FreeSat: Update 2009/02/17

(for the Goodman's GFSAT100SD)


The update commences...

So after checking what's going on in the world with BBCi, and noticing that Sir Elton John intends to make a horror film in which aliens attack a Jane Austen style world - I wonder if he will cast himself as an alien, I flip over to the EPG to see what is on as I have misplaced my RadioTimes.

I'm barely there two seconds when:

The update takes about thirty seconds to begin, and when it has begun it is around thirty seconds more to download the firmware. Pretty zippy.
This message then appears:

Now one thing I think the freesat box is designed to appeal to is non-nerds; my mom knows what rebooting is because of me, however on her own she'd probably not have a computer (actually, she probably wouldn't bother with freesat, Radio 4 is about her speed...) and so I'm not sure she would understand what it meant and why a digital receiver needed to reboot. That's something you do to computers when they cock up.
Perhaps it might be better to rephrase it as "Your receiver is updating itself. This will take approximately three minutes." - don't even mention reboots and restarts. It happened so quickly it was barely noticable.

The updating stage did indeed take about three minutes. It doesn't take that long to burn a modern Flash device, so I would imagine that a lot of the time was consumed in decompressing the update 'image', à la Digibox method.
Once it was all done, the reboot was barely perceptible. This appeared almost instantly:

[I think the image lurking in the background is EastEnders or some other soap for the intellectually impaired; BBC One]
(you can tell I'm a fan, can't you?)
Again, why are you using buzzwords like "download"? Why not say, instead, "Your receiver has been successfully updated."

In any case, this status display is very appreciated, for with my Digibox there was never any explanation of firmware updates, or indeed notice that such was taking place. I remember the box would just reset itself in the middle of an episode of Buffy or somesuch, and given how tediously slow the resets on those things are...
A suggestion for a future improvement: Permit the INFO button to call up some sort of basic listing of what this upgrade has actually done, so those of us who are interested can discover what is new/fixed in their firmware.

This brings my receiver to be (previously v1.2.16):


What's new?

The first thing you'll notice is the banners and menus have solid black backgrounds, instead of the semi-transparent style seen previously:

[World News Today, BBC FOUR - but you could tell that!]

This is not entirely true. What has actually changed is that you can now set the level of menu/OSD transparency:

[insert picture - EastEnders on BBC One]

In addition to this, I tried to see if there was an interactive/videotext service on ITV yet, and I managed to call up this:

[Coronation Street, ITV1]
I have played with my receiver again, and can tell you how to make this appear. On ITV1, press RED and wait about 5 seconds. Then press TEXT four times. It should appear. Nothing else will happen. EXIT to normality...
[note: this may not work if ITV is simulcasting a programme in SD and HD]


Bugs fixed

Well... There's good news and there's bad news. I looked at the EPG for next Saturday night and saw an interesting looking film on FilmFour. I went up to see if there was anything interesting on BBC One and there was, so I set a reminder just for the sake of it:

I went back to FilmFour and noticed that a large chunk of programming (including what I had previously been looking at) had been wiped out and replaced with No Information Available. That's the bad news - the receiver appears to be even more prone to losing EPG information than before.
Now for the good news... let it sit a short while. It doesn't give up like it used to and, eventually, the programmes that you are missing should appear. Or course, like Ned's ability to give life means a life must be claimed, one could argue that the EPG entries you are viewing means a bunch somewhere else will have been "dropped on the floor". ☺
But, hey, it's a start...


The BBCi weather maps used to appear like this:

Now we see a weather map!


That odd bug where the EPG would vanish and the following would appear... has been fixed!
This, along with the EPG not 'giving up' means the EPG is slow and prone to losing information, but it gets there in the end...


New bugs

So I went and set a reminder, not only for the film on BBC One, but also for the interesting film on FilmFour (which will probably be my pick of the two) and, guess what? It set the reminder for a film ending at 00h50 and did not report any clash with a film beginning at 00h00!
To further confound things, I set a reminder for Scourge on Zone Horror, which is scheduled from 22h45 to 00h35. Three clashing reminders, no warning.


Other stuff

Something that is interesting is that pressing the 0 key will lead to the ability to enter four digit channel numbers. Is freesat planning to implement radio channels as 0xxx like Sky? Or maybe the 0xxx numbers will be for non-freesat channels?
In the picture below, there is no channel 0123, these numbers have no effect. I entered it by way of an example.

[Tokyo Fashion Review on NHK World TV]

As yet there is (still) no support for the basic programme information that is broadcast on pretty much every channel. For example, my SL65 receiver does not offer a proper EPG, but it can show what is on Now&Next with information on the current programme, like this:

[Nihongo (Japanese) Quick Lesson on NHK World TV - Rena Yamada]
However, with the freesat receiver, all you will see is this:

[Newsline on NHK World TV - Hillary Clinton in Japan]
I hope they fix this soon.


In summation

This does not appear to have been a big update (though who knows what is happening behind the scenes), and there are still plenty of bugs in the EPG implementation; however that it seems to keep looking for the EPG data is very welcome. The previous 'give up' strategy was rather annoying.
That said... There are about 142 channels. Multiply that by the number of hours in seven days (168) and you have a potential 24,000 programmes to keep track of. If we think that we can hold a channel ID in two bytes, plus a duration in two bytes (minute accuracy will suffice), plus four bytes for the start time, plus a flags byte, plus two byte link ID for linked programmes, plus 32 bytes for the programme title, plus around 128 bytes for programme information... we're now looking at 4,079,376 bytes - which is probably the entire memory capacity of the receiver! Obviously a number of tradeoffs are performed, such as compressed text descriptions (you can use a dictionary for common phrases, for example). Even so, the EPG will consume a fair whack of memory, and it may be a trade-off between EPG storage and interactive services. Still, this is no excuse for randomly losing programme information - but at least it gives you an idea of the scope of what we're dealing with!
I sat and thought of how I would create a graphical (drawn, not HTML) table for EPG entries for the main sixteen-odd channels, for any time of day with data that may well not be received sequentially. After about twelve minutes of head-scratching, I thought "sod it" and went and made a bowl of pasta and then sat down to watch My Super ex-Girlfriend (weird film)...

I'm not upset about the EPG problems because the firmware is being updated and things are getting better. Let's just hope it gets fixed up soon. After all, there's a pride issue at stake - for if Sky can do it...
[on the other hand, BBCi today reports that Sky is recalling something like 90,000 Sky+ (HD) receivers, wow!]


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Copyright © 2009 Rick Murray