is a device
marketed by British Sky Broadcasting
in the UK
and Republic of Ireland
to enable home users to receive digital satellite television
broadcasts (satellite receiver). An internet
service is also available through the device, similar in some ways to the American MSN TV
. The first Digiboxes shipped to consumers in mid-1998
, and the hardware reference design is unchanged since. Compared to other satellite receivers, they are severely restricted.
Base technical details
The Digibox's internal hardware details are not publicly disclosed, however some details are clearly visible on the system. All feature dual SCART
outputs, a PC card
-based expansion port, an RS232
serial port, a dual-output RF modulator
with passthrough, and RCA
socketed audio outputs, as well as a 33.6 modem
and an LNB
cable socket. A VideoGuard
card slot, as well as a second smart-card reader are fitted to the front (this is for the Sky viewing card). All share an identical user interface and EPG
All Digiboxes run on OpenTV with Sky's EPG software and NDS VideoGuard conditional access. The Digibox receives software updates over the air, even when in standby mode should an update be available. The software features Sky-controlled channel numbering, the ability to view OpenTV or WapTV applications provided as "interactive" or "teletext" content on channels, parental controls, the ability to order PPV events and some basic control over lists of favourite channels and show reminders.
The digibox, notably, cannot be turned off without removing all sources of power. The "off" control disables video and sound output and changes the colour of the front LED but leaves all other hardware running, amounting in as little as a 1w power saving over the box being fully on.
Early decoders seemingly support only 700 channels approximately in their channel listing, as Sky has announced it is halting channels launch applications for a year , with over 100 awaiting launch, over 600 existing channels, and an average closure rate of 1 per week.
Digibox remote control
The Digibox remote control
comes in three physical designs - black with new Sky logo, black with old Sky logo (oddly, this version was being issued from around the first year of the Sky Digital service, despite the fact that logo fell out of use before it launched), and silver with new Sky logo. However, all have multiple variations at present with a new version of Sky remote control being produced every year, to support the addition of new televisions to its universal remote control
Use outside Sky's system
The units are DVB-S
compatible, and usually carry the DVB logo on the front. However, their use as a DVB-S receiver for anything other than Sky services is seriously limited by their reduced choice of symbol rates
(22,000 and 27,500; additionally 28,250 and 29,000 on Sky+ HD
), and their inability to store more than 50 non-EPG channels without losing them. Additionally, once any form of parental controls are enabled, the "Other Channels" menu requires PIN entry on every use
The box also refuses to let users view channels which are free-to-air but displaying flags claiming encryption, which locks out some channels even on the satellites Sky use themselves, such as AXN.
Manufacturers and non-common features
Digiboxes have been made by Amstrad
, and most commonly, Pace
. Despite the reference designs being identical, a number of digibox lines have specific faults or traits, such as failing modems on Grundig units, and unstable tuners on older model Pace boxes. Some units add features not found on other models, such as S-Video
sockets on some Grundig units, and TOSLINK
output on Sony's.
For a long period of time in 2004 and 2005, only one Digibox was in production, the Pace DS430N, but Amstrad and Thomson have resumed production with the DRX500 and DSi4212 boxes respectively. Digiboxes for new customers are assigned randomly, and cannot be chosen, creating an after market for specific boxes due to their individual features.
In late 2005
, it was announced that all future Digiboxes would have a standardised cosmetic design, although retain the three current makers, and have a slightly redesigned remote control, which would be recoloured white with some blue keys.
Thomson and Amstrad began supplying these boxes in late 2005, with Pace following in late 2006. The standardised design is known as the "Flow" design, although the boxes also retain separate version numbers from their makers, such as the Pace DS440.
A second generation of Digibox exists, marketed as Sky+
. These PVR
units have three versions: the 40GB
PVR1, the 40GB PVR2, and the PVR3 which is fitted with a 160GB HDD with 80GB disabled. All have dual LNB inputs and an optical digital audio output, as well as all other features of the Sky box. These units are manufactured by Amstrad, Pace and Thomson only, and use a different remote control. USB ports are fitted to the PVR3. When Sky+ was launched, there was an additional £10 monthly charge to access the Sky+ functionality if two or more premium packages were not subscribed to. Sky have now removed this charge, effective July 1, 2007. Without a Sky+ Subscription, the Sky+ box reverts to the functionality of a normal Digibox, albeit without Autoview modes.
The Sky+160 box has 160GB to record to and is manufactured solely by Thomson. This unit is also fitted with USB ports. (this unit has been discontinued)
A third generation of Digibox also exists, with the additional ability to receive DVB-S2 HDTV signals in the MPEG-4 format. The current (and only) manufacturer of these Sky+ HD boxes is Thomson, and made their debut on 22 May 2006 with the launch of HDTV channels on Sky Digital. Although around 17,000 digiboxes were initially produced, they could not meet demand and some had to wait for longer for their SkyHD Digibox. Pace already make DVB-S2 receivers and are expected to make a SkyHD digibox shortly afterwards.
These boxes have all the features of a Sky+ box, as well as a HDMI output, and component video output. Both SATA and Ethernet ports are also supplied, but are currently non-functional. As well as requiring a Sky+ subscription or qualifying premium packages, HD output is not possible without the payment of an additional £10 (or €15) per month, although HD programs can be viewed on free-to-air services such as BBC HD.
All Sky Digital boxes, whether Digiboxes, Sky+ or SkyHD incorporate card pairing. This involves the 'marrying' or 'pairing' of a viewing card to one particular STB, thus preventing one card (and indeed subscription) being used on multiple digiboxes. During installation the engineer will initiate a 'callback' from the STB to Sky via modem and telephone line, transmitting details of the viewing card number and the box in which it is installed. Once this step has been completed it is no longer possible to view premium channels such as Movies or Sports on any other box besides that which the card was paired with. Notably, the card can still be used to view non-premium channels such as Sky One but will display an error message when attempting to watch a movie channel or sports channel with an unpaired box and card combination. A card can be 're-paired' in some instances such as STB replacement or multiroom relocation, however this must be initiated by Sky and cannot be completed by an installer or end-user.
Standard Digiboxes use almost as much power in standby as when active; the "standby" setting merely mutes the sound and cuts off the picture, but internal signal processing continues at the same rate. Sky+ boxes are believed to reduce their power consumption more significantly in standby because they can spin down hard disks. Power consumption for the standard box varies (and newer boxes may be better) but has been quoted as 18W. This would account for around 3kWh per week, a significant proportion of the household's electricity bill. In fact, the equivalent of a modest-sized power station is required simply to run the Digiboxes in the UK. Turning off the box is not permitted during the first year of the contract, and few owners turn them off after that because the box takes so long to "boot" and load the EPG (around 2-3 minutes).