Telewest redesigned their digital TV service in 2002, which saw the TV Guide software undergo a complete rewrite and redesign of the user interface, similar to what ntl undertook with their Bromley TV service.
Like ntl the TV guide was written entirely in Liberate TV middleware, and the entire interface is rendered using the Liberate browser. In contrast, the previous Telewest software used an EPG system developed by Pace, with the Liberate browser being added as a separate component what had to be loaded.
This meant the customer had to wait for the Liberate browser to load before they could access the interactive service, and on screen interactive prompt were not possible since the interactive stack was not running whilst the customer was watching TV.
Viewing TV on Demand listings
The Liberate middleware was upgraded to 1.2, which featured several programme and feature upgrades to the HTML browser used, one of which was the ability to use a mosaic style screen with different video feeds .As mentioned earlier, the Liberate intake now runs constantly, allowing for ‘press Red’ functionality to be used on TV channels, this was essential since Sky and ITVDigital had implemented similar interactive prompt features. These would also be instrumental for the upcoming Big Brother and Wimbledon 2002 interactive services, where customers could choose from different angles and feeds through the use of interactive, of which was not possible with Liberate 1.1 (The mosaic feature mentioned earlier)
A reminder alert for an upcoming program
Also new addition was the mini TV guide feature, where a small screen of the channel the customer was currently watching is displayed whilst the customer browses the TV guide or interactive. The exception to this is when they are browsing the On demand TV section, where the box changed to a Front Row preview channel, the reason being this was to allow the box to get up to date PPV listings rather than rely on cached data, and to do so it was necessary for the box to tune into a specific frequency that carried this data, preventing the use of mini TV.
A weird design decision since Telewest already had a functioning return path due to the internal DOCSIS modem inside the Pace box, why not use that to retrieve the PPV listings?
Adding Favourite channels
Viewing Favourite channels
Pressing reveals information on the selected program, and any program broadcast within the next 24 hours
View of the search and scan banner, known here as the Mini Guide like Sky you can view what’s on other channels
In 2003, a slight update was made to the interface layout, the Telewest Broadband branding is now in effect, and the layout is more square compared to the previous design.
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.
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
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.
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.
One of the many Digibox’s Pace produced over the years, and one of the first to have the tuner integrated on the mainboard, previous models had the tuner enclosed on a separate metal box fixed onto the board, or as a ZIF style socket module.
Another box from the same era was the PaceDi4000N for ntl, although this is a cable receiver you can see some similarities in the design.
Its quite a minimal clean design compared to the other boxes Pace have produced, like the Di4001
Back to the 2500S5, you can see the CPU of the box
The main, and only processor STi5512SWE. This chip incorporates the CPU (ST20) running at 60Mhz, MPEG2 decoder and graphics processor, basically a receiver on a chip. I’m not sure how it compares to other digibox’s of the era in terms of speed, considering this box was made in 2002.
ST processors were stupidly popular in many satellite receivers, and this one seems to be an NDS variant
Not sure what this chip does, maybe I/O for the RS232 port?
The unused PCMCIA slot
Flash memory chips (right) that store the EPG software and operating system. Each chip is 2Mb for a total of 4Mb Flash. There are two unpopulated banks for a potential of 8Mb. The chip at the top left, above the Omega chip is part of the RAM.
View of the dual card slots, the bottom is for the viewing card, whilst the top is for the interactive card.
Appears to be the modem used for the Digibox’s return path. This allows for the digibox to communicate back to Sky for box office events and interactive. Unsure of the port on the right
The front of the box with the panel removed, showing the location of the remote sensor
Connecting an old ntl box running ancient (by cable standards) software to a modern Virgin Media network. Whilst Virgin Media is the sucessor to ntl there are a few possible roadblocks to this;
VM no longer broadcast their channels in MPEG2 with the exception of a few off air slates and radio channels.
The DVB-SI that VM broadcast may not be consistent with what the software is expecting
The STB itself may be looking for something that VM are no longer transmitting
Getting the box to boot was a struggle itself, just connecting it to a cable feed is not enough since the box will get stuck on the starting up screen, I left it overnight and the box was still trying to start up
Forcing a boot (holding Up+Down and letting go once LDR appears on the display) wouldn’t work either
What worked in the end was to power up the STB will the cable feed disconnected, this will cause the box to display NIT on the front panel LED display. Connecting the coax feed, the box will then proceed to the start up screen and after around 5 minutes a channel will be displayed.
Well the box managed to load something, lets see what we get…
The main EPG, showing the many channels or streams Virgin broadcast
What’s disappointing is nothing can be tuned, you can select a channel but nothing will play, not even radio channels. Potentially this could be the NetID mismatch causing this , since the STB originated from a different area of the network.
Looks like software update streams for the various tivo box models currently in use with Virgin Media.
To breakdown what works and not
Channels Numbers exist but its not the order that Virgin use, the STB seems to place them consecutively in the EPG, i.e starts at 1 and goes up to 350
There are issues selecting channels over 255 in the guide, trying to select a channel number over 255 causes the box to pull a channel from the top section of the EPG, i.e selecting channel 260 causes channel 5 to get selected instead.
Only now and next information is loaded, no further schedule information is available
Subject search does not function
Channel genres do not work, selecting Entertainment or Sports shows no channels.
Various hidden streams and channels appear in the guide
Changing channels using the + and -, the list is out of order and the STB seems to jump between different channels.
Program reminders work and can be set
Maybe changing the Net ID will at least allow the radio channels to be opened