Tag Archives: Pace

A look at the Pace DTR730 (ONdigital)

Pace was one of the main suppliers of ONdigital receivers, having supplied boxes since the official launch on the 15th November 1998.

There are a few differences in contrast with the Nokia 9850T that I looked at previously, the bootup process behaves differently with the Pace flashing its front panel display for a few seconds before displaying the time (12:00, until it loads the time from the DVB-SI).
Another observation is the middle colon (:) on the display will flash when a button is pressed on the remote. This didn’t happen on the Nokia 9850T, even though it is documented in the instruction book.

The front LED display also flashes when coming out of standby, and like the Nokia it takes a few seconds to come out of standby.

Onwards there isn’t much difference, the software is mostly the same as the Nokia, its had the OnMail, and ONrequest update which enabled the guide menu to be accessed.

In terms of performance, it seems to be a bit more responsive compared to the Nokia

Hidden menu & Software Information

Like on the Nokia, a hidden menu exists that shows additional software information about the box.

To access, Press menu
Select option 7 (technical information)
Then select option 2 (manufacturer data)
Press text-guide-text-guide

ONMail remote

The box didn’t come with a remote, thankfully I had the ONmail remote which has the ability to control the box but requires to be programmed at first. This is because each manufacturer used their own remote control design and IR codes.
To set the remote code:
Hold the Red and Select button for around four seconds, then type in the code
Pace – 905
Nokia – 901

Inside the box

Lets see what powers the DTR730…

At the heart we have the ST20-TP4 processor, this seems to be a variation of the ST20-TP3 used in the digibox’s of the time and appears to be clocked at 50Mhz. This contrasts to the ARM Texas Instruments chip found in the Mediamaster 9850T, which was an ARM clocked at 40Mhz. It is unfair to compare both on the clock speeds alone, as they are of different instruction set with the Nokia being of the ARM family and the Pace belonging to the ST20 family of processors. Still the Pace feels a lot more responsive compared to the Nokia, although both are sluggish navigating the menus compared to more modern boxes.

STi3520LCV

An MPEG2 decoder is provided off-chip, very similar to what Pace used in their digibox’s of the time. At this point many of the components were not as integrated, so the Cpu and decoder were still separate chips. I’d say this is the same decoder they used on their Digibox’s, and the IPTV receivers (the DSL4000).

Like the Nokia, the tuner seems to be on its own board and is connected in a similar fashion. Here you have the tuner, RF modulator and the DVB-T demodulator. Here is provided by LSI Logic, whilst the Nokia used a Motorola processor. These would have belonged to the same generation and would have lacked 8K modulation support, meaning these boxes cannot receive modern Freeview broadcasts.
As both the Nokia and pace follow this modular-like design for the tuner, I’d guess this was a design consideration, and the mainboards were intended to be adapted easily for satellite or cable use, by separating the tuner module from the mainboard. I also wonder if this is similar to the hardware Canal+ had used for their equipment, just fitted with satellite tuners instead. Pace, Philips, and Nokia did make boxes for Canal+, who also designed the Mediahighway and Mediaguard components that ONdigital used, so it may be the case they just adapted the box design for ONdigital.

Underneath is the common interface slot, which is a PCMCIA slot for additional addon board like a conditional access interface, or to add an additional decoder.

Back in the day there were rumors of a satellite tuner being added as a sidecar to allow for them to receive ONdigital broadcasts, this never materialized and as such the slot remained redundant. Compared to the common interface on the Digibox, it’s a lot smaller but uses the same PCMCIA interface suggesting this was for conditional access use only.

The modem is integrated onto the mainboard unlike the Nokia which was a separate module, it looks to be the same hardware as the Nokia however. Its certainly a lot quieter as it does not make a click when the modem is accessed like the Nokia does (You can hear it when you try to dial into the ONmail service.

The back panel is fairly typical of ONdigital boxes, with dual scarts, audio out (No digital audio like the Sony or Nokia) and a serial port for the ONmail remote.

Memory/Flash

Fujitsu 29LV160B

Flash memory chips, each chip has 2MB of capacity for a total of 6MB. Rumor is there are two partitions, 2MB solely for Canal+ (Possibly the operating system itself?) and 4Mb for ONdigital’s resident applications.

NEC D4218165LG5

The main DRAM, I’d say there’s around 2 or 4MB of system RAM, assuming there aren’t additional chips on the underside of the board. Not much information on these can be found online.

LGS GM72V161621CT10K

Some sort of SDRAM for the MPEG2 decoder, appears to be 1MB in size for each chip for a total of 2MB, according to this site (assuming I’ve read this correctly)

Misc Screenshots

A look at the channel list, seems the box was able to retain some of its original channel list, but was rescanned at some point

Libdebug

Using the DigDebug and loading the appropriate configuration file, we are able to see the test process for the DTR730. Here there are options to:

  • Test and clear the flash memory did not want to do this since this will erase the current channel list
  • Enable/disable the test patterns (A color bar is displayed on screen)
  • Test the Mediaguard smartcard (If it’s inserted and detectable)
  • Turn on/off different SCART signals
  • Test the modem and have it dial out (Didn’t seem to work on my box)
  • Test the front LED display, you can either set it to be blank or light up all segments on the display
test pattern

ntl EPG (2002 – Langley)

This update marks the start of the unification of the Langley and Bromley platforms, as the colour scheme as been changed to match the one used by Bromley CR3. Internally many amendments were made in how the DVB-SI was handled in order for it to behave like the Bromely imersion.vplentation

The channels banner keeps its layout but adopts the new color scheme

Information banner that displays details on the program being broadcast

Setting a reminder for a future event, auto tune can be enabled for when you are settings a recording for a VCR, the box will then automatically change over to the channel

Main guide screen, different genres can be accessed here

This guide still has the classic layout, whilst the Bromley guide uses the grid like layout that is well known today

Pressing text on a channel that does not have an interactive link

Using the subject search feature to find a program

The settings area, which remained unchanged since the previous version

Cable & Wireless guide (Post-Launch)

The channel banner that shows now and next information. Also supports transparency, a feature of the C-Cube GPU that was in the early Pace boxes

Future events can be found by navigating through the banner

Reminds can be set for future events, this predates the Sky personal planner which wouldn’t debut until 200. Don’t know why the symbol is upside down?

Viewing information about the show itself

The main home screen that appears when you press TV Guide, looks very similar to the Telewest version

The early EPG that was used on these cable guides was known as at-a-glance, and used a grid style layout to show channel listings

Sorting channels by genre

Pressing the i button gives detailed information about the upcoming show

Reminder notification, not sure if the STB will switch over automatically to the show being broadcast

TV on Demand

This is basically a near VOD service similar to Sky Box Office of the time, as true VOD would not launch until the ntl era, 2005

Main on demand screen with a list off currently showing events

Sample error/information box, on this one a warning is shown when the user is watching a copy protected movie

If the event is already showing a warning messages informing you will appear

Selecting the preferred start time

Updating VOD listings

Preferences

Settings area where favorite channels and preferences can be amended

Display aspect ratio can be changed, along with the scart output (Composite and RGB Scart)

Pin control to restrict TV events and channels

Interactive

A few captures of interactive sites that were available at the time, interactive launched in mid 2000 and was built on the Liberate navigator platform. Initial reception to the service was problematic, with issues bring the service being slow to load and some pages refusing to load likely due to the demands being placed on the server and lack of capacity. Supposedly this was due to the DOCSIS upstream being used to upload data as it was meant to, but the downstream being sent over the broadcast/DVB-C as opposed to DOCSIS, likely a carousel based system like Sky and ONdigital did.

Cable & Wireless planned to have up to 100 websites, with a lot being based on a cut down version to be displayed on a standard definition TV. Many sites can be loaded and accessed using a special URL which loads the homepage that the cable services uses.

ITN – Archive Interactive service

Enhanced interactive services were due to be made avaliable later, these used technology developed by TwoWayTV and would have used the full capabilities of the digital services to deliver interactive games and multimedia.

Comparisions

The first generation software was designed and built by Pace, with the operator customizing the end interface of the guide. All follow a very similar design language, which would be replaced by a Liberate HTML based EPG in later revisions for both ntl and Telewest

Fate

Cable&Wireless home division was acquired by ntl who started merging the network operations with their own digital service. Cable&Wireless customers saw their EPG being rebranded using the ntl design scheme, and would be replaced entirely with ntl CR2. Initially both platforms were ran separately as they differed in return path and SI technology, which made integration difficult. After some time the two platforms would be unified with the Langley CR3 software. After ntl and Telewest merged, the Virgin media guide would be pushed to customers in 2007

Telewest – 2002

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: launch EPG (2000 – Langely)

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,

Help Information

Appears when the set top box is in the process of starting up

Updated Build

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

Channel list

Listings for a single channel

Viewing a PPV movie listings

Programs entered into the reminder diary

When a program is about to start

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

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

The main home screen

At-A-Glance

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

Pressing i calls up a description of the program

TV-On-Demand

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

Different categories

Programs-By-Subject

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

Main settings area

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

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

Telewest 1999

Telewest 1999

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 entertainment 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 Di4000T

The Pace Di4000T was released in 2002, 3 years after active digital had originally launched, and was a new generation of digital set top boxes.

Pace Di4000T
Pace Di4000T

Like it’s ntl counterpart, certain features were cut in this version in an effort to reduce costs for the cable company.

Pace Di4000T

Looks just like the Di4000N, with the main difference being the large Broadcom chip to the left

Pace Di4000N

The main difference is the removal of the second card slot, it remainted in the Telewest version until the Di4000TC

The Di4000T is powered by the Conexant CX22490, same as the Di4000N and is paired with 32MB of memory

Broadcom BCM3250KPB, DVB demodulator and cable modem controller.

Another view, this time with the chips cleaned

Additional space for more flash memory

Front panel with the cover removed, the Di4000T has the same front panel as the Di1000/2000 series

Rear panel, exactly the same as the ntl version

Software Version: 3.7.37.P12EN.P.KNOW.P4000.R

Diag Mode

Displays the default frequency for the local area

Shows the NetID and the different address used to identify the box, also shows the build of the software

Return path information

Date & Time information

Rf output settings, here you can change the output channel and the colume control

Smart card status

Shows the different images stored in the flash memory

Memory and Flash memory capcities

Reboots the STB, not sure why cold reset is not avaliable

Status monitoring, List of errors and notifications logged by the STB

Shows signal information for the chosen frequency and symbol rate.

Same as the previous screen but with the cable modem downstream

Signal information for the DOCSIS modem upstream

When the box can locate a valid transport stream (multiplex) it shows the details of the DVB-SI, the amount of services found

Information relating to the flash memory

Virgin Media Guide

Other Information

Virgin Media Guide

Pace Di4000N

Looking at early Sky Interactive

Sky digital 1998 logo

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.

Open….

One of the loading bumpers for Open….

Austin Powers 2

Open main menu

The main Open…. menu

open shopping

Shopping Menu – Shows a list of retails who have a storefront through Open

open shopping

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

open banking

Home banking services were offered, designed after the popularity of online banking

open entertainment

Entertainment sections, which leads to the popular game section

open music

Music section, where you can check the latest charts, and purchase physical albums

open film

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)

open email

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.

open whats new

Whats New section

Any new additions to the service would appear here

Sky digital open games

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

Games

Beehive bedlam open....

Beehive Bedlam

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

Corporal Cluck sky games

Corporal Cluck

King Tutti Sky games

King Tutti

Early EPG concept

Sky guide movies 1998

An early pre launch EPG background design, also note the channel text below the Sky logo

sky guide tv listings

Another look at the Sky guide design

Sky guide 1999

Meanwhile, here’s the actual EPG design Sky launched with, note how it says TV GUIDE LISTINGS rather than ALL CHANNELS

Cable & Wireless TV Guide Pace DiTV1000

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.

A historical look at Cable & Wireless interactive

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.

Downloads

Cable Wireless interactive home

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

Developer Website

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.

Cable Wireless interactive home

Another view of the interactive home screen, this may be from a later redesign

Cable Wireless TV Internet

TV Internet Home

Similar to the Open… home screen, provides links to various services available

Cable Wireless TV Sports

Sports Main Menu

Provides links to other sports themed websites,

Cable Wireless TV email

Email Main Menu

Menu options are Check Email, Write Message, not sure of the third items, Drafts? Templates? Deleted?

Cable Wireless TV Inbox

Email Inbox

The STB had a built in email client, designed for the C&W email service

Cable Wireless TV Games

Two Way TV

Looks like a games service, hard to tell because of the resolution

Cable Wireless TV RAC

RAC Breakdown

A resource for traffic information and a route planner

Cable Wireless TV Travel

TravelTime

Looks like some sort of holiday broker

Cable Wireless TV Holiday

Travel

Provide links to holidays, not sure if this goes directly to the sites themselves?

Cable Wireless TV News

News

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.