ntl launched it’s digital TV service in 2000, shortly before acquiring the Cable & Wireless consumer division. Since the two networks had select differences between the implementation, it took some time before the networks were fully merged. The original network is referred to as ‘Langely’ as that was the location of the main headend and playout centre.
Now & Next
Now and next banner that appear when you change channels
You can bring up the information banner, which shows what’s on now and next, and allows you to browse through the channels on ntl digital
TV Guide Listings
Pressing Guide bring up this menu, this gives two options. The regular channel guide and the On Demand (NVOD) guide
The guide layout is quite different here compared to the grid view that other systems like Sky Digital use. Here you select a channel from a list which will then show a page full of listings.
Pressing info brings up a description of the program or episode
TV On Demand
Front row was the services used to provide PPV events for cable customers, similar to Sky Box Office
A list of movies and events to order
Purchasing a movie,
Appears when the set top box is in the process of starting up
A revised update now adds a reminder diary feature, that allows reminders to be set for future program’s – similar to the Sky personal planner
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.
Now & Next bar, very similar in practice to Sky Digital
The main home screen
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Hitachi SuperH/SH3 Processor – Central Processing Unit
Another view of the main processors
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
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
Appears when the stb is powered on
Liberate middleware is initialising, normal part of boot up
Wait, The stb is preparing to update
Appears when you hold the power button down upon boot, stb waiting for a front panel command
The Di4001NC was a cost reduced cut down version of the Di4001 series of ntl set top boxes. One of the noticeable differences is the removal of the second card slot, in favour of just a single smartcard slot for the smartcard. The second card slot was originally designed for Mondex cashcards, which never launched.
Another removal was the ethernet port, despite the box still having a built in cable modem, the IEEE1284 port has also been removed, along with the audio output
From left to right:
RF Out – outputs the RF modulator, does not pass through the cable signal
TV & VCR Scart
IR Input & IR Output – No official function
RS232 – No official function
The RF output no longer includes an internal combiner, which means you will no longer be able to tune in cable channel’s via the RF tuner. Instead only the modulated output of the set top box will remain. This was due to the intention of removing the analogue channels, and to prevent the DVB-C channels from being tuned in on modern digital TV sets.
Well it looks very similar to the Di4001, but on closer inspection you can see the components removed, also in this model there aren’t any stickers covering the various chips.
The removal of the ethernet and IEEE1284 controllers, the ethernet port seems to remain but is not wired internally.
A closer look at the Broadcom DAVIC processor and the mysterious Pace chip, of which the sticker covered some of it on the previous model. At the very top you can see the main processor, which is unchanged since the previous model (Hitachi SH3)
Hitachi SH-3 HD6417709
Pace 909 6162800, ORBIT 61628
Broadcom QAMLink BCM3120KTB
To access, hold the Up/Down buttons upon bootup, and release when DIAG appears on the front panel display.
Default frequency settings, this would carry any software updates the STB would download upon boot up
Some version numbers, as well as the Network ID. This box appears to be running CR3.2
Further information in relation to the software versions on the STB
Since this revision lacks the internal combiner, you cannot control the outputted cable feed
Service status of the box, indicated that the signal is OK and the regional information
Signal information for the current frequency, this is the same frequency as the default frequency
Information relating to the DVB-SI, and the amount of services received
CAT – Encryption systems
PAT – Channel numbers
TDT – Updates the time & date
EIT – Event info, current program
Information for the inserted smartcard, the credit amount and the pairing status
A log of events generated by the STB
Signal strength status, but this time for the DAVIC tuner (also known as DVB_RC)
Same as above but for the upstream
Browser settings, for the Liberate navigator client
Current date and time, this cannot be set, but is retrieved from the network stream, the STB has a built in CMOS battery
Bootloader version and flash information
Memory information, according to these values the box has 16Mb, with 4Mb Flash
Information relegating to the MPEG decoders. You can also set the remote control configuration here and enabled the rear in or outputs, this has little effect since the software does not support this
No PPV events…
Flash memory information, the capacity, bad flash sectors and where the image came from.
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
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
Former Telewest/Virgin Media box used for standard definition TV Services.
Sadly the NetID for this box does not match my area, which means channels cannot be watched. Virgin have migrated their streams to MPEG4 anyway which this box cannot decode, however radio channels remain in MPEG2 although they are tied to the NetID which is why they don’t appear here.
The now and next banner that appears when you change channels. If you are used to Sky’s interface you will be familiar to how Virgin’s guide works since it’s mostly the same principles. Left and Right lets you browse the different channels, which unlike Sky will automatically filer out unsubscribed channels, and you can view information for all channels for the next 24 hours
When you remove the smartcard from the set top box
The main home screen, typically the channel you are watching appears in the box to the right. You can’t do that on a regular Sky Digibox. From here you can also access the on demand and catch services, which at the time would have consisted of BBC iPlayer and content from ITV and Channel 4. For a brief period Virgin also offered box-sets in the form of Virgin Central which could be accessed like a regular channel
Channels can be divided into multiple genres. Oddly there’s a high definition section there, despite the box lacking the ability to decode HD channels.
The main TV guide screen
Setting a reminder, similar to adding a programme to the personal planner on Sky
The favorites guide, channels you mark as favorite appear here
The reminders section, similar to the personal planner on Sky Digital
Sorting channels by genre
Box supports RGB and composite over scart, and has a widescreen option. The EPG does not run in widescreen mode however.
OnDemand and Interactive
Press F to pay Respect… or OK. I guess most of the liberate interactive stuff has been removed
For years Telewest customers were promised the launch of digital text services that could be activated by the text button. Eventually they just gave up
Pressing the Help button brings up a short guide that mentions most of the common features
Kind of like the BIOS of a PC where you can change certain settings like the default frequency. To access it hold down the Up and Down buttons on the front panel of the box whilst it is booting up (whilst -un- appears on the front display). DIAG will then appear on the front
The only thing you can change here is the default frequency parameters. and the RF output.
Inside the box
I’m not sure how similar our 4200DVB is to the American version of the 4200. I guess the CPU chip set might be the same but the software will defiantly be different, since Scientific Atlanta have their own Operating System and middle-ware stack, whereas Virgin use Liberate TV Navigator for their software. Then there’s the DOCSIS modem compared to the DAVIC based one in the American version, and the different encryption systems (Nagravision vs PowerKey)
The internals are similar to the Di4000. One thing I have noticed with Scientific Atlanta boxes is they always mount the PSU on the side. I’m not sure if this allows for better heat dissipation since there are vents underneath the box. The tuner module is huge and takes up a lot of room on the main board.
The CPU (right) with the cable modem coprocessor (left). The CPU seems to be a customized chip for Scientific Atlanta and is designed by ST. This may indicate the CPU core being ST20 based, since many ST chips used that core in various satellite receivers, including Sky Digibox’s. As with modern designs, the main processors integrates the CPU, MPEG2 decoder, CA descrambler and graphics core on the same chip. In terms of memory, the box has 32MB of RAM and 8MB of flash, same as the Pace Di4000T.
The IO is standard for many cable boxes of the era, although this model drops the USB port, and the RF loop through has been removed. The earlier Pace Telewest boxes had an RF loop through that would modulate the STB signal onto a spare RF channel, whilst this box does the same, you cant loop the antenna feed through it, wither a combiner or diplexer device would be needed. Assuming you even wanted to use RF, most customers would use the scart connecter with the RF being used to feed a second TV. I’m not sure if the box feeds the analogue cable channels though the RF out, but since this box was released in 2004 and Telewest were already planning to shut of the analogue feed it’s unlikely.
At least there’s an Optical audio out along with analogue out, which the Di4000 boxes dropped, and the mysterious IR blaster connector.
Front view of the STB, the panel is based on the Scientific Atlanta 4250 design.
Updating System Software
To force a software update, power off the box, hold Power and Ok whilst powering the box on
It’s nice they used Wordart in their software update screens
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.