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settopboxing

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settopboxing

C&W/NTL/Telewest Box Revival

Joe posted:
I don’t think I’ve posted in this thread yet but apologies if I have!

I have no interest in doing this stuff, but I’m fascinated reading about it, and especially in seeing the screenshots. It’s been great to learn a little more about the history of the UK’s cable networks etc. Thanks for the interesting conversation!


No problem, that's the idea!

The broadcasters don't seem to care much (or if they do then at least not often publicly), and to most people it just becomes landfill of no value other than maybe scrap metal, so that's exactly what I want to do - make sure it doesn't just disappear into landfill, both physically and in terms of records like screenshots, videos, etc of boxes in action, even if the original services are gone.

Glad you're enjoying the screenshots, hope I can bring more soon!

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settopboxing

C&W/NTL/Telewest Box Revival

My technical knowledge here will be absolutely useless to you, but what a fascinating and, arguably, vital project. Reminds me of format obsolescence, in a way, although I know this is a slightly different situation.

Are you planning to/have you written about this anywhere, blog perhaps?


Yeah, that's the thing, unlike the retro computing scene and to some extent vintage TV collectors who are interested in TV sets from the first half of the 20th century, these "modern" boxes don't get much attention despite now being 20+ years old and much more quickly obsolete. I'm not keen on that as they're just as culturally relevant (albeit to a younger generation) as a 405 line TV or a ZX Spectrum.

As you say, physical media formats too, they're (somewhat) preserved by different groups of people, those dumping computer/game ROMs, imaging floppy and optical discs, capturing video tapes and extracting teletext, all that stuff. Broadcast TV, in all its forms, is essentially that but via a more ephemeral medium. It's all just a big pile of ways to deliver content to consumers, even if you can't hold some of it in your hands.

Emulation is big too, and important for when all this hardware becomes too rare, too expensive, and too difficult to maintain. As far as I know, nobody's emulated any of these TV boxes yet. I'd love to see that, but my technical knowledge doesn't get me quite that far at the moment. There could perhaps be some concern over big pay TV companies not taking kindly to such practices too, although I'm sure for the most part it's simply a lack of interest in emulating such a mundane (and quite hardware-focussed) genre of equipment.

But yes, I am planning to document my efforts to produce these TV signals compatible with old boxes. I have a website (Set Top Boxing) but it's currently in the middle of a refresh as there are some misleading links which go nowhere due to my excessive optimism in how quickly I could populate the site with all the info, amongst some number of other deficiencies. I have a work in progress site designed to replace it, which will be available at the same URL, but in the meantime the existing site should give you an idea of what I'm trying to do.

I'm improving and expanding my photography and I expect to include more photos and screenshots, which is part of why I want to be able to show these boxes operating as they did 20+ years ago, naturally this requires being able to operate them despite their services being potentially no longer compatible or simply no longer active. In addition to that, I'll be documenting how I did it for each service so that others can use the same tools to rig up their own boxes and do the same. There are some unfortunately fairly technical aspects to some of it, but as it makes it easier for me to simplify the process as much as possible for my own convenience, hopefully that streamlining will be passed on in those articles. There's some somewhat expensive kit to buy too, which I wish wasn't the case, but this is a pretty niche thing which requires pretty niche equipment. I'd like to make it as easy as possible though, even if I can't make it cheap(er).


Edit: Couple of pictures from my journey so far. Not necessarily that interesting as I've been focussing on getting it to all work before taking a lot of pictures, but perhaps a little inspirational nonetheless...

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Radix Delta 2002 analogue "Sky" box (PAL FM satellite) showing "Sky One"
Actually a more modern box than the channel it's showing would suggest, and technically not possible because that box isn't a VideoCrypt decoder, but it's become my trusty PAL FM receiver of choice for technical testing.

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Philips STU902 D-MAC BSB box showing "The Movie Channel" (has some visual corruption)

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Pace DTR735PP ITV Digital box showing a channel list after a scan of my synthesised "ONdigital" transmission