Hackaday Prize Entry: Bypassing TV broadcasting restrictions

It’s a common problem faced by TV viewers, the programming they want to watch is being broadcast, but not to their location. TV content has traditionally been licensed for transmission by geography, and this has sometimes put viewers at odds with broadcasters.

The viewing public have not always taken this restriction of their programming choice lying down, and have adopted a variety of inventive solutions with varying degrees of legality and success. Many years ago you might have seen extreme-length UHF antennas to catch faraway transmitters, more recently these efforts have been in the digital domain. It was said in the 1990s that Sky’s Videocrypt satellite TV smart cards were cracked because German Star Trek Next Generation fans were unable to buy subscriptions for non-UK addresses, for example. You can argue in the comments over whether [Patrick Stewart] et al being indirectly responsible for a decryption coup is an urban legend, but it is undeniable that serial smart card emulators and dodgy DOS software for Sky decryption were sold all over Europe at the time.

Modern-day efforts to break the geographic wall on TV broadcasting have turned to the Internet. Services such as the ill-fated Aereo and the Slingbox set-top streaming products have taken the TV broadcast in a particular area and transported it to other locations for viewing online. But they are not the only Internet self-streaming option, if the idea of paying a subscription or tying yourself to a commercial service does not appeal then you can build an off-air streamer for yourself.

[Solenoid]’s project is an off-air streamer using a Raspberry Pi 3 with a USB DVB-T tuner. It uses Tvheadend to power the streaming, and OpenVPN to provide security. His build logs detail his efforts to ensure that power consumption is not too high and that the Pi is not running too hot, and provides instructions on how to set up and use the software. It’s not an overly complex piece of hardware, but it could provide a useful service for any of you who wish to keep up-to-date with your home TV when you are off on your travels.

19 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: Bypassing TV broadcasting restrictions

  1. These are small and cheap. How about a buddy system? I will install one in London if somebody in Japan or US will do the same for me :)
    Watching my local channels isn’t a problem, it’s the cool ones from other countries that I only see on holiday that I want.

    1. Japanese TV sucks balls though… :-)
      When I was there in 2013 I thought it would be the fulfillment of all my TV-dreams – it’s just plain out terrible!
      With all the crazy technology and culture that come from Japan one might think their TV-programming is somewhat cool, but it is more like if a bunch of lawyers had decided to play reporter and news-anchor.
      Obviously there is a ton of content we shall never see (maybe some in 2019), but their regular TV is just crap…

    2. Problem in Japan is that all broadcasts are encrypted – even OTA digital stuff – other than the 1-seg stuff aimed at mobiles. US OTA 8VSB is doable, as is DVB-T/T2 across Europe. (I have a similar set-up to get decent quality HD when I’m not at home)

    3. Living in Japan, I can tell you the TV programming is almost all shit.
      Variety shows, shows about food (thinly veiled restaurant advertising), variety shows about food, cheap housewife demographic dramas, some about food, and shows about food……

      Occasionally there is a gem, but because no-one is watching the crap, the execs keep playing it safe and won’t spend the money to produce any good shows, so less people watch and they spend less money, so it’s cheap variety and dramas all the way down….

      Even the NHK who try to con everyone into paying a subscription fee like the BBC still procuse utter tripe. At least the BBC gives us some good stuff.


    4. I was playing around with an idea similar to this a few months back. Maybe a bunch of servers with OTA antennas that would stream to the pool, for members of the pool to watch? Perhaps make it so that you’ve gotta stream from your antenna to receive streams, so that you can’t just mooch off the pool? You’d have to make it decentralized and not associate it with a company name, so that there’d be no one to sue, but I could see it working somewhat.

      Just like your buddy system, except indexed and doesn’t require social interaction :P

      Anyone interested?

  2. The story about TNG must be a myth.
    The show started with a delay of three years on ZDF.
    After s4e9 and a gap of 6 months it switched to Sat.1, where they aired several episodes a week.
    By s5e22 the delay was two years. By s6e26 the delay was one year.
    The last episode s7e26 aired on July 27, 1994 with a delay of two months.
    Both ZDF and Sat.1 are unencrypted.

    The Bt848 datasheet that I just found is dated February 1997 and contains the note “Advance Information”.
    That’s the chip supported by all the Nagravision Syster decoding applications.

    Was it maybe DS9 or Voyager? But I remember watching those on Sat.1 as well.

    1. Oh wait, for VideoCrypt there really were card hacks. But with the steady flow of translated episodes, I doubt there were many that tried to obtain a VideoCrypt STB and a hacked card in Germany.

      1. One of the first Sky Hacks I heard about was “Season 7” which was named because Sky 1 went encrypted where it had previously been clear to air. This was just as Season 7 of ST:TNG was due, and so the people wanting to watch it needed to hack the encryption.
        I don’t know about the details, but there is definitely a lot of truth about Sky being hacked by people wanting to watch Star Trek TNG.

      2. You forget that SAT1 only broadcast the dubbed version. They also aired episodes in the wrong order. I’m also German, but I prefer to watch movies and TV series in their original version.
        I guess Markus Kuhn had similar taste, since he made a program called season7. That was the original program that could turn a PC into a viewing card emulator for a videocrypt decoder box.
        From a text file that shipped with season7:

        “This software was primarily written for European Star Trek fans outside
        Great Britain who don’t have a chance to get a regular Sky subscription
        and have no other way of watching the undubbed version of their
        favourite SF series. I don’t want to cause any harm to Sky and I even
        asked them for a regular subscription some time ago, but they refused
        to sell one to Germany. So they have to live with the consequences of
        attracting the interest of high tech freaks to the technical details of
        their access control system. :-)”
        Source: http://textfiles.com/hacking/CABLE/season7.txt
        I guess that is the source of the “myth”, which I believe is not a myth at all. I had a videocrypt decoder and emulator card and used later versions of similar software.

        At that time there were also a lot of pirate cards, but they were expensive and no one knew for how long they would work. Season7 was free.
        It was really nice to have all the Sky (and also porn channels) channels. Unfortunately by the time that Sky One aired ST:Voyager they swapped out the viewing cards and I was no longer able to decode Sky. The same principle continued to work for some years on D2MAC/Eurocrypt channels. BTW: now I am a paying customer of Sky UK, while still being in Germany.

    1. I actually remember this, Over here in the UK we had another broadcaster starting a subscription TV service, Think it was ITV anyway Murdoch paid for people to crack the encryption on the cards and flooded the UK with them. The paid service was no longer SKY won.

  3. I’m looking to do something similar for a home OTA TV server, but I want more than one tuner such that one can be doing scheduled recordings while the other is live streaming. Possibly up to 4 tuners would be good. I can put it together from some huge mess of set top boxes, IR controls off a port, and pre digital tuner cards, But looking for something more elegant. 3 years ago there were some devices in the market that did this at reasonable price. I asked for one for Christmas and carefully explained how they were special and what they did, and gave model numbers and suppliers, and got given a regular set top converter box *sigh*. (We were doing an all the adults not very secret santa thing for around $150 each, so ppl could get something worthwhile and we weren’t buying each other $10 of crap just to give something)

    1. Here in the States, there are options from SiliconDust (twin ATSC/Clear QAM) tuner and Tablo (quad ATSC/Clear QAM, but only IP output, no direct HDMI). I’m sure there are others as well. Pricing is still running a bit high though. At this point, it is probably easier and more cost-effective to build a small HTPC with multiple tuner card inputs and sufficient processor overhead to do the encode/decode work.

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