Category Archives: Digital TV

Virgin Media TV Guide

Former Telewest/Virgin Media box used for standard definition TV Services.

Starting up…

Sadly the NetID for this box does not match my area, which means channels cannot be watched. Virgin have migrated their streams to MPEG4 anyway which this box cannot decode, however radio channels remain in MPEG2 although they are tied to the NetID which is why they don’t appear here.

The now and next banner that appears when you change channels. If you are used to Sky’s interface you will be familiar to how Virgin’s guide works since it’s mostly the same principles. Left and Right lets you browse the different channels, which unlike Sky will automatically filer out unsubscribed channels, and you can view information for all channels for the next 24 hours

When you remove the smartcard from the set top box

The main home screen, typically the channel you are watching appears in the box to the right. You can’t do that on a regular Sky Digibox. From here you can also access the on demand and catch services, which at the time would have consisted of BBC iPlayer and content from ITV and Channel 4. For a brief period Virgin also offered box-sets in the form of Virgin Central which could be accessed like a regular channel

Channels can be divided into multiple genres. Oddly there’s a high definition section there, despite the box lacking the ability to decode HD channels.

The main TV guide screen

Setting a reminder, similar to adding a programme to the personal planner on Sky

The favorites guide, channels you mark as favorite appear here

The reminders section, similar to the personal planner on Sky Digital

Sorting channels by genre

Settings

Box supports RGB and composite over scart, and has a widescreen option. The EPG does not run in widescreen mode however.

OnDemand and Interactive

Press F to pay Respect… or OK. I guess most of the liberate interactive stuff has been removed

General Use

For years Telewest customers were promised the launch of digital text services that could be activated by the text button. Eventually they just gave up

Help

Pressing the Help button brings up a short guide that mentions most of the common features

Earlier Build

Diag Screens

Kind of like the BIOS of a PC where you can change certain settings like the default frequency. To access it hold down the Up and Down buttons on the front panel of the box whilst it is booting up (whilst -un- appears on the front display). DIAG will then appear on the front

The only thing you can change here is the default frequency parameters. and the RF output.

Inside the box

I’m not sure how similar our 4200DVB is to the American version of the 4200. I guess the CPU chip set might be the same but the software will defiantly be different, since Scientific Atlanta have their own Operating System and middle-ware stack, whereas Virgin use Liberate TV Navigator for their software. Then there’s the DOCSIS modem compared to the DAVIC based one in the American version, and the different encryption systems (Nagravision vs PowerKey)

The internals are similar to the Di4000. One thing I have noticed with Scientific Atlanta boxes is they always mount the PSU on the side. I’m not sure if this allows for better heat dissipation since there are vents underneath the box. The tuner module is huge and takes up a lot of room on the main board.

The CPU (right) with the cable modem coprocessor (left). The CPU seems to be a customized chip for Scientific Atlanta and is designed by ST. This may indicate the CPU core being ST20 based, since many ST chips used that core in various satellite receivers, including Sky Digibox’s. As with modern designs, the main processors integrates the CPU, MPEG2 decoder, CA descrambler and graphics core on the same chip. In terms of memory, the box has 32MB of RAM and 8MB of flash, same as the Pace Di4000T.

The IO is standard for many cable boxes of the era, although this model drops the USB port, and the RF loop through has been removed. The earlier Pace Telewest boxes had an RF loop through that would modulate the STB signal onto a spare RF channel, whilst this box does the same, you cant loop the antenna feed through it, wither a combiner or diplexer device would be needed. Assuming you even wanted to use RF, most customers would use the scart connecter with the RF being used to feed a second TV. I’m not sure if the box feeds the analogue cable channels though the RF out, but since this box was released in 2004 and Telewest were already planning to shut of the analogue feed it’s unlikely.

At least there’s an Optical audio out along with analogue out, which the Di4000 boxes dropped, and the mysterious IR blaster connector.

Front view of the STB, the panel is based on the Scientific Atlanta 4250 design.

Updating System Software

To force a software update, power off the box, hold Power and Ok whilst powering the box on

It’s nice they used Wordart in their software update screens

Pace Di4001 Adventures – Part 2

A look at ntl’s CR3 software for the Langely Platform

CR3 was ntl’s long awaited upgrade for their Langely customers who had previously no access to any interactive services, unlike the Bromley division that had full interactivity for some time. Part of this was due to the different return path technology used, ntl had originally went with DAVIC compared to Telewest and Cable & Wireless who deployed the DOCSIS standard for their TV return path. Although they are similar in terms of functionality, the differences meant ntl could not adapt the Cable & Wireless software for the Langely platform. In addition, Langely areas also ran different software with the original EPG being provided by Pace with the Liberate 1.2 browser being installed. CR3 would see a rewrite of the entire guide with everything now being done in Liberate, this meant that the Liberate browser was loaded on start-up, unlike earlier versions where the user had to wait for the browser to load.

CR3 saw a drastic change in the user interface, with the new ntl colour scheme being adopted

Screenshots below shows the stb without nay channels loaded, I have to force boot the stb by holding they down key until Boot came up on the front panel display. Sadly I was unable to get the box to load with the cable feed.

Now & Next

ntl now next
ntl CR3 mini guide
With alternative colour scheme enabled

TV Guide

ntl CR3 main menu

The main user interface layout, you can see the Sky Guide influence with its layout

Viewing all channels, this would be populated with all subscribed channels, unfortunately the STB does not pick up any channels, either it cant load the NIT or the tuner inside the box is knackered

Viewing channels based on genre, up to 7 channels can be displayed at any time

Diary function, this is like the Personal Planner on Sky Guide, you can schedule future programmes to be entered here. Unable to test further since the box can’t load any programmes

On Demand

Ntl revamped replace its PPV service with a full on demand service, the programmes ordered could be watched easily. This software seems to be from before on demand was implemented as despite the menu saying ‘On Demand’ the box shows PPV options instead.

Interactive

Not functional 😦

Settings

Rearrange Channels

ntl had the ability for the customer to rearrange the channels in their EPG, allowing for channels to have their own number. This feature was removed when they migrated over to the Telewest based UK1 software

ntl CR3 change channel numbers

I can soft of understand why the feature was cut, in a family household one could easily rearrange the channel numbers which would cause issues with other members trying to figure out the channel numbers, and probably resulted in increased support calls from customers trying to figure out what had happened to their channel list.

ntl CR3 video

Changing the picture settings

ntl CR3 audio

Never seen this before with digital TV, the ability for the box to sound an alert, with Sky boxes you can only sound a beep, and that’s only if there’s an error or if there are subtitles on programme being watched. Three alert sounds are available. Sadly this feature was cut when they migrated to the Virgin UK1 software.

Parental control PIN

Favourites

Favourite channels can be viewed in a list form the channel banner

Listings for favourite channels can also be viewed whilst watching a channel.

Error Messages

These were common back in the day 😉

di4001 start up
Firmware Update, also appears when the STB is booting
Di4001 error message
No listings loaded
No signal being received
No Smartcard

Network Status

Press Page Up, Page Down and then Blue to access

Pace Di4001 Adventures

I wanted to see if this box themself would still work on a modern Virgin media network. I’m aware that Virgin broadcast all their channels in MPEG4 which this box cannot decode, aside from some radio channels. But I was still interested if the box would work and how it worked, especially in regards to early digital cable TV.

The box itself

Pace Di4001 ntl

Pace Di4001 size comparison with the Pace 2500S5, a typical Sky box of the same era

Trying to get started

So I got off to a rocky start trying to get the box to start up in the first place, since powering it on the display would show PACE followed by TUNE. I figured that i needed to enter the boxes engineering mode to reset something. This provided impossibale since after attempting to enter the engineer mode, the box would immediately show TUNE on the front panel display

i tried different combinations that I found online to get the box to work but nothing was working. Finally i stumbled on a old forum post that held the solution;

So to summarize, If your set top box wont progress past TUNE (shown on the front panel display) and you are unable to enter into the boxes engineering mode, you may need to reset the STB’s NVRAM since it may have become corrupted. This can occur when the STB has been powered off for a while, and the battery has discharged to a point where it is running under voltage. This must corrupt the NVRAM in a way it becomes unreadable to the STB

To recover, you will need to open the box, and pull a red jumper located to the right of a large white Sanyo battery. Leave the jumper out for about 5 minutes and then reconnect the jumper. Power on the STB and hold down the UP and DOWN buttons on the front of the box for 10 seconds. You should see DIAG on the front panel display and the engineering mode should appear after a few seconds.

Pace Di4001 PSU
note the red jumper in the middle, situated between the white Sanyo battery and that big red thing

Doing this will clear the Netid of the box, which the Di4001 boxes are able to set automatically if they are in an original NTL area. Otherwise it will appear as *****

After resetting the NVRAM I was able to get to box to enter it’s engineering screen.

Engineer Mode

From here you can change the default frequency and symbol rate, which the box uses to look for the latest software, and possible where the ntl EPG listings are located. You can also see info relating to the software version running on the box, Memory and flash info

There are a few interesting items here, mainly the memory address section. from here i was able to find out the spec of the box. 0x1000000 converts to 16777216 which I would say is 16Mb of RAM. The Flash storage being 0x00400000 that converts to 4194304 which i’d say is 4Mb.

This model of box does have less Flash compared to the older revisions of the Di4001 in favor of more RAM, maybe the OS is compressed into Flash, which is then extracted upon boot into RAM, and runs from RAM like a Ramdisk. Alternatively, there may be a basic guide stored in flash, with the remaining components loaded from ntl either directly broadcast or using it’s DAVIC modem.

Also it appears this box is the 2A revision of the Di4001. which the boot-loader being compiled in September 2000

If you want to boot the STB without a cable feed connected, hold down the up OR down button on the front of the STB when PACE appears on the display (immediately after applying power to the box), and release until it shows boot, or after 10 seconds. This will skip the default frequency checks and will load the main TV guide interface, even without a cable feed connected.

Doing this trick allowed be to bypass the default frequency check and put the box into some sort of ‘safe mode’, this it it would load the TV guide without having any channels or listings loaded. In this mode the box is stuck on channel 0 and not all aspects of the guide can be accessed.

I’ll put up some screenshots of the guide software up later, if I can get the box to pick up Virgin’s tv guide…

One oddity was the services button on the front panel of the box, now you would think that it would take you to the main TV guide, however it just make the mini guide appear and disappear from the front panel there is no way to access the main TV guide screen…

Another oddity was that pressing the front panel buttons would cause the remote light to indicate, even though you were pressing the front panel buttons and not the remote.

Conclusion

Unfortunately I was unable to get the box to tune into any frequency, never-mind booting with some sort of TV guide. At first I assumed it was because the network information Virgin Media broadcast in my area was not in a compatible format, or that the box was looking for something that Virgin have since removed from the stream, however I am now convinced that the tuner in the box is most likely faulty, since entering correct frequency’s in the engineer screen yields no change to the signal levels, even after removing and reapplying the coax cable.

Also since the box is running relatively old software (from around 2005), it’s likely the box was an ex-subscription box that was never returned to ntl, or may have had it’s flash chips modified to be read only, preventing a software update from taking place.

Lifting the lid

Pace Di4001 internal
Di4001 inside

Compared to other set top boxes of the era this ones quite busy inside considering it’s supposed to house a digital cable receiver and a cable modem in one enclosure. Ill try my beast to break down the individual processors this box contains;

C-CUBE AViA-600L
MPEG2 decoder

The main decoding processors, the one on the left (C-Cube 600L) is the MPEG2 decoder, not sure of the one on the right?

Hitachi SH3 Pace Di4001
Hitachi SH3 CPU

The one on the left is an Hitachi SH3 processor, if you’ve ever opened a Sega Saturn or a Dreamcast you should be familiar with the Hitachi CPU’s. The one on the right is a mystery, its branded as Pace but I cannot find and information online regarding it. I suspect its something to do with Nagravision based on the fact its near the smart card area. Maybe Pace had to licence their own Nagravision descrambler?

C-Cube AVIA

C-Cube Avia-inx – Handles DVB-C demuxing from the tuners, Ethernet controller, IEEE1284 controller and has a built in graphics processor. Basically like the northbridge/chipset on a pc.

The system memory, unlike other STB’s of the era this one is designed to be upgradable but seems to be using a proprietary slot. Virgin Media could easily upgrade the memory of these units should the box be returned. This model currently has 16Mb.

BCM3120

DAVIC/DVB-RC decoder, was underneath the smartcard slot so I had to get a funny angle

Pace Di4001 smsc

I believe these are for the onboard ethernet and serial ports

Pace Di4001 Front panel
Di4001 front panel

The front panel exposed, note the two IrDA sensors

Rear Panel

Pace Di4001 back panel
Di4001 back panel

From Left – Right

  1. Mains Input
  2. RF Output
  3. Audio phono out
  4. TV and VCR Scart
  5. IR output and input – I think were were meant for external devices such as Tivo or VCR’s to control the STB without any dongles needed, whilst never used by ntl the box does supply power though these connectors allowing the use of red eye dongle
  6. Ethernet – For internet access or LAN
  7. RS232 – Only used for libdebug, never used by ntl externally. Could be used for external input devices like a mouse or keyboard
  8. IEEE1284 parallel port – never used, might be for external disk drives, printers or modems
  9. Cable Input

BT Youview in 2020

BT’s main TV service, basically Freeview with a few subscription channels and streaming services built in.

User Interface

The interface is quite different compared to what Sky or Virgin use with this reliance of pictures/tiles to browse through different programs. All which rely on an internet connection.

The MyTV section shows recordings made, and programes on your watch list. Currently Nowtv supports this, programs you bookmark to watch later will then appear here.

Bad things? Well you cant directly access the apps or recording through the remote, you have to highlight the banner and press left, which I found clunky. They should but colour button shortcuts to access these areas. It would be far easier if you could press the green button to go directly to the apps section, and the yellow button to go directly to recordings then these buttons are unused on the banner. The search option is also redundant since there is a dedicated button on the remote to access search.

It’s worth mentioning also that the remote does not have a dedicated apps or recordings button, so in order to access them you have to press the Home button to call up the banner, then press Right to select MyTV.

TV Guide

The main TV guide interface. The guide is presented using a grid like design which shows programmes broadcast today. You can also navigate to programs broadcast in the future which will give you the option to record or set a series link. The guide can also give recommendation’s on that to watch next and what’s being broadcast now.

Series links can also be set, but unlike Tivo they are not as intelligent. You cannot configure them to exclude certain broadcasts such as reruns, or to record certain seasons. The Youview box will just blindly record whatever is scheduled on that channel. It does ignore repeated episodes broadcast on +1 channels.

Subscription Channels

The NowTV channels appear here, along with the regular BT channels if you are on one of their classic entertainment packages. These channels are streamed through the IP connection. the selection offered by NowTV is quite limited compared to the classic TV packages that BT had provided previously, and rumors suggest they plan to adopt only the NOWtv packages, meaning that other channel packages will be discontinued. This wouldn’t be so bad if NOWtv actually offered channels that BT previously offered.

BT Player

BT’s main store for its TV programs where they can be purchased. Some stuff may be bundle into the existing subscription like the AMC programs. This requires an active BT broadband subscription and connection.

UKTV Play

A nice looking service let down by its horrible search interface. Seriously why not just display a qwerty keyboard on screen? Also you cannot use the keypad on the remote to type in search items, Why?

CBS

Catchup services for CBS’s free view channels, and also include Horror channel also

Britbox

Britbox was a recent addition to the service an is a collection of older programs previously broadcast by BBC and ITV (similar to the UKTV channels of the past) with promise of new original content.

Whilst the interface is nice, the on screen keyboard used in the search is terrible an no , you cannot use a USB keyboard.

Netflix

Netflix is fully supported, and it even supports the use of a USB keyboard for its search! Probably the only service on here to actually support that.

Nowtv

The main attraction to BT’s Youview, all of the Sky Sports/Movies and entertainment on demand is delivered through here. sadly it’s not a good experience, being slow to respond for that appears to be a very basic interface. The search keyboard is OK but you still cannot use a USB keyboard, meaning you must use the on screen keyboard, you also cannot use the number keys on the remote to enter letters.

Thankfully you can watch and record the NowTV channels in the guide so you are now wholly reliant on the app.

Amazon Prime Video

my5

Works well, but we are still unable to use a USB keyboard in order to search.

itv Player

Provides access to all of itv’s shows and has a god awful search keyboard. No USB keyboard support either. Rather than include a proper working keyboard for search they would rather virtue signal

All4

Channels 4’s on demand service (that mysteriously disappeared off Freesat…)

BBC iPlayer

Misc onDemand

Whilst Youview support’s MHEG5 text services, certain streaming extensions are unsupported, instead these services must be accessed via the Youview apps section

Settings

Help & Support

Error Messages

Summary

  • Ideal as a smart TV platform, as all the popular apps are supported
  • Interface is OK, but colour buttons are underutilized, and common features are hidden under menus (like MyTV/Recordings)
  • Poor support for keyboards for entering text, although Youveuw supports USB keyboard for control, this cannot be used to enter text with the exception of Netflix.
  • Even though the remote number pad has alphabet letters on, this can only be used for the Youview search function, you cannot enter text for the catch up apps using the remote, unless you use the directional pad. This makes it time consuming to enter text.
  • No support for external hard drives
  • Unable to stream recordings to other Youview boxes, or to smart TV’s running the Youview app.

A look at SkyHD (Freesat from Sky)

The DRX595 – Sky’s basic multi-room digibox also used for Freesat from sky installs. One of the last Sky boxes that have non recording capability. While these boxes have a good selection of channels thanks to the Sky EPG listings, the lack of on Demand and streaming apps are a huge turn-off… unless you have an existing smart TV or streaming STB / Bluray Player.

This is due to how Sky had implemented on demand on their HD platform, instead of each service using it’s own streaming app, all catch and on Demand services use the Sky Anytime system, where programmes are downloaded onto the subscribers box. Since the DRX595 lacks a hard drive to store this on, there is no on demand support

The DRX595 does come with a fully equipped HD remote with the playback buttons, and the front panel indicator shows a recording and playback light, hinting the ability for the box to set remote recordings from another Sky+ HD box. Or maybe the ability to connect an external hard drive to it’s USB 2.0 port?

Search and Scan banner that appears when you change channels, and can also be viewed by pressing select or the arrow buttons on the remote.

Pressing the i button brigs up a short synopsis of the program

When you view an encrypted channel that’s not part of your package, pressing red takes you to the MySky upgrade screen. Unlike other platforms Sky does not hide unsubscribed channels, they remain in the EPG

Viewing upto 8 hours of schedule in advance, despite the digibox having 7 days worth of listings stored in its memory

Pressing help gives you options for subtitles or audio description.

TV Guide

Tabs are used to switch between the different channel guide categories. There’s a dedicated guide for the local channels but since there is only one local channel I’m not sure of the purpose of this?

Search

The search feature, you can use the remote or the original Open/Sky keypad or the Sky Navigator. You will need to reprogram the keyboard in order for it to work on the HD digibox, but all of the alphabetic keys will work.

  1. On the Sky/Open keypad – Press TV
  2. Press and hold Select and Blue together until the red led on the remote flashes twice
  3. Press 2
  4. Press Select, the red LED should flash twice
  5. Test by pressing the Sky button, then try the Tv Guide button

You will need to repeat this procedure if you replace the batteries in the keypad.

Settings

Picture – This digibox can output up to 1080i, 720p or 576 (SD PAL), here it is set to 576 for capturing HDCP purposes. Scart Control set the scart auto switching feature for when the digibox turns on, whilst the video output lets you toggle between PAL and RGB

Sound – The digibox can output stereo audio or Dolby Digital through the optical or HDMI output

Signal – Checks the signal levels, unlike the old Sky guide this display’s information for the current channel you are tuned to, rather than the default transponder

Options

Not sure why this exists? seems to cover the same as the settings menu. Here you can change the subtitles, customize the TV guide and add additional channels

Non EPG channels can be added and view through the options menu, here you can see now and next listings only, and can save up to 50 channels. This is useful to add local tv channels, alternative ITV and Channel 4 regions or services that are testing on Sky.

Parental Controls

Interactive

Sky had previously pioneered the use of interactive TV via its platform, where customers could buy, manage their finances and play games through the digibox, sadly today all that remains here is the My Sky services, which just allows you to view your Sky account through the digibox. No way to play Beehive Bedlam…

Sky News

Sky News previously had an interactive services which shows different, sadly this requires on of the more later SkyHD or SKy Q boxes.

BBCi

The only digital text service remaining on Sky, BBCi just displays news and weather forecasts. The service is designed for both HD and legacy SD digibox’s.

Virgin Media Tivo in 2020

Virgin’s ageing TV Platform originally released in 2011. Here’s a look at the current interface on a Cisco CT8620. The Tivo box has been recently deactivated and is due to be sent back, so features such as OnDemand and Interactive apps will no longer function.

Virgin Media Home

TV Guide

TV Listings, grid view
TV Guide, in list view
Customising the TV Guide
My Shows, where all recordings reside
This would show any upcoming recordings
Pressing Ok brings up a mini guide banner
Appears every-time you change channels

Radio

Settings

Parental Settings

Setting a manual recording

Appears when you power on the Tivo box from the mains
Change power and standby settings, set the Tivo box name if you use remote recordings