Sounds like software to me too. Seems unlikely that you have 2 cars that presumably work OK that both report zero spark advance.
To physically confirm you have some ignition advance, well, if the cars run OK and don;t overheat, there's a clue! You'll need a way to indicate that a spark has happened and the position of the crank when it does.
Old-school would be a timing light triggered from #1 HT lead and aim it at the timing marks. The light flashes in time with the spark, this illuminates the TDC mark on the crankshaft pulley and thus you can directly see how much spark advance there is. Not particualrly accurately, it has to be said, but you can clearly see the difference between zero and up to 40 or so degrees you'd likely see on a typical engine under the right conditions (high revs light throttle for example woudl have a lot of advance, idle could be as low as a few degrees). You'd also clearly see it swing about as the revs were blipped.
Timing lights - brings back happy memories
Not used one of those for about 15 years. Still have one in the garage though.
And yes, variator cam advance is a totally different thing to spark advance.
Not wanting to sound p155y here, but these are fundamental questions you are asking, so what makes you want to know what the spark advance actually is? What are you going to do with that information?
Yes, ignition advance, along with cam variator and fuel are controlled by the ECU.