Presenting Hackit – Got A Better Idea?

I came back from a quick road trip with a trunk full of hackable hardware. After grabbing a little caffeine this morning, I thought we’d try something different for those slow Sundays. I’m going to come up some interesting hacking kit, point out a few classic hacks for it, and challenge you guys to come up with something better. Every so often, we’ll be sending some of said hardware to the most worthy of commenters. Read on to check out our first ‘Hackit’ challenge.

Let’s start things off with a classic: The TiVo. TiVos got some major interest as soon as the words ‘Linux’ and ‘TiVo’ were uttered together. The hacking scene for the hardware has some odd quirks. Pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about hacking them is buried in the forums at deal database. Most of the hacks are geared toward video extraction or adding features like networking or on screen caller ID.
Today, older TiVo’s are dirt cheap. Just about every sattelite/cable/fiber company will provide a DVR for a small fee. So, what can we do with all that nice, integrated video hardware? Make a cheap disguised file server? Roll your own security DVR? Use them to stream video feeds from inexpensive cameras? Re-work the faster one’s into networked media players? Or is there a better way to slave them into a MythTV network? (I’ve never been into the latter since my local cable is junk and the dual tuner sattelite units are cheaper per tuner.)

So, got a better idea? Lets hear it.

55 thoughts on “Presenting Hackit – Got A Better Idea?

  1. Rig the tivo to record security footage from a remote camera (front door for instance, with a motion sensor to turn the camera on), then stream it on demand over a web interface I can grab from my cellphone. I could check from work or on the road to see if a package was delivered, or if someone is trying to break in (or if my wife’s lover came to visit). Since it only records when there is motion, you could store (theoretically) a years worth of video. The web interface would show a still frame and time stamp from each clip so you could choose which to stream or download.

  2. this is a very interesting idea. could inspire some very cool projects…

    i’m thinking more on the lines of the [probably good quality] integrated tv tuner, and the fact that its in a small, cheap linux device. if you can control the tuning frequency by software with good enough precision and a wide enough selectable bandwidth, you could make it into a software-defined radio, an oscilloscope, or a spectrum analyzer.

    then again, i’ve also just been really interested in exploring the radio spectrum recently… could lead to some interesting discoveries, especially in large cities with lots of legacy radio systems in use ;)

    i wonder if there is an alternative use for any of the other chips in there–maybe harnessing the MPEG2 encoder for other calculations or something (doubt it’d work)

    could be useful as a car media (& security) system. in the spirit of the darpa urban challenge, this thing has got everything you need except a lot of cpu power…

    more info on whats inside the tivo can be found here (first result on google):

  3. i know from spending too much of my life working for telcos and cabcos that a lot of older model dcts and dvrs give off a lot of radio noise. some rental boxes from the last place i worked were even listed as class a under the fcc. while i’m sure there’s better uses for a dvr, a directional radio jammer would be nifty (and probably illegal, so don’t forget the disclaimer).

  4. This seems to be a retort to the little USB blinking led post previous to this. Personally I’m laughing about it and I’m going to sit here and watch this.

    Its great to see someone put there foot into there mouth when something like this comes up.

    Let the games begin!

  5. it’s too bad that the processor is so low end. Seems to kill any use for render farm or cluster type set ups. If you could convince the MPEG2 decoder to encode video that might make up for some of it and one could make them into a video processing farm, but overally, it sounds like it would be more work to get it to do this then they’d be worth outside of “because I can”.

    Once networking capabilities are hacked in though, you’d probably have enough power to set up a small web server though. Through a couple together into a cluster and maybe another to handle some load balancing and you’d most likely have a decent enough server to handle an internal (intranet) web site for a small business. Not something you’d be running WebSphere and DB2 on, but a good enough server.

    Course, that seems like such an obvious idea, I’d either expect someone to already have done it (I haven’t followed the Tivo community) or thought of it and pointed out the problems with doing it. Hopefully, mentioning it will help someone think of something else though. :D

  6. I wonder how difficult it would be to increase the processors speed?

    I don’t own a tivo (I just use my com) but I’d bet if you beefed up the heatsinks you could overclock it to some extent.

    Now that I think about it though, changing the processor speed might induce timing or syncing issues…

    Personally though, if I had a tivo I’d set it up as an lan controllable media player and connect it to a centralized stereo system.

  7. I’m not sure that this would even be possible, but if you were able to grab an old series 1 that did not require the sub to actually be able to record (without the guide) anyway if XBMC could be integrated into it as well to be both a DVR and a true media center that would make it easily one of the best things out there.

  8. Add one to your car or RV.
    Along with creating an in vehicle media server, could be great for security or insurance purposes.
    -Add front/rear/side camera(s), then record in a loop whenever keyed ignition switch is on. Use to dispute traffic tickets, accident insurance claims; or keep tabs on your teenage driver, cheating spouse, or person that you lent the car to.
    -Add interior camera(s) and a microphone. Program it to go into a low-power standby mode whenever keyed ignition switch is off. Interface with vehicle’s security system, or door pin switches, or vibration detector to trigger “wake-up” through IR remote control signals or front panel switches. Use it to supply the cops with video of the prick that stole your stereo, the prick that stole your car, the person who keyed your paint, the person who rammed into your car while parked, or the prankster who put tuna into your defroster or fresh air inlet vent.

    Other ideas:
    -Could also be great as a datalogger for engine tuning/racing purposes.
    -Add wireless network access point. Use as file server for backup of work when traveling or vacation photos.
    -Create a terminal for kids to play games while travelling.

    Ideally, you’d make a custom power supply to work directly off of the 12-14VDC power system.

  9. Using a newer tivo, one could conceivable form an entire PC with a small linux-based OS, a web browser and google. Similar to the new gOs, one would try to offload as much of the storage/computing offhand, leaving you with a delicious, cheap, and useful “WebTV”. HDTV may also be used for a higher resolution, creating a more natural feel for normal PC users.

  10. make a tivo that doesn’t require tivo’s service to run – provide it an rss feed of guide information, and let it run, as a tivo does, from that information, independent of tivo inc.

  11. stenography real cable video feeds in a way that is only detectable by using a very specific filter on board a camera watching the tv (every 100 or so pixel is the stenography data and not part of the cable feed or so)

    who will think on looking for stenography in a live feed? its the perfect hiding place

  12. ok … i saw this really cool thing for some ort of media player the other day that acts like a dvr for your media player. but who wants to pay more than 100 dollars (i cant remember the exact amount) for that media player, what i you put linux on it and synced it to an old computer you have laying around do that all you tv shows are directly transferred to your media player and all you have to d ois pick it up on your way out.

  13. The prank idea could be taken a step further, like a TV sitcom I saw where they record the winning lottery numbers, and you buy a ticket with the old numbers on it, and make the viewer think they won the lottery! hehe

    #2 would be a security system, like a prevoius guy said, but mount it in your car, so it’s constantly recording you (or kids/wife) when you drive. If there’s a wreck, you have video of (presumably) the OTHER guy doing something illegal, or see how your teen drives when they’re alone, or see where your wife is going when you’re gone.

  14. You could use it to monitor router or server logs. My webserver has no keyboard or monitor, so I have to use a serial connector to get any access to it. Almost never do I need the keyboard though. If at all possible, it would be interesting to “broadcast” a video feed of the access logs to a tivo, but only when they change. Thus, I would theoretically have a single video feed stored on a tivo that would be constantly scrolling (since it would only add new frames when the logs update), but I could pause/rewind/fast-forward to sort through the log looking for things such as attempted attacks and where they come from, and all from the comfort of my living room.

  15. I have three TVs in my house, it would be nice to have a streaming box connected to each TV so i can control what stream i want to see. The source could come from any box and be viewed on any TV. In my case the source would be one of my two computers or the TV-feed.

  16. Working with/for a doctor’s office, we’ve always wanted a way to display information onto the waiting room video screens (Yes, TVs… but the “1984” way sounded cooler) I’m imagining a passive/pass through video thing that will let normal cable tv through, but when we want to run our PSA, all the TVs will switch to show what we want them to…

    Also, be able to show disney movies on the TVs but have them stored on a network computer.

    Lastly, if you’re Tivo is IN your car, and your car gets stolen… wouldn’t it be kinda pointless? or are you thinking about a)streaming it off-site or b)post-recovery…

  17. program the tivo with a personality, then build a puppy-cyborg that barks and records your favorite shows. you could stream the dogs thoughts and what it currently sees over the net

  18. purchase (or make) a small volt reader and use it to monitor voltage ratings comming of your gen/solar pannels. or monitor voltage usage by your (insert electronic device here).

  19. Why not use one as a home automation controller. A basic interface is all that you need to configure it with, so a remote should work fine for that. I2C or similar would be more then adequet for communications to all of the devices and should be easy to rig in. And I would think that you could simply use it as a pass through so that when you aren’t playing with your home configuration it just routes the regular TV signal through it so you don’t lose a set of video drops on your display. Shouldn’t need much processing power or storage so any old Tivo unit would work.

  20. Well, you could mount it on a chassis and use it as a brain for a robot; with several, you could build a “swarm”. Attach a vacuum cleaner/swiffer, and you have a Tivoomba.

  21. Instead of network this or linux that, what about this clever little hack. Using a Tivo to record a tv program, and watch it when you want at a later time. Oh, wait. Who does that?

  22. Use it for both recording Normal TV coming in but add a bittorrent interface. It gives you a place to grab and store video content(movies and TV… foreign broadcast items) without a luggy PC. You make sure it is networked to the rest of the house so that all the machines can act a terminals and stream both TV’s and movies. It will help to add more disc space of course but Black Friday is only days away and you know damn well I am going to be grabbing the killer drive deals.

  23. I think that the idea of modding the tivo is great. there sre still some problems with the tivo (lack of cpu power.)
    recieantly I have been messing around with xbox linux. my idea is to run the systems together as a pair, the tivo could function as a coax in/out and the xbox could do all the core prossing work. an added bonus is that both systems are easly moddified.

  24. I work for a student radio station and we use a Tivo to record CCTV footage. We also put as the audio track the audio from our broadcast to provide another logging system.
    Not innovative, but shows another use out there.

  25. I have never own a Tivo, but I would assume that you could use it as a MAME arcade of some sort. If you get MythTV working on it, you could convert it to an all in one unit (Multimedia and games). This way if you have kids, a system that plays games and media for every room is not only possible, but save the warranties of your Playstations.

  26. They can correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe that this is more of just a mental excercise type thing and not a “US only challenge”. He’s just saying “hey, here is this piece of tech that has been tweaked in the past. This is what others have done with it. Can you think of something better?”

    Whether the tech is available to you or not in your country shouldn’t matter since we’re just tossing ideas around. In this case specifically, you’ve got a box which contains storage (hard drives), a basic processor, and video decoding capabilities. Just based on that information you should be able to think of ways to use those components without ever having to have a Tivo in your hands to play with.

    The box was originally used for subscription based media recording and play back (and has any hardware needed to achieve that). So you have storage, basic processing capabilites, a TV tuner, and mpeg2 decoding. Networking in some form is either there already or has been added ot the system. Linux has been ported to it in some form. What can you do with that?

    Using ideas people have posted already:

    Pushing networking and bitorrent onto it, you can fake the subscription service that you currently pay for by having the box find torrents related to what you normally watch. This is a neat idea because it lets you break away from their services if you like the hardware but don’t want to pay a mountly fee or you want to use different algorithms to find new shows you might like based on what you watch already (one of Tivo’s services)

    The web conferencing thing is a great idea because the hardware you are adding (networking, microphone, and web cam) isn’t terribly complex, but it’s a fairly different use of the box compared to it’s original intent.

    To show my bias, I also really like my home automation idea just because it strikes me as a completely different use from what everyone else is thinking about for the thing. I’ve never used a Tivo specifically before in my life. I might not have a great grasp on what it’s hardware can do, but I can still think about how to use it in other ways? I might be completely wrong on how capable it is, but if so, at least my idea might inspire someone else to think of something that would work.

    Make sense? Don’t look at this as “OMG, he has a prize I can win.” His post doesn’t even say a prize is going to be given out, just that they might send out some hard ware if they see something really inspired in the comments. Just brainstorm and enjoy the challenge. If you are running the race for the golden apple at the end, you’re missing the fun of the race.

  27. >>> I have never own a Tivo, but I would assume that you could use it as a MAME arcade of some sort. If you get MythTV working on it, you could convert it to an all in one unit (Multimedia and games). This way if you have kids, a system that plays games and media for every room is not only possible, but save the warranties of your Playstations.

  28. This is what I get for not double checking my comment before confirming

    *** I have never own a Tivo, but I would assume that you could use it as a MAME arcade of some sort. If you get MythTV working on it, you could convert it to an all in one unit (Multimedia and games). This way if you have kids, a system that plays games and media for every room is not only possible, but save the warranties of your Playstations. ***

    I like this idea. But does the TIVO have USB plugs already? and if not, have they been added by others already? I’m wondering how the controllers would be plugged in.

  29. Depending on the model and power, you might be able to create a voice activated MythTV box using a mic and a mini-linux distro. I imagine it would take some software hacking, but you could logically extend it to allow you to simply say “TV On, Football Game.” Or maybe “TV On, Football Game, Colts.”

  30. You could use it to create a 3d hologram using multiple projectors all connected to the same one, except showing images in different angles to give the impression that the image is in 3d

  31. to #38, um, i don’t see how that would be possible uless you were just going the red/green glasses route, in which case only one projector would be necisary.

    As for the mame idea, why not just use a modded xbox with a couple of emulators and xbmc? It comes with (nice) controllers, its cheaper, its got a well supported Ethernet interface, the softwares as good or better, and it can store and play xbox games to boot.

  32. I liked blind’s idea about home automation, but why not add time/weather widgets, along with digital photoframe capabilities. You could also include some light media slinging and voila, you have a very fancy alarm clock. I would love to have something where I could send a movie to a monitor right next to my bed so I could finish watching it right before I go to sleep.

  33. perhaps use it as a karaoke machine.
    save simple cd+g files to the hard drive and play back. a simple hack to incorporate a microphone into the audio feed. this could also work with some of the other webcam ideas to make your self part of the music video.
    Depending on the unit it might not work. does Tivo have optical out, digital out , or analog? I am from Canada so I do not know.

  34. *** I liked blind’s idea about home automation, but why not add time/weather widgets, ***

    I like that with respect to the home automation idea. I mean, assume it can be set up for home automation; lights are a given, but I’d also home for some thermostat control. If we add in weather checking capabilities, be it a local weather station attached to the house or an online resource, and ideally, some controls over the windows (open/close type of thing) we could control the thermostat in a far more intellegently way. Combined with time based settings we could program some brilliant enviromental controls.

    To describe a scenario, say you want your home at roughly 76 degrees farenhiet. If it’s 80 degrees out but it’s the middle of the day and you are expected to be at work, it turns off the A/C and opens up the windows and maybe enables an exhaust fan in the attic. Around 4:30 it shuts the windows and turns on the A/C to dry out the air if it’s humid so you come home to a nice cool home. Around 10~11 it drops the temperature a few degrees for when you go to bed and around 6AM it starts warming up the home for when you wake. If it’s adequetly warm out it opens windows so you are awaking to the fresh air.

    Again, nothing that requires all that much in the way of processessing power and shouldn’t need more then some basic communication added into the Tvio if what’s there won’t work well enough.

    I wonder how much motors and sensors to control the opening of my windows would cost….

  35. >>>>As for the mame idea, why not just use a modded xbox with a couple of emulators and xbmc? It comes with (nice) controllers, its cheaper, its got a well supported Ethernet interface, the softwares as good or better, and it can store and play xbox games to boot.

    You can get old Tivos for round $30 – $50 for modding, and Xbox cost an average of $50 – 90 plus the cost of a mod chip. The Tivo doesn’t require a lot of modding to get to a shell as the xbox does and has USB plugs on the series 2 tivos. Although you are very right about the networking as that was missing from Tivo for a while. Plus the idea of the post is to come up with ideas for Tivo, not the Xbox.

  36. As a video-jukebox device for your home theatre system.

    You could download and sort the “official” music videos to play during a party. Or port one the visualization packages to just add trippy video to your MP3s.

    Actually, what I’d really like to see are “tweaked” visualizations. Before-hand you help the visualization package “learn” a song, by indicating beats and cresendos and such. That way during the party you know the visualizations are going to be dead on with the music.

    Who, me? Use drugs?

  37. I think the tivo’s place is still in the living room but with the switch HD, series 1 and 2 are useless. So here is what I propose all of the following:

    1. Universal remote. Choose the remote you actually like and program the TIVO to translate the IR codes to control your other devices. (No more universal remotes) Complete with on-screen-display.

    2. Automated home control.

    3. Automated antenna switching. I use four antenna sources for my OTA signals. The Tivo could automatically switch to different antenna sources based on the channel you are on on the TV. (it will listen to your TV remote – see above)

    4. Audio monitor. Mute loud commercials.

    5. Favorite program switcher. – Put your TV on the right channel based on your “favorites” schedule.

  38. After browsing the “Deal Database” forums, it looks like the Tivo
    isn’t an ideal platform for much at all. Current development doesn’t
    give you much beyond accessing recorded media. Regardless, the
    hardware isn’t that exciting to begin with. It seems that that a
    low-power (Pentium IIish) and small form factor PC could provide you
    with unlimited capabilities with none of the hassle of hacking the
    Tivo, for not much more money.

    However, the Tivo’s case could be used to house a hard drive and
    motherboard with on-bord networking, video, and USB.

    I’m all for extending the capabilites of hardware that you currently
    use and own, but the Tivo doesn’t seem like something worth the time
    and effort to do anything more than its originally intended purpose.

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