Commandeering public video screens: real or fake?

It’s time for everyone’s favorite comment thread game: Real or Fake? This week’s edition comes in from a tip that [Phil] sent about a way to take over video screens in Times Square. Watch the video after the break to see the hackers using a two-part solution to rebroadcast video from an iPhone onto a screen in the busy urban setting. The first part is a transmitter that plugs into the iPhone, the second is a signal repeater that, when held close to a video screen, overrides the clip currently being displayed with the video from the handheld. The image above shows the repeater being floated up to the big screen using a giant red balloon which you can make out in the black bar to the left of the replayed video.

Our first thought is that someone just watched Tron: Legacy and wanted to have a little Sci-Fi fun with the Internets. We can’t imagine a hardware solution that would actually make this work, but please do share your thoughts about that in the comments. We’d suspect this is more of a video hack that uses After Effects, similar to how the stopped motion candle video of the eyelid shutter glasses videos were faked. But apparently there is a follow-up video on the way that will show how the prototype was made so we could be wrong.

update: [Phil Burgess] points out that the “repeater” looks awfully familiar.

Fake for a variety of already-stated reasons (e.g. video out the headphone jack?). But the smoking gun, watching the 720P video on YouTube, is that I plainly recognize the hardware they’re using as the “repeater”: it’s simply the internals from a Digipower JS1-V3 cell phone USB boost charger (having torn apart a few myself):

Comments

  1. Colin says:

    Although video out via the headphone jack isn’t possible with the iPhone, some devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S actually do have this capability.

  2. John W says:

    One would hope that the digital signage is receiving video over a fairly safe, professional-grade interface like HDSDI over fiber.

  3. Jordan says:

    similar to how the stopped motion candle video of the eyelid shutter glasses videos were faked.

    you mean “…video or the eyelid…”?

  4. Peter says:

    Everyone seem to point out how the transmitter and receiver looks fake… Just me that have noticed that it IS PLUGGED INTO THE AUDIO JACK of the iphone. Yes audio port can be used for sending data and signals etc, but good luck sending a video signal from it !!!

  5. Kyle says:

    Umm, FAKE, duh! This is as ridiculous as the french guy claiming to have bionic 3-d glasses.

  6. walt says:

    retarded fake posts aren’t limited to april fools day anymore? damnit! i don’t get on the interwebs around april 1st for that reason.

  7. EliteHacker says:

    It is possible to make an application that converts a video file into a sound file and plays the sound out of the headphone jack. It is then possible to convert the sound (pulses) from the headphone jack back into a video file with a microcontroller.

    However, it’s not possible to brute force video onto those displays in Time Square. So I call fake.

  8. Max says:


    The above video points out another floor.
    If you look at the 720p version of the original video on youtube (fullscreen it), you can see that as he walks up to the first screen, the screen in the distance behind it is already showing him in his red jacket.
    This suggests that their video was in the advertising loop (probably just paid for some advertising space and spliced in other advertisement images around their own video so that it looked like they were hacking). Then it’s all timing on putting your hand up.

  9. Mike from Spain says:

    Completely Fake.
    – Video Tx from audio output.
    – Videos are usually storaged locally or connected by ethernet or connected to a recorder.
    – Even if they are receiving by a wifi connection (not encripted), the receiver provides the signal to the CRT, or plasma or LCD or LEDS, so completely impossible, because they don’t work unplagged.

  10. JF says:

    iPhone debate aside, here is what I have found….

    The screens (at least most of them, including the kiosks) are a venture between clear channel and cemusa. They were designed by show and tell and use display devices for the hardware and firecast for their software. Firecast is a neat little linux based os developed by a company called wirespring explicitly for the management of, you guessed it, digital advertising.

    Now here is the good stuff…..wirespring also makes the associated hardware; Their firecast “media appliance” which is what directly connects to and streams the content to the screens. They make three of them and here are the specs…

    http://www.wirespring.com/Products/Media_Appliance/index.html

  11. johnfoster says:

    that guy looks just like Freddie who has made a series of short visual effects films with cheap HD cameras and tools like After Effects. each short has a how-to to go with it. here’s a good example of his work:

  12. quzar says:

    Didn’t Engadget have a thing where they went in and checked out the backend of some of those huge displays? The resolution is unreal, there’s no way they’d be sending it over a wireless signal.

    Posted at 11:19 am on Mar 14th, 2011 by AndrewNeo

    Actually, most of the displays that ClearChannel works for are extremely low-resolution relatively. My company does a lot of remote digital advertising work with them, and most signage is below 480p resolution. I’m sure there are more sophisticated ones, but that’s certainly not a given.

    CCO’s standard setup makes these things really difficult to get into (though not impossible). Remotely the best a person could hope for without gaining access to some secured VPN tunnels would be to turn the screen off.

  13. pocho says:

  14. JF says:
  15. Dave Jones says:

    Here is how they did it:
    http://www.alexandrosmaragos.com/2011/03/hacker-in-times-square.html

    No post processing, they simply rented time on the screens and did a ton of retakes to get the timing right.

    Dave.

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