons and pressing OK to select a letter. This is nothing but time consuming and makes it a chore to search

In contrast, the original Sky Guide allowed you to type text using the remote when using the A-Z listing or when using interactive, it’s surprising how such a basic feature is overlooked. My guess (And this applies to most other ‘smart’ TV platforms) is they would rather what they recommend in your feed rather than find and discover content yourself.

EPG / TV Guide

The area where all your Freeview channels are listed, although it seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. Whilst it does its job, I feel there’s a lot of screen space wasted since it will display the program synopsis at the top, along with a heavily compressed JPEG that’s related to the program. It would have been nice to have the option to choose from a more detailed guide that would show more channels on the screen per page. Kind of like the old Sky Guide which displayed a row of 10 channels per page, Netgem only shows 7.

Streaming channels, in the EPG
Regular Freeview Channels


There is a dedicated button on the remote to get to the EPG, so that’s a nice feature. If only Youview had the same design. Channel logos are displayed when connected to the internet, like how Freesat or Tivo displays them.

There’s also a search and scan banner of sorts, which kind of reminds me of the XMB from the PlayStation 3. You can cycle through the various channels and view the schedule whilst watching a live TV channel.

The Remote

The bunded remote feels on the cheap side and has a clicky feel to the buttons. A red LED light lights up when a button is pressed to indicate it is working. There are dedicated buttons for Freeview Play, and another for My TV which takes you to the home screen. There are a few buttons that take you directly to the channel list, EPG and the search function. There is also a dedicated button that opens Amazon Alexa, but it just tells how to pair the Alexa app to your device. I can’t see any microphone on the remote itself so I’m not sure if you can even speak commands using the remote.

TV volume control is not supported, instead, the volume will always control the volume level of the box. Whilst this makes it ideal for use with a computer monitor, people that watch on a regular TV many prefer the remote to control their TV or AV receiver / Soundbar

Apps and OnDemand

Freeview Play is integrated into the service, so you get full access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand5, 4oD Pop Player, and Horror Bites.

There are a few other streaming applications available that are not part of the Freeview Play like YouTube, Amazon Prime, Rakuten, BritBox & AcornTV. These do require an additional subscription, they are not included in your Netgem subscription if you have one.
Plex is also available, which includes a few free streaming TV channels
But no Netflix which is a strange omission, since nearly every smart device has Netflix on it, including an old Sony Blu-ray player I have from 2016. Guess I can’t watch Cuties in 4K or race-baiting documentaries on this box…

Streaming Channels

This is one of the unique features of the Netgem TV box is the live TV channels offered through the service, many of which consist of IPTV-exclusive streaming channels, although there are a few known channels included like MTV.
They appear in the main EPG/TV Guide as any other TV channel and are quick to tune in with very little buffering time needed. Most channels broadcast in full HD, aside from the handful of HD channels Freeview HD offers.
Still, there’s no ITV2/3/4 HD or E4 HD, which are missing from the lineup and would be useful to have.

These channels are featured in the 900 section of the EPG, which seems like there shunted off at the back end of the EPG, compared to the Youvuew TV service where the subscription channels occupy the 300/400/500 section. Perhaps these were reserved by Youview and Netgem had no access to this section? I know the 700 section is reserved for radio channels, and the 800 is used for channels from other transmitters that the box will sometimes pick up.
I cant see why the 300/400 section could not be used, since this isn’t a Youview vox and it never will be, so it makes no sense blocking off these channel numbers, plus the 900 section is nearly full with only a few blank channel numbers in between.

Adding to the selection, you have also access to the MHEG streaming channels location from 250 – 299. They take a few seconds to load but the channels do work. VisionTV below works fine, if a little slow.

Not related but what is with this MHEG screen? looks like a Windows 9x BSOD

Recording

As established, the unit only performs the very basic PVR functions, it lacks an internal hard disk, so in order to enable PVR functionality, an external USB drive must be connected to the rear USB port. This can be either a flash memory-based memory stick with 32GB or higher capacity or an external hard disk.

The single tuner will also be a limitation, although if you have a modern smart TV you can emulate a dual tuner PVR by recording on the Netgem box and watching live on the smart TV, or connecting USB external storage to the TV and having that record also, which can act as a second tuner.

Unlike a PVR, the Netgem does not buffer or actively record TV, this means you cannot rewind TV, instead you must press pause which will activate the buffered recording. If you are used to PVR’ from Virgin/Sky or Youview or any basic Freeview PVR this will be a disadvantage since those models will actively record the live TV broadcast, enabling you to pause and rewind at any time. This also means you can’t quick rewind, so if you miss a piece of dialog or see to see something quickly again, you cannot skip back a few seconds.

Sadly you cannot record the streaming channels, only the Freeview (DTT) delivered channels. The good news is a lot of these channels have their content available on-demand but with a snag, you have to sit through the adverts.

Settings & Configuration

HDMI-CEC is supported if your TV or AVR supports it, and it will turn on with your TV when selected in your TV’s HDMI menu.

The box also features Wi-Fi built-in, although ethernet can be used instead.

Current Software: 8.4.21-67 (Sat, 19 Feb)

Mobile App

TV guide listings can be viewed through the smartphone app. You can cast channels through using the screencast feature which will detect compatible devices. This seems to be limited to Android based devices, and the Netgem box, as it picked up my Sony Android TV and a couple of Google assistants.

Screenshots are taken with a Sony Xperia 5 II

Key Considerations

  • Performs poorly as a PVR, which seems to be tacked on feature. But then again it’s not really designed for such. Netgem also does not have a PVR-based box.
  • Some UI features have been overlooked, like the channel number missing from the search and scan banner.
  • The remote feels too clicky and cheap
  • Can’t seem to disable the PIN protection completely, some channels will always require it which gets annoying
  • The streaming channels are reminiscent of the various FTA channels you used to get on Sky back in the mid-2000s, where some were very niche and interest-specific. That said the picture quality is fantastic on these channels.

Honestly, this would be much improved if they had a PVR option, something that acts as a good alternative to Youview considering this service is marked and often bundled with FTTP internet service provided. However, the trend here is everything must be in the cloud as it’s trendy and modern. Fuck the cloud I’d say, I want the content available locally to watch, not disabled due to some crappy servers going down or because of some backward copyrights policy.

Mac OS X Cheetah (10.0)

The rocky start to the next generation MacOS

Mac OS X mouse cursor is black, the white one comes from Windows 11

Running in a build of QEMU Here there is limited to no graphics acceleration, no sound support. In QEMU the G3biege switch works best instead of mac99 which still boots but was unable to use the keyboard or mouse, even with the usb/kvm or adb switches.

The emaculation guide recommends using the PPC builds, but I found the screamer/audio builds to work and have sound support (somewhat, it does crackle)

Install

Initially when trying to install, the OS X installer had difficulty locating the QEMU hard disk. This is possible because the disk was a newly created drive and had not been initialized before, and this version of Mac OS X was intended to be installed as an upgrade since many Macs were shipping with a version of OS9 still.
There probably is a way to do this through the command terminal but for now, let’s just boot into a 9.2 CD and initialize the drive from there. I’d recommend installing in conjunction with an OS9 install since you have the benefit of using classic mode.

The desktop is a radical departure from Mac OS 9 and introduces new UI elements like the Aqua design language and the dock, which would be a staple of Mac OS X for years to come.

Finder

The Finder acts very much like Windows Explorer and allows the user to browse the different directories of their system. It’s the main area where applications can be launched (If they’re not in the dock). Like Windows Explorer it has web browser-inspired back and forward buttons, along with view change options and links to commonly used areas like Computer, Home, Favorites and Applications.

What I don’t get is this button on the top right, which compacts the window you have selected by a few pixels. I’m not sure why but given low-resolution screens were common back then maybe it was a product of its time. But then you might as well minimize it to the dock.

Applications

A few applications have been bundled with the OS, some of which come from previous versions of MacOS and some which came from the NEXTSTEP side (Chess)

Clock: Displays a clock in the dock
Mail: The email client for macOS which includes support for Apples .mac email service and AOL
Image Capture: Import photos from your digital camera
Address Book: The contacts area where you can store phone numbers and email addresses for your contacts, these are then accessible from the Mail app
TextEdit: Just your standard text editor
Stickies: A nice feature, that lets you quickly take notes and keep them on your desktop

Internet Explorer

Everybody’s favorite browser is pre-installed with the operating system, a preview release of 5.1 for Mac. This browser uses the Tasman rendering engine in comparison to the Trident engine that the Windows version uses

Sherlock

The main search engine for the operating system. Here you can search for files and folders that are stored on the computer’s hard disks. But you can also search online through various websites split into sections: Internet, Shopping, Articles, reference, and entertainment. None of the search links work any more, and some just open a link to the website which the browser is incapable of rendering.

Quicktime

Apple’s video and multimedia player. This version places channels at the forefront of its interface.

Chess

Apple’s chess game originated from the NextStep linage. If only I knew how to play chess

Mail

Apple’s new mail client. Sadly no longer compatible with modern protocols.

Stickies

Address Book

System Preferences

Replacing the control panels area of Mac OS 9, contains most of the systems configuration tools, with the rest being located in the utilities folder.

These don’t run well in QEMU on the count of the low CPU speed and the lack of graphics acceleration.

The Cosmos screensaver

Sherlock looks mostly the same as the OS9 version, this was meant to be the search engine of the operating system with the ability to link to online websites.

Window management in OS X

Networking in OS X, QEMu does provide an ethernet SliRP adaptor

Third Party Software

This was a bit of a disaster since although MacOS has compatibility with Mac OS 9, the classic environment is not installed by default and had to be installed separately, and many apps that were developed for OS X were intended to be used on later releases.

I did get some software to run in both native and classic mode. This wasn’t faultless however as the mouse cursor would frequently disappear when Classic applications were running and only a reboot would get it back. It seems to port the OS 9 UI elements into the OS X display, as the menu bar changes to the OS 9 platinum design when a classic application is active.

You will be using this a lot

To be fair these are limitations of the old Mac OS kernel since it could not do true multitasking, and with OS X the whole classic layer runs in the same fashion. Should one classic program crash, the others will become unresponsive until the classic mode is restarted which can be done in OS X, whilst the native OS X apps are unaffected.

Microsoft Office 2001

Unfortunately this does affect the screen rendering, but this could be more due to the emulation rather than the operating system itself, QEMU isn’t 100& accurate. Still it’s better than nothing and was from a time when Apple cared about backward compatibility.

Trying Unreal Tournament didn’t fare any better since this is also a classic Mac application. Trying to run the game with software rendering results in a blank screen, and QEMU must be restarted to get back into the Finder.

The Sims didn’t fare any better since despite being compatible with Mac OS 9, for Mac OS X it requires 10.0.3 update. It is however a carbon application which was a new API that Apple introduced to help with the OS X transition. Carbon applications will run natively in OS X

Conclusion

OS X Cheetah was not received very well since it lacked a majority of features from OS 9, DVD playback was not yet possible and the classic environment was very hit or miss. But the Aqua design was applauded for its style and gave an insight into what the next century of desktop computing would look like. The stability was also well-received that’s to its Unix-like roots, but at the cost of performance. Users would continue to run OS9 and Apple never shipped it as a default OS (at least to my knowledge). Then again Microsoft did the same for its Windows NT line of operating systems. Whilst they were stable, lacked the compatibility and performance offered for gaming or low-end hardware.

Cheetah was short-lived on the market and was replaced with Puma in the same year as a free upgrade. Today there isn’t much reason to run Cheetah except for historical interest.

Oh come on!