Tag Archives: Videoguard

Restoring a Thomson SkyHD box

I’ve been meaning too document the HD era of Sky for some time now and whilst I do have a HD Sky box (the DRX595), I’m interested in the early era of SkyHD.

The HD EPG has been through multiple iterations, first it launched with an upscaled version of the Sky Guide interface that graced many Digibox’s since 1998. Sky redesigned the EPG exclusively for the HD boxes in 2008, which is the EPG I’m currently interested in below, unfortunately the majority of all HD boxes run newer versions of Sky HD guide, all except for one

Thomson DS8215

Thomson DSI8215

This was the launch STB for Sky HD, and remained the only box until 2008 when Sky started sourcing from Pace, Amstrad and Samsung, and were the only boxes that had analogue HD outputs (Component/YPbPr). Whilst the other boxes continued to receive updates after 2011, Sky began to phase out the Thomson models, which remained on the 8.3.2 EPG, and was the last OpenTV based EPG.

Admittedly Thomson were not the best manufacturer of Sky digibox’s. Don’t get me wrong, they’re mostly fine but nearly all Thomson (and Grundig, more on that later) digibox fall suspect of faulty PSU capacitors, which can cause myriad of issues from being stuck in standby to no satellite signal, and the HD box was sadly no exception to this.

First Impression

The box seemed to have been in use for a few years, and has had a bit of wear and tear.

Well it looks OK so far…

Seems to have had a lot of dust and grime build up over the past few years from the previous owner

The hard drive seems to have taken the brunt of it all, since there is a fan situated right below it that serves as the air intake.

Yeesh…

At this point I figured I had to take the box outside and clean it with a can of compressed air to get the dirt out.

Power Supply

A common issue on Thomson SkyHD (and Sky+/Digibox’s) is the power supply capacitors failing, all thanks to capacitor plague. This isn’t unique to Thomson Sky boxes as it can affect Grundig models as well, Thankfully it’s fixable even in 2021 either by yourself or you can send it off to be repaired. You can see in the above picture that one of the capacitors has started leaking, whilst others are bulging slightly.

This can also affect other consumer electronics from the 1999-2006 era, notably the clock capacitor on the original Xbox and various PC motherboards.

This box specifically had issues finding a satellite signal, and would only display ‘no Satellite signal is being received’ on both tuners, respective of either single or dual feed being used. Also a audible whine could be heard from the power supply, which is usually not a good sign.

The replaced capacitors

Conclusion

its worth mentioning that Sky no longer support this box for HD channels, whilst SD subscription channels and HD Free-To-Air channels will work, HD subscription channels will not work, since Sky moved to a different card pairing method this this box does not support, still for Freesat or basic subscription use the box will continue to work. The box also does not support any catch-up or On demand services offered by Sky.

Another thing to mention with this box is it will no longer recognize any viewing cards, this is probably due to fault with the box, either the card reader has failed or the contacts are dirty. This makes it impossible to use it with Sky+ modes since they require a Sky+ reenabled viewing card to work.

With this in mind I may decide to change the hard drive for a dummy Sata-SD card adaptor, since it makes no since having a hard drive that wont be used. I’m not sure what HDD space requirements the box has, since the box likes to reserve 140Gb for Anytime use.

Size Comparison

The Thomson SkyHD box was quite large compared to the previous set top boxes Sky have deployed, lets see how it compares:

Vs Xbox

Vs ntl: box

Vs Pace Digibox

Vs Virgin Media Tivo

Inside a Pace 2500S5 digibox

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.

Pace 2500S5 board
Pace 2500S digibox mainboard

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.

pace ntl
Pace Di4000 ntl box mainboard

Its quite a minimal clean design compared to the other boxes Pace have produced, like the Di4001

ntl pace

Back to the 2500S5, you can see the CPU of the box

pace st20

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

digibox pace

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.

ESS Teledrive ES2898S

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