Category Archives: Digital TV

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.

Interactive – Freeview and early DTT

Back when digital TV first launched many broadcasters were free to experiment with the benefit that digital tv had to offer. Not only did we get an avalanche of channels, we also got interactive services which were to extend what Teletext/Ceefax offered.

These screenshots were captured and were uploaded to a site DTT NEWS, which has long gone offline. They have been archived here for a look at the early days of Freeview and interactive digital TV. Sadly what the screenshots do not capture is the long time it took for the ONdigital box to load the pages. Also some boxes didn’t support interactive at all, with the Sony and Toshiba lacking any MHEG5 support. I’m not sure why these boxes didn’t get interactive support, maybe Sony & Toshiba didn’t stick to the specifications and were not able to port the MHEG5 API? Memory limitations?

These screenshots are of Freeview/ONdigital DDT only, and will differ from what was offered by Sky or the cable services of the time (ntl/Telewest)

Teletext

The digital successor to ‘analogue’ text which was promised to be faster and more efficient, the drawback was the early ONDigital boxes had slow CPUs (The Nokia 9850T has a Texas Instruments 40Mhz ARM CPU) which meant it was slower than the analogue Teletext, Teletext was later axed and only the holidays branch remains.

I should mention that analogue Teletext/Ceefax itself is actually digital, its just transmitted within the vacant PAL lines, whilst digital teletext are MHEG applets that are part of the digital transport stream. You can also have both analogue and digital text at the same time, and have the STB regenerate the analogue teletext signals which are decoded by your TV, this also worked for subtitles (888)

Channel 4

FourText was Channel4’s digital text service which also covered FilmFour, now known as Film4. Like ITV’s services, these complement Channel 4’s programming.

BBCi

BBCi, previously BBC Text and now known as BBC Red Button was the replacement for Ceefax and made use of the MHEG functionality offered by DTT. The BBC operated three interactive channels known as 701, 702 and 703 which were used to offer extended coverage of sporting events and behind the scenes interactive features.

The BBCi bar was used to locate and find listings across the 6 BBC digital channels, it only functioned on the BBC channels.

Saturday Show

The Saturday Show was the replacement for Live&Kickng and competed with SM:tv, a few games and activities are offered with this service while the show was being broascast.

ITV Brit Awards

To complement the yearly ITV Brit awards, the interactive service offered updates, simple games and sponsor zones.

This Morning

This Morning was sponsored by LearnDirect, and was advertised on their interactive text service. LearnDirect is a company that offered course for people to learn from home int heir own time, and this service was designed to promote that by giving details that their adverts were not able to provide.

ITV Sport

To complement the ITV Sport channel, an interactive service was launched with offers additional activities like a quiz, and a match predictor that was sponsored by Littlewoods, who still operate as an online retailer.

SMTV

If you get bored of Ant & Dec that you could access the SM:tv interactive services that featured information in relation to the current show, any competitions and KFC, back when fast food joints could sponsor kids shows until Ofcom stepped in

ONdigital Interactive & Services

Throughout the years that ONdigital had operated it had launched several interactive services to enhance and compliment their channel line up, and to make their service more competitive compared to Sky Digital and the cable operations by ntl and Telewest at the time. ONdigital used the MediaHighway and later MHEG5 interactive standard.

Several of the screenshots were hosted on DTT NEWS which has long since gone offline, they have been archived here for future refernce.

ONview

ONview was launched in mid 2000 as a replacement for the channel ‘FirstONDigital’ which broadcasted slideshows of upcoming news and service launches for the ONdigital platform on channel 20. ONview however was supposed to be the central portal of all ONdigital customers and operated as an MHEG service, I guess to entice non subscribers using IDTV’s to subscribe? At this point you could buy IDTV’s of which some came with ONdigital firmware loaded (with some being nothing more than a Nokia Mediamaster box being stuffed inside), some TV’s (Sony) did not feature this software and had their onw, which would explain why ONdigital moved from the MediaHighway middleware to the MHEG middleware.

ONguide

The ONdigital EPG, a tacked on MHEG5 app. The ONdigital boxes only featured a Now and Next style EPG built into their firmware, and was reliant one either a monthly magazine or a couple of interactive guides offered by BBC, ntl or Teletext.

Compared to Sky and cable its very poor, with no ability to set reminds unless you manually set the timer in the main menu. Meanwhile this is what the completion TV guide looked like…

ONinfo

ONinfo, with information about ONdigital’s services and how to subscribe, a later revision is shown on the right with information about ONmail and ONrequest

ONprizes section, where details of competitions and how to enter them.

ONsport – Sport highlights for ONdigital’s dedicated sport channel

Information on movies and event on ONrequest are promoted here and information on how to order from the service.

ONrequest

ONdigital’s Pay-Per-View service, where films could be ordered and screened across 5 multiplexed channels. Customers could access the service by going to channel 50 and pressing the text button when prompted.

A common thing you see with Onrequest is sweets, or sweet wrappers. I’m not sure on the connection between sweets and per-per-view movies

This part of the service is where you can view information about the movies that are offered, followed by a description of the event and the actors and director involved, along with the age rating.

To actually order the event you had to press the guide button and then choose option 2, which would load the actual PPV application where the customer could order the event, as long as their box was connected to the phone line. This was all done in the second part below.

The screen where you order the event itself. This looks like a MediaHighway applet.

This banner appeared when you entered an ONrequest channel whilst an event was currently being shown. Customer could see a 10 min preview of the start of the programme to entice them to order

Sometimes things went wrong

Homechoice EPG 2004

Homechoice was one of the first IPTV providers in the UK (along with Kingston/KCOM) where the entire TV service is delivers via the ADSL enabled phone line.

The main on demand guide, C1 and C2 were presented as linear TV channels but were shortcuts to Homechoice’s on demand content

TV channel genres, similar to the category view on Sky digital, but with video on demand mixed in

The main linear TV channels, up to 6 channels are displayed at a time and can be scrolled through using the CH + and – buttons. Future TV listings can be displayed. Like cable, a Mini TV window is displayed showing the channel that the user is currently tuned to

Main channel navigation banner, you can see what is being shown now and what’s coming up later

Synopsis information, displaying more information about the program

All shows than are going to be broadcast latest for a specific channel

C1 was a dedicated n demand channel that would show trailers for shows that Homechoice was offering. Virgin would adopt the same method with Virgin Central, as a way to entice customers to use the service.

Detailed list of all shows, here the newest shows are listed

A-Z of all shows

ntl EPG (2002 – Langley)

This update marks the start of the unification of the Langley and Bromley platforms, as the colour scheme as been changed to match the one used by Bromley CR3. Internally many amendments were made in how the DVB-SI was handled in order for it to behave like the Bromely imersion.vplentation

The channels banner keeps its layout but adopts the new color scheme

Information banner that displays details on the program being broadcast

Setting a reminder for a future event, auto tune can be enabled for when you are settings a recording for a VCR, the box will then automatically change over to the channel

Main guide screen, different genres can be accessed here

This guide still has the classic layout, whilst the Bromley guide uses the grid like layout that is well known today

Pressing text on a channel that does not have an interactive link

Using the subject search feature to find a program

The settings area, which remained unchanged since the previous version

Cable & Wireless guide (Post-Launch)

The channel banner that shows now and next information. Also supports transparency, a feature of the C-Cube GPU that was in the early Pace boxes

Future events can be found by navigating through the banner

Reminds can be set for future events, this predates the Sky personal planner which wouldn’t debut until 200. Don’t know why the symbol is upside down?

Viewing information about the show itself

The main home screen that appears when you press TV Guide, looks very similar to the Telewest version

The early EPG that was used on these cable guides was known as at-a-glance, and used a grid style layout to show channel listings

Sorting channels by genre

Pressing the i button gives detailed information about the upcoming show

Reminder notification, not sure if the STB will switch over automatically to the show being broadcast

TV on Demand

This is basically a near VOD service similar to Sky Box Office of the time, as true VOD would not launch until the ntl era, 2005

Main on demand screen with a list off currently showing events

Sample error/information box, on this one a warning is shown when the user is watching a copy protected movie

If the event is already showing a warning messages informing you will appear

Selecting the preferred start time

Updating VOD listings

Preferences

Settings area where favorite channels and preferences can be amended

Display aspect ratio can be changed, along with the scart output (Composite and RGB Scart)

Pin control to restrict TV events and channels

Interactive

A few captures of interactive sites that were available at the time, interactive launched in mid 2000 and was built on the Liberate navigator platform. Initial reception to the service was problematic, with issues bring the service being slow to load and some pages refusing to load likely due to the demands being placed on the server and lack of capacity. Supposedly this was due to the DOCSIS upstream being used to upload data as it was meant to, but the downstream being sent over the broadcast/DVB-C as opposed to DOCSIS, likely a carousel based system like Sky and ONdigital did.

Cable & Wireless planned to have up to 100 websites, with a lot being based on a cut down version to be displayed on a standard definition TV. Many sites can be loaded and accessed using a special URL which loads the homepage that the cable services uses.

ITN – Archive Interactive service

Enhanced interactive services were due to be made avaliable later, these used technology developed by TwoWayTV and would have used the full capabilities of the digital services to deliver interactive games and multimedia.

Comparisions

The first generation software was designed and built by Pace, with the operator customizing the end interface of the guide. All follow a very similar design language, which would be replaced by a Liberate HTML based EPG in later revisions for both ntl and Telewest

Fate

Cable&Wireless home division was acquired by ntl who started merging the network operations with their own digital service. Cable&Wireless customers saw their EPG being rebranded using the ntl design scheme, and would be replaced entirely with ntl CR2. Initially both platforms were ran separately as they differed in return path and SI technology, which made integration difficult. After some time the two platforms would be unified with the Langley CR3 software. After ntl and Telewest merged, the Virgin media guide would be pushed to customers in 2007

BT Youview Guide Redesign

BT (and Youview) treated their TV service to a redesign in early 2021, with the main screen being redesigned

The home screen is displayed when the box is switched on from standby, or when the Home button is pressed. On older remotes this will be the Youview button. A search box is displayed at the top

Meanwhiles there a look at the old interface which has now been phased out

Back to the new interface, Pressing down allows you to scroll down the menu. Different sections will be displayed with content being promoted depending on its genre.

The main TV guide interface, not much has changed here

BT’s subscription channels, the program description is displayed on the highlighted show, which can be expanded by pressing the information button

On demand apps menu, not much has changed here

Recoded shows list

Watch list is programs that have been bookmarked for both on demand and live TV channels

Programs that are due to be recorded

Shows promoted and popular shows that are due to start later that day

BT has a limit on how many boxes that can be connected to a single broadband line, depending on the bandwidth and how many boxes are authorized on the account

The subscriptions channels require HDCP to be enabled, due to Hollywood copy protection

The settings area, again not much has been changed here

Pressing the information button brings up the program description

Software information

Errors

When you start the box without an active broadband connection, Freeview will continue to work and will pull TV listings from the DVB data, but you wont see any enhanced thumbnails