Hackit: DTV converter boxes?


An anonymous Slashdot reader asked today what was the best digital television to analog converter box. He was looking for one with the best hacking potential. We actually purchased a Zenith DTT900 HD converter box this summer specifically wondering about the hacking potential. We did a teardown and you can find a full gallery on Flickr. Our conclusion was this: there’s not much there. You’re talking about a box that takes a digital RF signal and turns it into a crappier looking analog signal over composite. There isn’t much you can do outside of its designed use. Do you have any ideas what else can be done with it?

Slashdot commenter [timeOday] did mention a Tivax brand box that features a serial port. You can use it to issue remote commands to the box.

Not much has been said about the actual coupons. We’ve got a scan of them embedded below. The $40 coupons are essentially credit cards. We ran ours through a magstripe reader confirming this. Even though the card isn’t stamped with the recipient’s name, it is stored on the magstripe.


65 thoughts on “Hackit: DTV converter boxes?

  1. Hey Paul,
    The only reason for the converters and the coupons is for those people that you refer to as m/fkrs. When the government tried to stimulate television manufacturing in the US, Japanese televisions sold for less, lasted longer, and the Japanese were broadcasting NTSC based HDTV. The government decided to reject the Japanese system and allow US manufacturers to develop an incompatible system. Because of the incompatibility, the government was forced to either give the coupons rather than alienate a large constituency by taking away their TVs. The program was never intended for distributing HD tuners for people who bought HDTVs. The loss of manufacturing in the US has made the conversion to DTV a great stimulus to the Chinese economy.

  2. I don’t believe anyone has addressed the question, looking for tech/hack savy:

    My cable company transmits both analog and digital. Can any of these be used to pick up some of the digital channels? Can any be modified to be able to do so?

  3. Greetings,
    I have 7 old CRT TVs wired on the cable system over the years. I bought a DTV converter with my gov.coupon. The first thing I did was connect it to the cable to see if it would work with the cable’s Digital Signal. It did NOT.
    As I understand it, my cable system puts the digital signals in the UHF band. I wonder if an old fashioned UHF to VHF block converter would bring those UHF cable signals down so that the DTV converter could tune them in. Just to save the cable rental $ for those bedroom TVs. If I find my old unit I will try that.

  4. is there any way to tap the MPEG 2 signal after its tuned and before its converted to analog and send that to something like a DVR thru FireWire or to a DV Camera thru firewire? that would be a great way to time shift shows and watch them on your terms.

    Any ideas on which DTV boxes have the most potential with this?

  5. Funny.. I’m reading this 2 years later; guess what – my cable company has finally switched everything over to digital – I still have an old analog TV, and even though I got a couple converter boxes a while ago, they didn’t give us enough boxes for all the TV’s.. so now, as of March 1st my tv only picks up the first 23 channels, and out of those 23 channels they managed to squeeze in channel 70 (which is now the cable companies full time advertising channel) and channel 98,99 (which are both home shopping network channels) funny how it works huh?

    anyway looking back and reading through all of this stuff now is really opening my mind into the way all of the stuff works – I actually came across a video where a guy simply ripped a DSL filter open and used the filter to convert the digital signal to analog – no clue if this actually works or not, but that’s what got me doing research.

  6. The RCA DTA-800 has a spot for an S-Video jack. Poke around the web and you can find out what other parts you’ll need aside from the connector.

    IIRC, that RCA model is also dead easy to convert to 12 volt because it has a separate power supply inside that outputs 12 volts. Simply disconnect the PS internally and wire up a connector on the back panel. If you want to get fancy, install a switching jack to automatically reconnect the AC/DC board when the external DC is disconnected.

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