Monthly Archives: February 2021

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.

ntl guide cr3

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

ntl tv guide cr3

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

ntl digital 2002

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.

ntl guide 2002

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

ntl virgin media

ntl pace di4000n
ntl nagravision
ntl pace
ntl dvb-c
ntl liberate tv navigator
ntl sky
ntl reminder

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

Trying to install Linux Mandrake 7

Linux Manrake

So I’ve been trying to install and use old Linux distros, mainly to look at the possibility to get older Linux games to work, like Simcity 3000 and Unreal Tournament 2004, all of which run into issues when attempting to play on modern Linux operating systems. First thing I tried was to use a virtual machine to run install the OS into.

VirtualBox

mandrake linux install

Not sure if this is an error or if it’s just because the hard disk just uninitialised

linux mandrake install

Why would I enable hard drive optimisations when it could cause data corruption?

linux mandrake logon

So far so good, were at the login screen

mandrake linux dpms

Oh…

Might be because we don’t have any graphics drivers for the virtual graphics card. At least you would expect a failsafe graphics driver

On VMware

Like on Virtualbox we are able to install as normal, but when it comes to booting the OS,

It seems to have issues detecting the hard disk. Since by default VMWare uses an IDE drive for these old Linux operating systems I though we could try SCSI instead. Unfortunately I was unable to get the installer to detect the SCSI controller.

On PCem

I had better luck using Pcem v17, which actually emulates older PC hardware, rather than using a virtual environment. This has its benefits regarding compatibility but at the expense of performance. Not only must you emulate a slower x86 CPU (In our case an AMD K6 or Pentium, but your host CPU must be able to emulate that older CPU in addition to the video card, chipset and any other peripherals Pcem is emulating. Since Pcem is a single threaded application, having a CPU with a high IPC is beneficial, which is something my AMD FX processor is not well known for. Also depending on the motherboard you emulate in Pcem you may not be able to boot off the CD-ROM directly. Thankfully there was a Linux boot floppy that could be used instead.

The first install went by without a hitch, but when it came to booting the OS it would immediately reboot and would continue to reboot by getting stuck in a boot loop. I fixed this by changing the CPU from a Cyrix to an AMD K6.

The next issue I ran into was with this screen, where it would get stuck at a terminal looking screen with that penguin, where the screen would blink every second. I wasn’t sure what was causing this initially however after changing graphics card in PCem (from a Cirrus Logic 5432? to an ATI Mach, this triggered the Kudzu utility which is used to install system drivers, kind of like the add new hardware wizard in Windows.

Once I selected the correct graphics card, the system rebooted and loaded up the login screen. This helped me understand what was going on previously, either Mandrake did not have the correct driver support for the cirrus logic or PCem is not able to emulate the VGA card properly in Linux. Either way Mandrake was trying to load the X Window system but was failing each time, hence why it was ‘blinking’, the X window system was loading and then crashing.

Unfortunately the speed issues caused a problem with this approach, since PCem would frequently go under 100%, which is the percentage of the speed being emulated by it. Anytime it goes under 100% means the emulator has to slow down in order to catch up. I ended up changing the CPU from an AMD K6 166Mhz to a Pentium 75Mhz, which is below the specification needed for Simcity 3000 and way below what’s needed for Unreal Tournament 2004.

Still at least I was able to boot into a desktop, I guess it’s time for a host CPU upgrade.

Windows Neptune Adventures

Neptune was the supposed successor to Windows 98 and was to be the introduction of the NT kernel for home users.

It’s mostly the same as the Windows 2000 install, makes sense considering both were being developed at the same time, and have a lot in common in terms of visual elements.

When you first login you are presented with this dialog box. You can enter your name or just close it. It does not seem to make a difference.

One issue with this build the the Still Image Service which is faulty in this build and causes a minute hang at startup. This can be disabled without any consequence though the Service management panel (Start, Run, Services.msc)

Once disabled the system will startup and login without any delays or freezing.

Windows Media Player 7, very identical to the Windows ME version

Activity Zones

Windows Explorer has had a slightly new design bringing it closer to the 2000 interface.

Viewing the activity zones in Internet Explorer

Setting the Activity Zones as an Active Desktop background. This may have been the intended use. A lot of the items listed on the activity zone were integrated onto the Windows XP start menu. Shortcuts to the Documents, Music and photos appear here also appears on the XP start menu. E-Mail and Internet shortcuts also appears on the XP start menu where they would show the default respective applications at the top of the stat menu. So one could assume the activity centres made their way somewhat by being embedded in the Start menu.

Customising the desktop activity centre

Alternative background theme

The login screen, the Ctrl+Alt+Del style screen still exists and can be re-enabled.

Unreal Tournament

Unreal Tournament runs somewhat, the mouse aiming is broken partially due to the way Virtual-box captures the mouse, might see if this works better in PCem or 86box instead.

Sadly Neptune did not have a bright future and was scrapped in favour of Windows ME, which was identical to 98 with a few refinements and bringing Windows explorer design inline with 2000. It wouldn’t be until the release of Windows XP (Whistler) when home users would get to take advantage of Windows NT.