Tag Archives: telewest

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.

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 DiTV 1000

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

DiTV 1000 Front

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.

DiTV 1000 Rear

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

Broadcom QAMLink BCM3118BKEF – QAM & DVB Decoder

C-Cube AViA GTX – Graphics processor

C-Cube AViA-600 – MPEG2 decoder

Broadcom BCM3220KPF – DOCSIS Modem

Hitachi SuperH/SH3 Processor – Central Processing Unit

Another view of the main processors

DiTV1000 Front Panel

Update Process

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

Diag Screens

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
MessageMeaning
PACEAppears when the stb is powered on
—-Liberate middleware is initialising, normal part of boot up
LAITWait, The stb is preparing to update
OHAYAppears when you hold the power button down upon boot, stb waiting for a front panel command
ERASErasing flash
FLASFlashing memory, part of the update process
GOODChecksum passed, last part of the update process
ERRXError code, where X means the error number

ntl CR3 on modern Virgin Media

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.

ntl guide cr3

Well the box managed to load something, lets see what we get…

ntl tv guide cr3

The main EPG, showing the many channels or streams Virgin broadcast

ntl digital 2002

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.

ntl guide 2002

Looks like software update streams for the various tivo box models currently in use with Virgin Media.

ntl virgin media

ntl pace di4000n
ntl nagravision
ntl pace
ntl dvb-c
ntl liberate tv navigator
ntl sky
ntl reminder

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

ntl CR3 Pace Di4000N

Ntl Bromley CR3

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

ntl home screen

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.

TV Guide

ntl tv 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.

Subject Search

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.

ntl subject search

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.

Interactive

ntl interactive

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.

On Demand

Looking for PPV events, this was before true video on demand had launched

ntl on demand

Settings

ntl parental control

The parental control feature

Changing TV settings, not sure what Enhanced Programming corresponds to?

Favourites

The favorites feature, very similar to Ntl Langely CR3

Help

ntl help cr3

There’s a help system but with no content stored on the box.

Diag Screen

Diag screen that shows the software an signal information

ntl error

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

Virgin Media TV Guide

Former Telewest/Virgin Media box used for standard definition TV Services.

Starting up…

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

Settings

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

General Use

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

Help

Pressing the Help button brings up a short guide that mentions most of the common features

Earlier Build

Diag Screens

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

Pace Di4001 Adventures

I wanted to see if this box themself would still work on a modern Virgin media network. I’m aware that Virgin broadcast all their channels in MPEG4 which this box cannot decode, aside from some radio channels. But I was still interested if the box would work and how it worked, especially in regards to early digital cable TV.

The box itself

Pace Di4001 ntl

Pace Di4001 size comparison with the Pace 2500S5, a typical Sky box of the same era

Trying to get started

So I got off to a rocky start trying to get the box to start up in the first place, since powering it on the display would show PACE followed by TUNE. I figured that i needed to enter the boxes engineering mode to reset something. This provided impossibale since after attempting to enter the engineer mode, the box would immediately show TUNE on the front panel display

i tried different combinations that I found online to get the box to work but nothing was working. Finally i stumbled on a old forum post that held the solution;

So to summarize, If your set top box wont progress past TUNE (shown on the front panel display) and you are unable to enter into the boxes engineering mode, you may need to reset the STB’s NVRAM since it may have become corrupted. This can occur when the STB has been powered off for a while, and the battery has discharged to a point where it is running under voltage. This must corrupt the NVRAM in a way it becomes unreadable to the STB

To recover, you will need to open the box, and pull a red jumper located to the right of a large white Sanyo battery. Leave the jumper out for about 5 minutes and then reconnect the jumper. Power on the STB and hold down the UP and DOWN buttons on the front of the box for 10 seconds. You should see DIAG on the front panel display and the engineering mode should appear after a few seconds.

Pace Di4001 PSU
note the red jumper in the middle, situated between the white Sanyo battery and that big red thing

Doing this will clear the Netid of the box, which the Di4001 boxes are able to set automatically if they are in an original NTL area. Otherwise it will appear as *****

After resetting the NVRAM I was able to get to box to enter it’s engineering screen.

Engineer Mode

From here you can change the default frequency and symbol rate, which the box uses to look for the latest software, and possible where the ntl EPG listings are located. You can also see info relating to the software version running on the box, Memory and flash info

There are a few interesting items here, mainly the memory address section. from here i was able to find out the spec of the box. 0x1000000 converts to 16777216 which I would say is 16Mb of RAM. The Flash storage being 0x00400000 that converts to 4194304 which i’d say is 4Mb.

This model of box does have less Flash compared to the older revisions of the Di4001 in favor of more RAM, maybe the OS is compressed into Flash, which is then extracted upon boot into RAM, and runs from RAM like a Ramdisk. Alternatively, there may be a basic guide stored in flash, with the remaining components loaded from ntl either directly broadcast or using it’s DAVIC modem.

Also it appears this box is the 2A revision of the Di4001. which the boot-loader being compiled in September 2000

If you want to boot the STB without a cable feed connected, hold down the up OR down button on the front of the STB when PACE appears on the display (immediately after applying power to the box), and release until it shows boot, or after 10 seconds. This will skip the default frequency checks and will load the main TV guide interface, even without a cable feed connected.

Doing this trick allowed be to bypass the default frequency check and put the box into some sort of ‘safe mode’, this it it would load the TV guide without having any channels or listings loaded. In this mode the box is stuck on channel 0 and not all aspects of the guide can be accessed.

I’ll put up some screenshots of the guide software up later, if I can get the box to pick up Virgin’s tv guide…

One oddity was the services button on the front panel of the box, now you would think that it would take you to the main TV guide, however it just make the mini guide appear and disappear from the front panel there is no way to access the main TV guide screen…

Another oddity was that pressing the front panel buttons would cause the remote light to indicate, even though you were pressing the front panel buttons and not the remote.

Conclusion

Unfortunately I was unable to get the box to tune into any frequency, never-mind booting with some sort of TV guide. At first I assumed it was because the network information Virgin Media broadcast in my area was not in a compatible format, or that the box was looking for something that Virgin have since removed from the stream, however I am now convinced that the tuner in the box is most likely faulty, since entering correct frequency’s in the engineer screen yields no change to the signal levels, even after removing and reapplying the coax cable.

Also since the box is running relatively old software (from around 2005), it’s likely the box was an ex-subscription box that was never returned to ntl, or may have had it’s flash chips modified to be read only, preventing a software update from taking place.

Lifting the lid

Pace Di4001 internal
Di4001 inside

Compared to other set top boxes of the era this ones quite busy inside considering it’s supposed to house a digital cable receiver and a cable modem in one enclosure. Ill try my beast to break down the individual processors this box contains;

C-CUBE AViA-600L
MPEG2 decoder

The main decoding processors, the one on the left (C-Cube 600L) is the MPEG2 decoder, not sure of the one on the right?

Hitachi SH3 Pace Di4001
Hitachi SH3 CPU

The one on the left is an Hitachi SH3 processor, if you’ve ever opened a Sega Saturn or a Dreamcast you should be familiar with the Hitachi CPU’s. The one on the right is a mystery, its branded as Pace but I cannot find and information online regarding it. I suspect its something to do with Nagravision based on the fact its near the smart card area. Maybe Pace had to licence their own Nagravision descrambler?

C-Cube AVIA

C-Cube Avia-inx – Handles DVB-C demuxing from the tuners, Ethernet controller, IEEE1284 controller and has a built in graphics processor. Basically like the northbridge/chipset on a pc.

The system memory, unlike other STB’s of the era this one is designed to be upgradable but seems to be using a proprietary slot. Virgin Media could easily upgrade the memory of these units should the box be returned. This model currently has 16Mb.

BCM3120

DAVIC/DVB-RC decoder, was underneath the smartcard slot so I had to get a funny angle

Pace Di4001 smsc

I believe these are for the onboard ethernet and serial ports

Pace Di4001 Front panel
Di4001 front panel

The front panel exposed, note the two IrDA sensors

Rear Panel

Pace Di4001 back panel
Di4001 back panel

From Left – Right

  1. Mains Input
  2. RF Output
  3. Audio phono out
  4. TV and VCR Scart
  5. IR output and input – I think were were meant for external devices such as Tivo or VCR’s to control the STB without any dongles needed, whilst never used by ntl the box does supply power though these connectors allowing the use of red eye dongle
  6. Ethernet – For internet access or LAN
  7. RS232 – Only used for libdebug, never used by ntl externally. Could be used for external input devices like a mouse or keyboard
  8. IEEE1284 parallel port – never used, might be for external disk drives, printers or modems
  9. Cable Input