Category Archives: Digital TV

BT TV Games

BT, or Youview rather have introduced a new games channel/app/services to their selection of apps that are provided with the service. These are in a similar style to the games offered previously to Sky (Gamestar and PlayJam) and the ones offered on cable where they run directly off the STB and have to be loaded each time they are accessed. The games are rather simplistic in nature due to the limited capabilities of the hardware that Youview is based on, which was originally released in 2012.

Still, better late than never. On a similar note Sky also offered a similar service through their Sky Q service, and Virgin Media offered buyable games on their Tivo platform (Unsure if this is present on the 360 box, which is a different software platform)

Tetris

The game we all know and love. The background music plays for a minute, stops, and fails to loop. This leaves you with eerie silence. A leaderboard with high-score is available, and you can enter your own name. This only appears to show personal players’ scores, it does not show scores from other players online.

Rummikub

I have no idea what the fuck this game is about, the instructions are too long and I lack the attention span to even care. I try to put numbers on the board but the thing won’t let me. I guess its like Scrabble with numbers?

Pongal

Football/soccer-themed pong game. The opponent AI seems to have been lifted from Mario Party since it’s possible to win by doing nothing. The options menu lets you change the game’s difficulty and the speed of your opponent.

SuperMaze

A simple maze game where you control a ball that highlight the squares of the maze when moved, The objective is to highlight all the maze squares which will progress you to the next level. Music sounds like a Butlins/Thomas Cook advert

Bubble Jam

Puzzle quest-type game, the objective is to clear the board by popping bubbles of the same colour in segments of three or more.

QuizTV

A bunch of Buzzfeed-style questions that consist of ‘What kind of character are you?’ or ‘How well do you know this show’ – Most of these will appeal to an American audience with very few subjects regarding British TV shows or music.

Carrot Mania Space

A platform game, you have to collect all the carrots in a level whilst avoiding the rival foxes. This game seems to have a few achievements implemented.

Letter Wizard

A countdown/wonderment style game where you have to find a word in a scrambled set of letters. You can swap certain letters out and receive bonuses for longer words or for using certain letters.

Super Collapse

Here you have to try to clear the board of all colours, whilst a new row is added every 10 seconds. You can only delete in blocks of three or more.

Gem Matcher

The controls on this game are a joke, will the up and down buttons being used to adjust the angle, but the left key will quit the game and the right key will bring up the help screen, which takes a few seconds to load. As for the gameplay itself, you have to aim and throw gems in order to clear the screen by adjusting the angle, along with the power of the shot. Some gems take more shots in order to break. Like Tetris, the music on this game does not loop and will stop after a few seconds.

Summary

Overall it’s a good addition to the Youview service, though there are some early quirks present that will hopefully get ironed out within the coming months. There are a few performance issues with some of the games, particularly with SuperMaze. As this was running on the BT TV Pro box, this might be more of an issue with older Youview units.

Still in the future we could see more games being added to the service, in addition to more TV gaming providers like PlayJam (Who still exist) and even cloud gaming services like PlayStation Plus (Formely PlayStation Now), Google Stadia or Xbox Live Cloud. BT already offer Xbox Gamepass as part of their broadband and TV bundles. Still this will require dedicated controller support which will have to be included within the Youview software.

See Also

Sky Interactive and game screenshots

DirecTivo

DirecTV partnered with Tivo to produce DVRs for the digital satellite TV services, alongside the UltimateTV. This would become the standard DVR for DirecTV subscribers from 1999 to 2005, when DirecTV introduced their own custom-developed units based on NDS middleware, similar to Sky+ in the UK. The last remaining Tivo DVR was the THR-22.

Typical Tivo units were manufactured by Humax, Sony and Hughes

Tivo channel banner

The channel information banner that shows what is currently being watched, a description of the current show, and icons on the right allow quick access to Tivo features

Tivo uses the thumbs Up/Down rating system for the user to provide feedback about the programs they prefer watching and the ones they prefer to avoid. This influences the Tivo suggestions that the DVR will record.

An iPreview icon, Pressing select or the thumbs up icon takes you to a Tivo Central message advertisement

The main EPG interface, Showing channels in a grid interface

Most of the Tivo menu are straight vertical lists and are easy to navigate with the remote control. You can customize the guide interface and set any additional filters

A list of recorder programs, when they were recorded and the channel they were recorded from

Tivo gives additional options when playing back a program, you can archive to a VCR instead, and you can prevent the Tivo from deleting the program if it needs more space.

DirecTV Tivo was integrated with DirecTV’s pay-per-view services, and movies/events could be recorded to its hard drive

You can add an additional buffer for recording TV programs to prevent them from being cut off in the event it overruns into the next program, similar to PDC (Program Delivery Control)

List of upcoming programs to be recorded

To Do List shows the programs Tivo is about to record as scheduled

You can filter to a specific genre of program

Choosing a channel and listing all the programs broadcast

Setting up a manual recording

Recording history for a show that was deleted.

Tivo will alert you if a program will not be recorded due to a schedule conflict, due to the limited amount of tuners

Tivos Recording history shows what was recorded, anything that didn’t record and what was deleted

Season passes are akin to series links, where the Tivo will record a series of episodes of the same show automatically. You can modify and remove these at any time

Upcoming episodes to be recorded, as part of a season pass

The time bar, shows how long you are into a recording, this appears when you pause, fast forward or rewind during a show.

The search feature, cab be used to find upcoming shows or movies

Wishlist main menu, you can set a Wishlist for a specific actor, and keywords (like the show title), you can then set a season pass to record any program matching that Wishlist keyword.

The results window when searching for a specific actor, any upcoming shows are listed that feature that actor

Again, very similar to the title keywords

Tivo showcases are like interactive apps containing clips that can be downloaded to your Tivo, they also serve as promotions for subscribers

DirecTV: UltimateTV

Ultimate TV was a partnership between DirecTV and Microsoft, who were looking to expand their WebTV platform. The DISH Player had launched a year prior with DISH network, and has also used the WebTV platform as a basis of its DVR software.

DirecTV also launched a DVR with Tivo, known as the DirecTivo which integrated two DSS satellite tuners into the Tivo system, which allowed for two channels to be recorded at the same time. Something that could not be done on the regular Tivo’s of the time, which required an external set top box to be connected.

Hardware was manufactured by RCA and Sony who had also made standalone WebTV hardware. Receivers typically came with a 40GB hard disk and twin DSS tuners

My Shows

List of all recordings made, and any upcoming shows to be recorded

Another screenshot of the My Shows section, this time with recordings grouped by title name

More recordings of different episodes of the same show

At launch dual channel recording was not possible, and inital functionality c

Interactive

An interactive prompt, WebTV was one of the main interactive platforms

Pay-Per-View

PPV movie and events could be ordered and recorded

Favourite Channels

Separate lists can be made to store favourite channels

Category Search

Searching for a specific program, you can choose from various filters

Searching by actor and a combination of categories

Someone here was clearly a fan of Friends

Searching by Day

You can filter to a specific feature that a program supports, like subtitles

Search by age rating

Filtering by the period of day

Or by decade period

Or by a search term / keyword. This was similar to what Tivo had offered

Additional Search terms

DISH Player

Dish Network also had their own DVR which ran using the WebTV middleware, known as the DISH Player. This was very similar to the UltimateTV but was released one year prior. Two models were released, the 7100 and 7200, both manufactured by Echostar and feature a single tuner. The 7100 has a 8GB Hard Disk, whilst the 7200 has 17.8GB.

A software update was released in December 1999 that enabled full DVR functionality. Prior to that it was only possible to live pause TV for 30 minutes. A $10 subscription fee was required, reducing to $5 if you took out a WebTV subscription also.

Images were originally captured from iwantptv.com before the site went offline

Channel 1 is the PTV (personal TV) channel, which is where the DVR is managed. You can view recorded shows which the DVR can self manage, older watched shows are deleted automatically to make space for upcoming shows.

  • TV Home: The main screen where you can access the guide, personal TV and any other services offered by WebTV and DISH Network.
  • Settings: Change receiver settings
  • TV Listings: The main TV guide and search engine
  • Web Home: Opens the WebTV browser
  • Help: Gives you information on how to use the receiver
  • Purchases: Pay Per View shows will appear when when purchased
  • TV Sites: TV Channel related sites like Fox News, CNN, etc
  • Games: Basic games that have been downloaded to the hard drive
  • Notices: Displays any messages sent to the box like service announcements

Only satellite programs can be recorded, OTA terrestrial ATSC channels can not be recorded, only watched live.

Conclusion

Microsoft didn’t last long in the North American DVR market, and the WebTV based DVR’s would be replaced not long after. DirecTV continued their partnership with Tivo and would eventually introduce their own branded DVR’s running NDS XTV software. DISH would replace the DISH Player with their own DISH DVR models.

Part of the reason was the poor initial reception due to the poor and buggy software during the early years of WebTV DVR’s, with reports of freezing and missed recordings, along with audio and visual glitches. It would be some time before these issues were sorted out, and Microsoft wasn’t very engaging on the software side of things which made it difficult for DirecTV or DISH to push software updates.

This wouldn’t be the last we would see of Microsoft attempting to enter the set top box market, the Mediaroom middleware would launch and power the ATT U-Verse and BT Vision services, and would also demo the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition for the Comcast/Motorola DCT platform.

Netgem TV

A Freeview service with a few additional services bundled alongside the regular Freeview offering, making full use of IPTV to deliver streamed TV channels in HD.

The service is very similar to Youview provided by BT or TalkTalk (Of which the latter now offers Netgem as an alternative to Youview) in that it melds Freeview and on-demand (Or catch-up services) with one interface, ideal for an alternative to smart TVs. Live TV channels are also offered and is one of the standout features of the service, whilst this requires a subscription fee – typically £15 a month, or £10 if you have a bundled internet plan with a service provider.

History of Netgem

Not many people are aware Netgem offer a subscription TV service of sorts
Netgem was previously known in the Freeview market for the iPlayer (before the name was squired by the BBC for their on-demand service), the Netgem iPlayer was an advanced internet-connected Freeview box that contained an internet browser and a basic media player, which put it leagues ahead of other Freeview boxes of its era.

Netgem TV

Some internet service provers will offer Netgem TV as part of the service, designed to be an alternative to subscription service from Sky or Virgin. In reality, many of the channels are different in scope and serve a niche interest. There’s no Sky Sports or Movies, and many common subscription channels are missing. MTV, and Comedy Central make an appearance, but Syfy, Discovery, Sky Showcase, and GOLD are missing from the lineup.

You can also purchase the box standalone which functions as a typical Freeview HD smart device, but this does not include the streaming channels. It does allow full access to the streaming apps (an additional subscription is required as usual) and the Freeview Play catchup services.

Also unlike a typical Youview box, the Netgem box is not classed as a PVR as it contains only a single tuner and lacks a hard disk drive. With it is intended to be used for catch-up services instead. Despite this, the box is capable of recording by connecting a USB drive to the USB port located at the rear of the box so you get the very basics of PVR’s

Netgem box on the right, in comparison with the BT Youview box

Appearance-wise the box maintains a low profile look, with an LED strip that indicates the power status of the box. Sizewise It’s similar in footprint to the basic BT Youview box

Install

Typical connections include Ethernet, HDMI output (Capable of supporting a 4KTV at 50FPS, so it mus the HDMI 2.0 capable.

When powered up for the first time you will be taken through the set up process which will search for channels, check and download for updates (If you connect the ethernet cable before powering on the receiver will automatically install before going through the install) You will also be prompted to set up a PIN number as a few of the streaming channels require a PIN to access, depending on the content being shown. After all is done you will be notified of the Netgem TV apps for Android/iOS and will then be taken to the main TV interface.

One complaint is the lack of RF output or a proper loop-through. This assumes that you will be exclusively using Freeview with the Netgem TV and whilst that might apply to the majority of people, some may prefer to loop the output for the TV.

One reason for this is to emulate a dual tuner PVR, with the Netgem box busy recording, the TV is free to tune into a Freeview channel so long as it can receive a Freeview channel. This is a good consideration considering the Netgem box only features a single tuner, meaning it can only record one channel at a time (With some exceptions, being it can record two channels if they are on the same multiplex)

Of course, you could add a splitter into the setup, and split the signal between the Netgem box and the TV, but you live in a weak signal area this could affect your reception unless you invest in a signal booster.

Although in my case since it was connected to a computer monitor it wasn’t so much of an issue, but just a weird oversight if you wanted to integrate it into a smart TV setup.

No, I don’t think I will

Interface

Netgem had developed and built its own TV Guide interface, which integrates internet streaming channels and content with the Freeview platform. It’s very Youview-like in its presentation and its graphics-heavy with TV show thumbnails being used to show currently broadcast programs and recommendations.

The home screen features a tab-like an interface which gives access to the different genres of channels, with a dedicated section for movies, sports, kids, documentaries, lifestyle, news

You can see what is being currently broadcast, what is upcoming later that day per channel & any on-demand content that is related to the genre.

Coming out of standby takes a few seconds to start up, likely due to the box entering a low power state during standby. Unlike Youview there is no way to adjust this.

The onscreen keyboard is not QWERTY based, and I didn’t have much luck plugging in a USB keyboard, nor can you use the remote number pad to type anything in, instead it’s all done through the directional arrow buttons and pressing OK to select a letter. This is nothing but time consuming and makes it a chore to search

In contrast, the original Sky Guide allowed you to type text using the remote when using the A-Z listing or when using interactive, it’s surprising how such a basic feature is overlooked. My guess (And this applies to most other ‘smart’ TV platforms) is they would rather what they recommend in your feed rather than find and discover content yourself.

EPG / TV Guide

The area where all your Freeview channels are listed, although it seems to be tacked on as an afterthought. Whilst it does its job, I feel there’s a lot of screen space wasted since it will display the program synopsis at the top, along with a heavily compressed JPEG that’s related to the program. It would have been nice to have the option to choose from a more detailed guide that would show more channels on the screen per page. Kind of like the old Sky Guide which displayed a row of 10 channels per page, Netgem only shows 7.

Streaming channels, in the EPG
Regular Freeview Channels


There is a dedicated button on the remote to get to the EPG, so that’s a nice feature. If only Youview had the same design. Channel logos are displayed when connected to the internet, like how Freesat or Tivo displays them.

There’s also a search and scan banner of sorts, which kind of reminds me of the XMB from the PlayStation 3. You can cycle through the various channels and view the schedule whilst watching a live TV channel.

The Remote

The bunded remote feels on the cheap side and has a clicky feel to the buttons. A red LED light lights up when a button is pressed to indicate it is working. There are dedicated buttons for Freeview Play, and another for My TV which takes you to the home screen. There are a few buttons that take you directly to the channel list, EPG and the search function. There is also a dedicated button that opens Amazon Alexa, but it just tells how to pair the Alexa app to your device. I can’t see any microphone on the remote itself so I’m not sure if you can even speak commands using the remote.

TV volume control is not supported, instead, the volume will always control the volume level of the box. Whilst this makes it ideal for use with a computer monitor, people that watch on a regular TV many prefer the remote to control their TV or AV receiver / Soundbar

Apps and OnDemand

Freeview Play is integrated into the service, so you get full access to BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, Demand5, 4oD Pop Player, and Horror Bites.

There are a few other streaming applications available that are not part of the Freeview Play like YouTube, Amazon Prime, Rakuten, BritBox & AcornTV. These do require an additional subscription, they are not included in your Netgem subscription if you have one.
Plex is also available, which includes a few free streaming TV channels
But no Netflix which is a strange omission, since nearly every smart device has Netflix on it, including an old Sony Blu-ray player I have from 2016. Guess I can’t watch Cuties in 4K or race-baiting documentaries on this box…

Streaming Channels

This is one of the unique features of the Netgem TV box is the live TV channels offered through the service, many of which consist of IPTV-exclusive streaming channels, although there are a few known channels included like MTV.
They appear in the main EPG/TV Guide as any other TV channel and are quick to tune in with very little buffering time needed. Most channels broadcast in full HD, aside from the handful of HD channels Freeview HD offers.
Still, there’s no ITV2/3/4 HD or E4 HD, which are missing from the lineup and would be useful to have.

These channels are featured in the 900 section of the EPG, which seems like there shunted off at the back end of the EPG, compared to the Youvuew TV service where the subscription channels occupy the 300/400/500 section. Perhaps these were reserved by Youview and Netgem had no access to this section? I know the 700 section is reserved for radio channels, and the 800 is used for channels from other transmitters that the box will sometimes pick up.
I cant see why the 300/400 section could not be used, since this isn’t a Youview vox and it never will be, so it makes no sense blocking off these channel numbers, plus the 900 section is nearly full with only a few blank channel numbers in between.

Adding to the selection, you have also access to the MHEG streaming channels location from 250 – 299. They take a few seconds to load but the channels do work. VisionTV below works fine, if a little slow.

Not related but what is with this MHEG screen? looks like a Windows 9x BSOD

Recording

As established, the unit only performs the very basic PVR functions, it lacks an internal hard disk, so in order to enable PVR functionality, an external USB drive must be connected to the rear USB port. This can be either a flash memory-based memory stick with 32GB or higher capacity or an external hard disk.

The single tuner will also be a limitation, although if you have a modern smart TV you can emulate a dual tuner PVR by recording on the Netgem box and watching live on the smart TV, or connecting USB external storage to the TV and having that record also, which can act as a second tuner.

Unlike a PVR, the Netgem does not buffer or actively record TV, this means you cannot rewind TV, instead you must press pause which will activate the buffered recording. If you are used to PVR’ from Virgin/Sky or Youview or any basic Freeview PVR this will be a disadvantage since those models will actively record the live TV broadcast, enabling you to pause and rewind at any time. This also means you can’t quick rewind, so if you miss a piece of dialog or see to see something quickly again, you cannot skip back a few seconds.

Sadly you cannot record the streaming channels, only the Freeview (DTT) delivered channels. The good news is a lot of these channels have their content available on-demand but with a snag, you have to sit through the adverts.

Settings & Configuration

HDMI-CEC is supported if your TV or AVR supports it, and it will turn on with your TV when selected in your TV’s HDMI menu.

The box also features Wi-Fi built-in, although ethernet can be used instead.

Current Software: 8.4.21-67 (Sat, 19 Feb)

Mobile App

TV guide listings can be viewed through the smartphone app. You can cast channels through using the screencast feature which will detect compatible devices. This seems to be limited to Android based devices, and the Netgem box, as it picked up my Sony Android TV and a couple of Google assistants.

Screenshots are taken with a Sony Xperia 5 II

Key Considerations

  • Performs poorly as a PVR, which seems to be tacked on feature. But then again it’s not really designed for such. Netgem also does not have a PVR-based box.
  • Some UI features have been overlooked, like the channel number missing from the search and scan banner.
  • The remote feels too clicky and cheap
  • Can’t seem to disable the PIN protection completely, some channels will always require it which gets annoying
  • The streaming channels are reminiscent of the various FTA channels you used to get on Sky back in the mid-2000s, where some were very niche and interest-specific. That said the picture quality is fantastic on these channels.

Honestly, this would be much improved if they had a PVR option, something that acts as a good alternative to Youview considering this service is marked and often bundled with FTTP internet service provided. However, the trend here is everything must be in the cloud as it’s trendy and modern. Fuck the cloud I’d say, I want the content available locally to watch, not disabled due to some crappy servers going down or because of some backward copyrights policy.

The Sims House Party

The second expansion pack for The Sims that allows them to party (or Partay)

Objects

Some of the objects that come with House party, there are other items like chairs and tables that are not listed here since they have a similar function to the base game objects.
Granny Raymond’s Holiday Cookies: A plate of cookies you can buy direct from buy mode. If you leave them on a table next to the fireplace, along with a Christmas tree from Livin It Up, Santa will appear.
Birthday Cake: Another buyable food item, kids can choose to blow out the candles, although this does not age them up (You need a charm in Makin Magic for that)
SimFarm Turkey Dinner: A piece of turkey sims can buy and carve up
Punchucopia Extraordinaria Punchbowl: sims or their cater can refill to keep guests satisfied at parties
The Elegant Chef Buffet Table: Used to serve a starter, main meal and desert from one table, excellent for parties or for large gatherings.
Fancy Feet Cake Treat: Spawns a male or female dancer (Stripper), or if it’s a kids party, a giant bear. Give a boost to the fun motive.
KampRite Instant Campfire: Sims can sit round the camp fire and sing songs, tell stories or roast marshmallows
Spazmatronic Plasmatronic Go-Go Cage: A Dancing cage, boosts fun. Best place with the dance floor and the DJ booth
Turntablitz DJ Booth: Used for the dance floor but can also function as a radio, has access to all radio stations in the game.
Jukebox: Two versions of this seem to exist, the first is just labelled as the Jukebox and has access to only the fault radio stations in the game. An updated version comes with Hot Date that can select all music tracks House party has to offer.
Bounce My Booty Dance Floor: The dance floor where sims can get their groove on. It’s a 2×2 tile than can be combined together in various patterns. When sims are dancing, the floor will light up in various different patterns and colours.
Porta-Parody Costume Trunk: A costume trunk that can be used to give your party a fancy dress theme. When one sim changes their costume, all sims will change to that costume theme.

Screenshots

Sims carving some turkey, which is buyable from buymode. When carving, sims will stand round and clap until its served.

The dance floor, in the front of someone’s living room. Puts Dance Central to shame

The costume trunk is ideal for theme parties. Available themes are Western, Disco, Toga

Here sims are rocking the disco theme

The buffet tables and the hireable caterer, sims can restock the table themselves at a cost of §20. A punchbowl can also be restocked.

The campfire, sims can tell a ghost story, roast marshmallows or sing a folk song.

Neighborhoods

The expansion pack adds support for multiple neighborhoods if you’ve not installed Livin It Up, Neighbourhoods 6-8 are added since the game assumes Livin it Up has been installed and takes the place of 2-5. It’s easy to add custom hoods. More hoods can be added by going into the games directory in the Program Files folder and adding a new UsedataX folder, where X will be the new number (since the game creates 8 hoods, you would start at 9) and can support up to 99 unique hoods.

NPCs

The Mime: Appears when you are throwing a shit party, and sometimes tries to steal your items. Leaves automatically once your party score has increased
Party Crashers: Appear when you are throwing a good party, these two (Pete and Pauline Dropinsky) will arrive and will try to wreck anything in the party, including breaking objects as they use them. Best to get rid of them as soon as possible.
The Caterer: Can be hired through the phone, the main purpose is to restock the buffet table and the punch bowl. He will also socialize with the guests if he has nothing to do. You must have a buffet table or a punch bowel or he will leave.
Drew Carey: Some American celebrity who appears when you have thrown a great party, arrives in a limo of which sims will rush to it upon arrival. For those who don’t know who Drew Carey, he was a popular late-night show host, like Jimmy Kimmel back when late-night talk shows weren’t biased towards a specific political party.

Some new NPCs have additional roles:
Police Officer: If you throw a party after 8pm, Officer meddling will appear regarding a complaint by one of your neighbors regarding the noise. You are supposed to disband and end the party by asking the guests to leave. Should you fail to do so she will reappear after 2 hours (10pm) and will find you.

Install

The game’s installer will pick up from the previous install, and will automatically install the game patch.

Disc read error upon install, caused by a scratched CD.

HTML view of The Sims House Party, listing sims that are currently moved into the neighborhood. Sims could be viewed here before they were uploaded onto the Sims exchange, which was a place where families and houses could be downloaded.

Mac OS Version

The expansion pack was made avaliable for the Mac OS platform, which a Carbon patch being released later for OS X compatability.

A look at the Pace DTR730 (ONdigital)

Pace was one of the main suppliers of ONdigital receivers, having supplied boxes since the official launch on the 15th November 1998.

There are a few differences in contrast with the Nokia 9850T that I looked at previously, the bootup process behaves differently with the Pace flashing its front panel display for a few seconds before displaying the time (12:00, until it loads the time from the DVB-SI).
Another observation is the middle colon (:) on the display will flash when a button is pressed on the remote. This didn’t happen on the Nokia 9850T, even though it is documented in the instruction book.

The front LED display also flashes when coming out of standby, and like the Nokia it takes a few seconds to come out of standby.

Onwards there isn’t much difference, the software is mostly the same as the Nokia, its had the OnMail, and ONrequest update which enabled the guide menu to be accessed.

In terms of performance, it seems to be a bit more responsive compared to the Nokia

Hidden menu & Software Information

Like on the Nokia, a hidden menu exists that shows additional software information about the box.

To access, Press menu
Select option 7 (technical information)
Then select option 2 (manufacturer data)
Press text-guide-text-guide

ONMail remote

The box didn’t come with a remote, thankfully I had the ONmail remote which has the ability to control the box but requires to be programmed at first. This is because each manufacturer used their own remote control design and IR codes.
To set the remote code:
Hold the Red and Select button for around four seconds, then type in the code
Pace – 905
Nokia – 901

Inside the box

Lets see what powers the DTR730…

At the heart we have the ST20-TP4 processor, this seems to be a variation of the ST20-TP3 used in the digibox’s of the time and appears to be clocked at 50Mhz. This contrasts to the ARM Texas Instruments chip found in the Mediamaster 9850T, which was an ARM clocked at 40Mhz. It is unfair to compare both on the clock speeds alone, as they are of different instruction set with the Nokia being of the ARM family and the Pace belonging to the ST20 family of processors. Still the Pace feels a lot more responsive compared to the Nokia, although both are sluggish navigating the menus compared to more modern boxes.

STi3520LCV

An MPEG2 decoder is provided off-chip, very similar to what Pace used in their digibox’s of the time. At this point many of the components were not as integrated, so the Cpu and decoder were still separate chips. I’d say this is the same decoder they used on their Digibox’s, and the IPTV receivers (the DSL4000).

Like the Nokia, the tuner seems to be on its own board and is connected in a similar fashion. Here you have the tuner, RF modulator and the DVB-T demodulator. Here is provided by LSI Logic, whilst the Nokia used a Motorola processor. These would have belonged to the same generation and would have lacked 8K modulation support, meaning these boxes cannot receive modern Freeview broadcasts.
As both the Nokia and pace follow this modular-like design for the tuner, I’d guess this was a design consideration, and the mainboards were intended to be adapted easily for satellite or cable use, by separating the tuner module from the mainboard. I also wonder if this is similar to the hardware Canal+ had used for their equipment, just fitted with satellite tuners instead. Pace, Philips, and Nokia did make boxes for Canal+, who also designed the Mediahighway and Mediaguard components that ONdigital used, so it may be the case they just adapted the box design for ONdigital.

Underneath is the common interface slot, which is a PCMCIA slot for additional addon board like a conditional access interface, or to add an additional decoder.

Back in the day there were rumors of a satellite tuner being added as a sidecar to allow for them to receive ONdigital broadcasts, this never materialized and as such the slot remained redundant. Compared to the common interface on the Digibox, it’s a lot smaller but uses the same PCMCIA interface suggesting this was for conditional access use only.

The modem is integrated onto the mainboard unlike the Nokia which was a separate module, it looks to be the same hardware as the Nokia however. Its certainly a lot quieter as it does not make a click when the modem is accessed like the Nokia does (You can hear it when you try to dial into the ONmail service.

The back panel is fairly typical of ONdigital boxes, with dual scarts, audio out (No digital audio like the Sony or Nokia) and a serial port for the ONmail remote.

Memory/Flash

Fujitsu 29LV160B

Flash memory chips, each chip has 2MB of capacity for a total of 6MB. Rumor is there are two partitions, 2MB solely for Canal+ (Possibly the operating system itself?) and 4Mb for ONdigital’s resident applications.

NEC D4218165LG5

The main DRAM, I’d say there’s around 2 or 4MB of system RAM, assuming there aren’t additional chips on the underside of the board. Not much information on these can be found online.

LGS GM72V161621CT10K

Some sort of SDRAM for the MPEG2 decoder, appears to be 1MB in size for each chip for a total of 2MB, according to this site (assuming I’ve read this correctly)

Misc Screenshots

A look at the channel list, seems the box was able to retain some of its original channel list, but was rescanned at some point

Libdebug

Using the DigDebug and loading the appropriate configuration file, we are able to see the test process for the DTR730. Here there are options to:

  • Test and clear the flash memory did not want to do this since this will erase the current channel list
  • Enable/disable the test patterns (A color bar is displayed on screen)
  • Test the Mediaguard smartcard (If it’s inserted and detectable)
  • Turn on/off different SCART signals
  • Test the modem and have it dial out (Didn’t seem to work on my box)
  • Test the front LED display, you can either set it to be blank or light up all segments on the display
test pattern

BT Youview – TV Box Pro

BT has been trying to reinvent its TV service by overhauling the software and recently have introduced new hardware, the BT TV Box Pro. Content is mainly provided by NOWtv, In addition to its own set of subscription channels (AMC and BT Sport).

Like the previous Youview box, the TV Box Pro makes use of the users aerial to deliver Freeview channels, with the subscription channels coming through the BT Broadband connection. If the customer does not have a working aerial, BT can install one for a charge of £40

From NOWtv comes the Sky basic channels, MTV, Comedy Central, Nat Geo and GOLD. An odd section considering you only get one MTV channel, where is MTV Base/Music/Classic? Or any of the other Discovery channels?

Funny thing is BT offered its own bundle of TV channels ( Previously BT Max, now classic entertainment package, which has now been phased out) which continued to offer channels that were not in NOWtv, which mainly deals with Sky channels with a few extra third party channels.

Its clear that the service is tailored to those who don’t watch much linear TV, or for those who prefer streaming / On Demand since BT it a telecommunications based company.

The BT TV Pro Box

The Pro box is quite wide compared to the previous model and bares a resemblance to the Sky Q box. It’s very low profile with no standby LED or indicators, instead the BT logo lights up purple when out of standby and there are three LED’s which indicates when the box is recording and if there are any network connection issues. Whereas previous models were manufactured by Humax, the TV Pro Box was produced by Sagemcom, who have also supplied BT with their Homehubs, now known as SmartHubs.

The Youview software is in full use here, and benefits from the improved hardware along with the supported applications.

4K output is supported through the use of on demand, and the BT Sport Ultimate channel, which offers sport events in 4K. This is not BT’s first box to support 4K or HEVC, but is now a standard option since the previous models have now been discontinued, except for the basic non-recordable box. HDR is also supported, but I’ve not been able to find which type of HDR that BT use (HLG, Dolby Vision, HDR10?)

New Features

WiFi: A first for BT and Youview boxes which have always lacked the support of Wifi, likely due to the issues of delivering the multicast IPTV channels (Although Powerline wasn’t any much better in that regard). Wi-Fi is only functional when the ethernet cable is disconnected from the unit, and only 5GHZ networks can be connected.

In terms of performance it works well, but the multicast channels will break up on three signal bars or less, depending on the throughput of the broadband router. Meanwhile on demand service will work since they adjust the bit rate and the resolution depending on your bandwidth.

Overall if your gonna use Wifi, ensure the box is relatively close to the router, or just use ethernet.

Bluetooth Remote: Like Sky Q and the Virgin 360 remotes, the BT remote now connects via Bluetooth instead of IR, and features a microphone hole that has yet to be activated. This gives the possibility of giving voice commands to the remote to control the interface.

Quad Tuners: Up to four Freeview channels can be recorded simultaneously, along with two IP subscription channels. That’s a total of six channels with four Freeview and two subscription.

Good to Know

The box retains the Youview software and apps, so you will be able to upgrade with ease. Familiar services like BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All4, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Britbox and NowTV are all supported, with some being bundled through TV packages.

Missing Features

Multiroom streaming: You still cannot watch recordings to another box, like to a regular BT TV box, nor can you stream programmes to another device like a Tablet, Smart TV or your Smartphone. Virgin already pioneered this by the time the V6 had launched, where most recorded programms could be watched on another Tivo box, or a smart device (except for a smart TV, a device you actually want to watch shows on. i don’t know why operators think I want to watch my shows on a 8-12 inch tablet screen?

I don’t see why this cannot be offered, My Humax Freeview recorder lets you stream recorded programmes over your own network using DLNA, allowing you to use any comparable DLNA enabled deice (Xbox and PlayStation consoles have support for this, and most network enabled TV and Blu-ray players have a DLNA client included)

Really if you are after a proper multiroom service, you need to look for Sky Q or Virgin 360 service, or if you don’t like subscription services, the Humax FVP-5000T or the HDR-2000T paired with the Humax Expresso is a better solution, and works on any ISP. The Humax solution includes your regular Freeview Play services, along with popular pay services such as Netflix/Amazon Prime.

Failing that, Panasonic also offer capable network ready Freeview recorders also.

Apps and Services:

PlutoTV, VEVO, Discovery+, Disney+ and Acorn TV are services that are missing from the service, and Youtube/Odysee/Rumble are also not offered for web streaming.

Channels & Services offered

  • NOWtv Entertainment: Contains all of your basic Sky channels, along with MTV/GOLD/SYFY/Comedy Central. You can watch both the channels or watch the box sets via on demand (Some programs like Veep are only available via live TV, and are not on demand, and I have no idea why?)
  • NOWtv Cinema: All of Sky Movie channels
  • NOWtv Sports: All of Sky Sports channels with political propaganda shoved in. At least you can record and fast forward through the adverts (For now)
  • BT Sport: BT premier sports channel packages, features WWE/UFC/Boxing and Soccer. Like Sky Sports it comes with very political adverts shoved in between
  • BT TV Store: A store to purchase TV shows and movies, some are offered as part of a subscription.
  • AMC: A bonus movie channel by BT that comes bundled if you have either BT Sport or one of the NOWtv packages
  • Box Nation: Comes bundled with BT Sport, just boxing in glorious SD resolution
  • NOWtv Hayu: Not a TV channel but a reality TV boxset service, adds the Kardashian’s to your NOWtv collection

BT TV’s store, where TV show boxsets can be purchased and streamed. Personally I prefer to purchase the physical versions o these show, like a Blu-Ray.

Lack of ITV2/3/4 in HD and E4/More4 HD is a major omission, considering these channels could delivered over BT’s IP network and are considered to be popular channels, they could be a popular perk to BT TV customers considering the NOWtv offerings can be had on the standalone service.

There’s also a few channels offered in the BT Entertainment package, which is a legacy package no longer offered by BT in an effort to move customers onto their NOWtv packages. Channels in this package include Discovery, TLC, Watch, Alibi, Eden and Animal Planet. You cannot subscribe to both the entertainment and the NOWtv package simultaneously, which makes no fucking sense.

Conclusion

Whist the box itself is a nice upgrade and brings it more in line with Virgin 360 and Sky Q, if your looking for a complete TV service, go look somewhere else because BT TV packages are not really tailored for that.

Current software as of Dec 2021

The mobile app

Running on a Sony Xperia 5II

Setting up the app for first time use. If there are multiple boxes on the network you have the option to choose which box you want to use. Once set up you can set recordings remotely and view TV listings and On demand events from BT.

Recordings that are saved on the box appear but cannot be watched on the device itself, You must watch on the box itself. BT TV Store shows and events can be rented and streamed on the device itself, regardless if the user is connected to their BT Broadband or if they are using another provider.

Sky Interactive – Part 3

Music Choice

Music choice is premium music channel subscription service. Two channels were offered, Music choice on channel 480 was included in the Sky family Pack, whilst Music Choice Extra was on channel 481 and offered 40 different channels centered on a specific genre or theme, and was a separate subscription service that could be added. Both channels featured a press red prompt which would open and lead to the main interactive service where the channel could be selected, and information on the currently playing song along with artist and album information.

Playjam

PlayJam was the other main gaming service offered on Sky Digital, and could be accessed by pressing the interactive button, then selecting option 3. Playjam featured exclusive game of which they developed, and operated on a pay 2 play scheme like Sky Gamestar offered where the Digibox would use the telephone line to order and unlock the game or to submit a high score. PlayJam also offered competitions that users could join.

QVC

QVC offered a shopping service to supplement the main channel by advertising the products on offer and allowed for a way to order through the interactive service. QVC made extensive use of Sky interactive platform.

Sky Movies Active

Sky Movies Active offered movie trailers for the movies that Sky Movies was showcasing, and upcoming relates and behind the scenes commentary of the movies.

BBCi

BBCi was offered on all BBC channels and could be access either by pressing the red button or by pressing text. The service is very similar to what’s offered on Freeview and Cable, as BBC at the time wanted to remain platform neutral across the different providers.

Sky Active

Sky Active was treated to a rebrand in 2004, with the service being focused on news and articles that you would normally find on the MSN or Yahoo homepage. There’s less focus on shopping or ecommerce and is more to enhance the Sky service by adding value.

An interpretation of the popular board game Scrabble

One of the many Tom & Jerry games on Sky Active, If I remember correctly this game required you to play as Jerry, and navigate the (large) house and collection cheese, whilst avoiding Tom and his friends. Keys could be collected to unlock areas of the house

ONdigital – More Interactive services

ONgames 1

Whilst Sky have Gamestar, Ondigital had its own set of games that were delivers on the service. Unlike Sky, Ondigital games were accessed by going to channel 45/46 and pressing the red button. There was no interactive button

Tom & Jerry

A simple cat & mouse game, basically Connect4

Treasure Hunt

IIRC you had to locate the treasure based on the items uncovered in the squares, kinda like minesweeper

Pigloo

You have to push the snowballs into the holes

Vegas Poker

ONgames 2

Forest Fire

Objective of this game was to put out the forest fires before time ran out

Dr Quiztoast

A Quiz based game where you had to answer the questions correctly

Memory Jnr

There were other games available which were not captured here, I remember one SunnyD basketball game which ran at 2fps on a Nokia 9850T

ONoffer

Similar to SkyBuy, provided limited time offers which you had to call a phone number to order. You couldn’t place orders through the set-top box. The keyboard in the bottom right is the ONmail keyboard.

ONmail

The ONmail user interface where users could send and view emails from the ONmail server. The ONmail service required a separate adaptor to be connected to the receivers serial port, and I’m not sure if all boxes supported this given the Sony and Toshiba receivers did not get the later software updates.

Active Service Screenshots

This isnt part of interactive service, but is still cool to look at whilst the service was still active. pressing the info button called up the now and next screen, which would only display what was currently shown. You can browse listings for other channels and view information on the programme being broadcast, but you can only see whats showing now and the next programme. In contrast to Sky who offered listings for the next 6 hours via the search and scan banner, with 7 days being provided through the main EPG…

..which ONdigital also lacked, at least inside the STB itself. ONdigital did provide a monthly magazine with listings for all channels, and there where a few MHEG services that offered a guide, typically for the next 7 days.

The service itself competed well with Sky’s analogue service, but falls short compared to Sky Digital, and when the cable companies launched their digital services alongside ONdigital was really looking antiquated. Still the service was attractive to people who wanted the popular channels that where previously unavailable to terrestrial viewers and did not want, or could even have a dish. Once Sky analogue shut down it was pretty much considered the bottom tier of TV, perhaps except for analogue cable. Still it had its own unique selling point being that it was plug and play and did not require instillation (in theroy, chances are you needed an aerial upgrade since the signals were transmitted at a lower power, we had to go through 2 upgrades before we got an actual signal)

Nowadays BT TV and TalkTalk TV have a very ONdigital feel to them givern they are DTT based, but feature IPTV delivery for the subscription channels, adn they have a limited channel selection in comparision to Virgin or Sky

ITV Digital Services

ONdigital rebranded itself to ITV Digital in mid 2001, and launched a couple of Sport Channels along with acquiring the premiership rights to football, in the hope that more people would give the finger to Sky and subscribe to their service.

Spoiler: It didn’t, the company was Pepsi’d in 2002

ITV Select

Channel 50 was changed, with ONrequest being changed to ITVSelect with a rebranded interface. The offerings were still the same, with 5 PPV multiplex channels. Channel 20 was also changed, with ONview being replaced with the ITV Digital channel which displayed upcoming services and events via an interactive MHEG applet.

A minor software update was issued to amend the ONrequest option to ‘Order an Event’ when the guide menu is displayed. The service itself was also rebranded with a harsher colour scheme. Funnily ONmail was never changed, but ONnet was changed to ITV Active

ITV Sport Select

During football/soccer game a quick quiz could be played whilst the advert was being displayed. ITV Sport Select was the PPV Box Office channel for live events.

BBCi

A look at the BBCi bar, which you could access that would give now and next information whilst the channel was being displayed.