Former Telewest/Virgin Media box used for standard definition TV Services.
Sadly the NetID for this box does not match my area, which means channels cannot be watched. Virgin have migrated their streams to MPEG4 anyway which this box cannot decode, however radio channels remain in MPEG2 although they are tied to the NetID which is why they don’t appear here.
The now and next banner that appears when you change channels. If you are used to Sky’s interface you will be familiar to how Virgin’s guide works since it’s mostly the same principles. Left and Right lets you browse the different channels, which unlike Sky will automatically filer out unsubscribed channels, and you can view information for all channels for the next 24 hours
When you remove the smartcard from the set top box
The main home screen, typically the channel you are watching appears in the box to the right. You can’t do that on a regular Sky Digibox. From here you can also access the on demand and catch services, which at the time would have consisted of BBC iPlayer and content from ITV and Channel 4. For a brief period Virgin also offered box-sets in the form of Virgin Central which could be accessed like a regular channel
Channels can be divided into multiple genres. Oddly there’s a high definition section there, despite the box lacking the ability to decode HD channels.
The main TV guide screen
Setting a reminder, similar to adding a programme to the personal planner on Sky
The favorites guide, channels you mark as favorite appear here
The reminders section, similar to the personal planner on Sky Digital
Sorting channels by genre
Box supports RGB and composite over scart, and has a widescreen option. The EPG does not run in widescreen mode however.
OnDemand and Interactive
Press F to pay Respect… or OK. I guess most of the liberate interactive stuff has been removed
For years Telewest customers were promised the launch of digital text services that could be activated by the text button. Eventually they just gave up
Pressing the Help button brings up a short guide that mentions most of the common features
Kind of like the BIOS of a PC where you can change certain settings like the default frequency. To access it hold down the Up and Down buttons on the front panel of the box whilst it is booting up (whilst -un- appears on the front display). DIAG will then appear on the front
The only thing you can change here is the default frequency parameters. and the RF output.
Inside the box
I’m not sure how similar our 4200DVB is to the American version of the 4200. I guess the CPU chip set might be the same but the software will defiantly be different, since Scientific Atlanta have their own Operating System and middle-ware stack, whereas Virgin use Liberate TV Navigator for their software. Then there’s the DOCSIS modem compared to the DAVIC based one in the American version, and the different encryption systems (Nagravision vs PowerKey)
The internals are similar to the Di4000. One thing I have noticed with Scientific Atlanta boxes is they always mount the PSU on the side. I’m not sure if this allows for better heat dissipation since there are vents underneath the box. The tuner module is huge and takes up a lot of room on the main board.
The CPU (right) with the cable modem coprocessor (left). The CPU seems to be a customized chip for Scientific Atlanta and is designed by ST. This may indicate the CPU core being ST20 based, since many ST chips used that core in various satellite receivers, including Sky Digibox’s. As with modern designs, the main processors integrates the CPU, MPEG2 decoder, CA descrambler and graphics core on the same chip. In terms of memory, the box has 32MB of RAM and 8MB of flash, same as the Pace Di4000T.
The IO is standard for many cable boxes of the era, although this model drops the USB port, and the RF loop through has been removed. The earlier Pace Telewest boxes had an RF loop through that would modulate the STB signal onto a spare RF channel, whilst this box does the same, you cant loop the antenna feed through it, wither a combiner or diplexer device would be needed. Assuming you even wanted to use RF, most customers would use the scart connecter with the RF being used to feed a second TV. I’m not sure if the box feeds the analogue cable channels though the RF out, but since this box was released in 2004 and Telewest were already planning to shut of the analogue feed it’s unlikely.
At least there’s an Optical audio out along with analogue out, which the Di4000 boxes dropped, and the mysterious IR blaster connector.
Front view of the STB, the panel is based on the Scientific Atlanta 4250 design.
Updating System Software
To force a software update, power off the box, hold Power and Ok whilst powering the box on
It’s nice they used Wordart in their software update screens
Dell’s XPS line of systems had always caught my attention, that and the Alienware Area51s/Auroras of the time had eye catching designs that stood out from the rest. I wanted an older gaming system purely for the games that were released in the era of Windows XP, from 2001 – 2006. Whilst most of these games can be maxed out on many modern systems, sadly compatibility issues are starting to occur when playing these old titles, and as Microsoft continue to update Windows 10, these issue’s are starting to become more apparent.
So I figured why not buy an older high end system and modernize it. By modernize I meant installing additions like an SSD and a USB3 card to make the system ore convenient to use whilst still keeping the original core hardware.
The Operating System
Windows XP Professional
The default choice for a machine of this era and type, for the best compatibility
Windows XP Professional 64bit Edition
Yep, there was a 64bit version of Windows XP, two in fact. The system is capable of running 64bit code thanks to the Pentium 4, and the system can detect all 4GB of its ram. I did install this to use as the main operating system, but found out some games ran into compatibility issues with the 64 bit kernel.
I have considered this, for a dual booting purpose only. Reason being this is one of the last machines to support Windows 98, or at least have native drivers for it. In theory you could create the ultimate Windows 98 gaming PC with these specifications without breaking compatibility.
In reality, Windows 98 was on its deathbed at this time, whilst software does support it, its only basic support that the game actually starts up so that it ‘runs’, there are numerous performance issues just from the operating system itself, and many games are missing certain graphical effects. And the fact 98 was notoriously unstable compared to XP.
The drivers also have the same story, with the NVidia drivers being notoriously unoptimized. The NVidia card for example has the latest XP driver being released in 2012, compared to the Windows 98 driver being released in 2005, that 7 years of driver optimizations and progress being missed out on.
In reality if you are buying a high end pc in 2005, its incredibly unlikely you would be running Windows 98 in it, and manufactures knew that.
Or GNU/Linux if that’s more your thing, I’ve also contemplated dual booting a Linux based operating system on it from that era. Something like Ubuntu 8.04 or Red Hat purely to see what it’s like. And maybe get some old GNU/Linux games going…
Processor –Intel Pentium 4
Pentium 4’s weren’t my first choice of CPU back then. Truth be told they were very hot boys and had a tendency to overheat if they were not properly cooled. Dell made sure that wouldn’t happen with this monster of a heatsink with two 120mm fans.
For some reason Dell are allergic to AMD, something that still rings true today. Most of their systems use Intel chips with only a small amount of models supporting AMD chips. This is despite the fact that AMD chips of the era ran cooler and consumed less power, Dell insisted on using Pentium 4’s on small form factor PC’s like the OptiPlex SX270.
Graphics – NVidia GT 6800 Ultra
GPU’s were very competitive around this era, what with the Xbox 360 and PS3 being due to launch. Whilst the 6800 is a generation behind the RSX used in the PS3, it’s ideal for maxing out games from the 2001-2006 era
Memory – 4GB DDR2
4GB seems a bit overkill for a system like this. Considering Dell would have shipped a 32bit operating system on it, limiting it to only 3.2GB. I guess the previous owner must had upgraded it to 64bit Vista at some point.
Looking at the SPD data in CPU-Z it seems the system left the factory with 2Gb of RAM, with the remainder being added later. I’ll probably take the excess RAM out at some point and install it in another machine, since it’s never going to be needed with Windows XP, unless I decide to run some 15 year old CAD programs on it
Sound Card: Creative Audigy
Dedicated soundcards are uncommon today, with most motherboard having onboard Realtek or Conexant audio. Still Dell shipped the system with the Creative Audigy as the sole sound card on the system, no onboard audio here. This was the last era that supported EAX effects in games that this soundcard supported.
Maxing out: Upgrades
USB3 PCI Express Card
USB3 didn’t exist when Windows XP was released, and even USB2 was still in its draft stage before it started appearing on motherboard in late 2002, however many manufacturers have provided drivers for Windows XP for both 32 and 64bit editions. Having a USB3 interface will come useful when it comes to connecting external hard disks. This card also has a front panel connector which I will use with the Akasa Front panel USB3 bay.
A must for any modern PC, and although there were not common back when this system was released, I had no problems installing it (a 2.5 to 3.5 adaptor is recommended) and it was detected by the BIOS and Windows XP setup. One issue is that dell insist you use these green drive brackets to mount the drive, the idea is that it’s supposed to be a tooless design so that the drive can be pulled out of the slot.
In practice the clips ended up breaking since they had become brittle, and I was unable to screw in the SSD bracket since Dell designed the drive bay for it to be used with the clips so for now the drive is just resting on top of the hard drive.
This is a SATA 3 capable PCI Express card which would have been necessary for the SSD upgrade, since the onboard SATA can only support up to SATA. Whilst SATA standards are backwards compatible, it would have meant the SSD would have been bottlenecked by the onboard interface. A bonus is this card provides an eSATA port
Wifi – Broadcom
This was already installed by the previous user, or it may have been a optional factory upgrade installed by Dell. This is quite old and only support 802.11g protocol, which was standard in 2005. It also supports WPA2 and it capable of connecting to my BT Smart Hub. However I will be using the onboard Ethernet for when I connect it to the network, because Windows XP is no longer supported its not a good idea to have it connected to the internet.
Akasa Front panel USB3
Adds two front panel USB ports and also serves as a 2.5 inch bracket to mount floppy drives or memory card readers. I might add a memory card bay to it at a later date.
Pulled from an old HP machine. The system has a spare drive bay and I had this drive laying around so why not?
One of the main disadvantages of pre built Dell Systems is they tend to deviate from ATX standards, and the power supply unit used here is one example. First issue is the design, a standard ATX power supply cannot be used as a replacement unless the case is modified
Windows XP predates mainstream SSD support, and as a result does not implement TRIM. Windows did not support this until Windows 7. One advised workaround was to under partition the SSD, say to about 90%. Whilst you do loose storage capacity, since our games are stored on the hard drive this is not so much an issue.
This system came out during the capacitor plague, where many substandard capacitors were used that had a tendency to leak much earlier than usual. Also given that this system was on the extreme end of the power draw spectrum,
Plenty of games from this era were released on Stream, and up until 2019 you could install the client on Windows XP. However Steam dropped support for the operating system due to the Chromium Embedded Framework no longer offering support for XP either. This meant that future steam update’s would no longer be provided to Windows XP users, and sooner or later they would no longer be able to access their accounts via Steam, preventing the ability for them to play games. There are workaround’s to this that allow the client to run, but you are unable to access the Steam Store or the community features. Also I can’t imagine Valve’s being happy that modified clients are being used to access the Steam service.
Really you are better off sticking with the retail DVD or CD releases, or with GOG where games do not come with DRM and can be played without the reliance of a client.
I have to admit, the main thing fuelling this was nostalgia. having memories of booting into Windows XP brought back moments when we would sign into MSN messenger and MySpace using Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox with several toolbars installed. Sadly these service are no longer available as they was, with MSN Messenger being discontinued in favour of Skype. From a gaming standpoint, whilst it has no issues maxing out games from 2001- 2004, stuff released from 2005 (eg Splinter Cell Chaos Theory, Driver Parallel Lines) onwards has a tendency to stress the hardware out, and I found myself having to downgrade the resolution in order to boost the framerate, which had me considering why not just play these games on a modern rig that can max these game out easily.
I suppose the main saving grace is compatibility, with these Pentium 4 (and Athlon) systems being the epitome of backwards compatibility. For this one in particular Dell provides drivers for Windows 98/ME, XP, and Vista, allowing you to theoretically triple boot the system for maximum compatibility without any concern with drivers. Any newer and drivers and compatibility with 98/ME becomes an issue, and anything older will have issue with Vista or 7 support
Whilst I haven’t played any game on it from 2007 onwards, I suppose you could get away with it providing you play at a lower resolution, although you might as well get a Core 2 Duo system with a GeForce 8 series or a Radeon HD200 series GPU
A look at ntl’s CR3 software for the Langely Platform
CR3 was ntl’s long awaited upgrade for their Langely customers who had previously no access to any interactive services, unlike the Bromley division that had full interactivity for some time. Part of this was due to the different return path technology used, ntl had originally went with DAVIC compared to Telewest and Cable & Wireless who deployed the DOCSIS standard for their TV return path. Although they are similar in terms of functionality, the differences meant ntl could not adapt the Cable & Wireless software for the Langely platform. In addition, Langely areas also ran different software with the original EPG being provided by Pace with the Liberate 1.2 browser being installed. CR3 would see a rewrite of the entire guide with everything now being done in Liberate, this meant that the Liberate browser was loaded on start-up, unlike earlier versions where the user had to wait for the browser to load.
CR3 saw a drastic change in the user interface, with the new ntl colour scheme being adopted
Screenshots below shows the stb without any channels loaded, I have to force boot the stb by holding they down key until Boot came up on the front panel display. Sadly I was unable to get the box to load with the cable feed.
Now & Next
The main user interface layout, you can see the Sky Guide influence with its layout
Viewing all channels, this would be populated with all subscribed channels, unfortunately the STB does not pick up any channels, either it cant load the NIT or the tuner inside the box is knackered
Viewing channels based on genre, up to 7 channels can be displayed at any time
Diary function, this is like the Personal Planner on Sky Guide, you can schedule future programmes to be entered here. Unable to test further since the box can’t load any programmes
Ntl revamped replace its PPV service with a full on demand service, the programmes ordered could be watched easily. This software seems to be from before on demand was implemented as despite the menu saying ‘On Demand’ the box shows PPV options instead.
Not functional 😦
ntl had the ability for the customer to rearrange the channels in their EPG, allowing for channels to have their own number. This feature was removed when they migrated over to the Telewest based UK1 software
I can soft of understand why the feature was cut, in a family household one could easily rearrange the channel numbers which would cause issues with other members trying to figure out the channel numbers, and probably resulted in increased support calls from customers trying to figure out what had happened to their channel list.
Changing the picture settings
Never seen this before with digital TV, the ability for the box to sound an alert, with Sky boxes you can only sound a beep, and that’s only if there’s an error or if there are subtitles on programme being watched. Three alert sounds are available. Sadly this feature was cut when they migrated to the Virgin UK1 software.
Favourite channels can be viewed in a list form the channel banner
Listings for favourite channels can also be viewed whilst watching a channel.
I wanted to see if this box themself would still work on a modern Virgin media network. I’m aware that Virgin broadcast all their channels in MPEG4 which this box cannot decode, aside from some radio channels. But I was still interested if the box would work and how it worked, especially in regards to early digital cable TV.
The box itself
Pace Di4001 size comparison with the Pace 2500S5, a typical Sky box of the same era
Trying to get started
So I got off to a rocky start trying to get the box to start up in the first place, since powering it on the display would show PACE followed by TUNE. I figured that i needed to enter the boxes engineering mode to reset something. This provided impossibale since after attempting to enter the engineer mode, the box would immediately show TUNE on the front panel display
i tried different combinations that I found online to get the box to work but nothing was working. Finally i stumbled on a old forum post that held the solution;
So to summarize, If your set top box wont progress past TUNE (shown on the front panel display) and you are unable to enter into the boxes engineering mode, you may need to reset the STB’s NVRAM since it may have become corrupted. This can occur when the STB has been powered off for a while, and the battery has discharged to a point where it is running under voltage. This must corrupt the NVRAM in a way it becomes unreadable to the STB
To recover, you will need to open the box, and pull a red jumper located to the right of a large white Sanyo battery. Leave the jumper out for about 5 minutes and then reconnect the jumper. Power on the STB and hold down the UP and DOWN buttons on the front of the box for 10 seconds. You should see DIAG on the front panel display and the engineering mode should appear after a few seconds.
Doing this will clear the Netid of the box, which the Di4001 boxes are able to set automatically if they are in an original NTL area. Otherwise it will appear as *****
After resetting the NVRAM I was able to get to box to enter it’s engineering screen.
From here you can change the default frequency and symbol rate, which the box uses to look for the latest software, and possible where the ntl EPG listings are located. You can also see info relating to the software version running on the box, Memory and flash info
There are a few interesting items here, mainly the memory address section. from here i was able to find out the spec of the box. 0x1000000 converts to 16777216 which I would say is 16Mb of RAM. The Flash storage being 0x00400000 that converts to 4194304 which i’d say is 4Mb.
This model of box does have less Flash compared to the older revisions of the Di4001 in favor of more RAM, maybe the OS is compressed into Flash, which is then extracted upon boot into RAM, and runs from RAM like a Ramdisk. Alternatively, there may be a basic guide stored in flash, with the remaining components loaded from ntl either directly broadcast or using it’s DAVIC modem.
Also it appears this box is the 2A revision of the Di4001. which the boot-loader being compiled in September 2000
If you want to boot the STB without a cable feed connected, hold down the up OR down button on the front of the STB when PACE appears on the display (immediately after applying power to the box), and release until it shows boot, or after 10 seconds. This will skip the default frequency checks and will load the main TV guide interface, even without a cable feed connected.
Doing this trick allowed be to bypass the default frequency check and put the box into some sort of ‘safe mode’, this it it would load the TV guide without having any channels or listings loaded. In this mode the box is stuck on channel 0 and not all aspects of the guide can be accessed.
I’ll put up some screenshots of the guide software up later, if I can get the box to pick up Virgin’s tv guide…
One oddity was the services button on the front panel of the box, now you would think that it would take you to the main TV guide, however it just make the mini guide appear and disappear from the front panel there is no way to access the main TV guide screen…
Another oddity was that pressing the front panel buttons would cause the remote light to indicate, even though you were pressing the front panel buttons and not the remote.
Unfortunately I was unable to get the box to tune into any frequency, never-mind booting with some sort of TV guide. At first I assumed it was because the network information Virgin Media broadcast in my area was not in a compatible format, or that the box was looking for something that Virgin have since removed from the stream, however I am now convinced that the tuner in the box is most likely faulty, since entering correct frequency’s in the engineer screen yields no change to the signal levels, even after removing and reapplying the coax cable.
Also since the box is running relatively old software (from around 2005), it’s likely the box was an ex-subscription box that was never returned to ntl, or may have had it’s flash chips modified to be read only, preventing a software update from taking place.
Lifting the lid
Compared to other set top boxes of the era this ones quite busy inside considering it’s supposed to house a digital cable receiver and a cable modem in one enclosure. Ill try my beast to break down the individual processors this box contains;
The main decoding processors, the one on the left (C-Cube 600L) is the MPEG2 decoder, not sure of the one on the right?
The one on the left is an Hitachi SH3 processor, if you’ve ever opened a Sega Saturn or a Dreamcast you should be familiar with the Hitachi CPU’s. The one on the right is a mystery, its branded as Pace but I cannot find and information online regarding it. I suspect its something to do with Nagravision based on the fact its near the smart card area. Maybe Pace had to licence their own Nagravision descrambler?
C-Cube Avia-inx – Handles DVB-C demuxing from the tuners, Ethernet controller, IEEE1284 controller and has a built in graphics processor. Basically like the northbridge/chipset on a pc.
The system memory, unlike other STB’s of the era this one is designed to be upgradable but seems to be using a proprietary slot. Virgin Media could easily upgrade the memory of these units should the box be returned. This model currently has 16Mb.
DAVIC/DVB-RC decoder, was underneath the smartcard slot so I had to get a funny angle
I believe these are for the onboard ethernet and serial ports
The front panel exposed, note the two IrDA sensors
From Left – Right
Audio phono out
TV and VCR Scart
IR output and input – I think were were meant for external devices such as Tivo or VCR’s to control the STB without any dongles needed, whilst never used by ntl the box does supply power though these connectors allowing the use of red eye dongle
Ethernet – For internet access or LAN
RS232 – Only used for libdebug, never used by ntl externally. Could be used for external input devices like a mouse or keyboard
IEEE1284 parallel port – never used, might be for external disk drives, printers or modems
Firefox was always one of my favourite browsers, ever since I installed in back in 2004 to replace the ageing Internet Explorer 6. Immediately i picked on its fast rendering time, features such as tabbed browsing, built-in pop-up blocker and extensions and most importantly its improved security. Whilst there have been many bumps along the way, I have always stuck with it and its email client counterpart, Thunderbird.
Mozilla have always stood for a free and open web, that meant that the web should be accessible to all users, regardless of their political positions, heck its even on their Twitter profile;
Until this was posted on their blog:
So why all of sudden there this sudden interest of de-platforming? let’s break down the suggestions;
Reveal who is paying for advertisements, how much they are paying and who is being targeted.
This I agree with, since the ad ecosystem should be transparent, who is running the political campaigns that truly influence people?
Commit to meaningful transparency of platform algorithms so we know how and what content is being amplified, to whom, and the associated impact.
This is incredibly important and applies to any social media platform that servers content in an recommendation system. Social media pushes fear and anger inducing content for the sake of generating engagement, they mix it with advertisement content and slowly change their user habits. These algorithms need to be stopped. If you ever see a content recommendation by a black box system, do not follow it unless you want to be eternally an ideology slave. Seek your own answers.
Turn on by default the tools to amplify factual voices over disinformation.
And who gets to decide that exactly? Do they have everyone best interest at heart?
Work with independent researchers to facilitate in-depth studies of the platforms’ impact on people and our societies, and what we can do to improve things.
Yet La Le Lu Le Lo have removed all external research into their platforms, specifically around the negative side effect such as addictions and election influencing. What else are they hiding?
The article does raise some concise valid points, but these need to be implemented for all, and not just a certain set of users who’s political options sway in a certain direction. Somehow they were fine with the Minnesota riots and the riots ‘peaceful’ protests that happened in 2020, where there were multiple calls to violence on both sides being spread, right on the exact same social media platforms.
However, the nerve they have to point blame and act like what happened in the Capitol was the worse thing ever, The amount of horror, destruction, defeat, and death inflicted upon innocent Americans for weeks and even months in some places was incomparable to what happened in DC. Peoples entire livelihoods burned to the ground. Entire city blocks reduced to rubble. And these people are literally pretending none of that ever happened. They even encouraged it and promoted it. They actively promoted it, defended it, and encouraged it daily. And I’m not even talking about the absolutely debilitating lock-downs that have shut down hundreds of thousands of small businesses and put people out of work?
Finding a new browser
Waterfox – A fork of Firefox that is compatible with all Firefox extensions and plugins,and has a very similar user interface
Brave – uses blink/chrome engine, has a built in tracker blocker
Vivaldi – uses blink/chrome engine, a nice browser that has a lot of useful features, designed to replicate Opera 12, supports tab stacks
All browsers listed above have Windows, Mac and Linux versions, and (except for Waterfox) have Android and iOS versions that can sync between desktop and mobile
Whilst La Le Lu Le Lo are busy removing and banning people from a certain political background from their platforms, a common retort is for these users to start or use platforms that tolerate this type of free speech. This has resulted in sites like Parler, Gab and Mastodon… except La Le Lu Le Lo have now started removing Parler from their respective App stores, meaning unless you use the web app, you will no longer have access to Parler. For android users this is not a big issue and simply requires installing an .apk file onto your smartphone and enabled unknown sources in it’s settings menu, for iPhones unless you jailbreak it you are stuck with the version that was installed via the Appstore, with no ability to update or transfer it to another iPhone.
Speaking of the web app, AWS (Amazon) have since decided to terminate Parler’s web service also, meaning you will no longer be able to access the Parler website until they find a new host. The reasoning for this was due to Parler’s moderation methods, which was cited as being insufficient in regard to violent content on platform. Now whilst Parler does have a few problematic users on it’s platform, that’s nothing compared to what Twitter host;