Tag Archives: 2000

DirecTV: UltimateTV

Ultimate TV was a partnership between DirecTV and Microsoft, who were looking to expand their WebTV platform. The DISH Player had launched a year prior with DISH network, and has also used the WebTV platform as a basis of its DVR software.

DirecTV also launched a DVR with Tivo, known as the DirecTivo which integrated two DSS satellite tuners into the Tivo system, which allowed for two channels to be recorded at the same time. Something that could not be done on the regular Tivo’s of the time, which required an external set top box to be connected.

Hardware was manufactured by RCA and Sony who had also made standalone WebTV hardware. Receivers typically came with a 40GB hard disk and twin DSS tuners

My Shows

List of all recordings made, and any upcoming shows to be recorded

Another screenshot of the My Shows section, this time with recordings grouped by title name

More recordings of different episodes of the same show

At launch dual channel recording was not possible, and inital functionality c

Interactive

An interactive prompt, WebTV was one of the main interactive platforms

Pay-Per-View

PPV movie and events could be ordered and recorded

Favourite Channels

Separate lists can be made to store favourite channels

Category Search

Searching for a specific program, you can choose from various filters

Searching by actor and a combination of categories

Someone here was clearly a fan of Friends

Searching by Day

You can filter to a specific feature that a program supports, like subtitles

Search by age rating

Filtering by the period of day

Or by decade period

Or by a search term / keyword. This was similar to what Tivo had offered

Additional Search terms

DISH Player

Dish Network also had their own DVR which ran using the WebTV middleware, known as the DISH Player. This was very similar to the UltimateTV but was released one year prior. Two models were released, the 7100 and 7200, both manufactured by Echostar and feature a single tuner. The 7100 has a 8GB Hard Disk, whilst the 7200 has 17.8GB.

A software update was released in December 1999 that enabled full DVR functionality. Prior to that it was only possible to live pause TV for 30 minutes. A $10 subscription fee was required, reducing to $5 if you took out a WebTV subscription also.

Images were originally captured from iwantptv.com before the site went offline

Channel 1 is the PTV (personal TV) channel, which is where the DVR is managed. You can view recorded shows which the DVR can self manage, older watched shows are deleted automatically to make space for upcoming shows.

  • TV Home: The main screen where you can access the guide, personal TV and any other services offered by WebTV and DISH Network.
  • Settings: Change receiver settings
  • TV Listings: The main TV guide and search engine
  • Web Home: Opens the WebTV browser
  • Help: Gives you information on how to use the receiver
  • Purchases: Pay Per View shows will appear when when purchased
  • TV Sites: TV Channel related sites like Fox News, CNN, etc
  • Games: Basic games that have been downloaded to the hard drive
  • Notices: Displays any messages sent to the box like service announcements

Only satellite programs can be recorded, OTA terrestrial ATSC channels can not be recorded, only watched live.

Conclusion

Microsoft didn’t last long in the North American DVR market, and the WebTV based DVR’s would be replaced not long after. DirecTV continued their partnership with Tivo and would eventually introduce their own branded DVR’s running NDS XTV software. DISH would replace the DISH Player with their own DISH DVR models.

Part of the reason was the poor initial reception due to the poor and buggy software during the early years of WebTV DVR’s, with reports of freezing and missed recordings, along with audio and visual glitches. It would be some time before these issues were sorted out, and Microsoft wasn’t very engaging on the software side of things which made it difficult for DirecTV or DISH to push software updates.

This wouldn’t be the last we would see of Microsoft attempting to enter the set top box market, the Mediaroom middleware would launch and power the ATT U-Verse and BT Vision services, and would also demo the Microsoft TV Foundation Edition for the Comcast/Motorola DCT platform.

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