Pi In The Sky

I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a platform for my experiments, I’ve landed on the Raspberry Pi. Partially because I’ve already been using it to play with raspi-teletext, and partially because I suck at graphical programming using languages I’m used to in the Windows world. Having wanted to get stuck into programming on Linux, I set about trying to work out whether I could bodge together some sort of project using .net and Mono, but in my searching I came across openFrameworks. It’s a set of C++ libraries for “creative programming”, so it contains code for things like graphics, video playback, audio, input, etc, so it’s pretty well suited to this task. I’m actually using ofxOMXPlayer for video playback, which has GPU accelerated playback on the Pi, but the built-in video player stuff seems adequate if you don’t want to use an add-on for whatever reason.

Anyhow, enough with the talking, what am I doing with this framework? My initial experiments were simply playing a video and rendering some UI elements over the top, like so:

analogue-nick analogue-skynews analogue-vh1-crypted

Do excuse the poor pictures, I’ve now set up a capture card to grab proper screens, but whilst I was working on this early code I only had photos.

This proved to me that the concept worked, i was able to render text and graphics above a video, it’s very much in the style of analogue receivers and without getting into setup menus and the like (which I’ll get to eventually, I hope) I’d hit something of a wall. What to do next? Well, something more modern, something more graphical, like so:

bbc2 BBC2-2

This is an early effort at a recreation of Sky Digital’s now and next interface, in which you can browse channels without leaving the thing you’re watching. It’s roughly modeled on the most recent iteration of the UI before it was updated for HD receivers, it also doesn’t include any Sky+ DVR UI elements. Success, modern graphical elements.


For comparison, the above image is how the real thing looks, I think I got reasonably close.

But this is about history, right? So what did the UI look like in 1998? Quite similar, but not quite the same:


Same sort of design, but fewer controls, it lacks Messages and Favourites, the colours are slightly different and the clock is formatted a little differently. Did I mention it’s difficult to find good examples of this stuff? Never mind, my turn:


Close enough, methinks. But the font’s different, whyso? Find out next time, in another exciting episode of “being an enthusiast of things nobody cares about”!


So much focus is placed on the preservation of software for computers and games consoles, from the most popular to the most obscure, but nobody seems to be concerned about television set top boxes. I’d like to make a contribution to changing that. Now, it’s beyond the scope of my knowledge and ability to emulate such a device (something something ST20 CPU, something something Nucleus RTOS, feel free to let me know if you’re working on that), but failing that i’d like to simulate them instead.

Why? Several reasons, the first of which is that set top boxes are very disposable, nobody thinks twice about disposing of them, particularly when they stop working or are no longer compatible with the standards of the day. The second reason is that I’d like a method of easily displaying archive material, television shows of old, idents, adverts, that sort of thing – it’d be quite nice to be able to turn on the TV and channel hop throughout history.

Returning to the first reason, an example which comes to mind is the OnDigital service, once the flag-bearer for terrestrial digital television in the UK, before it failed, was purchased and rebadged as ITV Digital, then failed again. The boxes designed for this service, although compatible with the later replacement DVB-T service (the standard on which OnDigital was based), the boxes became too slow to be practical and eventually incompatible with alterations to the service as time progressed. These boxes are now effectively worthless, even if there are a few models still compatible, who would bother to use one when a brand new receiver costs peanuts and provides an experience many times better? Another aspect is the interface revisions, for example on the Sky satellite service in the UK, over time their receivers’ visuals haven’t changed a great deal (at least until HD came along), but it’s very difficult to find examples of the original interface variant used at its launch in 1998 (or, as I’ll mention in a later post, even earlier than that).

You’ll note that I’ve focused on digital services. This is because although I have an interest in analogue television services, their interfaces were sparse and often barely more than a VCR style on-screen display – perhaps a white or green channel number, a channel name if you’re lucky. I’d like to try to recreate some of these too, but there’s not much to show off at the end, they don’t necessarily look very distinctive.

I’ll consider that my somewhat convoluted introduction here, the next post will have pretty pictures and will hopefully be easier to read.