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

    There's really nothing on.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by WarJolt (990309)

      BATTLESTAR GALACTICA!!!!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Flentil (765056)
        That's on cable, not broadcast TV.
        • 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!

          • by Malevolyn (776946)
            Yeah, but everyone has access to BitTorrent. Whoops, did I just let that slip? Sorry, major networks!
      • by vux984 (928602)

        Isn't that on the verge of being finished anyway?

      • I'm waiting for them to re-imagine Quark into a new TV series..

        • I'm waiting for them to re-imagine Quark into a new TV series..

          Probably turn Ficus into Mother-in-law's Tongue.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by nurb432 (527695)

        Like he said, there's really nothing on.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cashman73 (855518)
        BSG is on Hulu.com [hulu.com]. No need for cable or broadcast TV. Just get an HDMI or S-Video cable and connect your PC up to your television.
    • Anything worth watching on TV is also on Usenet/PB etc.
  • Paradox (Score:5, Funny)

    by aardwolf64 (160070) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:04PM (#26552707) Homepage

    It's kind of impossible to get a useful answer to your question on Slashdot... You see, if someone gives you a valid link to something that is actually useful, it gets modded up. It will immediately sell out, and you're back to square one. :-)

  • 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!

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by dangitman (862676)

      There are DTV tuners on USB sticks that are likely easier to hack than some single-purpose hardware like these converter boxes!

      I have one of those DTV tuners on a USB stick. Where do I plug the TV into it? How can you "send your own MPEG stream and have it displayed" with it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        There are DTV tuners on USB sticks that are likely easier to hack than some single-purpose hardware like these converter boxes!

        I have one of those DTV tuners on a USB stick. Where do I plug the TV into it? How can you "send your own MPEG stream and have it displayed" with it?

        By plugging it into your computer's USB port and streaming Media Center to your Xbox of course.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by nog_lorp (896553) *

          Cool. Can you give me a link to the source tarball for this "Media Center", and schematics for an Xbox?

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by vistapwns (1103935)
            Do you have the source code and schematics to your TV and included cpu/roms? Or your microwave or washer/dryer? Car?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Get a newer video card for your computer, THAT'S how! Even the cheap PNY Nvidia-based card I just bought recently has composite, s-video, and component video outputs on the back. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel!

    • Re:Um.. WHY? (Score:4, Informative)

      by michrech (468134) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:09PM (#26552771)

      The DTV tuners on a USB stick won't be as nearly free as the converter boxes would be my first guess... ;)

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adolf (21054)

        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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by fm6 (162816)

      Sigh. After all these years, there are still slashdotters who don't grasp that "hacking" and "convenience" have nothing to do with each other.

  • HDHomeRun (Score:5, Informative)

    by raw-sewage (679226) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:07PM (#26552749)

    Not quite what you asked for, and I don't know if you can use your coupon (I'm guessing not)... but the HDHomeRun [silicondust.com] allows you two capture MPEG streams. It integrates well [silicondust.com] with MythTV [mythtv.org]. It has an open source library [silicondust.com]. Pretty sweet little device in my opinion.

    • The whole point of the coupon program is that they're not usable for anything close to that cool. The answer to the submitter's question is: none.
    • Seconded, kind of... (Score:4, Informative)

      by LateArthurDent (1403947) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:48PM (#26553331)

      I'm the happy owner of an HDHomeRun. It's a fantastic device, and I highly recommend it, but it's not a coupon-eligible converter. Normally, I would say to chuck the coupon aside and get it anyway, but the reason why the HDHomeRun isn't coupon-eligible is its lack of an RF output. You have to get the stream off the network, you can't connect it straight to the tv.

      Now, I have a mythtv box connected to my TV, so that's not an issue for me. If you have a computer serving as a media center I most definitely recommend it, but if you just want the streaming as a bonus, and still want RF output, then it's not for you.

      Again, this is not a criticism of the device. I absolutely love mine, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a way to stream unencrypted HD to their computers. Silicon Dust also has excellent forum support to help you set it up if you need it. However, if you want a converter box to hook directly up to your TV, this is not the device for you.

  • just sad (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ArsonSmith (13997)

    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 mea37 (1201159)

        You can look at it as "as much his money as GP's".

        I suppose, then, that we're saying that a tax dollar belongs equally to all U.S. citizens.

        Which means that even if it's as much his as mine, it's still roughly 99.9999997% not his money; less than a penny of the value of the coupon is "his", outside the purpose of the coupon program.

        I agree with GP's sentiment. The program exists for a reason, and geek hobbying isn't the reason. Buy your own toys.

        • Re:just sad (Score:4, Informative)

          by Chyeld (713439) <chyeld@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:36PM (#26553143)

          And how, again, is attempting to improve the functionality of the equipment somehow invalidating his claim to the money?

          Are all consumers eligible for the coupon program?

          Yes, but supplies are limited. There are 22.25 million coupons available to all U.S. households. Once those coupons have been used, there are an additional 11.25 million coupons available only to households that solely receive their TV broadcasts over-the-air using an antenna. Households with TVs connected to cable, satellite or other pay TV service are not eligible for this second batch of coupons. Consumers can apply for coupons until March 31, 2009, or until the funds are exhausted.

          From the governments website itself.

        • Re:just sad (Score:5, Informative)

          by nsayer (86181) * <[moc.ufk] [ta] [reyasn]> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:57PM (#26553451) Homepage

          But the coupons aren't coming out of tax money, they're coming out of the license fees paid by Verizon for the 100 MHz of spectrum being taken away from the UHF TV band.

          You could argue, I suppose, that it all comes from the US treasury and so it offsets taxes, but the linkage is quite strong, since the conversion to digital has enabled the extra spectrum to be leased, which brought in the funds to pay for the coupons to subsidize the converter boxes.

          And yes, the conversion to digital really has enabled the band to be compressed. ATSC is more generous with adjacent channel allocation rules which allows the broadcasters to be packed in together tighter than was the case with analog. In particular, adjacent channels are allowed to be used by broadcasters transmitting from the same site. This is why channels 33, 34, 38, 39, 43, 44 and 45 will all be coming from Sutro tower post-2/17. You weren't allowed to do that with NTSC.

    • Re:just sad (Score:5, Informative)

      by Waffle Iron (339739) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:20PM (#26552919)

      If you're looking to hack something you should use your own money to buy one and not mine.

      If he has an analog-only TV, he is entitled to a coupon. End of story.

      The poor people who didn't act earlier are also entitled to a coupon, but not his coupon. Any problems that the program is having getting coupons distributed are due to government incompetence, not coupon recipients.

      These coupons are paid for from the proceeds that the government made selling the old TV bandwidth. They compensate TV owners for the diminished value of their property resulting from the government action, so the coupon fund is not your money to begin with.

    • The FCC took in 19.6 billion for the 700 mhz spectrum auction selling an asset of the US government...which last I checked is every US citizens.
    • by nsayer (86181) *

      It's not your money or his money, it's Verizon's money. They bought a chunk of the 100 MHz of spectrum being given back from the UHF band, the coupons are coming out of that.

  • Republicans? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:10PM (#26552805) Journal

    Why is this tagged republicans? Did I miss something?

    • I was wondering the same thing. I'm pretty certain that, some days, the editors here at Slashdot are too busy having Obamagasms to realize that you can't blame Bush or the Republicans for every government ill.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by brkello (642429)
        Nice try. Except that the editors didn't tag it that. Slashdot users did.
  • HDHomeRun (Score:4, Informative)

    by TypoNAM (695420) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:11PM (#26552813)
    Why bother hacking one when you can get an HDHomeRun [silicondust.com] that has dual-tuners and it is networked across ethernet! Now it won't directly hook up to any TVs or what not, just computers. MythTV and other favorite software suites works with it just fine. It does have a $180 USD price tag though last I checked of which makes it out of your reach if you're having to get a coupon for a DTV converter box...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by EvanED (569694)

      Why bother hacking one when you can get an HDHomeRun...

      It does have a $180 USD price tag though...

      Seems to me as if you went a long way towards answering your own question.

  • Tivax STB-T9 (Score:5, Informative)

    by timeOday (582209) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:20PM (#26552927)
    Tivax makes a converter box which is only about $15 with a rebate card and has a serial port [avsforum.com] on the back. I got two of them with my coupons. You can control the unit through the serial port (turn on, change channel, zoom, etc). You don't get access to the digital signal, what you get is a good quality analog picture at standard resolution, which your analog PVR can record. For me this was what I wanted; the HD stream itself is a deluge of data; you really don't want to capture it at full-res if you'll be watching on an SDTV. (In fact my old PVR box isn't fast enough to replay full HD video streams, it requires considerable CPU). I am using wish scripts to send the serial commands. Perhaps somebody has written code for MythTV to use it by now.
    • by fm6 (162816) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:25PM (#26553795) Homepage Journal

      Sigh. Not your fault, but yours is the first post I've seen that actually tries to answer the question. To find your post I had to skim past 100 posts that say things like:

      • Stop watching TV
      • Device X is really great (never mind that Device X isn't coupon eligible)
      • Why do you want a hackable device? You can get this functionality off the shelf.

      I swear, Slashdot conversations get more and more solipsistic every day.

  • Valid info (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:25PM (#26552981)

    For the chipsets used, you can check the Wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_CECB_units .

    But as to hackability, I seriously doubt that ANY of these unit are sophisticated enough to run a real OS with some hacking potential. If you're a hardware wizard, you might be able to do something, but I don't see the value in spending lots of time trying to hardware hack a box which costs $10-$20 out-of-pocket.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pla (258480)
      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
      • Re:Valid info (Score:4, Informative)

        by russotto (537200) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:14PM (#26553679) Journal

        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.

        Unfortunately, no. Most of them are system-on-chip, with the demodulation, decoding, and downsampling all done within a single chip.

        The Channel Master 7000 and the DTVPal (based on a separate demodulator and decoder) have more options for hacking; the Channel Master box in particular was designed to have a digital audio output, which was scotched due to coupon box requirements. A few passive components restore the output, but it's muted; there's a JTAG port if you want to try your hand at firmware hacking.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Eil (82413)

      Parent is scored +5, and rightly so since it's the only useful comment so far.

      To add, I also wondered the same thing. I bought the Zenith DT-901 (reported to be the highest-quality low-end DTV converter) and it's pretty darn spartan inside. Basically the only chip on the device is a SoC that handles everything, from the digital tuner to the analog output. I think there might have been some unpopulated JTAG headers, but other than that, there was nothing on the board to indicate that it is hackable. Even if

  • by sillivalley (411349) <sillivalley@@@comcast...net> on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @06:34PM (#26553109)
    The little Apex 502 is one of the few coupon eligible converters with S-video out.
    If you have a TV or monitor with S-Video inputs, you'll get a better picture than using RS170 composite video (and much better than CH3/4 RF)
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      First of all RS170 is black and white. You meant RS170A. Secondly, this myth about S-Video being oh so much better than composite is BS. Let me explain the big whopping difference between the two. S-Video sends the chrominance with associated burst on a separate channel from the luminance, which by the way is pretty close to RS170. On RS170A the sum of the luminance and chrominance signals are on one wire. I will admit that since everyone believes that S-Video is better that some engineers may have pu

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by gnu-sucks (561404)

        He's right. Unless the S-video source contains some extremely high-quality components and filters, you're better off with composite.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Craig Davison (37723)

        It's not a myth. The myth I see is people spending big $$$ on a quality gold-plated monster composite video cable. Even the cheapest (shielded) S-video cable will produce a better picture. Just look at the setup menu text on any cheap DVD player. Text with fine vertical lines would look blurry and have bleeding colour with composite video, but be crisp with S-video. Hook up your computer to a TV via composite and S-video and tell me which picture is more readable.

        I could see your point if we were talking ab

      • The point of S-video is that chrominance-luminance crosstalk could be reduced but not eliminated if both were on the same channel.
  • Well... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    As far as using the output, there are ATSC converter boxes that can interface with the TiVo Series 2. Likewise, they could interface with anything that can accept composite or S-video and output IR signals.

    Blonder Tongue makes ATSC demodulators that can work via Web or RS-232, but I doubt they're coupon-eligible, and like any professional AV equipment, the stuff is heavy, rack-mountable, heats up like a kiln, and will cost a li'l bit.

    Your best bet is probably an ATSC capture device that works with MythTV. I

  • Dish Network (Score:2, Informative)

    by dricci (470949) Works for ThinkGeek

    Check out the Dish Network box. I admit, I haven't had a chance to actually try to use one of these, but the video I've seen of them in use looks really similar to their set top box firmware. Could just be some sort of theme though...

  • Just make sure you get a converter box with Component Video out (also called YPbPr). Then you can use the Hauppauge HD PVR http://www.hauppauge.com/site/products/data_hdpvr.html to capture the hi-def video to a hard drive.

    This is a solution that works for any HD settop box no matter what copy protection it provides, so long as it outputs component video.

  • 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: (Score:3, Insightful)

      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

    • Everyone is getting it for the fun of it. No one needs to watch TV.
  • by kopo (890010) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @07:09PM (#26553621)
    Some people have been mentioning DTV tuners with Firewire other outputs. Under the law that enabled the coupons, only RF, composite, and possibly S-Video output is allowed on subsidized converters. See #54 here [doc.gov].
  • by nuxx (10153) on Wednesday January 21, 2009 @11:18PM (#26555873) Homepage

    In case any of you are interested, I took photos of my teardown of the Zenith DTT900 [nuxx.net], one of the first available DTV converters, available here: http://nuxx.net/gallery/v/acquired_stuff/zenith_dtt900/ [nuxx.net].

Any sufficiently advanced bug is indistinguishable from a feature. -- Rich Kulawiec

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