Update: 23/03/2009 And Another (Sigh)
Update: 19/03/2009 Yet Another Dodgy SetPal Box For Sale On eBay
Update: 04/01/2009 Dodgy SetPal Boxes Still For Sale On eBay
Update: 06/11/2008 SetPal Boxes Still For Sale On eBay
Update: 07/11/2008 Watchdog Report
Digital Switchover and Set Top Boxes
Unless you've been living in a nuclear bunker cut off from the outside world for the past five or six years you will be aware that "Britain's Going Digital". Yes, that's right, starting from next year parts of the UK will be switching to Digital TV and Analogue TV will be switched off.
What a lot of people don't realise is this isn't an instantaneous thing. There isn't a great Big Red Switch deep in the heart of TV land that gets flipped and... Da Da! Hello Digital, Goodbye Analogue! No, it's a lot more complicated than that, it's an ongoing process involving the upgrading of transmitters and the installation of new equipment all over the country.
Yes, it's an incredibly complex process but I'm alright, I've got me a shiny new set top box and Freeview is Freeview right?
Wrong! Read on...
Earlier this year as part of the Digital Rollout a transmitter in the West Midlands was upgraded. No big deal you might think but shortly after the upgrade (end of May 2008) a number of users served by the Sutton Coldfield transmitter reported their Set Top Boxes had stopped working.
An investigation revealed something more worrying, all the problems concerned Freeview boxes from the following manufacturers; Bush, Daewoo, Labgear, Portland (a rebranded Labgear box for J Sainsbury?) and Triax.
The problem only became apparent when a channel rescan was performed but as some of the boxes automatically rescan on a regular basis users were very soon shouting about it.
To make things worse, as the upgrade was rolled out over the rest of the UK the true size of the problem revealed itself and it is estimated as many as 200,000 Freeview users may be affected.
The one thing those boxes had in common was the SetPal chipset and firmware from NovaPal Trading who, predictably enough, went bust several years ago!
SetPal technology was very popular with the box manufacturers because the hardware was quite sensitive (it worked well in poor signal areas) and, above all, it was cheap! This cheapness meant the chipset and associated firmware found its way into a number of budget Set Top Boxes (and quite a few not so budget ones - more profit for the maufacturer) and NovaPal Technology claims more than 350,000 Set Top Boxes based on their SetPal technology have been sold across the UK!
The problem was SatPal's cheapness was achieved by cutting a few corners and taking liberties with the Freeview standard, they assumed the number of Freeview channels would never grow beyond a certain limit and now that it has they do not have the memory in their boxes to store the larger Network Information Table. And the upshot of all this is... They no longer work!
Due to SetPal's demise and the way their firmware was licensed it is highly unlikely any upgrades will ever be released for these boxes which, for most of the boxes based on their technology, consigns them to the bin. They are dead!
The following is a list of products I am aware of that are based on SetPal technology or otherwise affected by this problem. I have included contact details for the manufacturers wherever possible but, in all honesty, I doubt they will be of any real help.
Please Note: This is NOT an exhaustive list so if you know of any others feel free to inform me of the make and model and I will investigate further.
This was a NICAM stereo VCR with builtin Freeview. Contact Bush on 0871 230 1777 for further information.
This was a NICAM stereo VCR with builtin Freeview. Contact Daewoo on 0870 100 2525 for further information.
Daewoo DS608P / Labgear DTT100 / Portland DP100
Contact Daewoo / Portland on 0870 100 2525 or Labgear on 0845 757 3479 for further information.
The Triax website says the following which I doubt will be of much help to those of you who bought their products:
"Triax are manufacturers and distributors of multimedia equipment to the TRADE ONLY.
Unfortunately we are unable to provide technical advice and support to end users.
If you are an end-user seeking technical advice, product support or have an installation query, please contact your local CAI registered installer or see Yellow Pages for details."
Thomson Top Up TV boxes
Although not based on SetPal techology Thomson's range of Top Up TV Anytime boxes have also affected by these upgrades. This problem will only become evident if the user performs a channel rescan.
An OAD upgraded the Top Up firmware to v2.93 in July and seems to have resolved this problem.
I have a DTI-6300 and six DTI-2300s and they are all working fine - both before and after a channel scan.
Some of the DTI-2300s I have recently purchased from eBay do not present the channels in the expected order (ie: BBC 1, BBC 2, ITV 1, CH 4, FIVE, ITV 2, BBC THREE etc.) but in frequency order.
Some of Sony's TVs with built-in Freeview tuners have also experienced problems following the upgrade;
problems with the above models.
ConclusionWhen researching this article I found a number of online shopping sites still offering these boxes for sale with no indication whatsoever they were obsolete and would no lomger work.
So, if you are in the market for a cheap Freeview box be aware these obsolete boxes are out there and make sure you check the make and model before purchasing. If in doubt ask to see it working and make sure you perform a channel scan (it is the channel scan that kills these boxes). If this is not possible get an assurance in writing that the box works and that the seller will give a full refund including P&P before parting with your money.
With Christmas coming I have no doubt quite a few of these boxes will find their way onto eBay and some people will end up disappointed so ask before bidding and look out for wording like;
- Was working when last used
- I can't test it as I don't have an aerial since upgrading to cable
- Has been sitting on a shelf since we got Sky / Cable / a TV with builtin Freeview in July
6th November 2008 - SetPal Boxes Still For Sale On eBayI was rather annoyed and somewhat surprised to find several of the recently 'broken' Freeview still being offered for sale on eBay.
The sellers must realise they are now useless or, if the network hasn't reached them yet, will soon become so.
Please, please, please check carefully with this guide or the seller so you don't end up wasting your money on one of the recently obsoleted ie: broken boxes from; Bush, Daewoo, Labgear, Portland (a rebranded Labgear box for J Sainsbury?) or Triax
7th November 2008 - WatchdogBBC's
Watchdog programme finally aired a report on the
almost quarter of a million Freeview boxes that were killed in the recent network update. Not exactly quick on the uptake are they?
It appears they have also just learnt about the estimated half a million ITV Digital and OnDigital boxes that are still out there...
4th January 2009 - Dodgy SetPal Boxes Still For Sale On eBayWhile rereading this guide on eBay earlier today I was amazed to discover a Triax SetPal Freeview box being shown alongside it. Yes, an obsolete, dead, defunct box being offered for sale and the seller was obviously aware of it because they were trying to cover their back by adding this little gem to their listing:
Yeah, right, if it was working SIX months ago I'm a monkey's uncle.
Further research has revealed eight or nine eBay listings mentioning SetPal as of 6th Jan. Half of those are for remote controls, another mentions a SetPal box by way of a comparision leaving just two sellers trying to dump their obsolete SetPal boxes on unsuspecting members of eBay .
19th March 2009 - Yet Another Dodgy SetPal Box For Sale On eBayAfter almost three months with no dodgy SetPal Feeview boxes for sale on eBay earlier today my regular check of eBay listings turned up a BT SetPal Freeview box for sale. The listing reads as if the seller was using this box recently " I now have a new TV with integrated freeview channels hence the sale" but we all know this unit would have died when the network was upgraded back in May ... July 2008 - that's the best part of a year ago!
I have reported this item (200319968387) to eBay as a fraudulent listing because there is no way this box will ever work, the seller has to be aware of this fact and the listing implies it is fully operational.
23th March 2009 - And Another (Sigh)Just spotted another dodgy SetPal Feeview box (320351982286) so I reported that one to eBay as well.
I guess we can expect this fraudulent practice to be on the increase as many people are looking to eBay as a cheap way of 'going digital' in these troubled times...
Thank you for reading this far and I hope you have found this information helpful. If it prevents one person from ending up with a costly paperweight it will have been worth the time take to write and update!