Tag Archives: dvb-c

Telewest launch EPG (1999)

Telewest active digital

Telewest launched it’s Active Digital TV service in 1999 and was built on the same foundation that Cable & Wireless used for their digital TV service.

These screenshots were originally hosted on Digitalspy and were captured by a forum member, but the links to them were broken in an update, and were no longer directly accessible. From the looks of it they were captured using the RF output, so they are not indicative of the quality available at the time.

Startup Screen

Now & Next bar, very similar in practice to Sky Digital

The main home screen

At-A-Glance

The main TV Guide, called ‘At-A-Glance’, this shows TV listings for the next three days

Pressing i calls up a description of the program

TV-On-Demand

This isn’t true video on demand, at this point only NVOD was supported. the customer selects a convenient time slot showing to view the movie or event

Different categories

Programs-By-Subject

This I imagine is similar to the A-Z listings on Sky, where you can view programmes by their genre. Useful for discovering new or similar programs.

Settings

Main settings area

You can set the reminder notification warning before the program starts. Its worth noting that cable had implemented this before Sky Digital,

Here you can change from RGB to Composite, and set the box to output widescreen or standard. Letterbox options are also available.

Interactive

The early implementation of interactive was done in a separate Liberate browser, that had to be loaded separately. this meant that red button functionality was not yet possible in this build, since the Liberate environment was not yet running full time.

The main interactive menu, very similar to the ntl interactive portal

List of all enterntainment interactive services, which are customised websites that are designed for use on an embedded set-top-box.

Interactive is delivered using the internal broadband cable modem built into the set top box, a phoneline is not required and the service is always on

Nearly all of the content and service are built using HTML3, which makes it easy to develop and host service, although there are some differences and restrictions comparted to a desktop class website.

A navigation bar can be used to browse around the service, and to exit back to the tv channel you were watching

An email service was built into the service, and was tied into the blueyonder email service.

Vs Cable & Wireless

Pace DiTV 1000

The DiTV 1000 was one of the first digital cable boxes released in the UK, and one of the first DVB-C box’s with a built in DOCSIS cable modem.

The DITV1000 was also used by Telewest, where it was branded as the Di1000T, however the internals should be the same, although there may be differences in the memory configuration

DiTV 1000 Front

Two card slots are present, with the smartcard slot visible behind the front cover flap. Front panel buttons can be used to change channel, move and navigate the on screen cursor and access various different menus.

DiTV 1000 Rear

Power – Mains input

RF Output: Outputs a modulated RF signal to a TV

RF Input: In from antenna

Audio Output: Outputs audio to a HiFi system, useful for radio

Scart Ports: Supports compostie and RGB, and VCR passthrough

IR Remote In/Out: To connect external IR blaster devices, Not officially used but is power enabled

Ethernet Port: Originally used to provide broadband services to a computer using the internal DOCSIS modem, redundant as cable modems are now preferred.

Serial Port: Labelled as RS232, Not Officially used

Pararell Port: Labelled is IEEE1284, Not Officially used

Internals of the DITV 1000, note the various amount of processors in this box, no wonder it runs hot.

It kind of reminds me of the Sega Saturn, which itself had 8 processors for various different tasks. Remember this box has to function as a high end STB and a cable mode, and still has to remain the size of a typical VCR.

Note the lack of a fan, since these box’s run hot they would have benefitted greatly from an additional fan to extract the heat generated by the components. Whilst this would have increased the cost of the stb slightly, the increase in reliability would have paid for itself in time, remember ntl had to pay installers to come out and replace the box once it had failed, and then had to be sent back to Pace in order to be diagnosed and repaired. Also customers are generally poor at maintaining AV equipment, with many putting the boxes in Tv cabinets and stands with closed doors, often on top of a VCR or DVD player that already generates heat. It’s no secret that heat is the main reason electronic components die early, and this was before the days of thermal throttling.

View of the memory and flash chips, with the memory module. Interesting to note the two flash banks, one labelled C&W Flash and the other as Download, wonder if these store two separate images? One for main use and the other for backup?

View of the bottom right side, showing part of the PSU

The main set of processors, from top left working down

Broadcom QAMLink BCM3118BKEF – QAM & DVB Decoder

C-Cube AViA GTX – Graphics processor

C-Cube AViA-600 – MPEG2 decoder

Broadcom BCM3220KPF – DOCSIS Modem

Hitachi SuperH/SH3 Processor – Central Processing Unit

Another view of the main processors

DiTV1000 Front Panel

Update Process

So looking into the update process for the Ditv1000 I came to a plausible theory, When pace had written the initial loader for the stb, they neglected to include a function to check for a firmware update on boot up, which the later boxes did support and do. Typically when you boot up a cable box, it checks the default frequency for a valid netID and if there are any updates available for that stb, and the loader application for the ditv1000 may not have done that.

Since the loader is present on some sort of ROM medium and its likely Pace had already manufactured the software on the ROM chips themselves, they did not want to write off these chips since it would be a considerable expense, instead they included a workaround in the software loaded in flash, where once the operator had released a new update, a signal flag would be sent out within the transport stream, of which the software would then corrupt itself in an extent that the loader would fail to boot (possibly by failing a checksum) and would then trigger the download process.

To force an update on the Ditv1000, Hold the power button upon powering on the box from the mains power, release the power button when OHAY appears on the screen. then press

Update Process, this is displayed after you enter the key sequence

Diag Screens

To access, hold the Up/Down front panel buttons together after powering the box from the mains, release once DIAG appears on the front panel.

Default Frequency settings

Hardware version information and the loaded software information

Software versions for various components

Date & Time Information

That’s a lot of credit

The bootloader status

Memory information for both RAM and Flash memory

Status and a list of logs and events

Signal information for the DVB tuner

Downstream signal information for the cable modem

Information for the DVB Signal Information that is currently being received

Cable modem upstream

Front LCD Display

There are three light’s to the right o the LCD display which indicate the following:

  • The top light indicates power is being received by the stb
  • The middle light indicated the return path status of the modem, this light should be steady which indicates it is connected, flashing means the modem is attempting to connect – also means interactive services are unavailable until the stb connects.
  • The bottom light is for the remote control, and light up when a command has been received
MessageMeaning
PACEAppears when the stb is powered on
—-Liberate middleware is initialising, normal part of boot up
LAITWait, The stb is preparing to update
OHAYAppears when you hold the power button down upon boot, stb waiting for a front panel command
ERASErasing flash
FLASFlashing memory, part of the update process
GOODChecksum passed, last part of the update process
ERRXError code, where X means the error number

Cable & Wireless launch EPG

A few screenshots of the original Cable&Wireless guide have surfaced online. They look to have been taken from a magazine, and may have been an early preview of the software. Similar to the pre launch Sky software that was a redesigned prior to its launch.

There isn’t much to say since it looks remarkably similar to the Telewest guide that was used for its launched, and was possibly based on the same code base. the initial EPG used by both Telewest and ntl was built using by Pace, and was designed to be a basic EPG with the Liberate browser running in background.

The software below is known as CR1, this lacks interactivity as the liberate client was yet to be deployed to the STB’s of the time, and the service was still in the process of launching. ntl later rebranded the CR1 software to their own colour scheme, but the design remained the same until ntl started rolling out CR3, which saw the EPG being completely redesigned to use the Liberate TV Navigator. In some areas of London, the ntl CR1 EPG was still in use, due to the poor condition of the Videotron network that was originally deployed.

Cable&Wireless Guide

The main menu, shows TV on demand (Pay per view), at a glance (EPG guide listings), programes by subject (subgenres) and preferences.

Cable&Wireless EPG

The options and layout of the guide look similar to the Telewest build of the software, and the later ntl rebrand

Cable & Wireless 1999

PayPerView on demand listings, I believe Cable & Wireless used Sky Box Office at the time, rather than Front Row

Cable & Wireless listings

List of the PPV event along with the show times, again very similar to the Telewest layout

Cable & Wireless Interactive

It’s a shame the pictures appear to be zoomed in and that there are not any better shots of the ‘At-A-Glance’ EPG available

Comparison with Telewest

You can see distinct similarities within the layout the the guide software, I’d imagine the rest of the guide would look the same.

Inside a Pace Di4000

Earlier I went though the ntl CR3 Bromley software which was introduced in 2002 and was the basis for ntls new interactive services.

The Pace Di4000 was a redesign of the previous 4001 and 1000/2000 series box. Its worth mentioning that Pace’s model numbers don’t seem to follow a specific scheme, you would assume the Di4001 was the successor to the Di4000, however the Di4001 was the launch box for ntl in Langely areas and was a DAVIC based box, with the Di1000/DiTV1000 being its DOCSIS equivalent for Telewest and ntl Bromley areas.

These early generation boxes were designed around the Hitachi SH3 CPU with C-Cube Chipset for MPEG2 decoding and descrambling. The Di4000 replaces that with the Broadcom demodulator and the Conexant MPEG2 decoder which contains the ARM CPU.

Pace Di4000

Left Pace Di4001, Right Pace 2500 Sky Digibox

The main difference you will notice between the two is the reduction of components, with the Di4000 only having two main processors. The previous generation was split over 5 different processors. this reduction means the mainboard is smaller and the box produces less head as a result. In fact its not too far off an average Sky Digibox.

  • The Power supply is now separated from the main board, like the Sky Digibox design, allowing for the PSU to be replaced independently from the main board.
  • The audio out jacks have been removed, no you can no longer connect the box to a Hi-Fi system unless you use a scart breakout adaptor. The design for it still exists on the main board however.
  • The Serial port and Printer part are removed in favor of a single USB port. the serial port still exists and can be access using a VCR to RS232 adapter.
  • The second card slot has been removed, this was originally designed for Mondex cashcards.
  • The remote control protocol now supports IRDA and RC5

Conexant cx22490

Conexant CX22490 – ARM920 based core, 160Mhz – 175MIPS

Broadcom BCM3250KPB – Demodulator

CrystalLAN CS8900A-CQ – Ethernet controller

Conexant Bt861KRF – Video encoder for Scart/AV output

The tuner modules, one for TV and the other for data/DOCSIS modem

Pace Di4000 front panel board
Pace Di4000 rear panel
  • Power Input
  • Ethernet – For internet connectivity for the internal cable modem
  • USB port – To connect additional devices, never used officially by ntl or Telewest
  • IR in/Out – never used by ntl or Telewest
  • Scart ports
  • RF Input/Output
  • Cable Input

Diag Screens

To access these on this box, hold down the Up & Down buttons whilst the STB is booting, and continue to hold them down until you see this screen. The front panel LED display will change to ldr and will then go blank once you have entered diag mode.

ntl EPG 1
Di4000 Setup screen 1

Sets the default frequency which is checked when the stb boots up, this frequency carries the netid for the area and any software updates

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 2

Shows build information about the software loaded, and the hardware identifier of the box.

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 3

Cable modem IP address information

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 4
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 5

RF output configuration

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 6

Shows recent PPV purchases

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 7
Di4000 Setup screen 8

Shows contents of the flash memory

Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 9
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 10
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Di4000 Setup screen 12

Signal information

Pace Di4000

With cable feed connected

Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000
Pace Di4000 ntl loader

Ntl Bromley CR3

The replacement to CR2 software that saw the launch of interactive services for the bromley platform, CR3 saw a rewrite of the guide software, with everything now being written in the Liberate browser, and Two Way TV support for downloadable applications, whilst Liberate being used for interactive. This software would form the basis for Langely CR3, and would be the next step in unifying the platforms in terms of feature set.

Sadly not all areas had access to CR3 with former Videotron areas in London being stuck on pre-interactive CR1 blue to the networks inability to support a return path connection. ntl would have to upgrade and repull the network in order to provide support for broadband and on demand services, all of which are dependent on a return path.

The software here is running on a Pace Di4000N

ntl home screen

The user interface of ntl digital, not a fan of their purple/pink colour scheme and the bad thing is that its everywhere, thankfully they changed the scheme by the time it can to Langely.

Interesting is the listing for interactive settings, rather than be part of the list it looks like a separate link,

Now & next

Unfortunately the purple makes it’s way onto normal viewing, with the now and next bar

I’m not sure why these early cable TV software did not allow for the volume to be changed via the STB remote, since the Telewest side also did not support changing the volume. One theory was that customer would complain to ntl about how they were unable to her any sound through their TV, unaware that the volume on the analogue box has been set to a low level or mute, so to prevent further calls that disabled the feature.

In the end they enabled the volume control in a later build ofCR3, along with Telewest. Maybe they got fed up of the support calls asking why the volume control isn’t working on their box. In hindsight they should have followed the Sky design where the STB remote controls the volume on the TV at launch (they ended up doing this later, with the newer remotes)

The options button gives a small menu, allowing for access to the help function and a shortcut to the diary. The audio Language lets to changed the language of the audio, or enabled narrative audio description, Sky would later implement a similar feature in its Sky Guide.

TV Guide

ntl tv guide

The main TV guide grid. No channels here since the box is not connected to the cable feed.

Here would have been a list of all channel genres, such as Movies, Sports, News, etc

Pressing the i button shows a short description of the program

TV Guide: Diary

The diary is ntl’s version of the personal planner, and is used to store reminders for future events and shows. Future PPV events appear here.

Subject Search

The subject search feature can be thought of as an alternative to the A-Z listings of Sky Guide, showing programs rather than the channels themselves. The idea is that the customer can find a program they like by the genre of the show.

Sadly the TV guide only has 3 days of TV listings, compared to the 7 days offered by Sky Digital.

A list of subgenres

Searching for a specific program via text

The on screen keyboard, not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to look since a lot of the text to the right being cropped off.

ntl customers could also purchase an optional keyboard to make it easier to enter text.

ntl subject search

One nice feature is the ability to save personalized genre lists, here you choose the type of programs to like to see and you can easily search for that list without having to manually select categories.

Interactive

ntl interactive

Trying to load interactive services which sadly no longer exist. the Liberate middleware was used to deploy the interactive microsites, with the TwoWayTV middleware being used for the interactive applications such as games.

On Demand

Looking for PPV events, this was before true video on demand had launched

ntl on demand

Settings

ntl parental control

The parental control feature

Changing TV settings, not sure what Enhanced Programming corresponds to?

Favourites

The favorites feature, very similar to Ntl Langely CR3

Help

ntl help cr3

There’s a help system but with no content stored on the box.

Diag Screen

Diag screen that shows the software an signal information

ntl error

Using with Virgin Media

Somehow I was able to get the box to bootup on a modern Virgin media connection, with many Channel and TV listings being loaded. Sadly I was not able to get any TV channels to load, not even radio channels which still broadcast in MPEG2

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