Control Your HTPC With Scavenged IR Parts

If you’ve built yourself a home theater PC, one of your highest priorities is probably coming up with a convenient control solution. The easiest way to do this is to simply use something like a wireless keyboard and mouse. But, that’s not very conducive to an enjoyable home theater experience, and it feels pretty clunky. However, if you’ve got the right components lying around, [Sebastian Goscik] has instructions and an Arduino sketch that will let you control your HTPC with any IR remote control.

There are a number of ways you could control your HTPC, and we’ve featured more than one build specifically for controlling XBMC over the years. Unfortunately, most of those methods require that you spend your hard earned money (which is better spent on popcorn). [Sebastian’s] setup can be replicated with things you probably have on hand: an Arduino, an IR remote, and a scavenged IR receiver. The IR receiver can be found in many devices, like old stereos or TVs that themselves were controlled via an IR remote.

It starts with an Arduino Sketch that lets you can see on the serial monitor what code is being generated by the button presses on your remote. These are then scripted to perform any task or function you like when those buttons are pushed. The most obvious use here is simple directional control for selecting your movies, but much more complex tasks are possible. Maybe someone can program a T9 script to type using the number buttons on most remotes?

Just Don’t Call it an Old Remote

[Hari Wiguna’s] father is ninety years young. He started having trouble pushing the buttons on his TV remote, so [Hari] decided to build a custom remote that just has the buttons his dad needs. Oh, and the buttons are big.

There are a few interesting things about this project. [Hari] wanted to maximize battery life, so he went through a good bit of effort to keep the processor asleep and minimize power consumption. The remote is programmable, but [Hari] didn’t have access to his dad’s remotes. His answer was elegant. He used his Android phone to mimic the required remotes and provided a way for the remote to learn from another remote (in this case, the phone).
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Tech Journos Link Samsung To Volkswagen, Somehow

On Thursday The Guardian published information linking Samsung to the current Volkswagen emissions fiasco. Samsung is accused of installing a ‘defeat device’ on some televisions that uses less energy during official testing conditions than would be found during real-world use.

“The apparent discrepancy between real-world and test performance of the TVs is reminiscent of the VW scandal that originated in the US last week,” wrote [Arthur Nelson] of The Guardian. This report was based on an unpublished lab test by the research group ComplianTV which found discrepancies between real-world and test performance when measuring power consumption. According to ComplianTV, this is due to the ‘motion lighting’ setting included in some Samsung TVs. Samsung vehemently denies this ‘motion lighting’ saying that it is not a method of cheating the consumption tests.

Typical results recognized during testing. Source
Typical results recognized during testing. Source

Not one to let a good controversy go to waste, the BBC reports a Samsung TV will reduce its power draw shortly after the start of the test. A graph of the power draw of a TV – not explicitly a Samsung television – demonstrating this functionality was found in a PDF of a ComplianTV workshop from last year labeled as, “Typical results recognized during testing” with a decrease in power consumption being a recognized behavior when the appropriate test video was found.

This is not the first time ComplianTV tested a Samsung TV equipped with a ‘motion lighting’ setting. Earlier this year, ComplianTV measured the power consumption of the Samsung UE55H8090 television, and found this TV was compliant with energy regulations. Incredibly, all Samsung TVs listed on the ComplianTV database were found to be compliant with the relevant energy directives.

Samsung’s rebuttal to the Guardian article states the ‘motion lighting’ technology is an ‘out of the box’ feature, active in both the lab and at home. Unlike Volkswagen’s ‘defeat device’ for their diesel engines which is only active during emissions testing, the ‘motion lighting’ technology is active whenever it is enabled in the TV’s settings menu.

Anyone in the US who has shopped for a television in the last four years will have noticed cost-per-year estimates for operating the appliance. This is only an issue if the televisions don’t actually meet that advertised benchmark. Until we see a published study we’re raising our eyebrows at The Guardian, easily one of the most trusted journalistic institutions on the planet, and reserving judgement for Samsung.

The Netflix and Chill Button

While the people at Netflix were busy killing weekends around the world with marathon viewings of 90s sitcoms, they also found time to release the Netflix Switch. It’s a small device with a single button that will control your TV, turn off the lights, and order a pizza. Remember, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

netflixThe Netflix Switch is a relatively simple device powered by a Particle Core, an Arduino-compatible development board with on-board WiFi. Also in this box is a LiPo battery, a few LEDs, and an IR transmitter that will send the same IR signal as the Netflix button on your TV remote, should your remote have a Netflix button.

In an unprecedented break from reality, this astute corporate branding of electronics tinkering also has design files, schematics, and real instructions that come along with it. Netflix released all of the mechanical files for their switch in Solidworks format; for the low, low price of only $4000 per Solidworks license, you too can Netflix and Chill.

Although Netflix’ implementation of tapping into a DIY electronics movement that has been around for 100 years is lacking, the spirit of the build is laudable. A single button connected to the Internet is a universal tool, and whether you want to order a pizza or make a ‘do not disturb’ button for your phone, the only limitation for the Netflix and Chill button is your imagination.

Better TV Via Hacking

Smart TVs are just dumb TVs with a computer and a network connection, right? In a variation of rule 34, if it has a computer in it, someone will hack it. When [smarttvhacker] bought a Sony 48 inch smart TV, he noticed all the software licenses listed in the manual and realized that was a big leg up into hacking the TV.

We don’t have a comparable Sony model, but [smarttvhacker’s] post is a veritable travel log of his journey from TV viewer to TV ruler. By analyzing everything from network port scans to a dump of a firmware upgrade, he wound up being able to install a telnet server.

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3D Printed Mini Vectrex

With the more common availability of 3D printers, making miniature models of retro computer and video game gear is one way to nerd out and not fill the house up. [Jason] was looking around and noticed that no one has modeled the Vectrex video game system and stepped right in to fill the void with a working 3d printed miniature model of the unique early 80’s video game system.

For those who don’t live and breathe retro game systems, the Vectrex is a 1982 8 bit game machine unique in the fact that it comes with its own monochrome vector graphics CRT in the console. [Jasons] model features a 2.2 inch LCD with a SPI interface.

Emulation is powered by a VoCore SBC sporting a 360Mhz MIPS CPU and a modest 32 megs of ram, which is more than enough to handle the 8 bit math and wireframe graphics. The emulator used is a port 0f VECX with the display rerouted to the LCD screen instead of using standard SDL interfaces.

The case was modeled in Sketchup, and the whole lot is powered by a 3v3 lipo battery.  Join us after the break for a quick video of the mini model running the introduction to “Mine Storm” which was the onboard game original to the machine.

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Millions of Satellite Receivers are Low-Hanging Fruit for Botnets

Satellite television is prevalent in Europe and Northern Africa. This is delivered through a Set Top Box (STB) which uses a card reader to decode the scrambled satellite signals. You need to buy a card if you want to watch. But you know how people like to get something for nothing. This is being exploited by hackers and the result is millions of these Set Top Boxes just waiting to form into botnets.

This was the topic of [Sofiane Talmat’s] talk at DEF CON 23. He also gave this talk earlier in the week at BlackHat and has published his slides (PDF).

stb-hardwareThe Hardware in Satellite receivers is running Linux. They use a card reader to pull in a Code Word (CW) which decodes the signal coming in through the satellite radio.

An entire black market has grown up around these Code Words. Instead of purchasing a valid card, people are installing plugins from the Internet which cause the system to phone into a server which will supply valid Code Words. This is known as “card sharing”.

On the user side of things this just works; the user watches TV for free. It might cause more crashes than normal, but the stock software is buggy anyway so this isn’t a major regression. The problem is that now these people have exposed a network-connected Linux box to the Internet and installed non-verified code from unreputable sources to run on the thing.

[Sofiane] demonstrated how little you need to know about this system to create a botnet:

  • Build a plugin in C/C++
  • Host a card-sharing server
  • Botnet victims come to you (profit)

It is literally that easy. The toolchain to compile the STLinux binaries (gcc) is available in the Linux repos. The STB will look for a “bin” directory on a USB thumb drive at boot time, the binary in that folder will be automatically installed. Since the user is getting free TV they voluntarily install this malware.

Click through for more on the STB Hacks.

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