Restoring a Thomson SkyHD box

I’ve been meaning too document the HD era of Sky for some time now and whilst I do have a HD Sky box (the DRX595), I’m interested in the early era of SkyHD.

The HD EPG has been through multiple iterations, first it launched with an upscaled version of the Sky Guide interface that graced many Digibox’s since 1998. Sky redesigned the EPG exclusively for the HD boxes in 2008, which is the EPG I’m currently interested in below, unfortunately the majority of all HD boxes run newer versions of Sky HD guide, all except for one

Thomson DS8215

Thomson DSI8215

This was the launch STB for Sky HD, and remained the only box until 2008 when Sky started sourcing from Pace, Amstrad and Samsung, and were the only boxes that had analogue HD outputs (Component/YPbPr). Whilst the other boxes continued to receive updates after 2011, Sky began to phase out the Thomson models, which remained on the 8.3.2 EPG, and was the last OpenTV based EPG.

Admittedly Thomson were not the best manufacturer of Sky digibox’s. Don’t get me wrong, they’re mostly fine but nearly all Thomson (and Grundig, more on that later) digibox fall suspect of faulty PSU capacitors, which can cause myriad of issues from being stuck in standby to no satellite signal, and the HD box was sadly no exception to this.

First Impression

The box seemed to have been in use for a few years, and has had a bit of wear and tear.

Well it looks OK so far…

Seems to have had a lot of dust and grime build up over the past few years from the previous owner

The hard drive seems to have taken the brunt of it all, since there is a fan situated right below it that serves as the air intake.

Yeesh…

At this point I figured I had to take the box outside and clean it with a can of compressed air to get the dirt out.

Power Supply

A common issue on Thomson SkyHD (and Sky+/Digibox’s) is the power supply capacitors failing, all thanks to capacitor plague. This isn’t unique to Thomson Sky boxes as it can affect Grundig models as well, Thankfully it’s fixable even in 2021 either by yourself or you can send it off to be repaired. You can see in the above picture that one of the capacitors has started leaking, whilst others are bulging slightly.

This can also affect other consumer electronics from the 1999-2006 era, notably the clock capacitor on the original Xbox and various PC motherboards.

This box specifically had issues finding a satellite signal, and would only display ‘no Satellite signal is being received’ on both tuners, respective of either single or dual feed being used. Also a audible whine could be heard from the power supply, which is usually not a good sign.

The replaced capacitors

Conclusion

its worth mentioning that Sky no longer support this box for HD channels, whilst SD subscription channels and HD Free-To-Air channels will work, HD subscription channels will not work, since Sky moved to a different card pairing method this this box does not support, still for Freesat or basic subscription use the box will continue to work. The box also does not support any catch-up or On demand services offered by Sky.

One thing to mention with this box is it will no longer recognize any viewing cards, this is probably due to fault with the box, either the card reader has failed or the contacts are dirty. This makes it impossible to use it with Sky+ modes since they require a Sky+ reenabled viewing card to work.

With this in mind I may decide to change the hard drive for a dummy Sata-SD card adaptor, since it makes no since having a hard drive that wont be used. I’m not sure what HDD space requirements the box has, since the box likes to reserve 140Gb for Anytime use.

Size Comparison

The Thomson SkyHD box was quite large compared to the previous set top boxes Sky have deployed, lets see how it compares:

Vs Xbox

Vs ntl: box

Vs Pace Digibox

Vs Virgin Media Tivo

Sky Interactive – 2001

A look at Sky’s interactive services offered from 2001

Sky Text

Sky Text

An alternative interactive service provided by Sky, unlike Active that facoused on shopping and games, Text focused on information like local listings, news, weather, etc

Open....

Open…

Prior to its relaunch to Sky Active in late 2001. Open… was the main interactive portal on Sky Digital, and provided a gateway to other interactive services

Open....

Open… Shopping

E-commerce was the main attration of interactive TV, with the ability to buy products though Sky Digital

Woolworths

Woolworths

Woolworth (Remember them?) was one such retailer

Sky Text

Sky Text

Sky text was designed to be used whilst watching regular Sky TV channels

Horoscopes

Not much to say, just star signs and horoscopes

Asda

Asda

Supermarket portal, do your grocery shopping through your TV

Harrods

Harrods

Simpsons Sky One

The Simpsons

Sky Movies Active

Sky Movies Active

Sky Cinema

Cinema Listings

Sky Guide 2002

Sky Guide Redesign

Sky were due to redesign the Sky Guide interface, with a new two tone blue interface in line with the corporate branding of the time.

BT Phone BIll

BT Phone

This never officially launched, but at some point you were supposed to be able to manage your phone bills via your TV, this would have extended to your Gas, Electric and Water

Domino's Pizza

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Pizza Prompt

Imperial Cancer Prompt

Imperial Cancer

Donate just by pressing your red button

Birds Eye Prompt

Birds Eye

Further Reading

PDF Download link

https://app.box.com/s/z3v1fgvh1xwf2y8kfw41aq9o6lixcloz

Using a Sony BRAVIA TV for Freesat

Many higher end Sony TV’s have had satellite tuners for a while now, and whilst you can easily connect it to a Sky dish and it’ll pick up and tune in channels, you will find that they are randomly allocated across the guide, which makes navigating them difficult. Compare this to similar Panasonic and Samsung TV’s that have proper official support for the Freesat EPG.

I decided to modify the EPG used by the TV in order to get it as close as I can to the Freesat order, allowing for a similar experience to an actual Freesat certified TV. This doesn’t fix the issue of lack of TV listings, since Freesat and Sky do not transmit their listings in the common DVB format so you will still be left with Now & Next only, you also won’t be able to decrypt the FTV channels, only view FTA channels that Freesat receivers can decode.

Whilst many Sony TV’s sold in the UK come with DVB-S2 compatible tuners, the issue is Freesat (and Sky) don’t use standard EIT (Event Information Table), which prevent these TV’s from being able to correctly manage these channels.

What You Need

USB Memory stick – Formatted to FAT32

Supported BRAVIA TV with a satellite tuner

Sony Channel Editor (Optional)

ChanSort (Recommended)

The Software

Sony Channel Editor

Sony Channel editor

I’m not gonna sugarcoat it, this software is garbage. Complete Garbage

Whilst it’s able to just do the bare minimum, its a horrible piece of software to navigate, and has a tendency to garble the interface if you select too many channels.

Sony channel editor
WTF?

I don’t get it, why is Sony incapable of producing software that is able to function property without glitching itself? Why did they feel the need to theme it all to hell and back, a simple Win32 application would have been more then welcome, but instead it has to be skinned. Just look at the open dialog

Why not just use the default Windows open dialog?

This is a frequent occurrence, Alt/tabbing sometimes fixes it, otherwise you will need to save and close.

This is also a pain, rearranging TV channels causes the software to get confused and plonks the channels out of order, see how it goes from 77 to 92, 93 and then back to 80

Chansort

After getting fed up with Sony’s software I instead opted for an alternative

Chansort Sony

Chansort is a channel list editing application designed for various TV and satellite receivers on the market. Simply open the sdb.xml extracted from your TV and away you go. This this it was easier to manage and reorganize the channel list to the Freesat order, rather than having channel spread across the EPG.

A common issue was when reordering the channel list with the Sony editor software, it would frequently push the channel list down, rather than replacing or swapping them. With Chansort, you can tell the software if you want to swap the channels, or just insert it before or after, whilst keeping the other channel intact. This became a huge problem with the Sony software as after organizing one section of the EPG, the rest would either shuffle out of their modified positions.

Testing

After making the changes I copied the xml file back to the memory stick and plugged it in the TV to import. After importing and letting the TV reboot, the custom channel list loaded.

Unfortunately I had then hit a snag, since the TV is set to automatically update the channel list, and because I had originally deleted the encrypted Sky channels of the guide, the TV decided to add the channels back into the EPG, and then decided to merge and slot them into the existing channel list, so whilst it kept my custom channel order (mostly), you ended up with a bunch of encrypted channels in between.

One solution to this was disabling the service update option, that would stop the TV from adding channels, but that would mean any new Freesat channels wouldn’t be picked up, also if a channel had changed transponders, then the TV would not pick up the new frequency, instead that channel would display a blank screen.

A workaround to this was to hide the channels instead of deleting them, so whilst the channels would still exist to the TV, they would be ignored. In addition I also moved the channels to the 1000+ section, so that in the event the TV does not hide the channels, they are out of the way from main view.

Considerations

  • Whilst the EPG now mirrors the Freesat guide, you still don’t get the full TV listings, rather the Now and Next data
  • When Sky/Astra add new channels, your TV will detect and will automatically add them to the guide, likewise if a channel changes frequency. You will then have to hide the channel, unless it’s a FTA channel that you want to view.
  • Regional channels, the BBC have multiple feeds for different regions, as do ITV for local news. Channel 4 also has different feeds for local advertising. These are all recognized by the TV as separate channels. Whilst the BBC channels are easy to figure out, since the region is in the channel name, ITV and channel 4 are more difficult, since they all have the same label (except for STV and UTV, although there are multiple STV regions) I ended up using the main London regions that a regular Sky box used if it had no viewing card inserted. Alternatively you could change the regions themselves using the same software I had used. Regardless I placed all regional channels in the 900 section, but they are not in a particular order.
  • Some channels are duplicated twice, like Challenge. This is due to Sky running different feeds for Sky and Freesat, maybe the Freesat versions have adverts targeting to resubscribing to Sky or NOWtv?
  • Some channels are FTA but they are not on Freesat, most of the music channels and many international non English channels, to solve this I allocated the 400 section for international channels since that range is vacant (not sure why Freesat has that empty?) music channel I used the old channel numbers, since many of them were on Freesat at some point
  • The Astra UHD test channels are assigned to 1-3, since they are interesting to view and many satellite Sony TV’s are 4K, 4-99 are vacant, My assumption is should the TV find new channels, they will be added here, making it easer to manage.
  • Also, when importing the satellite channel list, it will also replace the terrestrial Freeview channel list also. So after importing the channel list you may need to do a full rescan on the Freeview side unless your on the Sutton Coldfield transmitter. I’m currently looking at a way to remedy this

Download

SDB.xml – Contains the edit channel list that follows the Freesat line up

Download (Box)

Download (OneDrive)

Updated as of: March 2021

Importing (Export to TV)

  • Copy the sdb.xml file to a FAT32 formatted memory stick to the root of the drive (don’t place the file in any folders)
  • Insert the USB memory stick into the TV’s USB2 port
  • After a few seconds the TV should pop up with a message asking what to do with the memory stick, Select Cancel or Ignore
  • For newer models (Android 9), Press Home → Select Settings (Cog wheel) → Select Watch TV →  Select Channels  Program List Transfer →  Import
  • For older models (Android 8), Press Home → Select Settings→ Select Channel Setup →  [Digital setup] →  [Technical Set-up] →  [Program List Transfer] →  [Import]
  • The TV will then import the channel list and will then reboot

There are a few issues and inconsistences as outlined above, mostly with duplicated channels, and the auxiliary channels section being out of order (900+), hopefully the TV’s should have minimal issues with keeping the channels updated.

Channel List

NumberChannel name
1Astra UHD Demo
2SES UHD Demo
3Astra UHD Demo
101BBC One HD
102BBC Two HD
103ITV HD
104Channel 4 HD
105Channel 5 HD
106BBC Scotland
107BBC Four
108STV
109BBC ALBA
112UTV
113ITV2
114ITV2+1
115ITV3
116ITV3+1
117ITV4
118ITVBe
119ITVBe+1
120S4C HD
121Channel 4
122E4
124More4
125More4+1
1274seven
1295 USA
1305USA+1
1315STAR
132Paramount
1335SELECT
134CBS Drama
135CBS Reality
137CBS Justice
138horror channel
139horror ch+1
1415STAR+1
142Sony Channel
143Sony Channel+1
144Pick
145Pick+1
146Challenge
147Sky Arts
148Food Network
149Food Netwrk+1
150DMAX
154ITV4+1
155PBS America
157Dave
158Drama
159YESTERDAY
160Really
162BLAZE
164Together
165Forces TV
166HGTV
167QUEST
169Quest Red
170Quest Red
172YANGA!
173HGTV+1
176Smithsonian
177QUEST HD
179QUEST+1
180Drama
181Drama+1
182Dave
183Smithsonian HD
184Dave ja vu
185YESTERDAY+1
186Quest Red+1
187Vox Africa
190Hi-Impact TV
192Showcase
194c4 l
200BBC NEWS
201BBC Parliament
202Sky News
203Al Jazeera HD
205FRANCE 24 HD
206RT
207CNN HD
208Bloomberg HD
209NHK World HD
210CNBC
212BBC NEWS HD
213RT HD
214Arirang TV HD
215TRT World
217Euronews
218CNN
219CNBC HD
220SkyNewsArabia
221Arise News
222Sky News
223GEO News
224Al Jazeera Eng
225BBC NEWS
230TVC News
250SportyStuff HD
251FreeSports HD
272BET:BlackEntTv
300Film4
301Film4+1
302Sony Movies
303Sony Classic
305Sony Action
306TalkingPictures
307Sony Movies+1
308Sony Action+1
309Sony Classic+1
382Court TV
401NDTV 24×7
402Channels 24
403Dunamis TV
404ATN
405A1TV
406CHSTV
407Kanshi TV
40992 News
410Eman Channel
411Islam Channel
412AAJ TAK
413Republic Bharat
414HUM Masala
415Takbeer TV
416Iran Int’l HD
417Ahlebait TV
418Channel 7
419British Muslim
420PTC PUNJABI
421Aastha
422KTV
423MATV National
424BEN
426Noor TV
427Madani Chnl
428NTV
429Sangat
430Islam Ch Urdu
431HUM EUROPE
432PCNE Chinese
433mta-muslim tv
434Channel 44
435Hidayat TV
437GEO TV
438NTD
439PTV Global
440Travelxp
441Iran Int’l HD
450Brit Asia TV
451ARY Digital
452Sanskar
453Dunya News
454Islam TV
455IQRA BANGLA
456IQRA TV
457Deen TV
458Ahlulbayt TV
459Sikh Channel
460TV One
500Trace Hits
501Trace Vault
510Clubland TV
512NOW 90s
513NOW 80s
514NOW 70s
516Spotlight TV
518KISS
519The Box
521Box Hits
523Magic
524Kerrang!
600CBBC HD
601CBeebies HD
602CBBC
603POP
604POP Max
605Tiny Pop
606POP+1
607CBBC
608CBeebies
609Tiny Pop+1
610CBBC
611CBBC HD
612CITV
613CBeebies HD
614POP Max+1
615CITV
616CBeebies
617CBBC
642Cruise1st.tv
650Venus TV
672KICC TV
673Good News TV
674TBN UK
675Faith UK
676LoveWorld HD
677Celebration TV
678LoveWorld HD
679Faith World TV
680EWTN Catholic
681Inspiration TV
682DAYSTAR HD
684revelation
686GOD Channel
687Hillsong
688SonLife
700BBC R1
701BBC R1X
702BBC R2
703BBC R3
704BBC R4 FM
705BBC R5L
706BBC R5SX
707BBC 6 Music
708BBC R4 Ex
709BBC Asian
710BBC R4 LW
711BBC WS
712BBC R Scot.
713BBC R n Gael
714BBC R Wales
715BBC R Cymru
716BBC R Ulster
717BBC R Foyle
718BBC RLondon
719Capital
720Capital XTRA
721Classic FM
722Gold
723Radio X
724Absolute
726Absolute 80s
727BBC R Cymru 2
730Planet Rock
731talkSPORT
732Smooth
733Heart
734LBC
736Virgin Radio
745Hits Radio
750RTÉ Radio 1
751RTÉ 2FM
752RTÉ Lyric fm
753RTÉ R na G
754EWTN Catholic
755Newstalk
757Heart 80s
758Kiss
759Magic
760Absolute 90s
761WRN Europe
762Heart 90s
763LBC News
764Desi Radio
765Heart Dance
766Panjab Radio
767Khushkhabri
768TWR
769Jazz FM
770Scala Radio
771Sukh Sagar
772Classic Rock
786BFBS Radio
800QVC
801QVC Beauty
802QVC Extra
803QVC Style
805Gems TV
806Create&CraftHD
807JewelleryMaker
809TJC
810TJC HD
811High Street TV 5
812Ideal World HD
814JML Direct
815ROK
816High Street TV 1
817Hochanda
818Studio 66 3
819High Street TV 3
820New Vision TV
821Ideal Extra
822HGTV
823Best Direct
825Xpanded TV2
826Craft Extra
827High Street TV 2
828High Street TV 4
830Babenation
831Live 360
832Psychic Today
833Get Lucky TV
834TV Warehouse
835Thane
842Xpanded TV
844
870Channel 4
871Channel 5
872BBCScotlandHD
873E4+1
874e4
875S4C
876Channel 5+1
877CBS Drama
878CBS Reality
879CBS Reality+1
880CBS Justice
881Pick
882Really
883Food Network
884Challenge
885BBC One NI HD
886BBC Two HD
900ITV HD
901ITV
902ITV
903STV
904ITV
905ITV
906ITV
907ITV
908ITV
909ITV Wales
910ITV HD
911ITV
912STV HD
913STV
914STV
915STV
916STV
917UTV
918ITV+1
919UTV+1
920ITV+1
921ITV+1
922ITV+1
923BBC One ScotHD
924BBC One Wal HD
925BBC Four HD
926BBC Two
927BBC Two Wal HD
928BBC Two Wales
929BBC One East W
930STV
931ITV
932ITV HD
933ITV
934ITV HD
935ITV
936ITV HD
937ITV
938ITV HD
939ITV HD
940ITV HD
941ITV
942ITV HD
943ITV+1
944ITV HD
945UTV+1
946BBC One HD
947BBC One Lon
948ITV HD
949STV
950BBC One Lon
951BBC One CI
952BBC One Oxford
953BBC One East E
954BBC One E Mid
955BBC One N West
956BBC One S West
957BBC One NI
958BBC One Oxford
959BBC One S East
960BBC One Scot
961ITV HD
962BBC One S West
963BBC One W Mid
964BBC One Wales
965BBC One West
966BBC One Yorks
967BBC One South
968BBC One South
969BBC Two NI
970BBC One NI
971BBC Two NI
972BBC Two NI
974Channel 4
975Channel 4
976Channel 4
977Channel 4
978BBC One NI
979BBC One NE&C
980BBC One NI
981ITV
982ITV Wales HD
983UTV HD
984BBC Four HD
985Channel 4+1
986Channel 4+1
987Channel 4+1
988Channel 4+1
989ITV
990BBC One Yk&Li
991BBC Two NI
992ITV HD
993ITV+1
994ITV HD
995BBC Four
996BBC RB 1
997BBC Two
998BBC ALBA
999BBC One NI HD

A historical look at Cable & Wireless interactive

When Cable & Wirless launched theri difigtal cable serivce, Interactive TV was the main attration and focus for the platform.

Cable & Wireless teamed up with Liberate to deploy it’s eNavigator middleware client for their set top boxes. Liberate had already had deals with many US digital platforms for both Motorola and Scientific Atlanta networks, and had partnered with Acer, Thomson/RCA for their own set top box internet tv devices. These allowed for the internet to be browsed on a TV itself, similar to a webTV or Bush internet TV. So with that in mind it made sense to go with Liberate for its interactive platform, with many of the interactive being HTML based, essentially being microsites being designed to be useable on a PAL TV screen, as well as being usable on the set top box hardware itself. By using a HTML based system, it would be easy for existing web developers to adapt their websites for cable interactive TV.

Downloads

Cable Wireless interactive home

The main interactive developer portal, viewed within the Cable & Wireless interactive browser. This also showcases the browser interface, note the lack of address or URL bar, since this service was designed to be a walled garden. Instead a url bar is provided on the developer portal, likely to allow developers to test their websites.

An interesting oversight is if you sent an email with a hyperlink embedded into it to a website such as Lycos or Google, you could use that link to open the browser to that page, and if its a search engine you could use that to load other websites that are not part of the service

Developer Website

Not much to say here, the developer portal provide links to documentation details the requirements and limitations of the TV internet platform. This goes into details the specifics of the Liberate eNavigatior platform.

Viewed in Internet Explorer 5

A look at the services…

Unfortunately the screenshots are of a low quality and resolution since they have been extracted from the PDF documents above but give a general idea of the scope of the service provided. Some screens have the browser banner at the top of the screen, I’m assuming these are portals to the microsites.

Cable Wireless interactive home

Another view of the interactive home screen, this may be from a later redesign

Cable Wireless TV Internet

TV Internet Home

Similar to the Open… home screen, provides links to various services available

Cable Wireless TV Sports

Sports Main Menu

Provides links to other sports themed websites,

Cable Wireless TV email

Email Main Menu

Menu options are Check Email, Write Message, not sure of the third items, Drafts? Templates? Deleted?

Cable Wireless TV Inbox

Email Inbox

The STB had a built in email client, designed for the C&W email service

Cable Wireless TV Games

Two Way TV

Looks like s games service, hard to tell because of the resolution

Cable Wireless TV RAC

RAC Breakdown

A resource for traffic information and a route planner

Cable Wireless TV Travel

TravelTime

Looks like some sort of holiday broker

Cable Wireless TV Holiday

Travel

Provide links to holidays, not sure if this goes directly to the sites themselves?

Cable Wireless TV News

News

News headlines, and weather from various sources.

When the consumer division of Cable & Wireless was acquired by ntl in 2000, the interactive platform continued it’s development. In 2002 ntl deployed the Liberate 1.2 middleware which bought improvements to the browser rendering engine, and the TV guide was rewritten to take advantage. ntl would later spend time developing services for the Langely platform, which was originally planned to use the PowerTV platform, but chose Liberate instead. This was done to ensure parity between the two platforms.

Useful Links

Using Sky Digital in 2021

The Sky Guide user interface has been though a lot of changes ever since its launch in October 1998. Being one of the first Digital TV platforms in the UK, however despite having numerous software updates throughout the years, its core design remains the same albeit with certain alterations being made in light of new feature being added to the service.

Screenshots below are captured off a Pace 2500S5 running EPG software version

Search & Scan

Pressing the blue button cycles through the selected favourite channels, Personally I’ve never understood why it cant just open up a small menu showing favourite channels along with what’s being broadcast now, the way it’s been implemented seems like it was tacked on at the last minute, and if you have nearly 50 favourite channels it can take a while to cycle through them all.

If you wondered what the messages button does, It just shows the message above. Originally it was supposed to received broadcast style messages to the digibox, informing customers of any changes to their service

Low battery icon, supported on 2001 and later revision remotes

Sky Guide

TV Guide

Main grid style view, programmes highlighted in white have audio description, this can be changed in the Language & Subtitles menu in the Services section.

Pressing i on the remote brings up a synopsis of the program selected. Also wtf is going on with modern Simpsons?

Sky added further categories in 2005 to accommodate the amount of channels. However in 2021 some of these genres are redundant, there’s only one channel in the Gaming & Dating category for example.

Viewing channels based on genre

No more Lifestyle & Culture channels, Sky merged the genre back into Entertainment

TV Guide: A-Z Listings

Viewing A-Z list of programs by genre. This has always been a mess since the same programme is repeated multiple times due to the advent of +1 and HD simulcasts, Ideally Sky should have combined the same program title into one per channel, instead you can have pages of the same program if it is repeated on multiple channels at different times.

Programs can be viewed by subgenres, which can be selected using the bottom row of colour buttons.

TV Guide: Personal Planner

The Personal Planner was introduced in 2001, and serves as a timer and reminder feature of Sky Guide. Programs can be added here and the digibox will remind you when the program starts. Autoview will make the digibox switch over to the channel automatically, useful for recording programs to a VCR (remember those?). Series Link automatically adds the next program to the personal planner, like the Season Pass feature of the Tivo.

To be honest, I found the Personal Planner to be buggy, many series links will randomly disappear over time.

TV Guide: Favorite Channels

The Digibox can store up to 50 favorite channels, which a separate EPG being introduced that lists the favorite channels exclusively, introduced in the EPG 3.4 update

Box Office

Sadly Sky axed it’s Box Office Pay-Per-View in 2016 in favor of its on demand service. So this part of the guide is now dead.

Services

Shows telephone numbers for broadcasters and departments on Sky. I thought this was a wasted feature since how often do you contact these broadcasters?

A better feature would be to allow the user to enter and save their own phone numbers, then should a contact call, a small message would appear with the callers phone number and name, like a caller display feature. It would certainly give customers a good reason to plug the Digibox into the phoneline. The only time I’ve seen this feature implemented was on a BT Freeview box.

Services: System Setup

Second Location Picture Format refers to the RF2 output, if the second TV is 4:3 with the main set being 16:9

On-Screen icon timeout referrers to the red button props that appear for interactive. Previously the red button icons would stay on screen unless the user pressed the Backup key

  • Model number referrers to the driver stack implemented on the digibox, and varies for each box model and revision
  • Version Number – First two characters refer to the Digibox manufacturer, the next two are the major revision (model/CPU chipset), the last two refer to the minor Digibox hardware revision. This field is static and remains the same throughout
  • Serial Number – identifies the digibox uniquely
  • Viewing Card Number – Refers to the viewing card number currently inserted
  • Operating System – the core operating system on the digibox, using a modified OpenTV1.2 with the NucleusOS realtime kernel
  • EPG Software Version – Version of Sky Guide currently running
  • Signal Strength – How much signal is being received, determined by the size of the dish, quality and length of the cable run and the quality of the tuner used in the box.
  • Signal Quality – Signal to noise ratio
  • Lock Indicator – If the digibox can decode the transport stream
  • Network ID – Used to identify the satellite the user is on, Astra 28.2 is 0002 with Astra 19.2E being 0001, Hotbird 13E is 013e
  • Transport Stream – The transponder that the digibox is tuned to

Services: Installer Setup

This menu is hidden in plain view, since it can technically disrupt normal operation of the digibox.

LNB Setup – To change tuning parameters of the LNB if a non standard LNB is being used, not needed if using a Sky Minidish.

Default Transponder – The transponder where the Digibox loads its TV listings upon bootup

Telephone Settings – If the user need to specify a prefix to access the outside line

RF Outlets – To change the RF output channel

Manual Tuning – Manually tune a frequency, similar to Add Channels but shows the signal strength and quality.

Services: Auto Standby

Services: Other Channels

Other Channels lets you add channels that are not on the Sky EPG, but are broadcasting on the 28.2E satellite. These could be regional channels not populated on the guide, or test channels.

In theory you could use this feature to watch channels on different satellite providing your dish is pointed to the satellite. In practice you are limited to two symbol rates (22.0 and 27.5) which restricts what transponders you can tune into (on 19.2E this isn’t much of an issue since Astra frequencies tend to stay consistent). The digibox isn’t a good receiver for this purpose since it wasn’t designed for it, it only barley works with the standard Sky digital service.

Services: Favorite Channels

Lets the customer program up to 50 favorite channels. This was originally 20 channels with the limit being increased in 2005.

Pressing i gives you a channel description, this also appears when you access a channel that you are not subscribed to.

Interactive

MySky

A list of interactive services, or service. Sadly this menu used to be full of different service that were available back in the day (Playjam, Sky Active, QVC, DirectGov, Gky Gamestar)

Unfortunately MySky no longer loads

Pressing i gives you a description of the service

Error Messages

What happens when you disconnect the sat feed, the box cannot load listings, showing that the full listings are not cached in the digibox itself

A weird glitch, BBC Alba and Premier Sports on channel 65535

I believe this is due to a channel being restricted via the encryption, yet the customer is enrolled on the package. Could be due to area/post code restrictions,

Low battery message, supported on v4 remotes and later

Nag screen that appears when you boot up the digibox without a telephone line connected, since Sky have axed all of the interactive services (except for BBCi which does not use the telephone) they might as well remove this prompt

Appers when you switch on the digibox from the mains

All regular Sky digibox’s can only decode MPEG2 SD channels, if you go to an HD channel you simply receive this message. You used to be able to get tv listings for HD channels but Sky remove this to conserve memory since they were running out of EPG spaces

Appears when you insert the viewing card backwards, rumored to charge Sky for the subscription rather than the customer

When you have no signal being received for that channel transponder

Sometimes the digibox can’t load the program information, this message will be diplayed for a few seconds before the synopsis appears.

Inside a Pace 2500S5 digibox

One of the many Digibox’s Pace produced over the years, and one of the first to have the tuner integrated on the mainboard, previous models had the tuner enclosed on a separate metal box fixed onto the board, or as a ZIF style socket module.

Pace 2500S digibox mainboard

Another box from the same era was the PaceDi4000N for ntl, although this is a cable receiver you can see some similarities in the design.

Pace Di4000 ntl box mainboard

Its quite a minimal clean design compared to the other boxes Pace have produced, like the Di4001

Back to the 2500S5, you can see the CPU of the box

The main, and only processor STi5512SWE. This chip incorporates the CPU (ST20) running at 60Mhz, MPEG2 decoder and graphics processor, basically a receiver on a chip. I’m not sure how it compares to other digibox’s of the era in terms of speed, considering this box was made in 2002.

ST processors were stupidly popular in many satellite receivers, and this one seems to be an NDS variant

Not sure what this chip does, maybe I/O for the RS232 port?

The unused PCMCIA slot

Flash memory chips (right) that store the EPG software and operating system. Each chip is 2Mb for a total of 4Mb Flash. There are two unpopulated banks for a potential of 8Mb. The chip at the top left, above the Omega chip is part of the RAM.

View of the dual card slots, the bottom is for the viewing card, whilst the top is for the interactive card.

ESS Teledrive ES2898S

Appears to be the modem used for the Digibox’s return path. This allows for the digibox to communicate back to Sky for box office events and interactive. Unsure of the port on the right

The front of the box with the panel removed, showing the location of the remote sensor

ntl CR3 on modern Virgin Media

Connecting an old ntl box running ancient (by cable standards) software to a modern Virgin Media network. Whilst Virgin Media is the sucessor to ntl there are a few possible roadblocks to this;

  • VM no longer broadcast their channels in MPEG2 with the exception of a few off air slates and radio channels.
  • The DVB-SI that VM broadcast may not be consistent with what the software is expecting
  • The STB itself may be looking for something that VM are no longer transmitting

Getting the box to boot was a struggle itself, just connecting it to a cable feed is not enough since the box will get stuck on the starting up screen, I left it overnight and the box was still trying to start up

Forcing a boot (holding Up+Down and letting go once LDR appears on the display) wouldn’t work either

What worked in the end was to power up the STB will the cable feed disconnected, this will cause the box to display NIT on the front panel LED display. Connecting the coax feed, the box will then proceed to the start up screen and after around 5 minutes a channel will be displayed.

Well the box managed to load something, lets see what we get…

The main EPG, showing the many channels or streams Virgin broadcast

What’s disappointing is nothing can be tuned, you can select a channel but nothing will play, not even radio channels. Potentially this could be the NetID mismatch causing this , since the STB originated from a different area of the network.

Looks like software update streams for the various tivo box models currently in use with Virgin Media.

To breakdown what works and not

  • Channels Numbers exist but its not the order that Virgin use, the STB seems to place them consecutively in the EPG, i.e starts at 1 and goes up to 350
  • There are issues selecting channels over 255 in the guide, trying to select a channel number over 255 causes the box to pull a channel from the top section of the EPG, i.e selecting channel 260 causes channel 5 to get selected instead.
  • Only now and next information is loaded, no further schedule information is available
  • Subject search does not function
  • Channel genres do not work, selecting Entertainment or Sports shows no channels.
  • Various hidden streams and channels appear in the guide
  • Changing channels using the + and -, the list is out of order and the STB seems to jump between different channels.
  • Program reminders work and can be set

Maybe changing the Net ID will at least allow the radio channels to be opened

Exploring the Cisco Tivo CT8620

To access the engineering mode, unplug the Virgin media Tivo box and hold down the Up + Down arrow buttons on the front panel to the STB (not the remote), continue holding until Starting Up disappears off the screen, typically around 50 seconds.

Screens were captured through the HDMI output, I’m not sure if tis will work via the Scart connection.

The first frequency the tivo checks when it is booting up, typically contains firmware updates

STB information and local network ID

Various MAC and IP address used by the STB networking interfaces

Signal information

Information found in the DVB signal information tables

For tuner 2

Hard disk information

Inside a Pace Di4000

Earlier I went though the ntl CR3 Bromley software which was introduced in 2002 and was the basis for ntls new interactive services.

The Pace Di4000 was a redesign of the previous 4001 and 1000/2000 series box. Its worth mentioning that Pace’s model numbers don’t seem to follow a specific scheme, you would assume the Di4001 was the successor to the Di4000, however the Di4001 was the launch box for ntl in Langely areas and was a DAVIC based box, with the Di1000/DiTV1000 being its DOCSIS equivalent for Telewest and ntl Bromley areas.

These early generation boxes were designed around the Hitachi SH3 CPU with C-Cube Chipset for MPEG2 decoding and descrambling. The Di4000 replaces that with the Broadcom demodulator and the Conexant MPEG2 decoder which contains the ARM CPU.

Pace Di4000

Left Pace Di4001, Right Pace 2500 Sky Digibox

The main difference you will notice between the two is the reduction of components, with the Di4000 only having two main processors. The previous generation was split over 5 different processors. this reduction means the mainboard is smaller and the box produces less head as a result. In fact its not too far off an average Sky Digibox.

  • The Power supply is now separated from the main board, like the Sky Digibox design, allowing for the PSU to be replaced independently from the main board.
  • The audio out jacks have been removed, no you can no longer connect the box to a Hi-Fi system unless you use a scart breakout adaptor. The design for it still exists on the main board however.
  • The Serial port and Printer part are removed in favor of a single USB port. the serial port still exists and can be access using a VCR to RS232 adapter.
  • The second card slot has been removed, this was originally designed for Mondex cashcards.
  • The remote control protocol now supports IRDA and RC5

Conexant cx22490

Conexant CX22490 – ARM920 based core, 160Mhz – 175MIPS

Broadcom BCM3250KPB – Demodulator

CrystalLAN CS8900A-CQ – Ethernet controller

Conexant Bt861KRF – Video encoder for Scart/AV output

The tuner modules, one for TV and the other for data/DOCSIS modem

Pace Di4000 front panel board
Pace Di4000 rear panel
  • Power Input
  • Ethernet – For internet connectivity for the internal cable modem
  • USB port – To connect additional devices, never used officially by ntl or Telewest
  • IR in/Out – never used by ntl or Telewest
  • Scart ports
  • RF Input/Output
  • Cable Input

Diag Screens

To access these on this box, hold down the Up & Down buttons whilst the STB is booting, and continue to hold them down until you see this screen. The front panel LED display will change to ldr and will then go blank once you have entered diag mode.

ntl EPG 1
Di4000 Setup screen 1

Sets the default frequency which is checked when the stb boots up, this frequency carries the netid for the area and any software updates

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 2

Shows build information about the software loaded, and the hardware identifier of the box.

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 3

Cable modem IP address information

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 4
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 5

RF output configuration

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 6

Shows recent PPV purchases

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 7
Di4000 Setup screen 8

Shows contents of the flash memory

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 9
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 10
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 12

Signal information

Pace Di4000

With cable feed connected

Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000 ntl loader

Ntl Bromley CR3

The replacement to CR2 software that saw the launch of interactive services for the bromley platform, CR3 saw a rewrite of the guide software, with everything now being written in the Liberate browser, and Two Way TV support for downloadable applications, whilst Liberate being used for interactive. This software would form the basis for Langely CR3, and would be the next step in unifying the platforms in terms of feature set.

Sadly not all areas had access to CR3 with former Videotron areas in London being stuck on pre-interactive CR1 blue to the networks inability to support a return path connection. ntl would have to upgrade and repull the network in order to provide support for broadband and on demand services, all of which are dependent on a return path.

The software here is running on a Pace Di4000N

ntl home screen

The user interface of ntl digital, not a fan of their purple/pink colour scheme and the bad thing is that its everywhere, thankfully they changed the scheme by the time it can to Langely.

Interesting is the listing for interactive settings, rather than be part of the list it looks like a separate link,

Now & next

Unfortunately the purple makes it’s way onto normal viewing, with the now and next bar

I’m not sure why these early cable TV software did not allow for the volume to be changed via the STB remote, since the Telewest side also did not support changing the volume. One theory was that customer would complain to ntl about how they were unable to her any sound through their TV, unaware that the volume on the analogue box has been set to a low level or mute, so to prevent further calls that disabled the feature.

In the end they enabled the volume control in a later build ofCR3, along with Telewest. Maybe they got fed up of the support calls asking why the volume control isn’t working on their box. In hindsight they should have followed the Sky design where the STB remote controls the volume on the TV at launch (they ended up doing this later, with the newer remotes)

The options button gives a small menu, allowing for access to the help function and a shortcut to the diary. The audio Language lets to changed the language of the audio, or enabled narrative audio description, Sky would later implement a similar feature in its Sky Guide.

TV Guide

ntl tv guide

The main TV guide grid. No channels here since the box is not connected to the cable feed.

Here would have been a list of all channel genres, such as Movies, Sports, News, etc

Pressing the i button shows a short description of the program

TV Guide: Diary

The diary is ntl’s version of the personal planner, and is used to store reminders for future events and shows. Future PPV events appear here.

Subject Search

The subject search feature can be thought of as an alternative to the A-Z listings of Sky Guide, showing programs rather than the channels themselves. The idea is that the customer can find a program they like by the genre of the show.

Sadly the TV guide only has 3 days of TV listings, compared to the 7 days offered by Sky Digital.

A list of subgenres

Searching for a specific program via text

The on screen keyboard, not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to look since a lot of the text to the right being cropped off.

ntl customers could also purchase an optional keyboard to make it easier to enter text.

ntl subject search

One nice feature is the ability to save personalized genre lists, here you choose the type of programs to like to see and you can easily search for that list without having to manually select categories.

Interactive

ntl interactive

Trying to load interactive services which sadly no longer exist. the Liberate middleware was used to deploy the interactive microsites, with the TwoWayTV middleware being used for the interactive applications such as games.

On Demand

Looking for PPV events, this was before true video on demand had launched

ntl on demand

Settings

ntl parental control

The parental control feature

Changing TV settings, not sure what Enhanced Programming corresponds to?

Favourites

The favorites feature, very similar to Ntl Langely CR3

Help

ntl help cr3

There’s a help system but with no content stored on the box.

Diag Screen

Diag screen that shows the software an signal information

ntl error

Using with Virgin Media

Somehow I was able to get the box to bootup on a modern Virgin media connection, with many Channel and TV listings being loaded. Sadly I was not able to get any TV channels to load, not even radio channels which still broadcast in MPEG2