Problems and limitations with the Digibox system

(a.k.a. My Wish List...)

Last updated 16th January 2008


For what it is worth:

    Manufacturer    Pace
    Model Number    1.3Z30E
    Version Number  9F0306
    Op Sys Version  1.2S4FH
    EPG Sw Version  3.5.3
In English, it is a Pace BSKYB 2500B Digibox.
Interestingly enough, the model number was 1.3Z13, until May 2005 when it became 1.3Z20, until August 2005 when it became 1.3Z25, and at the beginning of February 2006 another firmware update made it model 1.3Z27. Firmware updates on the 12th/13th of November 2006 made it model 1.3Z30 then 1.3Z30A then 1.3Z30D and resting at 1.3Z30E (with three forced updates to this version)!
Sky or Pace or Astra or somebody has upgraded my box to a slightly newer model without touching it... Cool! :-)


1. The EPG

The TV guide is mind-blowing, and firmware updates in February 2006 mean you can now assign up to 50 channels as your 'favourite' and view schedules for only those chosen channels. Awesome!
However... If I click on A-Z Listings for All Channels and press '4' for all programmes that begin with 'G', I see GAA Championships and then many copies of Gadget Boy (nine on this screen, ten on the next, and two on the screen after that).
Multiple copies of a programme should be collapsed into one programme entry, with a symbol so you know you can press Select to call up a list of the various episodes that are available and then choose one.
Certainly, this would make it easier to find the programme you want in the A-Z listing.
Though, to be honest, the favourite-friendly EPG means looking for programmes on your preferred channel(s) is so much easier than green-to-page-down green-to-page-down green-to-page-down green-to-page-down whoops! missed it, red-to-page-up...
An alternative to collapsed entries, less tidy but workable, could be something like: In this way, if I wanted to see if Buffy was on BBC this week, I could tap in '2', '2' to call up the 'B' entries, then '0' to tell the Digibox that I am entering another letter, then '8', '8' to set the second letter to 'U'.
The Digibox will now be showing be programmes beginning 'BU', which will be Bubblegum Crisis, The Bubbly Show and then the episodes of Buffy that I was looking for.
The current methods? Go to 'B' and work forwards (tedious) or go to 'C' and work back (slightly less tedious). Could be better...


2. The pop-up programme list

If you press 'Left' or 'Right' to choose a different programme (perhaps on a different channel), you can press 'Select' to set and cancel the reminder.
So why can't you press 'i' to read the synopsis to see if you really want to watch that or set a reminder for it?
Pressing 'i' at this point behaves the same as pressing it while watching the current programme - it shows the synopsis for the current programme; which isn't intuitive if you have explicitly selected something else!
Technical: In order to show this information, the transponder would have to carry out-of-band programme information for every programme currently being transmitted. This isn't out of the question - each transponder carries the full channels list and schedules for the next six (or so) hours - perhaps it is not 'implemented'? Or perhaps accessing out-of-band information in this way is not easy, or just not supported?


3. AutoView

In my personal schedule, I can AutoView any of the BBC programmes as and when I feel like it.
This means that I can instruct the Digibox to simply tune directly to my desired programme instead of popping up the 'This programme is about to start' message.
I cannot do this for Zone Horror or FilmFour - it asks me to insert my Sky viewing card.
You don't need a card to watch this channel, why do you need one to AutoView it?
I contacted Jason at The Horror Channel back in December 2004, but there was no reply...
This also happens for 'True Movies' and the like, but not any of the BBC or ITV channels...


4. This programme is about to start

Let's assume you have set up a reminder, but without AutoView. And you are taping the programme. You aren't there. Oh, and let's also assume also that the Digibox is switched on to the correct channel.
Why does this on-screen message persist for ten minutes after the programme has started?
Surely it would be more logical to remove it as the programme starts unless you are watching a different channel (in which case you'll be taping the wrong thing if you didn't do an AutoView)?
As it is right now, you'll be taping a big blue'n'white box in the lower third of the screen for the first act...
With regards to Autoview - this will pop up the warning a minute (or so) before the programme is due to begin. Then, at the scheduled time the channel will automatically switch to the desired channel and, then, the reminder will vanish. The logical answer to the above quibble is to use Autoview - but this doesn't always work, as described in quibble #3.


5. Messages

Apparently the 'Messages' indicator on the front panel is not implemented. Pressing the yellow key pops up a message saying 'There are no message alerts'.
Is the messaging implemented at all? If it isn't by now, it may not be, so why not re-allocate the button?
A good idea would be a quick pop-up of the programmes on the current channel drawn down the screen (instead of the EPG's across). Yes, I know you can get it with the left/right buttons, but you can only see two things at a time and you can't (currently?) press 'i' to see the synopsis of a specific programme.
I have found some people have difficulty understanding what I mean. So let's put it like this: You cannot view more than 2-3 hours of programming on any given channel at any given time.

The pop-up TV guide looks like this:

 984 BBC 1 South 7.30pm Tue 15 Feb 
  NOW EastEnders  
  8:00pm Holby City  
 Time Channel Messages Favourite


Meanwhile, the EPG looks like this:

Today   7.30pm 8.00pm 8.30pm  
101 BBC 1 London   EastEnders Holby City
102 BBC 2 England   Nation on F.. Natural World i
106 Sky One   Simpsons Stargate SG-1
107 Sky Mix   Stargate.. So You Think You're Safe?


Now, tell me it wouldn't be nice to easily overlay something like this on-screen:

 984 BBC 1 South 7.30pm Tue 15 Feb 
  NOW EastEnders      
  8:00pm Holby City    Subtitled
  9:00pm When Your Face Doesn't Fit    Subtitled
  10:00pm BBC News at Ten O'Clock    Interactive Subtitled
  10:25pm South Today    Subtitled
  10:35pm Soldier, Husband, Daughter, Dad    Subtitled
  11:05pm Fire Wars    Subtitled
  11:35pm The Breakfast Club    Movie Subtitled
  1:10am Weather View    Subtitled
  1:15am Switch    Subtitled
  1:45am Jeremy Bowen on the Front Line    Subtitled
  2:45am Horizon    Subtitled
  3:35am BBC News 24
  Further schedule information is not available
Press tv guide for full listings selection

There... Now you understand what I mean.
One button press, no scrolling, everything for the next six or so hours is visible at one time. Additional little icons to denote subtitles (Subtitled), movies (Movie), and interactive content (Interactive), plus others for Narrative, 5.1 audio, and so on.
Tell me that wouldn't be really useful...

Coucou! I've made this small so you can ignore it more easily because it is an amazingly pedantic point - but note the 'time' inconsistency. The grey 'clock' in the pop-up programme guide is given in the format hour-dot-minute while the programme times are given as hour-colon-minute. The hour-dot-minute format is used within the main EPG.
I told you it was pedantic! :-)


6. Help

I'm in Services, System Setup, Picture Settings and I have chosen the fairly new entry Second Location Picture Format. I do the logical thing and press 'help'.
What appears is about as useful as a bicycle is to a fish. At the bottom I am instructed to look in the 'Using Your Sky digibox' booklet (downloaded a copy, it is rather old, did all Sky subscribers receive a new booklet explaining these options?) or to call 08702 40 40 40 (which I'd rather not do, thank you).
The number given is Sky's number, and I know from experience that the people that answer the phone there are rather useless with technical questions. Back as analogue was closing I asked them where I should point a dish for the new digital service. Either they were told to be obstinate and not tell us mere peons information like that, or they didn't know and didn't feel like admitting it. I suspect the latter as eventually the 'girl with the Scottish accent' (sounded like the Wee Scot that sometimes used to present TOTP - Gail something-or-other) suggested I try 19.2. Bzzzt! Wrong answer, I was already at 19.2. So I went on-line and found the answer was 28.2. As for this new setting, I suspect I'd have better luck asking Google than asking Sky...
But, as they might point out in comp.risks - the obvious 'risk' of calling up a generic help screen that has no relevance whatsoever to where you are in the menus.

Picture setup; JPEG 24K
What does this '2nd location' stuff mean anyway?


7. Channel detection lameness

I know this is an issue with the fact that the Digibox is targeted to the Sky service, but reporting 'No signal found' at a channel using FEC 2/3 when it is set at 3/4 in the options, that is pretty lame isn't it?
The Digibox supports only two symbol rates, and five FECs. How hard can it be to whip through the lot and try to auto-detect if you think you have a signal but cannot make sense of it?
Or, at the very least, provide a better reply than 'No signal found' which isn't exactly truthful.
This is unlikely to ever be resolved, as the firmware update provided in May 2005 now means that it is now somewhat "non-trivial" to use a Digibox to view channels broadcast from other satellites.


8. Update?

As you can see from above, and the picture elsewhere, my Digibox has a specific version of the OS and the EPG installed.
There should be an option somewhere that allows you to choose to update one or both of these manually.
And I don't mean the 'hold down backup and power up' secret. Because doing this within the Digibox itself could allow the following:
  1. You can actually see the version number of the latest version on-screen. Perhaps you already have the latest? Or maybe you are woefully out of date?
    (what happens if you force an update and the update version is the same as the one you're using? does it update anyway? does it even check?)
  2. It should be possible to retrieve a short 'interactive' style text page that actually tells you what has changed. You can then decide if it is worth upgrading. For example, a 'minor bug fix re. Sky Sports interactive' (this is a fictitious example) is not worth a full update if you cannot even receive the channel in question.
  3. It should be possible to instruct the Digibox not to auto-update (like it does from time to time) until you say otherwise. This option will be held in memory.
  4. And it'll also be able to tell you how long it'll take. :-)
    (perhaps with a little on-screen slidy-bar percentage counter?)


9. Subtitles

You can now switch subtitles and narrative (or "Audio Description" as they call it now) on and off really easily - press 'Help' while watching a channel, and pick which option(s) you desire.
However, it'd be nice to be able to toggle the subtitle background on and off. At the moment, the subtitles are very reminiscent of teletext -  chunky sans-serif text with a solid black background 
I've seen subtitles on three different DVD players and they don't background it - it is much more tasteful looking and unobtrusive. How about it?
Would it also be possible to insert subtitles into the vbi for those of us who might like to watch a programme with subtitles, but are not deaf so don't really want to record them as well?
(according to a recent statistic on BBCi, about half a million people in the UK who are not hard-of-hearing watch television with subtitles - so this isn't just a Rick peculiarity!)


10. Aspect ratio oddities

It seems some BBC sporting events (especially ones hidden within BBCi) look something like this:
A boxed-in picture!
My Digibox is configured for 4:3L, thus implying that I'd like to see widescreen stuff in widescreen (or, letterboxed; same thing to me) but my equipment can cope with 4:3 broadcasts. ITV3 is forever changing back and forth.
The BBC are usually good in this respect, but sometimes it seems that the picture becomes 'boxed in' as shown. It implies that it is a 4:3 broadcast that something thinks it is being watched on a 16:9 TV.
Why does this happen?
Just after I took this picture, I set my Digibox to 4:3 (no letterboxing) and the image filled the screen. Back to 4:3L and it was boxed in...
I was emailed to say that it appears as if the weird aspect ratio occurs with events recorded in some other parts of the world - like a football match in Belgium. This is sent to the BBC in 4:3 format, and for some reason they place it into a 16:9 frame. This may look 'correct' on a widescreen TV, but the 4:3L setup letterboxes a 4:3 picture shoved into a 16:9 frame, the final result being a silly little square in the middle.
Fix please!



These final quibbles are 'interactive' issues and not specifically Digibox 'problems', but I thought I'd include them in the 'whinge page':


A1. BBCi additional content

The BBC interactive service carries some coverage of live events, from Live8 to the figure skating in Torino. Obviously there is coverage of the football World Cup. However, except for big events which have a lot of coverage (World Cup), or events which are likely to be covered (Live8) or things where you are asked to press the red button (Dr Who commentary, etc)... there is really no way of knowing what'll be on and when.
So, BBC, could we have a page on BBCi that lists what interactive events will be broadcast in the coming week?


A2. Sky Active 'pictures'

With the news, entertainment, and weather forecasts, we have a variety of pictures that we can choose to look at. Why can't these be brought full-screen (even at a loss in resolution)?
Also, why is the 'Whole Earth' satellite image just a picture of North/South America? Can't we see if there's a big cloud hanging over Wellington?


A3. Interactive games

How about something interactive that doesn't end up with a phone call? Sure, it is a great little money-spinner I'm sure, but is the only free game on the entire Sky satellite the three CBeebies offerings?
It is practically an entire computer! I'm sure somebody somewhere could make a few small games (Chess, Go, Patience, Soduko, that sort of thing).
You know, it might actually generate some money to supply free games. People might get hooked on, say, Digibox Chess and decide to check out the other offerings, instead of thinking "That'll cost me" and avoiding the interactive 'games' entirely. Because, well, most things that are there right now end up with a phone call (Pay2Play etc) at various rates (watch for those that say 'national rate' or a session price), so best (right now) to skip it all unless it is really important!
There's a cute Tomb Raider. Unlimited plays in one session - 75p.
Parachuting sheep (yes, really). You can play three levels then it is 75p for a pass.
Just think, if you like the game and want to play it for about two weeks until you're bored with it, you'll have spent £10.50 and you won't even have the game in tangible form (you can buy a game that is yours forever for about that much!).
Maybe there should be a 'free' selection that omits the prizes and on-screen ranks. You play with yourself? Mmmm, get your mind out of the gutter...


A4. ITV movies

ITV has a promo between many programmes that explains the nifty stuff that will be coming on soon. Hot programmes, must-see movies, that sort of thing.
What would be nice is a page on ITV's teletext that says what the featured programmes/movies are, and - most importantly - when they'll be on!


That's all...
...for now.

Suggestions, comments, and corrections welcome.
'heyrick' at 'merseymail' dot 'com'.


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Copyright © 2008 Richard Murray