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Hardware Hacking Television Build Hardware

Most Hackable Coupon-Eligible DTV Converter? 479

Posted by timothy
from the least-locked-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes "So I've finally gotten my DTV coupons, now I have to choose a converter before the analog signals go dark. I'd like to get one that is hackable, but haven't had much luck finding information about the internals of the units available. My question is: What chipsets do the different coupon eligible converters use, and which one is the most hackable? It'd be great to be able to send my own MPEG stream and have it displayed, or to grab the raw stream out of the device."
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Most Hackable Coupon-Eligible DTV Converter?

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  • Why bother? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:01PM (#26552673)

    They are just going to extend the deadline again; might as well wait a few more years. Hopefully by then the devices will be even more hackable.

  • by Reality Master 201 (578873) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:02PM (#26552681) Journal

    There's really nothing on.

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by IconBasedIdea (838710) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:03PM (#26552705)
    Wouldn't an earlier generation usually be easier to hack than a newer model?
  • Um.. WHY? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:04PM (#26552723)

    WHY would you want to waste your time even doing that? What's the point? There are DTV tuners on USB sticks that are likely easier to hack than some single-purpose hardware like these converter boxes!

  • just sad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArsonSmith (13997) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:08PM (#26552757) Journal

    perhaps you should throw out your coupon or give it to someone who can't afford to purchase one and missed getting a coupon. If you're looking to hack something you should use your own money to buy one and not mine.

    Thank you.

  • Re:just sad (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Microlith (54737) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:11PM (#26552811)

    use your own money to buy one and not mine.

    It's just as much his money as it is yours. Not that the whole program isn't a boondoggle already.

  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:18PM (#26552889)

    That's on TPB. Not everyone has access to US TV, you insensitive clod!

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:24PM (#26552973)

    I wouldn't count on that.

    Yeah, yeah, they're killing the analog broadcast because they need the frequency. Yeah, sure. In Europe, we're "ahead" of the times again, we got our digital boxes, our analog signals were shut down and the frequency ... well, did they find someone already to buy it? I dunno.

    At least part of the reason to switch to the artefact-ridden compression-fest that digital TV is, is simply that it offers more chance to get some kind of DRM into the stream. And for this your chances to a hackable box decrease over time, when they find and patch more and more holes.

    Older, hackable, boxes, i.e. the ones you buy now, might be grandfathered because they don't want this rollout nightmare to happen again.

  • Re:Um.. WHY? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vistapwns (1103935) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:26PM (#26552991)
    Do you have the source code and schematics to your TV and included cpu/roms? Or your microwave or washer/dryer? Car?
  • Re:Um.. WHY? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:28PM (#26553035)
    Since both of these are non-open source products I would have to say no. If you insist on doing it yourself and not taking advantage of millions of dollars already spent on R&D, then invent it yourself.
  • Re:Coupons? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Mighty Buzzard (878441) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:33PM (#26553089)
    Nope, the coupons were to mitigate the ass-pain caused by having to go out and buy one at all. There are still plenty of people who don't have satellite or cable, even though they can afford it, because they only watch the weather in the morning and the news in the evening or some such. To them it's an added expense for no added benefit; hence the ass-pain mitigating coupons.
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:38PM (#26553169)

    The problem is that there is a show. You maybe get to see it when you're in the US, you may start to like it. Yet you come back home to your country and find out that it's not available. No network is showing it. Maybe you're in luck and you'll see it in a few years, when they got around to ruining it with completely inconsistant and/or ignorant dubbing. Maybe you'll never get to see it.

    What should you do? You can wait, and see just how much they fucked up with the dubbing this time. If you want to see it in English, you're entirely out of luck anyway. And given any chance no network finds it "not appealing to the masses" and won't go through the hassle of dubbing it at all. Or they turn around and produce a horrible knock off (IT Crowd suffered this fate, for about 4 episodes) because hey, the dumb viewer doesn't know the original anyway so he won't notice.

    Any suggestions?

  • Re:Coupons? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by richardkelleher (1184251) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:46PM (#26553297) Homepage
    There was nothing in the program about it being for poor disadvantaged people. They are for anyone affected by the lack of analog OTA signals. If you were affected, you were eligible. You just assume that anyone who still uses OTA signals rather than cable of satellite is poor and disadvantaged.
  • Re:Valid info (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pla (258480) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:52PM (#26553385) Journal
    If you're a hardware wizard, you might be able to do something

    The basic task involved for these boxes requires them to properly and fully decode the broadcast DTV signals, then (to qualify for the coupons) downsample the signal and reencode it as NTSC.

    As a rule of thumb in hardware design, you make it as step-by-step debuggable as possible - Which in this case means planning for a tap after the decoding stage but before the downsampling stage.

    I would fully expect nearly all of these units to require nothing more complex than finding the right place to attach a connector or three to pull the fully-featured DTV signal from it, at a cost less than dedicated units that do just that, and you get to stick Uncle Sam for a portion of the bill.


    Or have we managed to dumb down the public enough that merely soldering a few wires or a connector to existing test points on a PCB has entered the realm of "hardware wizard"ry?
  • by nobodyman (90587) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:00PM (#26553501) Homepage

    No offense, I think hacking a DTV converter is a neat idea, but I think you've unwittingly highlighted a major problem with the DTV coupon program. I think the program was generally intended to ensure that people in fixed/low income situations would be able to receive television signals after the transition. Instead, the majority of coupons have been redeemed by early adopters/geeks who generally do not need a dtv converter in the first place or would have been able to afford one without a coupon. In my experience, most of the people I know that need a converter did not even know about the program -- the only ones who knew about it were fellow techs who haven't had an analog TV in years.

    Now we have people (most notably the Obama administration) stating that the DTV deadline because the coupon program is out of funds and those very people that program was designed for *still* do not have a coupon or a converter.

    So my question is: if this is just some "for the fun of it" lark that you're going on with these DTV converters, don't you feel like it was at least slightly unethical (or at least a violation of the spirit of the program) to get a hand-out from the government?

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:05PM (#26553575)
    Digital broadcasts in the United States are much, much better than their analog equivalents. You won't be getting HDTV with one of these converter boxes, but you'll be getting the SD sub-channel, which has the advantage over analog of zero static.

    That's because the digital signal simply breaks when static is encountered, as opposed to analog which degrades gracefully. Digital transmission does provide a lovely image, often better than cable, but only when the signal is strong; analog has a far wider reach, which is very important for anybody not in the middle of a city.
  • Re:Why bother? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:08PM (#26553599) Journal

    Digital in general gives a nice sexy picture and compression artifacts aren't any worse than static. Pauses, skips, and audio sync issues on the other hand are absolutely unacceptable and they plague digital video (broadcast or otherwise). I'd rather have a constant static level that your mind ignores than pauses, skips, or audio sync issues.

    On the other hand, OTA analogue tv isn't exactly on par with the static on an older vhs tape, its generally unwatchable.

  • Re:Coupons? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Toonol (1057698) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:09PM (#26553611)
    Nope, the coupons weren't welfare. They were compensation. FCC enforced an expense on the public, made billions of dollars. Part of that is going back to the citizenry that supposedly 'owns' the airways.
  • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by frovingslosh (582462) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:14PM (#26553683)
    Yea, they may extend the deadline because some idiots didn't get ready for it and might be inconvenienced. And those exact same idiots will not be ready in 3 months, 6 months or 2 years when they eventually get around to doing the analog cut-off.
  • by eviltangerine (1435339) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:16PM (#26553711)
    I disagree -- if the lawmakers had seriously intended this to be only for the poor in the country, wouldn't they have coupled it with Welfare or something to that effect? Or at least had some kind of measure of your income and therefore only people with an income below a certain threshold would get the coupon?

    I think the coupon is the appropriate thing to do for people of all income levels. The government has changed the way that TV is being broadcast which makes older TV's unusable -- shouldn't they also help us transition by making the converter boxes available to all?

  • Re:Coupons? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NitroWolf (72977) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:20PM (#26553763)

    Nope, the coupons were to mitigate the ass-pain caused by having to go out and buy one at all. There are still plenty of people who don't have satellite or cable, even though they can afford it, because they only watch the weather in the morning and the news in the evening or some such. To them it's an added expense for no added benefit; hence the ass-pain mitigating coupons.

    Yes, there are still plenty of people, all 13 million of them. Of course, we should cater to those 13 million in the face of the other 313 million that DON'T use the analog frequency, which could be put to better use for THOSE people.

    Yes, makes perfect sense - cater to the tiny minority to the detriment of the vast majority.

  • Re:Republicans? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by brkello (642429) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:28PM (#26553835)
    Nice try. Except that the editors didn't tag it that. Slashdot users did.
  • Re:Why bother? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Obfuscant (592200) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @08:21PM (#26554417)
    This is, of course, bullshit, at least in my experience.

    And it is gospel truth, in my experience.

    I get many analog signals here with just a simple whip antenna.

    I get exactly ONE digital station.

    ... I just attached a little 2" stub antenna with a coax fitting directly to the box. While it certainly didn't pick up as many channels as the rabbit ears, it picked up all the main network digital channels without a problem.

    And I get exactly one station even when using an outdoor broadband amplified antenna.

    ... but there's no "graceful" to the way an analog signal would have degraded by that point.

    A snowy analog signal provides a lot more information and is a lot more viewable than a black screen showing only "no signal" in tiny white letters. I'd call that a lot more graceful.

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Jherek Carnelian (831679) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @08:29PM (#26554477)

    The infamous Broadcast Flag--the only element of DRM to have ever loomed over broadcast television--is dead and buried. Besides, none of the DTV converters currently available have any DRM-compliance built in.

    Not quite "dead and buried" - turns out that some broadcasters are using it anyway and some tuners are obeying it anyway. In fact, our buddy Microsoft is lead the charge. [cnet.com]

    So, while the BF remains voluntary, that doesn't help the poor schmucks who get stuck with a system that has "voluntarily" given away their option to ignore the BF.

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:02PM (#26554771)

    My "old-fashioned" analog Super VHS laughs at broadcast flags and records DVD-quality video to boot.

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:19PM (#26554929)

    >>>you'll be getting the SD sub-channel, which has the advantage over analog of zero static. There is nowhere that anyone who watches analog TV can claim that.

    (1) I can. The stations within 20 miles of my house, NBC8, FOX43, CW15, and ION49 all appear without static. In fact, they look *better* than their digital counterparts (which are artifacted).

    (2) I had to spend $200 on a new rooftop antenna since the old settop rabbit ears/loop antenna got next-to-nothing.

    (3) Stations beyond 50 miles admittedly look like crap, but at least they're watchable in analog format. DTV displays nothing. I've lost channels 10,11,12,13,21,27,29,45,48,51. I used to be able to watch Ravens and Orioles games but no more. I lost my PBS station and my ABC station and a few independents that played movies or scifi shows.

    Remind me again about how DTV is "superior" when I've lost more than I had before?

  • Why capture? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ostracus (1354233) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @09:56PM (#26555257) Journal

    With the ever changing landscape. What would be a good worldwide capture card that would work for all standards both terrestrial and satellite that uses the PCIe x1 slot?

  • Re:Um.. WHY? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by adolf (21054) <flodadolf@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @10:02PM (#26555289) Journal

    Are they even free? Last I saw a pallet of them at Wal-Mart, the boxes had a price tag of $59, which is $19 out of pocket, plus tax.

    Meanwhile, Newegg shows me a 1080i-capable USB dongle which works without ugly hacks for $29, and Ebay shows some for as little as $16 (shipped).

    I'm not an expert in math, but the following seems to be true: If time is money, then $29 is a good deal. And even if time is free, then $16 is certainly less than $19.

  • by kRutOn (28796) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @06:03AM (#26557819) Homepage

    In the language of the eligibility requirements for the DTV coupons, it has language that strictly limits the feature set of the DTV tuner boxes. I believe there aren't any hidden features put in by manufacturers for fear of running afoul of the rules and being disqualified from being eligible for the coupons. Of course, risking disqualification from the program means significant revenue impact.

  • Re:Why bother? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MrRobahtsu (8620) on Thursday January 22, 2009 @12:23PM (#26560871)

    Digital broadcasts in the United States are much, much better than their analog equivalents.

    Except where they're not. Which is a lot of places.

    Personally, I don't see any compression artifacts at all on OTA digital broadcasts, HD or SD

    You need a better television.

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