Tricking An IPod Into Trusting Your Dock

[Thijs] has an iPod dock with an LCD display in it that allows you to watch videos without having to squint quite as much. Unfortunately, the iPod classic wouldn’t play videos on it because it’s not an Apple approved product. He figured out that an authentication chip is included in docks and cables that Apple has approved and set out to retrofit his device with one. He pulled the PCB, authentication chip included, out of a $5 cable from Deal Extreme and wired it up to the PCB on his dock. Voila, the dock now plays video.

This is a nice hack but it’s also just silly. You paid for the iPod, you paid for the music and videos (right?), and you paid for the dock. Why can’t they all talk to each other without authentication?

72 thoughts on “Tricking An IPod Into Trusting Your Dock

  1. The reasoning on the lockout (and I use the term loosely) as I understand it is to limit potential copyright issues from video content on iTunes. Video content from iTunes is only licensed for personal use on your device, so limiting which devices the iPod will output video too makes it seem like Apple is at least attempting to limit people from connecting their iPods up to a projector and treating their neighborhood to copyrighted works.

    That being said, I would be interested in a more technical look at what the Apple chip actually does, since by the looks of it there can’t be a whole lot to their lockout scheme (especially considering they managed to clone it for $5).

    Essentially the same concept as HDCP, anyone with the skills will still be able to circumvent it and do what they want, but it makes the studios happy to have the technology.

  2. I’ve given Apple their last chance after my new Nano refuses to work with my existing peripherals for simple tasks like charging. If Apple honestly expects that I’m going to re-buy things like proprietary car adapters because they make revisions to the hardware just to force me to re-buy things, they can play that game with some other sucker.

  3. This type of stuff amazes me why the iPod has as much market share as it does. Realistically it isn’t a very good product, locked down outputs, low compatibility with nonstandard formats, App-store approval requirements, etc. I can see why people who don’t care about technical details would buy them but I’d rather buy something that doesn’t try to lock me out of data, even if it doesn’t have the iTunes store behind it (I don’t plan on paying for download content any time soon, I either torrent or rip it from DVD’s, if I pay for it I want a hard copy). I’d like to see a competing device that is DRM, protection, lockout free and supports more formats while still having a good dock system like the iPod.

  4. A lot of apple’s stuff makes sense when you look at it from a point of reducing user error. If apple controls the peripheral market then they don’t have to worry about filling as many warranty repairs resulting from cheap after market docks. If apple controls the software installed on their system very closely then the amount of errors caused by poorly written or conflicting software goes down.

    I own an ipod touch and I couldn’t love it more, it’s one of the best purchases I’ve ever made. I am actually astounded by how clever apple is when it comes to ensuring a working product.

  5. “The reasoning on the lockout (and I use the term loosely) as I understand it is to limit potential copyright issues from video content on iTunes.”

    Horseshit. The reasoning for the lockout is for Apple’s outrageous fees to vendors to sell approved products.

  6. Apple products _used_ to be quality. Not anymore. I have a third and fourth generation iPod that are still fully functional. I have a touch that lasted less than a year before the hardware started failing. My girlfriends iPhones have also generally lasted a year or two before becoming essentially useless. Yet she too still has many older iPods, even a first generation, that are still in full working order.

    Oh and don’t even get me started on how they’re _just now_ taking technology that I had on MP3 players in 2001 and pretending it’s some brand new revolutionary idea. They’re nearly a decade behind the curve, but for some reason people still think they’re ahead of it.

  7. @CalcProgrammer1

    Part of the reason it has the market share it does is because it generally has a limited but easy to use feature set that integrates well with the rest of the Apple product ecosystem.

    My mom could never figure out how to get her Sandisk mp3 player to work even though I thought it was much simpler to setup (The thing was a UI nightmare however). Since she now uses iTunes she doesn’t have to worry where the content comes from or how to transfer it. Apple is very restrictive in this process to make it easy for people like her to do this.

    Most people don’t care about “locked down outputs, low compatibility with nonstandard formats, App-store approval requirements, etc.”

    It plays MP3s and AAC which is what most non-technical people use. You can walk into pretty much any retail store and buy a cable or dock for the thing which is convenient for most people. The vast majority of people aren’t phased by the app store and find it convenient to have one place to get everything, even if Apple has more control over it than us in the Tech work would like.

    Apple isn’t making devices for people who like to tinker and play every format under the Sun. By limiting the features of a device to just what is needed, Apple can spend a ton of time polishing the device and make it as easy and pretty as possible.

    “I’d like to see a competing device that is DRM, protection, lockout free and supports more formats while still having a good dock system like the iPod.”

    There are tons of MP3 players out there that fit most of these requirements. I’m not sure about “good dock systems” but I remember having a dock for my Creative Zen back in the day, so they must exist.

  8. You people need to get off your high horse here, this isn’t about Apple trying to squeeze more money out of people. This is about protecting their brand.

    Requiring the handshake to be done allows Apple to vet the peripherals before they make it to market. So they get to test out the devices and make sure they are of at least a minimum standard of quality. It is the same reasoning behind the App Store.

    You can complain about your right to do what you please with your hardware, but if you expect it to all be done for you I’d say you have missed the point of a site like this one. Hackers are not a viable market segment, by definition a device will never be good enough for us. So Apple is doing the sensible thing and making the experience for the rest of the people better.

  9. Fuck Apple.

    I’ve steered clear of Apple products for as much as I can, my first HD mp3 player was an iRiver H140 which I still use to this day, almost every day for the past 5+ years, as it JUST WORKS, no need for proprietary cables or software to charge it or put songs on it & a full function LCD remote control (which is a godsend when I’m cycling). I liked it so much in the first year I bought enough broken units on eBay to make up another working H140 as a backup (which actually hasn’t been needed), along with a complete H120 & other parts that I sold back on eBay to recoup the costs, making the 2nd H140 ‘free’.

    A year or so back a friend was selling a 4GB iPod Nano 2nd gen cheap so out of curiosity I bought it, found 3rd party software to put music onto it because I didn’t want to have to install iTunes, but had to so I could get the 3rd party software to work with the iPod. I installed iTunes on my laptop & got the iPod ‘working’, the install force installed QuickTime (which I CANNOT STAND).
    After getting the 3rd party software working with the iPod I uninstalled iTunes & then QuickTime – this killed the wifi drivers on the Asus Eee, it took TWO re-installs of the wifi drivers to get it working again, and now everytime I take the laptop out of StandBy one of the background Asus programs for accessing the laptop’s specific hardware crashes.

    The iPod now sits permanently blu-tacked to my monitor as a reminder to never be curious about Apple products ever again. Oh and the sound quality is nowhere near my iRiver H140.

  10. i dont see why apple would not want analog video playing from the ipods.

    if they are trying to prevent using the analog hole to strip the drm from movies like rentals all they have to do is make it so there is no analog out at all forcing you to squint.

    as it stands you can get the $5 cable and connect to your computer video digitizer or vcr or dvd recorder for your tv so the protection is ineffective.

  11. @Mikael: “It plays MP3s and AAC which is what most non-technical people use.” It doesn’t, however, play WMA, which everything else does (it’s also the default rip format for Windows Media Player). It’s the only device I know of that doesn’t, for that matter.

    Mine’s the one with the Zen Xtra in the pocket. :-)

  12. as for vetting the devices, just make it a requirement for the ability to use the apple’s logos and names via trademarks. Reguardless it would be interesting to sniff it’s interaction with the iPod. Or you know you could just not buy a iPod/iPhone/etc, I hear IRiver makes some nice stuff.

  13. Several months ago while I was trying to find out why my iPhone 3GS is not being charged by a battery pack, I located information about how to set certain pins on the connector to make the iPhone recognize the particular charging device. So, are you guys saying there is a chip now? Or is it still use those different voltage divider resistors to figure out what the device is? If it is the latter, it is not very difficult to hack it.

  14. @Urza9814

    What idea exactly are you talking about when you say:
    Oh and don’t even get me started on how they’re _just now_ taking technology that I had on MP3 players in 2001 and pretending it’s some brand new revolutionary idea.

    Certainly your not referring to the features of the iPod Touch/iPhone, because I know certainly your mp3 player from 2001 did not have the same feature set, unless of course you were calling your laptop a mp3 player and lugging it around in your pocket, than by all means, your correct.

  15. The chips in cables, and ipods that required those chips, only came from the ipods that could show movie rentals. Apple is a business and their aim is to make money, but keeping in mind that they also have to give in to demands by movie studios, it is not fair to just assume this is Apple being evil.

    And to the anon who blamed Apple for an old charger not being able to charge their new Nano: bullshit. There is no lockout on charging or any other accessory other than video. The only reason charging might not work is if you are using an old charger that uses the firewire pins and not USB pins.

  16. Concino: iPod touches and iPhones require a little bit of voltage over the two data pins on USB, which are supposed to tell the iPhone that the amperage is correct (iirc). It has to do with how the iPhone can charge the battery and power itself at the same time, without hurting how long the charge takes.

    You can actually get a little inline male-usb to female-usb adapter that will do this for like $5, or make one.

    It sounds like your battery pack is going directly to a dock connector, so in your case I would just pop it open and add 4 resistors that do the job. I forget which values, but if you google it there are a few instructions that show you what to do. It’s very easy and I’ve done it myself.



    seriously, there hasn’t been one comment about the hack itself. shut up unless you’ve got something new to say worth reading (and since it appears you have nothing worth reading, just shut up)

  18. “firewire pins and not USB pins.”

    Apple warned the vendors that they were phasing out the firewire pins (even though it was a stupid idea) and they should not have been designed that way.

    BUT firewire provides higher voltage and more current, if I remember right, so things charged faster, as well as perhaps having better voltage regulation onboard the iPod.

    It is very likely that this is the reason your old charger won’t work. Complain at the manufacturer for not allowing it to charge on either set of pins.

  19. I wish apple would finally make an ipod that has an SD card slot. You would think that after almost 10 years ipods would have SD slots, but they don’t. If Apple decides to ever do something like they they’d probably use their own proprietary flash cards and of course they would cost an arm and a leg for barely any space.

  20. Props to [Thijs] for implementing an idea that I had and never acted on. And for finding a working $5 iPhone compatible video cable for me!
    Hey, I’ve been busy with other things.

  21. My first and my only apple was an “apple IIe”, for just these reasons stated above. Apple makes a good product, but they insist that their customers be apple loyalists. I insist that apple wash my weenie.

  22. @Lambda_drive: I doubt we will ever see an ipod or iphone with external storage, it really doesn’t fit Apples design philosophy. Also, from a business point of view it doesn’t really help them either since upgrading storage is much easier then. Love it or hate it, that’s how Apple does things.

  23. @Pyrofallout

    No, I’m talking about the new features of the newest nano. Things like FM radio (can you _record_ from radio? They had that in MP3 players at least 5 years ago). Things like being able to take pictures and video. I had that on my MP3 player in 2001, and for 2001 it was a pretty decent camera – for 2010, the nano’s camera is pretty crappy. Oh, and even back then they managed to figure out a more ergonomic way to hold the damn thing while using the camera. Hell, things like flash memory even, which was how most of the very earliest MP3 players worked, was somehow some huge revolution when the nano came out. Oh, and do they have custom equalizers yet? Because I had those on MP3 players back about 10 years ago too.

    Pretty soon they’ll be selling a nano that uses an SD card and talking about how it’s _absolutely amazing_ that you can _change your entire library_ just by switching cards!

    The only new feature Apple has ever put on one of their iPods is the scroll wheel – and possibly the touch screen, though I think those may have been done before too. They weren’t the first with a hard drive MP3 player, they weren’t the first with flash memory, they weren’t the first with color screens, or with video, or with a camera, or with radio, or with tiny MP3 players, or with tiny MP3 players without a screen, or with that music library navigation system (I had MP3 players before the iPod that not only created a music database so you could sort by artist/album/etc, but they also did it without the use of any computer software – you dragged and dropped onto the device and then it created the database. Hell, I had CD PLAYERS with databases!), and they weren’t the first with apps. They aren’t the most durable, they aren’t the highest quality, they aren’t the cheapest, they don’t have the best UI. The _only_ thing they are good at is marketing.

  24. It would be cool if that was an i2c Eeprom chip, you can get them for pennies and then anybody could integrate these into their docks/cables.

    Or is it likely to be some sort of microcontroller?

    If it could be reversed it would be cool.

  25. I had an mobiBLU cube that could rip straight from the radio. Awesome for recording a program you really wanted to play later. Sure it had a terrible form factor that looked truly awkward in your pocket, hey, at least it worked.

    I’m booting a Creative Zen around with 4gb internal, 16gb external. Great when a friend has the same device and you can trade music ;P

    On the hack, good job! Necessity is the mother of invention. Without Apple’s mistakes, would we have so many hacks? We’d be reading more about Ards..

  26. BITCHING HIJACK: Apple should move their HQ to Google’s soon-to-be-vacant office in China. Apple & China would be a match made in heaven.

    Good (simple) hack: nice to know about the apple chips too. ;P

  27. I had to throw in my two cents, but on the first series of iPod videos, it had a way to display Video to RCA plugs WITHOUT this chip/workaround. All you needed was a 3.5mm headphone jack with a video segment (used by some camcorders for the same purpose) and it’ll output to the RCA plugs.

    Guess that made too much since though.

  28. The problem is that Apple listens to the studios. The studios aren’t tech people, they’re lawsuit addicted morons who see only money. Without distribution methods, the studios get no money, so they are constantly trying to find new distribution. Apple (having the ridiculously huge market share that they have) could have easily said NO to the studios’ pressure (Apple makes their own hardware with their own rules, it would be perfectly legal to say no) and maybe it would take longer but eventually the studios would cave in and provide their content without the DRM. They did this for music now they should have finished the job with video but instead gave in to the studios’ whining, same with all the stupid corporations who gave the studios HDCP and Blu-Ray and CSS and all the other bad technologies that have plagued distributed media in the past. If Apple’s lockout wasn’t based on the studios (very well possible since it is still possible to get analog out on any video, just with Apple’s cord) then it is another case of accessory lockout. It should be enough to say that unlicensed accessories that damage your product void your warranty, this is common (Nintendo did it for sure, they used to slap a shiny Seal of Approval on everything that they wanted you to use and people tended to buy the approved stuff). As much as Apple has moved away from DRM it’s shocking to see they still have to implement hardware DRM because their money obsession is too large.

  29. Do like me: Don’t buy apple. I have an ipod mini (second generation) and I’m planning to upgrade the HD with a 16GB CF card, a new battery and nothing else, I have no need to watch videos in hidef away from my computer or tv. And I have this ipod because a friend of mine would throw it away, so I got it for free. Don’t let big corporations do whatever they want with YOUR money, it is just not right.

  30. I understand Apple popularity in masses, people dumb and like shiny things but I just dont want to believe that most HaD readers are from those category who see only shiny cover and dont care what inside and how it work. Seriously, why smart people continue to fee this monster ? by doing this you screwing future since now Apple have balls to screw around with their customers like this but others watching and soon will do exactly same thing and we all domed then. and After so many year of Apple showing their true face how come I continue to hear that Microsoft ewil ? then Apple devil himself

  31. Pretty clever hack actually. I’d never have thought $5 Chinese knock-offs would contain the protection chip :D Does anyone know what the chip actually is ? It would be very interesting to sniff the communications.

    Regarding the “debate” in the comments : Apple products suck for the most part, and I don’t get why people buy it either, but guess what? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to buy it. Other people like to get raped in the ass? Well, it’s not your problem.

  32. Now, that’s hacking on a substantive level. Find problem, find solution that’s easy and cheap, install solution, tell friends.

    Not an apple man myself. Still use an old ZVue that I got for fathers day 5 years ago. Nice box. They upped the firmware so it’s an awful lot like th iPod, but way cheaper. Uses SD memory, so I can put in a 4Gb chip and get enough content for a vacation or for mowing the lawn easy. Guess watching a video while mowing the lawn is a bad idea though.

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