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.
One of the loading bumpers for Open….
Austin Powers 2
The main Open…. menu
Shopping Menu – Shows a list of retails who have a storefront through Open
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
Home banking services were offered, designed after the popularity of online banking
Entertainment sections, which leads to the popular game section
Music section, where you can check the latest charts, and purchase physical albums
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)
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.
Whats New section
Any new additions to the service would appear here
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
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
Early EPG concept
An early pre launch EPG background design, also note the channel text below the Sky logo
Another look at the Sky guide design
Meanwhile, here’s the actual EPG design Sky launched with, note how it says TV GUIDE LISTINGS rather than ALL CHANNELS
Panasonic were one of the major manufactures of Sky Digibox’s, and were considered to be one of the more reliable makes in terms of reliability and performance.
The front panel is typical of the average Sky box of the era, 4 led lights followed by 9 front panel buttons along with two card slots.
A loot at the system details screen, showing the software and revision information
Lifting the Lid
A very clean design, similar to the 2500S5
On the left you can see the main CPU and MPEG2 decoder, seems to be a custom Panasonic MN2 processor (MN2WS0002AD). Whilst I’ve not been able to find a lot of detail on it online, It’s a lot faster than the ST 5512 found in the Pace 2500S5
Not sure about the Panasonic chip towards the bottom, the MN7D022B3M, nothing much turns up online. Not much can be found with the Conexant chip either (SMARTSCM/336 CX88168-12) however one MAME driver source page has it down as a modem
Second card slot
Another view of the MN2 chip with the flash rom (bottom) and memory (Samsung chip next to the MN2)
Main central processor MN2WS0002AD, Looks like it’s missing a heatsink, or maybe Panasonic figured it didn’t need one. Most likely Sky winged about the price so Panasonic had to cut corners. Still the box feels cool to the touch when in use.
The front panel removed
Vs Pace 2500S5
Vs Pace Di4000N
The DSB40 comes from the same generation of digibox as my 2500S5, yet it feels so much faster in operation thanks to its processor. I’m not sure why Pace held onto the St5512 for so long when over digibox’s were moving onto more capable processors. Unfortunately I’m not able to find any further information regarding Panasonic’s MN2 chips that they used, only that they were used for Directv and OpenCable boxes also, and they were mostly MIPS based designed like the NEC EMMA used on some digibox’s.
Then again this box is running older software, maybe the later versions were more demanding?
The only major issue the the telephone cable connector, once you insert the wire, its suck to the digibox and cannot be removed without removing the back panel. I’m not sure why this is, if the connecter was mismatched for the case or maybe it was a cost saving design.
The Sky Guide user interface has been though a lot of changes ever since its launch in October 1998. Being one of the first Digital TV platforms in the UK, however despite having numerous software updates throughout the years, its core design remains the same albeit with certain alterations being made in light of new feature being added to the service.
Screenshots below are captured off a Pace 2500S5 running EPG software version
Search & Scan
Pressing the blue button cycles through the selected favorite channels, Personally I’ve never understood why it cant just open up a small menu showing favorite channels along with what’s being broadcast now, the way it’s been implemented seems like it was tacked on at the last minute, and if you have nearly 50 favorite channels it can take a while to cycle through them all.
If you wondered what the messages button does, It just shows the message above. Originally it was supposed to received broadcast style messages to the digibox, informing customers of any changes to their service
Low battery icon, supported on 2001 and later revision remotes
Main grid style view, programmes highlighted in white have audio description, this can be changed in the Language & Subtitles menu in the Services section.
Pressing i on the remote brings up a synopsis of the program selected. Also wtf is going on with modern Simpsons?
Sky added further categories in 2005 to accommodate the amount of channels. However in 2021 some of these genres are redundant, there’s only one channel in the Gaming & Dating category for example.
Viewing channels based on genre
No more Lifestyle & Culture channels, Sky merged the genre back into Entertainment
TV Guide: A-Z Listings
Viewing A-Z list of programs by genre. This has always been a mess since the same programme is repeated multiple times due to the advent of +1 and HD simulcasts, Ideally Sky should have combined the same program title into one per channel, instead you can have pages of the same program if it is repeated on multiple channels at different times.
Programs can be viewed by subgenres, which can be selected using the bottom row of colour buttons.
TV Guide: Personal Planner
The Personal Planner was introduced in 2001, and serves as a timer and reminder feature of Sky Guide. Programs can be added here and the digibox will remind you when the program starts. Autoview will make the digibox switch over to the channel automatically, useful for recording programs to a VCR (remember those?). Series Link automatically adds the next program to the personal planner, like the Season Pass feature of the Tivo.
To be honest, I found the Personal Planner to be buggy, many series links will randomly disappear over time.
TV Guide: Favorite Channels
The Digibox can store up to 50 favorite channels, which a separate EPG being introduced that lists the favorite channels exclusively, introduced in the EPG 3.4 update
Sadly Sky axed it’s Box Office Pay-Per-View in 2016 in favor of its on demand service. So this part of the guide is now dead.
Shows telephone numbers for broadcasters and departments on Sky. I thought this was a wasted feature since how often do you contact these broadcasters?
A better feature would be to allow the user to enter and save their own phone numbers, then should a contact call, a small message would appear with the callers phone number and name, like a caller display feature. It would certainly give customers a good reason to plug the Digibox into the phoneline. The only time I’ve seen this feature implemented was on a BT Freeview box.
Services: System Setup
Second Location Picture Format refers to the RF2 output, if the second TV is 4:3 with the main set being 16:9
On-Screen icon timeout referrers to the red button props that appear for interactive. Previously the red button icons would stay on screen unless the user pressed the Backup key
Model number referrers to the driver stack implemented on the digibox, and varies for each box model and revision
Version Number – First two characters refer to the Digibox manufacturer, the next two are the major revision (model/CPU chipset), the last two refer to the minor Digibox hardware revision. This field is static and remains the same throughout
Serial Number – identifies the digibox uniquely
Viewing Card Number – Refers to the viewing card number currently inserted
Operating System – the core operating system on the digibox, using a modified OpenTV1.2 with the NucleusOS realtime kernel
EPG Software Version – Version of Sky Guide currently running
Signal Strength – How much signal is being received, determined by the size of the dish, quality and length of the cable run and the quality of the tuner used in the box.
Signal Quality – Signal to noise ratio
Lock Indicator – If the digibox can decode the transport stream
Network ID – Used to identify the satellite the user is on, Astra 28.2 is 0002 with Astra 19.2E being 0001, Hotbird 13E is 013e
Transport Stream – The transponder that the digibox is tuned to
Services: Installer Setup
This menu is hidden in plain view, since it can technically disrupt normal operation of the digibox.
LNB Setup – To change tuning parameters of the LNB if a non standard LNB is being used, not needed if using a Sky Minidish.
Default Transponder – The transponder where the Digibox loads its TV listings upon bootup
Telephone Settings – If the user need to specify a prefix to access the outside line
RF Outlets – To change the RF output channel
Manual Tuning – Manually tune a frequency, similar to Add Channels but shows the signal strength and quality.
Services: Auto Standby
Services: Other Channels
Other Channels lets you add channels that are not on the Sky EPG, but are broadcasting on the 28.2E satellite. These could be regional channels not populated on the guide, or test channels.
In theory you could use this feature to watch channels on different satellite providing your dish is pointed to the satellite. In practice you are limited to two symbol rates (22.0 and 27.5) which restricts what transponders you can tune into (on 19.2E this isn’t much of an issue since Astra frequencies tend to stay consistent). The digibox isn’t a good receiver for this purpose since it wasn’t designed for it, it only barley works with the standard Sky digital service.
Services: Favorite Channels
Lets the customer program up to 50 favorite channels. This was originally 20 channels with the limit being increased in 2005.
Pressing i gives you a channel description, this also appears when you access a channel that you are not subscribed to.
A list of interactive services, or service. Sadly this menu used to be full of different service that were available back in the day (Playjam, Sky Active, QVC, DirectGov, Gky Gamestar)
Unfortunately MySky no longer loads
Pressing i gives you a description of the service
What happens when you disconnect the sat feed, the box cannot load listings, showing that the full listings are not cached in the digibox itself
A weird glitch, BBC Alba and Premier Sports on channel 65535
I believe this is due to a channel being restricted via the encryption, yet the customer is enrolled on the package. Could be due to area/post code restrictions,
Low battery message, supported on v4 remotes and later
Nag screen that appears when you boot up the digibox without a telephone line connected, since Sky have axed all of the interactive services (except for BBCi which does not use the telephone) they might as well remove this prompt
Appers when you switch on the digibox from the mains
All regular Sky digibox’s can only decode MPEG2 SD channels, if you go to an HD channel you simply receive this message. You used to be able to get tv listings for HD channels but Sky remove this to conserve memory since they were running out of EPG spaces
Appears when you insert the viewing card backwards, rumored to charge Sky for the subscription rather than the customer
When you have no signal being received for that channel transponder
Sometimes the digibox can’t load the program information, this message will be diplayed for a few seconds before the synopsis appears.