Ondigital used the Media-highway middleware system for the set top box software and interactive services. This was a full adaption of the Canal+ software that had launched in France prior. This had also extended to the subscriber management system which was also adapted by Canal+, and was the backing system behind the MediaGuard conditional access system.
Later software upgrades added MHEG support, however Sony and Toshiba receivers did not receive this update for reasons unknown. Possible reasons were that these receivers used different specifications compared to the Pace/Philips/Nokia receivers, or that Sony & Toshiba ended production of these receivers and neglected to provide support. This was interesting from a support perspective as operations typically have ownership of the software running on the STB, despite their contract with the manufacturer. Sky for example continue to produce and update the software on their digibox regardless of their relationship with the manufacturer as they retain ownership of the software itself. It seems OnDigital was reliant on manufacturer implementing new feature within the software itself, despite being licenced by Canal+.
The MHEG support was quite buggy, A common issue with MHEG services is that the front panel stops working when the Ondigital box is switched to a channel with MHEG services. In order to regain control the STB, a remote is required to change channel to a non MHEG channel in order to restore front panel functionality. A workaround was to enable subtitles which would stop the MHEG virtual machine from functioning, as subtitles and MHEG shared the same graphics layer.
Ondigital receivers were not capable of updating their channel list automatically, as they are not reliant on the DVB Network information table. This meant that whenever new channels were launched, the customer was required to rescan in order to receive the new channels, this contrasts with modern Freeview receivers that are capable of finding and adding new channels automatically in addition to removing and replacing old and defunct channels.
The EPG on all Ondigital receivers was limited to now and next only, with no full grid style EPG available within the set top box. As an alternative, several EPG’s were launched as an alternative, these were provided by ntl, BBC, Teletext and Ondigial themselves as ONView. An interactive guide was also provided by ONNet. Its not known why the EPG was set up this way, since Ondigital boxes follow the same memory specifications as a typical Sky digibox have, and was a huge disadvantage compared to Sky and cable platforms which had their own TV guide embedded into the STB firmware.
|Philips||DTX6370||Physical On/OFF switch, Wide and subtitles buttons on remote|
|Nokia||9850T||Digital Audio output (S/PDIF)|
|Sony||VTX500U||Optical Audio output (S/PDIF), No MHEG support|
|Toshiba||DTB2000||No MHEG support|
|Philips||DTX6371||Physical On/OFF switch, Wide and subtitles buttons on remote|
|Philips||DTX6372||Physical On/OFF switch, Wide and subtitles buttons on remote|
An email service designed to be used with ONdigital. Although the ONMail software is capable from running from the set top box itself, an additional hybrid remote/keyboard and receiver accessory was needed in order to use the service. The receiver uses the internal STB modem to connect to the services, and messages are downloaded to the ONMail receiver unit, which the ONDigital receiver communicate with. The receiver unit was connected to the RS223 serial socket on the Ondigital receiver, and was accessed by pressing the Guide button and choosing the ONMail option. An account with ONMail was required, email account from other clients were not supported.
An internet add-on services that was similar to the Bush Internet TV and Microsoft WebTV in concept, where a keyboard and STB are provided and are used to access the internet via a dial up connection. Ethernet was not supported which meant broadband connections could not be used. Unlike ONMail, On Net was not reliant on the Ondigital set top box, instead the ONNET box simply passed the Ondigital SCART signal through a quarter screen interference, allowing TV to be watched whilst browsing the internet.
Ondigital had one of the first integrated digital televisions, where a DVB-T receiver was embedded into the TV itself. There ware two different forms of IDTV, the most common was that the TV manufacturer would install a DVB-T tuner inside the TV, however the TV itself runs on the manufactures customer firmware, and may not integrated a conditional access system or middleware due to licencing costs. In order for these TV’s to be used for Ondigital, a CAM (condition access module) was be provided by Ondigital. With this the customer wold insert their Ondigital smart card into the CAM itself, and wuld then insert it into the TV. This would provide the TV with the capability to decode Ondigital broadcasts. This would not however allow the TV to load Mediahighway interactive services, unless the TV itself supports it. Only MHEG applications would load such as BBC Text, later BBCi.
The other type of IDTV had an actual on digital set top box chipset installed into the TV, this was similar to the LG Sky IDTV where the exact Ondigital user interface was provided, allowing the customer to insert their smartcard without the need for a CAM, and had access to all interactive services.
PVR’s may have in development prior to Ondigital’s administration. It is probable that the Pace Twin PVR was originally descried for use with Ondigital since it featured a smartcard slot and came out late 2002. The Pace twin PVR was based on technology they had aquired from XSAT in 2001.
Free To View
Even though they were designed for use with Ondigital, the boxes were completely functional without a subscription, and some were purchase for the purpose of FTA viewing. Even without a subscription, you were able to receive the BBC suite of digital channels, such as BBC Choice, Knowledge, News 24 and later CBBC and Cbeebies. These channels were receivable on IDTV’s also.
Even after Ondigital had entered administration, the Ondigital boxes remained functional and were pivitol in the launch of Freeview as it provided Freeview with an existing install base to encourage channels to launch on, and were also used for TopUpTv, a successor pay TV platform focused on entertainment channels. However by 2004 they were beginning to show their age with their lack of support for a 7 day EPG, speed of channel changing and digital text due to the slower CPU’s and glitches within the MHEG virtual machine. Despite their age, they were still functional long after Freeview had implemented the split NIT (Network Information table) change, where the NIT was split across multiple frequencies due to the growth of digital channels, some earlier Freeview boxes (typically set-pal based models) were not capable of handling the changes to the NIT. This was controversial as the ability to handle a split NIT was one of the key specifications of the DVB-T and D-book specifications, and there were arguments as to why these boxes had the Digital ‘tick’ certification, and if these products were fit for purpose since they were obsolete only after 3 years of use or some models. Ondigital boxes however were invulnerable to the split NIT change and had continued to operate.
The final nail of the coffin was the digital switch over, where the analogue signal was switched off, and the DVB terrestrial signals were switched over to 8k transmission from the existing 2k modulation. By that point Top UP TV had already dropped support for ONDigital and had migrated to newer encryption standard, along with a new PVR.
Ondigital was one of the first digital terrestrial platforms in Europe, and was the first broadcaster of DVB-T in the world. In order to launch the service early, ONdigital elected to use early Motorola DVB-T chipset demodulators. This would have enabled them to launch on time in 1998, but they would have been regulated to the 2k standard rather than the 8k used today. 8K chipsets became common in 1999 but at that point 2k only chipset were available cheap and Ondigital continued to use them to reduce the costs, since the STB were being loaded out.
Freeview had continued to broadcast in 2k up until the digital switch over. This change had also affected IDTV of the same time period, and some launch Freeview boxes also (Pace DVTA). Ironic considering these boxes would have been brought to prepared for the digital switch over, only for them to become obsolete also.