Mass Media & Technology

Digital TV

Were you an early adopter?

TE
Technologist London London
As the ITC and the broadcasters wanyted "digital" to be a different sort if tv ...
Hence going widescreen etc .. the clunky Teletext was not part of the plan either for a text service or subtitles ( or data broadcast)!

So MHEG 5 for text and it did not need numbers to select the pages ..
like a webpage ....... which is what BBC new media understood...
But the public did not in 1998 .

and the basic performance of a first generation stb was so dire
It was amazing anyone got a page ......
the Philips box only displayed a page in the second transmission ...

And there was not really any Competition from the commercial text provider
as there had been with Teletext ....
They could have done with more but rate but the ITC said there was no space ...
And there were no ancilliary services allowed unlike analogue.

As you might expect I was an early adopter ......
my stb is one of the the 200' that the launch service transmitted to.....

68 days later

SE
settopboxing
Indeed the launch equipment had the Sky egg logo on the boxes and the remote. I thought it was the Pace box only that had this, but it appears the Amstrad models also had the egg logo also.

*


Hey, I'm a little late to the party, but I spotted my picture and I thought I'd jump on and say I'm glad it was useful!

All of the first four boxes had variants with the egg logo; the Pace 2200, the Amstrad DRX100, the Grundig GDS200, and the Panasonic TU-DSB20. I'm not actually sure why, particularly the later Panasonic, the last (that I know of) to have that old logo on it, would've thought by the time it launched in January 1999 they'd have reworked the printing, the service had been officially launched three months earlier (and had been planned to launch four months before that ), and they had to have known about the logo change for some time before its use in branding, idents, etc.

Edit: There are also precious few screenshots (as ToasterMan's post shows, in the Sky News promo about Sky Digital's launch) of the EPG with the egg logo in it, but I don't know at what point they switched that design out for the rebranded one. I believe it's possible that some early boxes may have contained the egg EPG given the apparent uncertainty around its branding at the time, although the chances of finding out are next to nil, given the fact that they're now 22 years old(!) and the installer (and many years of automatic updating) would've almost certainly erased it from any box that'd had it, perhaps even before a day one adopter would've got their hands on it to play with. It's also possible those screenshots are simply design mockups though, or much earlier prototypes, so who knows?

The remote controls and the viewing cards I can understand (they also started out with the egg logo), as they'd have been generic and printed ahead of time, but that Panasonic box is a bit of a curiosity. Perhaps I underestimate how long it takes to change something like that (or perhaps they didn't especially care, I dunno).

Edit: In fact, here's a nice family photo I took a little while back:

*
Last edited by settopboxing on 2 July 2020 4:06am - 3 times in total
PL
PaddyLee84 UTV Newsline
That Grundig box at the bottom was the one we were supplied with when we got 'Sky Digital' originally. I always found it to be rather sluggish, and found that the Panasonic ones were always rather nippy, so when I had the opportunity to buy a second hand Panasonic STB and re-pair the card I did. But it was a silver box, never knew it was also in black like above.
GE
thegeek Founding member London London
the Grundig appears to have its own take on the 'digibox' logo too...
Avatar credit: SMPTE RP198
SE
settopboxing
That Grundig box at the bottom was the one we were supplied with when we got 'Sky Digital' originally. I always found it to be rather sluggish, and found that the Panasonic ones were always rather nippy, so when I had the opportunity to buy a second hand Panasonic STB and re-pair the card I did. But it was a silver box, never knew it was also in black like above.


Yeah, that Grundig is a bit on the slow side, feels like it takes a pretty noticeable length of time to respond to button presses on the remote. In fairness, it was the... second? third? box out (Pace, then Amstrad/Grundig about the same time, then Panasonic), so I suppose it's allowed a little bit of slack. Probably one of the slowest there is though.

There are a surprising amount of colours... well, shades, I suppose, of early Digibox. There were silver versions of all of those four originals. There's a silver Grundig (two, in fact, I've seen it with black buttons and silver buttons), a silver Panasonic, a silver Amstrad (as pictured above), and a silver Pace 2200 too. The 2300 had a silver version as well, I think that was essentially just a silver/grey 2400. The later Grundigs too, there's all sorts of models, there's black ones, silver ones, ones with and without S-Video, and with a mish-mash of model numbers all confusingly similar to each other, and all inexplicably unattractive.

I've never been quite clear on what the difference was between the 2200, 2300, and 2400 either, they all seem to have existed around the same time, and been much of a muchness internally. I've also seen pictures of what appears to be a white 2400, from memory, but I've never come across one in person, it might just've been a very brightly lit photo of a silver one as it seems to be a particularly matt silver. Still, at the end of the day it's mostly a matter of taste, given they all share pretty similar internals and all do the same thing, with some being a little bit faster or slower than the others.

Having said that, there's a confusingly broad array of CPU architectures across the whole range of Digiboxes (and Sky+/HD if you throw those in too), so that would account for some of the speed differences, but I suppose it says something about the portability of OpenTV that it can run easily enough on that many platforms without the manufacturers feeling like it's just too much work to bother. Once that's running you can just plop the Sky EPG on top of it and you're away (I might be oversimplifying that slightly, but OpenTV exists to do most of the work, that's what it's for after all). There's various ST20 variants (TP2 in the first models, then TP3 in the Panasonic, then STixxxx in some of the later ones), there's some Conexant ARM-based chips in the Amstrads and a couple of Paces, there's some MIPS-based NEC EMMA chips in a few Pace boxes and in the Sony VTX-S760U (but not that S750U, that was an ST20 - see? it's all over the place), and Panasonic had their own "MN" chips after the TU-DSB20... It's all very odd, you'd have thought they'd have just picked a standard platform to all agree to use, but I suppose it worked out alright in the end, give or take the odd firmware update not playing ball here and there.

That's quite the brain leak, hadn't planned on going off in that many directions, but I've been looking at this stuff for some years so the opportunity to spill some thoughts on it all is always welcome!

Edit:

the Grundig appears to have its own take on the 'digibox' logo too...


Yeah, it's just a little bit "off", I dunno whether they got early artwork or whether it got distorted somehow, probably doesn't help that the front panel on that Grundig is oddly-shaped, with that rounded overhang.

Edit edit: There's also a photo floating around somewhere of an Amstrad with the egg logo on the left-hand side, below the Amstrad logo, so it seems it took them all a few goes to figure out what to do with it.

A further curiosity to add, now that it comes to mind, there was an image of a Toshiba "DBS2000", which appeared to be a Pace 2300 with an egg logo on it (I don't think any actual Pace 2300s had that), and I read somewhere the other day that Pace had apparently agreed to make boxes for someone else to rebrand too, though I don't remember who. Edit again: It was Sharp, apparently, although without doing some very serious digging I don't have any significant source for that.

Edit edit edit edit... I should really stop thinking after I post things... but I did find a proper Pace press release from March 1999 stating that they did intend to manufacture Digiboxes for Sharp: https://web.archive.org/web/20050214161851/http://www.pacemicro.com/corporate/content.asp?id=186&template=0.

That does make the supposed Toshiba box even more confusing though, given it was pictured with the egg logo. If March 1999 was Pace's first announced OEM Digibox project, then either the Toshiba deal didn't go through (which... well, we didn't get Toshiba-branded Pace boxes...), or it's something else (including possibly fake).
Last edited by settopboxing on 2 July 2020 1:13pm - 4 times in total
GE
thegeek Founding member London London
welcome to the forum, by the way. Glad we've given you an outlet to discuss some 20+ year old tech Smile

We had a Pace digibox, which felt like it fitted in well with our analogue Pace receiver, and Pace 56k modem (though I think they were different companies by that point!)
Avatar credit: SMPTE RP198
SE
settopboxing
welcome to the forum, by the way. Glad we've given you an outlet to discuss some 20+ year old tech Smile

We had a Pace digibox, which felt like it fitted in well with our analogue Pace receiver, and Pace 56k modem (though I think they were different companies by that point!)


Cheers!

Yeah, it's funny you mention that actually, while I was looking for that Pace/Sharp press release I noticed their homepage back in 98/99ish had a thing on it saying if you're looking for the modems, they're somewhere else now, so it must've been late 90s somewhen.

I've not owned a lot of Pace stuff, I missed the analogue era and (you might not believe it but) I've not really had Sky Digital for much of my life either (and even then I think I had an Amstrad box, one of those "everything looks the same now" modern rounded basic Digiboxes), so my experience with them is largely backward-looking rather than first-hand. They do always seem to come up as being very well regarded though. There's also the odd quirk of them getting hold of bits of Acorn too, which is a fun little wrinkle for someone who's familiar with their machines.
PL
PaddyLee84 UTV Newsline
I enjoyed Sky analogue with various receivers, I especially liked one (that I believe was Pace) which had a display telling you the channel name on the front and a wheel you could turn or place your finger into and move like an old rotary telephone to switch through the channels and manus. We don't get that level of quirkyness anymore, everything looks cold and standardised. Bring back the personality!
AN
another_beauty
I had the top Pace box, think it was around 98/99 when I first used it. The box lasted over 10/12 years until it started to play up. I then had the unfortunate issue of trying to get a new Digibox out of Sky. If I remember right they offered some kind of warranty on your equipment. But they kept sending refurbished boxes which did not work. After four or five boxes they finally caved and gave over a new one. The same thing happened with my Toshiba Sky HD box! In the end I upgraded to a 1TB box made by Sky (Amstrad branded). I remember the original Amstrad boxes were piles of rubbish, but since Sky took over they are fine. The 1TB box is still going, now 10 years old!

Also remember the interactive slot, which was briefly activated (I think) for shopping and reading your credit card chip, or am I going mad?! And how I was fascinated when Sky sent a new remote control and the Sky logo was different. Those were the days of digital satellite!

I should add I also had On Digital. The signal was always terrible, but it allowed me to watch Sky One is another room at the other end of the house before the days of Sky Multiroom. I went on holiday and came home to find they had gone bust, they never charged me for a movie I rented, and I think they tried to get the box back a few years later but it was already in the bin. I did not receive any stickers when they rebranded to ITV digital depsite the rumours that stickers were sent out to put on your box. I recall my friend at the time also had on Digital but without paying a penny. The system was ripped off by many, I was a full paying customer!
Last edited by another_beauty on 3 July 2020 4:08pm - 3 times in total
SE
settopboxing
I enjoyed Sky analogue with various receivers, I especially liked one (that I believe was Pace) which had a display telling you the channel name on the front and a wheel you could turn or place your finger into and move like an old rotary telephone to switch through the channels and manus. We don't get that level of quirkyness anymore, everything looks cold and standardised. Bring back the personality!


I definitely miss the ones with displays on the front. Totally unnecessary in the modern era, what with complex on-screen displays and EPGs and all that, but it felt like a proper box for watching telly with dozens of channels as opposed to four. The channel name ones even fancier than the channel number ones, but I like the look of both. Despite the enhancements of the additional lights and buttons of a Digibox, they never felt the same as one with an actual LED or VFD (alpha)numeric display. A step back, almost, from a nerdy aesthetic perspective.

I had the top Pace box, think it was around 98/99 when I first used it. The box lasted over 10/12 years until it started to play up. I then had the unfortunate issue of trying to get a new Digibox out of Sky. If I remember right they offered some kind of warranty on your equipment. But they kept sending refurbished boxes which did not work. After four or five boxes they finally caved and gave over a new one. The same thing happened with my Toshiba Sky HD box! In the end I upgraded to a 1TB box made by Sky (Amstrad branded). I remember the original Amstrad boxes were piles of rubbish, but since Sky took over they are fine. The 1TB box is still going, now 10 years old!

Also remember the interactive slot, which was briefly activated (I think) for shopping and reading your credit card chip, or am I going mad?! And how I was fascinated when Sky sent a new remote control and the Sky logo was different. Those were the days of digital satellite!

I should add I also had On Digital. The signal was always terrible, but it allowed me to watch Sky One is another room at the other end of the house before the days of Sky Multiroom. I went on holiday and came home to find they had gone bust, they never charged me for a movie I rented, and I think they tried to get the box back a few years later but it was already in the bin. I did not receive any stickers when they rebranded to ITV digital depsite the rumours that stickers were sent out to put on your box. I recall my friend at the time also had on Digital but without paying a penny. The system was ripped off by many, I was a full paying customer!


Given what I've heard about some of the other boxes, that Pace 2200 was probably by far the most reliable of those four, particularly the Amstrads prone to power supply failures as I understand it. A decade and change isn't half bad service, many are still working now*, 20+ years later, which is nice to see. Haven't tried to get any replacement boxes out of Sky myself, but it's always seemed like a crap shoot what sort of box you get at any given time, presumably whatever the installers happen to have in the van - from Sky's perspective I don't suppose it matters much, you're getting a (hopefully working) box, and that's all you need, but it defeats the purpose of having different looking boxes a bit if you can't choose, doesn't it? I'm not aware of there being any Toshibas though (except that one I mentioned above, although that was a standard def Digibox and seemingly didn't exist), perhaps the Samsung?

Never seen the interactive slot used, which along with the expansion slot on the back of the box (usually blanked off with a screwed-on cover, for nearly 20 years of boxes) seemed like the biggest waste of a feature ever. I gather it was always intended for stuff like payment/loyalty cards, and even stuff like cards to use to store points of some sort for kids channels, but I've never seen any of that stuff in action. Struck me as odd though, reading about it, you were never meant to remove/insert cards frequently, but surely if you had half a dozen cards between a family (eg: two kids have a Cartoon Network card each, and the parents maybe some sort of payment card for interactive shopping, maybe some loyalty cards, and maybe some other card for accessing... I dunno, utility accounts or something) you'd be swapping them around all the time?

That was the issue I had with early(ish) digital terrestrial too, as mentioned I only had an indoor aerial, with the lower power signals at the time it was nearly impossible to get any sort of picture, I spent most of my time staring at a black screen with a red dot occasionally being startled by a blip of corrupted video and garbled spikes of sound. It must've been nice to have had a proper aerial and the ONdigital subscription, suddenly being able to access more (and paid) channels without a dish or cable. I did know someone who had an ONdigital IDTV back then, but I didn't get to play with it, only admire it (to the extent one can admire such a device) passively. Haven't seen the stickers myself either, except in photos online, apparently advertised as an "upgrade" to your box, which is cheekily optimistic of them. It looks so amateurish, just a cheap little sticker slapped on a box with otherwise professionally silkscreened artwork, it's amusingly crap.

As for the piracy, it's widely alleged that Ruper Murdoch and friends are responsible for that, or at least responsible for serious contributions towards it - which is funny, because in the late 90s it was "planned" that Sky Digital and ONdigital would release add-ons for their respective boxes to enable the use of their competitor's services, to dismiss fears of anti-competitive behaviour caused by the two incompatible systems. Needless to say, that never actually ended up happening, but it's an interesting historical note.


* Side note: For how long? Eventually Sky are going to shut down standard def broadcast entirely, it's got to happen eventually, but I've heard no rumblings of it happening yet and we're 22 years in. With HD becoming ever more standard, with SD Digiboxes not having been provided in many years, and with a move towards IPTV, surely those original Digiboxes are on borrowed time?
Last edited by settopboxing on 3 July 2020 8:47pm
OV
Orry Verducci Anglia (West) Look East (West sub-opt)
Having said that, there's a confusingly broad array of CPU architectures across the whole range of Digiboxes (and Sky+/HD if you throw those in too), so that would account for some of the speed differences, but I suppose it says something about the portability of OpenTV that it can run easily enough on that many platforms without the manufacturers feeling like it's just too much work to bother. Once that's running you can just plop the Sky EPG on top of it and you're away (I might be oversimplifying that slightly, but OpenTV exists to do most of the work, that's what it's for after all).

Even with OpenTV it would have taken a bit of work to get the software running on each box/CPU. OpenTV makes developing the EPG software easy as it handles all the input/DVB/graphics stuff. However OpenTV still needs an OS (Nucleus RTOS on SD Sky boxes) with drivers to run on top of, so each manufacturer would have had to write drivers for their box and compile the OS and software to run on their CPU of choice.

Never seen the interactive slot used, which along with the expansion slot on the back of the box (usually blanked off with a screwed-on cover, for nearly 20 years of boxes) seemed like the biggest waste of a feature ever. I gather it was always intended for stuff like payment/loyalty cards, and even stuff like cards to use to store points of some sort for kids channels, but I've never seen any of that stuff in action. Struck me as odd though, reading about it, you were never meant to remove/insert cards frequently, but surely if you had half a dozen cards between a family (eg: two kids have a Cartoon Network card each, and the parents maybe some sort of payment card for interactive shopping, maybe some loyalty cards, and maybe some other card for accessing... I dunno, utility accounts or something) you'd be swapping them around all the time?

The interactive card did get some use the mid to late 00's, Sky had a credit card for a few years which allowed you to check the account by putting the card in the interactive solt and accessing it on Sky Active. Nuts magazine also had a TV channel at the time which had a loyalty card using the interactive slot.

However like you I personally have never seen it used.
JA
james-2001 Central (East) East Midlands Today
Interactive TV never took off the way people thought it would in the late 90s/early 00s.

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