Apple Interactive Television Box
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The Apple Interactive Television Box is a set-top box developed by Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.) in partnership with a number of global telecommunications firms, including British Telecom and Belgacom amongst others. Prototypes of the unit were tested in parts of the United States and Europe in 1994-1995, but the product was cancelled shortly thereafter, and was never mass-produced or marketed.
The set-top box was designed as an interface between a consumer and an interactive television service. The unit's remote control would allow a user to choose what content would be shown on a connected television, as well as to provide functions of fast forward, rewind and so on. In this regard it is similar to a modern satellite receiver or TiVo unit. Unlike the TiVo, the STB would only pass along the user's choices to a central content server instead of issuing content itself. There were also plans for game shows, educational material for children and other forms of content made possible by the interactive qualities of the device.
Today, the unit is a favorite among Apple collectors, and is occasionally offered for sale second-hand. Examples range from very early conceptual prototypes to production-quality machines. These near-completion units lack the unfinished feel of the earlier set-top boxes: the cases fit together well, the internal components often lacked prototype indicators, and some units even have FCC approval stickers (typically one of the last additions before a product is marketed). This, along with an instruction manual on Apple's support website, suggests the set-top box project was very near completion before being cancelled.
The Apple Set-Top Box is based upon the Macintosh Quadra 605/LC475. Since the box was never marketed, no official technical specifications have been released by Apple. However, the following information was found in the online manual documentation:
- Status light
- Red (steady): main power is switched on; the Apple Interactive TV Box is undergoing self-test checks
- Yellow: main power is switched on, but the Apple Interactive TV Box is not currently in use
- Green: the Apple Interactive TV Box is on and in use
- Red (flashing): the Apple Interactive TV Box is not working correctly
- Power: Universal power supply:
- From 90 volts to 240 volts
- From 50 hertz to 60 hertz
- 7 lbs. (2.6 kg)
- 15.6 in. wide x 11.4 in. deep x 2.2 in. high (395 mm x 290 mm x 56 mm)
- Operating temperatures: Temperature is given in Celsius (C) and Fahrenheit (F).
- 10 °C to 40 °C (50 °F to 104 °F)
- Storage temperatures
- –40 °C to 47 °C (–40 °F to 116 °F)
- TV Standards for RF Ports
- Video decompression standard
- MPEG-2 Transport containing ISO11172 (MPEG-1) bit streams
- Input and output ports
- INPUT: Apple Desktop Bus (ADB)
- SCART: two 21-pin EURO-SCART
- RF IN and RF OUT: 75 ohms; either PAL aerial connectors tuned to channels 32–40 or NTSC F-connectors tuned to channel 3 or 4
- Network: RJ-45 connector for either E1 data stream on PAL devices or T1 data stream on NTSC devices
- Serial: requires Apple System/Peripheral 8 Cable
- S-Video: Separate Video output
- Video: RCA jack, composite video output
- Audio: RCA jacks, left and right stereo output
- SCSI: HDI-30
Apple intended to offer the set-top box with a matching black ADB mouse, keyboard, Apple 300e CD-ROM drive, StyleWriter printer and one of several styles of remote controls.
A few hundred to a few thousand units were in actual use at Disneyland California hotels and provided in room shopping and park navigation. A few units contained a special boot ROM which allowed the device to boot locally from a SCSI hard drive that had the OS and applications contained within the box; these devices were used primarily for development purposes by developers inside Apple and Oracle, as well as for limited demonstration purposes. In normal network use content and program code was served to the STB by Oracle OMS over the network to implement the set top box interactivity. Approximately 2500 units were installed and used in consumer homes in England during the second interactive television trial conducted by British Telecom and Oracle, which was in Ipswitch, UK. The set-top applications were developed using Oracle's Oracle Media Objects (OMO) product, which was somewhat similar to HyperCard, but was enhanced significantly to operate in a network-based iTV environment.
Since the machine was designed to be part of a subscription data service, the remaining units are mostly inoperable. The set-top box ROM contains only what is required to continue booting from an external hard drive or from its Ethernet connection. What's more, many of the prototypes do not appear to even attempt to boot. This is likely dependent on changes in the ROM. The ROM itself contained parts of a downsized Mac OS 7.1 enabling the Television Box to establish a network connection to the media servers provided by Oracle. The Oracle Media Server (OMS) initially ran on hardware produced by Larry Ellison's nCube Systems company, but was later also made available by Oracle on SGI, Digital Equipment Corp Alpha, Sun, SCO, Netware, Windows NT, and IBM Aix systems. These servers also provided the parts of the OS not implemented in ROM of the Television Box via the OMS Boot Service. Therefore, a Television Box had to establish a network connection successfully in order to finish the boot process. There have been cases of users entering in a command key combination, to get the Set Top Box to boot off of a pre-installed OS 7.1 on an external SCSI hard drive, using a PowerBook SCSI adapter (NOT a SCSI Disk Mode-enabled adapter, but one just for external hard drives).
In July 2016, images surfaced on a video game forum that appeared to show a Super Nintendo Entertainment System cartridge designed to work with the British Telecom variant of the set-top box. The cartridge is labeled the “BT GameCart” and includes an 8-pin serial connector designed to connect to the Apple System/Peripheral 8 port on the rear of the set-top box. A BT promotional film for the service trial discusses a way users could download and play Nintendo video games via the system.
The STB contained parts of a regular North American Mac OS 7.1.1 containing the "Finder", several "Sockets" for network connection protocols and customized MPEG1 decoding components for the "QuickTime Player" software.