Category Archives: Digital TV

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

Pace Di4000T

The Pace Di4000T was released in 2002, 3 years after active digital had originally laucnhed, annd was a new generation of digital set top boxes.

Pace Di4000T
Pace Di4000T

Like it’s ntl counterpart, certain features were cut in this version in an effort to reduce costs for the cable company.

Pace Di4000T

Looks just like the Di4000N, with the main difference being the large Broadcom chip to the left

Pace Di4000N

The main difference is the removal of the second card slot, it remainted in the Telewest version until the Di4000TC

The Di4000T is powered by the Conexant CX22490, same as the Di4000N and is paired with 32MB of memory

Broadcom BCM3250KPB, DVB demodulator and cable modem controller.

Another view, this time with the chips cleaned

Additional space for more flash memory

Front panel with the cover removed, the Di4000T has the same front panel as the Di1000/2000 series

Rear panel, exactly the same as the ntl version

Software Version: 3.7.37.P12EN.P.KNOW.P4000.R

Diag Mode

Displays the default frequency for the local area

Shows the NetID and the different address used to identify the box, also shows the build of the software

Return path information

Date & Time information

Rf output settings, here you can change the output channel and the colume control

Smart card status

Shows the different images stored in the flash memory

Memory and Flash memory capcities

Reboots the STB, not sure why cold reset is not avaliable

Status monitoring, List of errors and notifications logged by the STB

Shows signal information for the chosen frequency and symbol rate.

Same as the previous screen but with the cable modem downstream

Signal information for the DOCSIS modem upstream

When the box can locate a valid transport stream (multiplex) it shows the details of the DVB-SI, the amount of services found

Information relating to the flash memory

Virgin Media Guide

Other Information

Virgin Media Guide

Pace Di4000N

Humax Freesat with Freetime

Freesat introduced its smart tv platform in 2013, which was designed to be a competitor to smart TV platforms like Youview and Tivo (Virgin Media)

The main home screen, appears when you first turn on the reciever,

Now & Next bar, you can skim through the channels by using the Up & Down buttons

Pressing the i button bring up information about the current program, you can also view information for programs on other channels and future programs

The main TV guide, shows what’s currently on. Like most other internet connected EPG’s you can scroll backwards through the guide, which will then take you to an on demand link for the program.

A list of genres for certain channels, accesssed by pressing the List button

Where have all the music channels gone? Seems you need to manually tune them in these days

Showcase

Freetime showcase is mean to highlight and advertise upcoming programmes of interest. Similar to how TV guide magazines showcase programs of interest

Settings

This model supports both Ethernet and Wifi, however a separate USB dongle is required for WiFi functionality.

An external hard drive can be connected via USB to enable recording functionality, if you have a Freesat box that does not have an internal disk drive. This allows you to record and rewind TV, but with only one tuner you are limited to just one program/channel at a time.

Non-Freesat Mode

TV portal is still accessible in this mode.

Personally if you wish to manually tune on channels without any BS restrictions I would advise just to get a standalone FTA receiver, or get a TV with one built in.

Settings – Non-Freesat

Non-Freesat mode can be used to add channels that are not part of the Freesat EPG, but are still FTA. This won’t work with encrypted Sky channels, rather channels that are testing or misc ITV regions

A list of all Astra 28.2E transponders that can be selected, save having to enter the parameters manually

On Demand

A good selection of both Free and subscription on demand services. Most of the major catchup service are present, most of them anyway. There are some omissions though like Britbox, Amazon Prime, StarzPlay, Nowtv and Channel 4

Search

Media Player

You can also play media files from an external USB hard disk or a DLNA server using the built in media player

Humax TV Portal

Humax TV Portal allows you to access interactive applications hosted by Humax, originally supported on their Freeview HD receivers.

Recordings & DLNA

On this model, an external USB Hard disk drive can be connected to the Freesat box, to allow the use of recording. The Freesat software will automatically format the box and prepare it for storage.

Alternatively you can also stream recoding from another Freesat box, or any box that allows DLNA streaming. Some Panasonic TV sets allow this.

You can select the recording, or file to play. And can fast forward and rewind at will, depending on the network conditions, ethernet is recommended.

Alternatively you can stream from a network attached storage device.

Finally there is a section to provide help and support, which takes you to instructions and articles on how to use the various Freesat services.

Looking at early Sky Interactive

Sky digital 1998 logo

Sky and BIB (British Interactive Broadcasting) launched their interactive service in late 1999, one year after the launch of Sky Digital. Designed to be an alternative to the world wide web being delivered through the TV, the early service looked promising.

The service was originally to be branded BIB, but changed to Open…., I’m not sure if this is in reference to the OpenTV middleware stack used by BSkyB at the time. The Open interface was to mimic the experience of a TV High Street, with various banking, shopping and entertainment services being offered.

Open….

One of the loading bumpers for Open….

Austin Powers 2

Open main menu

The main Open…. menu

open shopping

Shopping Menu – Shows a list of retails who have a storefront through Open

open shopping

Even more shopping, E-commerce was supposed to be a huge draw for the service, considering the popularity of shopping channels of the time. Payment is made via a credit card, which the customer enters, and information is sent back encrypted via the phone line. At some point it was planned to use the interactive card as a form of payment

open banking

Home banking services were offered, designed after the popularity of online banking

open entertainment

Entertainment sections, which leads to the popular game section

open music

Music section, where you can check the latest charts, and purchase physical albums

open film

Another loading screen, these were common to see on interactive satellite TV, since data is fed through a carousel like system, this means the digibox has to wait for the data to be transmitted

Film section, surprisingly there isn’t much integration with Sky Movie channels at the time (Premier & MovieMax)

open email

Email – initial offerings were BT’s talk21 service. Email was not push based, you were not alerted when an email came through, instead you had to load the service and connect to open via the telephone line which would then display your inbox. Emails could be typed using the Open keyboard.

open whats new

Whats New section

Any new additions to the service would appear here

Sky digital open games

Games – games were originally delivered on open itself, they later had their own dedicated section (Game Attic), before being spun off into Sky Gamestar and having its own place on the interactive menu.

Sky Sports Active

Sky sports active, one of the defining feature was the ability to choose your viewing angle when watching a main sports event, which was offered when Sky had first launched digital. This could be done via the interactive service, but it was also possible to tune into the stream via the other channels feature

Games

Beehive bedlam open....

Beehive Bedlam

One of the classic games on Sky Digital, and the most well known. Beehive Bedlam was one of the only games that stayed free to play, with the exception of the master levels update in 2004, however the classic levels were still free to play

Corporal Cluck sky games

Corporal Cluck

King Tutti Sky games

King Tutti

Early EPG concept

Sky guide movies 1998

An early pre launch EPG background design, also note the channel text below the Sky logo

sky guide tv listings

Another look at the Sky guide design

Sky guide 1999

Meanwhile, here’s the actual EPG design Sky launched with, note how it says TV GUIDE LISTINGS rather than ALL CHANNELS

Cable & Wireless launch EPG

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.

Cable&Wireless Guide

The main menu, shows TV on demand (Pay per view), at a glance (EPG guide listings), programes by subject (subgenres) and preferences.

Cable&Wireless EPG

The options and layout of the guide look similar to the Telewest build of the software, and the later ntl rebrand

Cable & Wireless 1999

PayPerView on demand listings, I believe Cable & Wireless used Sky Box Office at the time, rather than Front Row

Cable & Wireless listings

List of the PPV event along with the show times, again very similar to the Telewest layout

Cable & Wireless Interactive

It’s a shame the pictures appear to be zoomed in and that there are not any better shots of the ‘At-A-Glance’ EPG available

Comparison with Telewest

You can see distinct similarities within the layout the the guide software, I’d imagine the rest of the guide would look the same.

A look at the Nokia 9850T

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

Front View

Rear View

Lifting the Lid

Tuner Block

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.

Motorola MC92314 Datasheet

The modem is also a separate component, connected what looks like an internal RS232 port, to the left you can see spaces reserved for the satellite tuner modules

Shot of the CPU and MPEG2 decoder, cannot find any other chips unless they are on the underside, so I assume this also contains the decoder.

Texas Instruments TMS320AV7110

From looking at the datasheet below, the CPU of the box is based on an ARM design and runs at 40.5MHz

Datasheet

Sony CXA20920 – AV encoder

Front panel display

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

Size Comparison

Vs Pace Di4000

Vs Pace 2500S5

Conclusion

As this was one of the first DDT 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.

A look at the Panasonic TU-DSB40

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

Conclusion

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 look at the Sky HD Guide (2008 era)

Since Sky had launched its digital service back in 1998, very little had changed form its Sky Guide interface. Whilst numerous software upgrades were deployed that added certain features and altered the background, the menu structure and user interface remained the same thought-out. Unfortunately when the HD era rolled around, it was clear a new EPG and menu system had to be designed to accommodate the higher resolutions that HD offered.

Even though SkyHD launched in 2006,the software seen below wasn’t deployed until 2009, so existing HD boxes used a modified version of the old Sky+ guide with HD support.

Starting Up

The message banners have had a new colour design, gone is the yellow and blue in favor of white and blue.

The obligatory telephone line nag screen

The search and scan banner has been redesigned to accommodate the extra resolution offered by HD

Now its possible to see what’s on now, next and later, with the option to scroll forward upto 6 hours

You can now view information for future programs, and programs broadcast on other channels

Message that appears when asked to check your viewing card

Channels that don’t offer digital text will display this message, informing the user to access analogue text via their tv remote

When a program is about to start thats in your persdonal planner, you will be informed via the on scrren message,

TV Guide

The main TV guide screen has been revamped. Gone is channel genre list, which has been replaced with a tab-like view of genres that allows for the EPG to be filtered.

Selecting a future program gives you an option to set a reminder for this single program, or to add a series link. This differs from the older EPG, where you would add the program and would then enable the Series Link option.

Anytime

Sky’s answer to Virgin Media’s Video On Demand service, which used the reserved hard drive space of the Sky+ drive to load ‘Push’ on demand content. Despite only having 140Gb of storage

Sadly the Anytime Push service has been axed in favor of Sky On Demand, which is delivered via a broadband connection.

The best part of Anytime. Unfortunately it does not give back the reserved diskspace.

Planner

The Sky+ Planner, which shows programs that have been recorded.

Unfortunately playing back recordings requires the use of a viewing card, which the current box is unable to read.

Contents of the planner can be sorted by alphabetical, or grouped by unwatched but recorder, or anything that has already been viewed.

Box Office

Still no sign of life for Sky Box Office, which was axed in 2016.

Interact(ive)

Not much to see here except for one last remaining service. Does it load?

Oh well…

Here’s a service that does load, BBC Red Button

Meanwhile on Sky News…

Radio

Radio channels had their owns section in this EPG, however still no genres

Search

Options

The Services menu from the previous Sky Guide has been split into two, Options and Settings. Probably because the EPG design does not allow for a submenu to be under another menu.

General Sky+ Settings, you can add padding to the start and end of a program

Language and subtitles, not much has changed from the previous EPG

You will notice when you move the cursor down to the bottom half, the background colour changes to indicate it has been selected.

Favorite channels

Adding channels has not changed in regards to the previous Sky Guide, you are still limited to two symbol rates

Anytime can be turned off, but does not reclaim the disk space, Mini TV can also be disabled, extending the guide interface

Settings

Seems to be doing a good job considering there’s no signal strength

Installer Menu

Single feed mod optimizes the HD box to work off one feed, useful if you only have one feed from a dish or multiswitch however you cannot wewatch and record one program at the same time.

Error Messages

Conclusion

Overall its a mostly well designed EPG with a lot of much needed improvements to bring it in line with system that Virgin Media and BT offer. The introduction of the mini TV in the guide was a welcome addition,

Whilst the new software takes better advantage of the Sky HD digibox hardware, it does fall into the trap of being too cluttered, sometimes getting stuck of confused as to where you are on screen. Whilst Sky had tried hard to make the colours stand out, they are just different shades of blue, which can get repetitive. Also the tab interface could be better designed, since it looks separate to the main TV listings area, with a slight gap between the two sections.