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.
The main menu, shows TV on demand (Pay per view), at a glance (EPG guide listings), programes by subject (subgenres) and preferences.
The options and layout of the guide look similar to the Telewest build of the software, and the later ntl rebrand
PayPerView on demand listings, I believe Cable & Wireless used Sky Box Office at the time, rather than Front Row
List of the PPV event along with the show times, again very similar to the Telewest layout
When Cable & Wireless launched their digital cable service, Interactive TV was the main attraction and focus for the platform.
Cable & Wireless teamed up with Liberate to deploy it’s eNavigator middleware client for their set top boxes. Liberate had already made deals with many US digital platforms for both Motorola and Scientific Atlanta networks, and had partnered with Acer & Thomson/RCA for their own set top box / internet tv devices. These allowed for the internet to be browsed on a TV itself, similar to a webTV or the Bush Internet TV. With that in mind it made sense to go with Liberate for its interactive platform, with many of the interactive being HTML based, essentially being microsites being designed to be useable on a PAL TV screen, as well as being usable on the set top box hardware itself. By using a HTML based system, it would be easy for existing web developers to adapt their websites for cable interactive TV.
The main interactive developer portal, viewed within the Cable & Wireless interactive browser. This also showcases the browser interface, note the lack of address or URL bar, since this service was designed to be a walled garden. Instead a url bar is provided on the developer portal, likely to allow developers to test their websites.
An interesting oversight is if you sent an email with a hyperlink embedded into it to a website such as Lycos or Google, you could use that link to open the browser to that page, and if its a search engine you could use that to load other websites that are not part of the service
Not much to say here, the developer portal provide links to documentation details the requirements and limitations of the TV internet platform. This goes into details the specifics of the Liberate eNavigatior platform.
Viewed in Internet Explorer 5
A look at the services…
Unfortunately the screenshots are of a low quality and resolution since they have been extracted from the PDF documents above but give a general idea of the scope of the service provided. Some screens have the browser banner at the top of the screen, I’m assuming these are portals to the microsites.
Another view of the interactive home screen, this may be from a later redesign
TV Internet Home
Similar to the Open… home screen, provides links to various services available
Sports Main Menu
Provides links to other sports themed websites,
Email Main Menu
Menu options are Check Email, Write Message, not sure of the third items, Drafts? Templates? Deleted?
The STB had a built in email client, designed for the C&W email service
Two Way TV
Looks like a games service, hard to tell because of the resolution
A resource for traffic information and a route planner
Looks like some sort of holiday broker
Provide links to holidays, not sure if this goes directly to the sites themselves?
News headlines, and weather from various sources.
When the consumer division of Cable & Wireless was acquired by ntl in 2000, the interactive platform continued it’s development. In 2002 ntl deployed the Liberate 1.2 middleware which bought improvements to the browser rendering engine, and the TV guide was rewritten to take advantage. ntl would later spend time developing services for the Langely platform, which was originally planned to use the PowerTV platform, but chose Liberate instead. This was done to ensure parity between the two platforms.
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.
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 – 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
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
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.
Sets the default frequency which is checked when the stb boots up, this frequency carries the netid for the area and any software updates
Shows build information about the software loaded, and the hardware identifier of the box.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking for PPV events, this was before true video on demand had launched
The parental control feature
Changing TV settings, not sure what Enhanced Programming corresponds to?
The favorites feature, very similar to Ntl Langely CR3
There’s a help system but with no content stored on the box.
Diag screen that shows the software an signal information
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
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
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
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.
Not functional 😦
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
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.
Changing the picture settings
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.
Favourite channels can be viewed in a list form the channel banner
Listings for favourite channels can also be viewed whilst watching a channel.