So what was up with that font? Well, as it happens, there are a (precious) few sources for even earlier examples of the UI, as far as I’m aware they’re from before the launch of the service. This video, captured from the service’s information channel in 1998, shows what appears to be a version of the UI using the slimmer font for the programme info:
Time to go a little deeper, perhaps, what if we want to browse for channels instead of simply flicking up and down in a tiny box? This is where it gets a little exciting for me, I’ll show you what it normally looks like first, and then I’ll explain why mine doesn’t look like it:
That one’s a capture from 2003, and I believe that’s more or less how the SD receivers still look. But let’s go back, all the way back, somewhere around early ’98, possibly even late ’97*:
I blindly tripped over these beauties lurking about the web, as all good things do, and they look quite different from the 1998 launch interface, which looked like this:
The layout is similar, but what’s up with the logo? In 1998, Sky rebranded and their shiny new digital service got a fresh new logo, as seen in the above image, but before this rebranded they used the “egg” logo you see in the three previous images. To the best of my knowledge, this version of the UI never reached the public, but some set top boxes and accompanying remote controls with the old logo did hit the shelves. For how long, I don’t know, but this is a very small glimpse into the window of time between the rebrand and the launch of the service, which is pretty neat. I’m not absolutely certain that the images showing what I’ll call the prototype UI are, in fact, official or actual working firmware, but they look pretty legit to me, they’re clearly early models of the release interface and it seems to me to be a convincingly small step from one to the other. One other thing to note, the channel numbers given to the movie channels aren’t the final numbers, because the low 100s (the listings begin at 101) were general entertainment on launch, starting with BBC1 and BBC2, as seen in the release EPG. There were no BBC channels on Sky’s analogue service, so it’s possible that the content the service was to carry hadn’t been finalised yet.
So what might that have looked like, if we’d had good screenshots of it? Something, I reckon, a little like this:
I don’t have the guts of the EPG going yet, so I can’t populate the guide, but the navigation works except the +24h and A-Z because I haven’t done the rest of the menu system yet. I can scroll up, down, page up, page down, and select a channel.
* A bit of detective work reveals that many of the movies listed on the 3rd and presumably earliest image were released to cinemas late ’96. If the date is anything more than a placeholder, it could be April or July ’96, or September or December ’97, and given that two of the movies were in cinemas in Nov/Dec ’96, it seems likely that it would be one of the ’97 dates, which would probably be a reasonable length of time for the movies to find their way to pay TV. That would mean less than a year before the Oct ’98 launch date of the service, and allowing time for testing and manufacture, perhaps closer to 6 months between these versions and the retail firmware.
However, in the first image of the three, the movie When Innocence Is Lost appears, which was released to US cinemas in April ’97, and given the apparently textured background my assumption would be that this is newer. This screenshot could, again if the date is real, be Sep/Dec ’96 (before the movie), Jun ’97 (too soon after the movie?) or Feb/Mar ’98.
So for all that, we can probably guess that the earliest screenshot was from late ’97, and the latest from early ’98. Then again, all three screenshots seem to say they were taken on Tuesday, so perhaps it’s just a placeholder.