Monthly Archives: July 2021

ntl: launch EPG (2000 – Langely)

ntl launched it’s digital TV service in 2000, shortly before acquiring the Cable & Wireless consumer division. Since the two networks had select differences between the implementation, it took some time before the networks were fully merged. The original network is referred to as ‘Langely’ as that was the location of the main headend and playout centre.

Now & Next

Now and next banner that appear when you change channels

You can bring up the information banner, which shows what’s on now and next, and allows you to browse through the channels on ntl digital

TV Guide Listings

Pressing Guide bring up this menu, this gives two options. The regular channel guide and the On Demand (NVOD) guide

The guide layout is quite different here compared to the grid view that other systems like Sky Digital use. Here you select a channel from a list which will then show a page full of listings.

Pressing info brings up a description of the program or episode

TV On Demand

Front row was the services used to provide PPV events for cable customers, similar to Sky Box Office

A list of movies and events to order

Purchasing a movie,

Help Information

Appears when the set top box is in the process of starting up

Updated Build

A revised update now adds a reminder diary feature, that allows reminders to be set for future program’s – similar to the Sky personal planner

Channel list

Listings for a single channel

Viewing a PPV movie listings

Programs entered into the reminder diary

When a program is about to start

Telewest launch EPG (1999)

Telewest active digital

Telewest launched it’s Active Digital TV service in 1999 and was built on the same foundation that Cable & Wireless used for their digital TV service.

These screenshots were originally hosted on Digitalspy and were captured by a forum member, but the links to them were broken in an update, and were no longer directly accessible. From the looks of it they were captured using the RF output, so they are not indicative of the quality available at the time.

Startup Screen

Now & Next bar, very similar in practice to Sky Digital

The main home screen

At-A-Glance

The main TV Guide, called ‘At-A-Glance’, this shows TV listings for the next three days

Pressing i calls up a description of the program

TV-On-Demand

This isn’t true video on demand, at this point only NVOD was supported. the customer selects a convenient time slot showing to view the movie or event

Different categories

Programs-By-Subject

This I imagine is similar to the A-Z listings on Sky, where you can view programmes by their genre. Useful for discovering new or similar programs.

Settings

Main settings area

You can set the reminder notification warning before the program starts. Its worth noting that cable had implemented this before Sky Digital,

Here you can change from RGB to Composite, and set the box to output widescreen or standard. Letterbox options are also available.

Interactive

The early implementation of interactive was done in a separate Liberate browser, that had to be loaded separately. this meant that red button functionality was not yet possible in this build, since the Liberate environment was not yet running full time.

The main interactive menu, very similar to the ntl interactive portal

List of all enterntainment interactive services, which are customised websites that are designed for use on an embedded set-top-box.

Interactive is delivered using the internal broadband cable modem built into the set top box, a phoneline is not required and the service is always on

Nearly all of the content and service are built using HTML3, which makes it easy to develop and host service, although there are some differences and restrictions comparted to a desktop class website.

A navigation bar can be used to browse around the service, and to exit back to the tv channel you were watching

An email service was built into the service, and was tied into the blueyonder email service.

Vs Cable & Wireless

Pace DiTV 1000

The DiTV 1000 was one of the first digital cable boxes released in the UK, and one of the first DVB-C box’s with a built in DOCSIS cable modem.

The DITV1000 was also used by Telewest, where it was branded as the Di1000T, however the internals should be the same, although there may be differences in the memory configuration

DiTV 1000 Front

Two card slots are present, with the smartcard slot visible behind the front cover flap. Front panel buttons can be used to change channel, move and navigate the on screen cursor and access various different menus.

DiTV 1000 Rear

Power – Mains input

RF Output: Outputs a modulated RF signal to a TV

RF Input: In from antenna

Audio Output: Outputs audio to a HiFi system, useful for radio

Scart Ports: Supports compostie and RGB, and VCR passthrough

IR Remote In/Out: To connect external IR blaster devices, Not officially used but is power enabled

Ethernet Port: Originally used to provide broadband services to a computer using the internal DOCSIS modem, redundant as cable modems are now preferred.

Serial Port: Labelled as RS232, Not Officially used

Pararell Port: Labelled is IEEE1284, Not Officially used

Internals of the DITV 1000, note the various amount of processors in this box, no wonder it runs hot.

It kind of reminds me of the Sega Saturn, which itself had 8 processors for various different tasks. Remember this box has to function as a high end STB and a cable mode, and still has to remain the size of a typical VCR.

Note the lack of a fan, since these box’s run hot they would have benefitted greatly from an additional fan to extract the heat generated by the components. Whilst this would have increased the cost of the stb slightly, the increase in reliability would have paid for itself in time, remember ntl had to pay installers to come out and replace the box once it had failed, and then had to be sent back to Pace in order to be diagnosed and repaired. Also customers are generally poor at maintaining AV equipment, with many putting the boxes in Tv cabinets and stands with closed doors, often on top of a VCR or DVD player that already generates heat. It’s no secret that heat is the main reason electronic components die early, and this was before the days of thermal throttling.

View of the memory and flash chips, with the memory module. Interesting to note the two flash banks, one labelled C&W Flash and the other as Download, wonder if these store two separate images? One for main use and the other for backup?

View of the bottom right side, showing part of the PSU

The main set of processors, from top left working down

Broadcom QAMLink BCM3118BKEF – QAM & DVB Decoder

C-Cube AViA GTX – Graphics processor

C-Cube AViA-600 – MPEG2 decoder

Broadcom BCM3220KPF – DOCSIS Modem

Hitachi SuperH/SH3 Processor – Central Processing Unit

Another view of the main processors

DiTV1000 Front Panel

Update Process

So looking into the update process for the Ditv1000 I came to a plausible theory, When pace had written the initial loader for the stb, they neglected to include a function to check for a firmware update on boot up, which the later boxes did support and do. Typically when you boot up a cable box, it checks the default frequency for a valid netID and if there are any updates available for that stb, and the loader application for the ditv1000 may not have done that.

Since the loader is present on some sort of ROM medium and its likely Pace had already manufactured the software on the ROM chips themselves, they did not want to write off these chips since it would be a considerable expense, instead they included a workaround in the software loaded in flash, where once the operator had released a new update, a signal flag would be sent out within the transport stream, of which the software would then corrupt itself in an extent that the loader would fail to boot (possibly by failing a checksum) and would then trigger the download process.

To force an update on the Ditv1000, Hold the power button upon powering on the box from the mains power, release the power button when OHAY appears on the screen. then press

Update Process, this is displayed after you enter the key sequence

Diag Screens

To access, hold the Up/Down front panel buttons together after powering the box from the mains, release once DIAG appears on the front panel.

Default Frequency settings

Hardware version information and the loaded software information

Software versions for various components

Date & Time Information

That’s a lot of credit

The bootloader status

Memory information for both RAM and Flash memory

Status and a list of logs and events

Signal information for the DVB tuner

Downstream signal information for the cable modem

Information for the DVB Signal Information that is currently being received

Cable modem upstream

Front LCD Display

There are three light’s to the right o the LCD display which indicate the following:

  • The top light indicates power is being received by the stb
  • The middle light indicated the return path status of the modem, this light should be steady which indicates it is connected, flashing means the modem is attempting to connect – also means interactive services are unavailable until the stb connects.
  • The bottom light is for the remote control, and light up when a command has been received
MessageMeaning
PACEAppears when the stb is powered on
—-Liberate middleware is initialising, normal part of boot up
LAITWait, The stb is preparing to update
OHAYAppears when you hold the power button down upon boot, stb waiting for a front panel command
ERASErasing flash
FLASFlashing memory, part of the update process
GOODChecksum passed, last part of the update process
ERRXError code, where X means the error number