A few screenshots of the original Cable&Wireless guide have surfaced online. They look to have been taken from a magazine, and may have been an early preview of the software. Similar to the pre launch Sky software that was a redesigned prior to its launch.
There isn’t much to say since it looks remarkably similar to the Telewest guide that was used for its launched, and was possibly based on the same code base. the initial EPG used by both Telewest and ntl was built using by Pace, and was designed to be a basic EPG with the Liberate browser running in background.
The software below is known as CR1, this lacks interactivity as the liberate client was yet to be deployed to the STB’s of the time, and the service was still in the process of launching. ntl later rebranded the CR1 software to their own colour scheme, but the design remained the same until ntl started rolling out CR3, which saw the EPG being completely redesigned to use the Liberate TV Navigator. In some areas of London, the ntl CR1 EPG was still in use, due to the poor condition of the Videotron network that was originally deployed.
The main menu, shows TV on demand (Pay per view), at a glance (EPG guide listings), programes by subject (subgenres) and preferences.
The options and layout of the guide look similar to the Telewest build of the software, and the later ntl rebrand
PayPerView on demand listings, I believe Cable & Wireless used Sky Box Office at the time, rather than Front Row
List of the PPV event along with the show times, again very similar to the Telewest layout
The Nokia Mediamaster 9850T was one of the first ONdigital receivers released to the market, alongside the Philips and Pace models, and one of the first digital terrestrial receiver that Nokia had made.
Like other ONdigital boxes, the 9850T uses SECA Media-highway for its middleware, alongside the MediaGuard conditional access system. The box also has a PCMCIA slot for future digital interfaces, likely to enable upgrades. The front panel design is similar to the other models of the time, all boxes had a Power, Select, Menu and directional buttons to allow basic control of the receiver without a remote, and a 4 digit display which would show the channel number and the time in standby
Lifting the Lid
The tuner is implemented on a separate module away from the mainboard, it seems the board is based off the 9800/9700 satellite receiver, and when it came to adapting the design for the 9850T, Nokia added the DVB-T tuner module as a separate module. This module is soldered in and cannot be removed.
Another shot of the main CPU and MPEG2 decoder, the Flash and RAM chips can be seen to the left side
The modem module itself
Vs Pace Di4000
Vs Pace 2500S5
As this was one of the first DTT receivers on the market, the box seems to be quite primitive compared to the later Freeview receivers with its lack of a full EPG and more importantly 8K tuner support, however in the ONdigital era the Nokia was considered to be the more reliable and supported box (The Sony and Toshiba models did not get MHEG support) and there are reports of the 9850T being able to lock onto weaker signals better than its Philips or Pace counterpart.
The addition of the digital audio connecter would have been the main distinction from the other ONdigital boxes besides the Sony, since they were the only models to feature this.
Nokia would later go on to continue creating DTT receivers for the Freeview service, with models like the 221T or the 121T, which had an unorthodox and unique design compared to the traditional 9850T. Unfortunately Nokia exited the Freeview market after 2005, along with its satellite receivers and focused on mobile phones before Microsoft purchases their handset division. It’s not known it Nokia will reenter the set top box market.
Panasonic were one of the major manufactures of Sky Digibox’s, and were considered to be one of the more reliable makes in terms of reliability and performance.
The front panel is typical of the average Sky box of the era, 4 led lights followed by 9 front panel buttons along with two card slots.
A loot at the system details screen, showing the software and revision information
Lifting the Lid
A very clean design, similar to the 2500S5
On the left you can see the main CPU and MPEG2 decoder, seems to be a custom Panasonic MN2 processor (MN2WS0002AD). Whilst I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on it online, It’s a lot faster than the ST 5512 found in the Pace 2500S5
Not sure about the Panasonic chip towards the bottom, the MN7D022B3M, nothing much turns up online. Not much can be found with the Conexant chip either (SMARTSCM/336 CX88168-12) however one MAME driver source page has it down as a modem
Second card slot
Another view of the MN2 chip with the flash rom (bottom) and memory (Samsung chip next to the MN2)
Main central processor MN2WS0002AD, Looks like it’s missing a heatsink, or maybe Panasonic figured it didn’t need one. Most likely Sky winged about the price so Panasonic had to cut corners. Still the box feels cool to the touch when in use.
The front panel removed
Vs Pace 2500S5
Vs Pace Di4000N
The DSB40 comes from the same generation of digibox as my 2500S5, yet it feels so much faster in operation thanks to its processor. I’m not sure why Pace held onto the St5512 for so long when over digibox’s were moving onto more capable processors. Unfortunately I’m not able to find any further information regarding Panasonic’s MN2 chips that they used, only that they were used for Directv and OpenCable boxes also, and they were mostly MIPS based designed like the NEC EMMA used on some digibox’s.
Then again this box is running older software, maybe the later versions were more demanding?
The only major issue the the telephone cable connector, once you insert the wire, its suck to the digibox and cannot be removed without removing the back panel. I’m not sure why this is, if the connecter was mismatched for the case or maybe it was a cost saving design.
A SSF (Small Form Factor) desktop class PC powered by the Pentium 2 processor.
Internal view of the GX1 showing the replacement PSU with adaptor
Power Supply replacement
The power supply in this desktop was well over 20 years old, and was in dire need for replacement, since the system had issues remaining stable after adding two PCI cards. Unfortunately with these old Dell Optiplex machines, changing or upgrading the PSU is not an easy task since Dell opted to use a different pinout for their ATX connector, alongside a proprietary connector than provided 3V to the mainboard. Using a regular AT power supply will damage the mainboard since the wiring is completely different, therefore an adaptor is required for a PSU replacement.
One downside to this adaptor is that it adds additional slack to the ATX main power cable, which was already long to begin with, this means I had to tie up the excess cable and shove it under the CD drive.
There are various other Dell models which use this type of power supply wiring, generally models from the Pentium 2 and 3 era. The website linked has a list of affected models that use this type of power supply.
Seriously! Don’t use a regular ATX power supply without this adaptor!
The Optiplex GX1 had a range of officially supported operating systems to use;
The go to operating system for PC retro gaming. Whilst its not the most stable operating system in the world, its widespread support and popularity and to an extent charm means it deserves an install. The GX1 has native support for 98, and most likely came preloaded on most shipped systems for this model.
Windows NT 4.0
The GX1 had full driver support for NT4, since it was designed as a business class system to be used in offices, however with limited DirectX support, the games we can run on NT4 is a lot more limited comparted to 98.
The GX1 has official drivers for OS/2 Warp 4, I’ve not tried installing on this system, however I am interesting in getting it running on the system since I have only used OS/2 on virtual machines or PCem.
Red Hat 6.2
One of the officially supported GNU/Linux distro, at least going by the Dell driver support page, which offered official downloads for the GX1. I’ve not tried installing Red Hat on this system (yet)
This system has 2 PCI slots and 2 ISA slots, a maximum of three cards can be installed because the middle slot is shared between the PCI and ISA
A must have upgrade since the USB bus on this system is limited to the 1.1 standard, and maxes out as 12Mbps. VIA still provide Windows 98 drivers for their cards. Plus the 4 extra USB connectors are useful.
Some older motherboards can be picky in regards to the USB chipset used, apparently VIA chipsets are considered more problematic compared to NEC ones, due to the way IRQ’s are handled and reserved with different chipsets.
Surprisingly Windows 98 supported 1394 Firewire/iLink cards, and drivers for 98 exist for this card. By adding a 1394 card, this become one of the faster interfaces on the PC, the other being the USB 2.0 PCi card. The onboard ethernet maxes out as 100Mbps.
Spare ISA Slot
Not sure what to put here, a modem? Gameport card? (useful since I have a Microsoft Sidewinder that has a Gameport)
Compact Flash Card
Could be used in the slave IDE channel with the correct adaptor, in order to add additional storage, or to install another operating system like one of the many supported OS.
ATI Rage II – This is the main graphics adaptor built onto the mainboard. Internally it uses the AGP bus and has 4MB of VRAM with the ability to upgrade to 8MB via onboard memory upgrade.
The graphics processor, with the VRAM to the right along with the VRAM expansion slot. The white IDE looking connector to the top right is the ATI video connector and is meant to connect to an ATI MPEG2 decoder.
This graphics card support the ATI CIF 3D API, which was ATI’s graphics library used with some early 3D titles before the widespread adoption of DirectX. Games such as Wipeout, Tomb Raider used this API. This API was only supported on Windows 95 and 98, it had no support for Windows NT, also later ATI drivers versions remove the CIF support.
There are 3 SDRAM slots available, with one slot populated with a 64MB module, and an extra 64MB module was added to the GX1 to bring the memory up to 128MB. According to the Dell documentation, the system can handle a maximum of 768MB of memory.
ATi RAGE utility, showing information about the onboard graphics
Oh my… lets try a different resolution
Ah that’s better, Wipeout running at 640×480
South Park had a PC port, in addition to the console PSone and N64 releases, running in a higher resolutions with Anti-Aliasing
I plan on looking at further ATI CIF powered games, in addition to Wipeout listed above (Driver/South Park are DirectX games)
A full list of CIF supporting games is available here
Previously I connected a former ntl box (Pace Di4000N) running an old outdated version of its guide software to a modern Virgin media network in attempt to see what would happen, the result was it could load the TV guide listings somewhat (now & next) but the channels would be out of order. There was also no chance of receiving any channels, since the NetID didn’t match my area.
I came across an ntl: Langely box (Pace Di4001NC) which still had an older build of its software installed, which was later build than the Di4000 box described above. It can take a few boot attempts to get it to load the TV channels, sometimes it gets stuck on the loading screen.
Well it defaults onto channel 321 upon bootup
Attempting to browse TV listings via the TV Guide browser, some listings do come through whilst others seem to be missing
At least program synopsis works somewhat
From what I’ve researched, ntl used a proprietary iEPG system for its listings, which may have used the regular DVB SI for program listings, with the iEPG handling the extra stuff that the regular DVB-SI didn’t cover. This could apply to channel genres and maybe the numbers themselves
Adding events to the diary, which is similar to the personal planner in Sky Guide
Information for a future event
A list of channels, ntl CR3 had the ability to reorder the channel list to the user preference, a feature that was lost when it was replaced by the Virgin Media UK2 software. (UK1 in some areas)
Further list of channels, These are not in EPG order, rather the box assigns them channel numbers by itself
List of channels using the favourite channels feature
And finally some system and technical information
Still no channels come though, likely due to the Network ID being incorrect, and with the Di4001 boxes, they were designed to set their own Network ID. In practice however it seems to cycle through the different Network ID’s that Virgin Media use, perhaps the box was not designed to handle multiple Network ID’s?