The first digital cable provider in the UK, Cable & Wireless launched their digital platform in April 1999, but was acquired by ntl in late 1999 who were also in the process of launching their digital service.
Customers in these areas had a reduced digital TV service, this was caused by the poor condition of the cable network when it was originally installed by Videotron UK, which affected the London area. The poor shielding meant the cable signals were prone to interference, and meant broadband and interactive TV was not feasible for these areas unless the cable network was upgraded.
For customers that were receiving digital TV, it eat they had no access to interactive or on demand features, and could only receive regular digital TV channels. Because later software versions make use of the interactive return path, these areas continued to use the ntl branded version of CR2 software, without the interactive functionality.
ntl: takes over
Shortly after ntl acquired the consumer arm of Cable&Wireless, work began to unify the two platforms together. This proved to be a challenge since despite the two platforms broadcasting using DVB-C MPEG2, original ntl areas used a different method of transmitting the DVB-SI (Channel tuning information) an return path technology (DOCSIS being used for the Cable&Wireless, DAVIC for ntl). ntl:decided to adopt the former Cable&Wireless platform as the lead platform, now being known as Bromley for future developments.
Set Top Boxes
|Pace||DiTV1000||Hitachi SH3||8MB||4MB||Ethernet needs crossover cable|
|DiTV1000b||8MB||4MB||Ethernet works with regular cable|
|DiTV2000||Multiple processors integrated into one|
|Di4000N||Conextant ARM||32MB||4MB||Major revision, ARM CPU, removed RS232 & LPT1, replaced by USB, audio out jacks removed, one card slot, new front panel design based on Di4001|
|Samsung||SMT2100C||32MB||Similar hardware to Di4000|
The Pace DiTV1000 was the first cable box that was available for digital customers, and featured dual smart cards with the second intended for use with a Mondex card, similar to the interactive card slot on Sky digibox’s. This unit also featured a 4 digit display that displayed the channel number and any error messages, but not the time. In standby the display has left blank with just the power LED lit. The remote control used a non-standard protocol based on IrDA, that was developed by Two-Way TV. The intention of this was to allow for multiple remote controls, keyboard and gamepads to be used for interactive games and activities. This mean that regular universal remotes had issues working with these boxes, unless the remote supported IrDA.
On the real panel the DiTV1000 featured dual scart outputs for connection to a TV and VCR, with RGB support for the TV scart. A RF antenna loop through was featured that allows an older non-scart TV to be used, along with separate audio output jacks for connection to a Hi-Fi system. An ethernet port allows for a computer to be connected to provide internet access through the internal modem. Lastly there were also RS232 and IEEE1284 connections, also known as serial/COM and printer ports respectively. These were intended to be used to connect to external devices that could interact with the cable box, such as a printer or an external remote control. This was never fully utilized.
Internally the DiTV1000 was powered by an Hitachi SH3 processor, along with 8Mb of RAM, 4Mb of dedicated RAM for the C-CUBE MPEG2 decoder, and a Broadcom chipset for the internal DOCSIS modem. A follow-up model to the DITV1000 was released, known as Phase1b, unknown what the changes are to this model.
The DITV2000, released late 2000 saw a reduction of components in order to reduce cost and complexity of the unit, however the feature set of the previous boxes remained in this model. The front panel logo was changed to have the ntl: logo instead
The Di4000N was released in 2001 and saw a substantial change both internally and externally. The front panel now resembles the Di4001N design and reduces the amount of front panel buttons. The audio outputs were removed which caused issues with customers who wanted to connected their digital boxes to their Hi-Fi or AV receiver, instead they needed to use a scart breakout cable to extract the audio, or use the audio output on their TV. The RS232 and IEEE1284 ports were also removed in favour of a single USB port, since none of these ports were used by customers, this made little to no difference for the end user.
Internally the hardware was resigned, with the CPU and MPEG2 decoder now being built onto a single chip, which was also much faster than the SH3 CPU for the previous models. Because of the reduction in components, the box now runs much cooler and uses less electricity.
Samsung was another manufacturer of cable boxes for ntl, the SMT-2100C was available in silver (the previous Pace models only in greyish-black) and was similar to the Di4000 to the point where it used the same Conexant CPU, and featured a single card slot and no audio out. USB and a test port are offered but were never used.
The SMT2110C was released in 2006, and became the standard box for installs after ntl merged and became Virgin Media. This model come with optical audio out.
Cable & Wireless Interactive
The early Pace boxes were very ahead of their time, and were one of the first cable set top boxes with a built in DOCSIS cable modem. American STB’s from Motorola and Scientific Atlanta had use the Starvue and DAVIC protocols respectively. By integrating the modem into the set top box, this allowed Cable & Wireless to incorporate Digital TV and broadband into one piece of hardware, rather than providing the two separately.
However there where limitations that came with this, due to the amount of processors that were crammed in to achieve this (main CPU, modem CPU, demodulator, MPEG2 decoder, Nagravision decoder), these set top boxes ran very hot.
This was a rewrite of the EPG guide software, being completely redone using the Liberate TV Navigator that allows for red button interactivity whilst watching a TV channel.
Known Software Version History
|CR1||July 1999||Basic digital TV service|
|CR2||February 2000||Support for use of DOCSIS return path, Activation of “walled garden” interactive system, making around 40 content partner sites available, not deployed in former videotron areas|
|CR3||July 2002||Based on liberate 1.2 codebase, resigned user interface|
|Software version||iEPG version||date||description|
|3_3_P4N_P_P4001||4.3 b07||Aug 2005|
|3_3B_17_PO3N_N_2100||4.4 b06||Apr 2006||Video on Demand, Liberate client 1.275.17|
Understanding the number scheme
Lets take a look at one of the earlier builds;
Px = the generation of Pace STB the build has been compiled for, Pace DITV1000/1b is P1, Pace DiTV2000 is P2, and the Pace Di4000N is P3
The next segment relates to the embedded EPG deployed in the STB, in the example above this will be .53
The segment after that related to the liberate client build used, in this case 25d. This has little to do with the actual Liberate versions (1.2) but the browser customised by ntl
The last section is self explanatory and shows the generation of the software, this would be CR2
At some point after the initial CR3 ntl merged its software development with it’s Langely system and the version numbering had changed, the goal for both platforms being driven by the same software. Also iEPG seems to have been introduced to replace the Pace EPG, along with the DVB signal information that is used.
Documents & Manuals
Installer mode (Samsung SMT 2100C)
To access, power off the STB and hold the Up and Down buttons whilst reapplying the keep holding until you see DIAG on the front panel display.
Di4000N Specific – Hold Up and Down buttons until you see ldr on the front panel display, continue holding buttons too enter eng mode or release to force boot
ntl Developer Website 2003 (Archive)
ntl Developer Website 2001 (Archive)
CWC Developer Website (Archive)
Liberate Technologies, Customers (archive.org) – Cable&Wireless announcement