Alexa, Hack My TV

If you have an Alexa, one of the best things you can buy to go with it is a Harmony Hub remote. Sure, you get a universal remote to control all your home theater equipment, but you’ll hardly use it because the Alexa can virtually push the Harmony buttons for you. The negative word in this paragraph, though, is “buy.” The Harmony Hub isn’t inexpensive. Fortunately [Michael Higginis] has you covered. He has an ESP8266 universal remote that you can control with Alexa. You can see a video of setting the system up below.

On the one hand, the idea is fairly simple. An ESP8266 has plenty of horsepower to read and recreate IR codes. However, we were very impressed with the web portal used to configure the device and integrating it with Alexa is a neat trick.

Unlike a real Harmony Hub, however, the remote only controls IR devices. However, since the Alexa to device connection is WiFi, you probably won’t miss having an RF remote, even if you need to tuck the remote away in an enclosure somewhere.

Besides the cost, the concept that you could hack this to meet your needs is pretty seductive. If you want to be perverse, you could probably marry this with a Zenith Space Command remote. Those remotes, by the way, are mechanical and it is fun to trace the remote from its early origins to telling Alexa to turn on The Orville.


25 thoughts on “Alexa, Hack My TV

    1. Another reason to dislike them is that you are the beta tester…
      I have some Logitech mouse that are great, while some are abysmal…
      I recently bought a M720 as example and that one works great… much better than any bluetooth I had before. but on another hand I got a G9 mouse that is utter crap…. the mouse itself is nice but, when it’s get fully charged, the mouse seems to “crash” for whatever reason, the only solution is to unplug it… every time you switch from wired/wireless you loose connection for a couple of seconds, then for a couple more seconds your dpi settings are not applied. I can’t say I’m too baffled with Logitech support for the G17 keyboard I own. at work I own a logitech headset that is prone to stop working and cause all kind o issue on the pc.

      That’s logitech for you, you are the beta tester, they are capable of doing great hardware, but they frequently mess ups and these mess ups frequently goes through their internal tests…

  1. Awesome. I take it this could be modified to skip the IR step altogether and wire the ESP8266 directly into electronics one might want to control as well. Might be great for the Echo Dot digital audio output project I’m working on.

    1. Still early days, ESP32 projects are still mostly being done by quite advanced hackers as they’ve only been cheaply available for 6 months or so. Same was true of the 8266 a few years ago, but it will continue to grow.

      The ESP32 is also a very powerful for a microcontroller, people are still figuring out what to do with it.

  2. I want to see some Magnavox Phantom remote hacks. There was an early electronic version. Appears to have a metal case, rather blockish. Unknown if it was ever used for televisions or just HiFi sets.

    Poking around with google images just now, I see the original non-electric Magnavox remote had just one button and was called the Admiral Son-R. I found one image of a blockish plastic remote with a huge, horizontal rocker button. Most common is the later two button style with the rectangular, metal grille, behind which can be seen two plastic whistles.

    I also found images of a three button version, some of the insides. I’ve never found any images of any other Magnavox non-electric remote’s insides. Kind of surprising given how common images are of the two button type. I guess nobody who has one has been curious enough to open one. In my early years we had a succession of Magnavox TVs that used those remotes. A quiet *chuff* could be heard by holding the remote up to one’s ear while pushing the buttons.

    Looking at the interior pics of the three button version it looks like it operated by pulling back a plunger against a spring, then releasing it to force air through a whistle.

    Then I found some pics of another curious old Magnavox remote. It’s flat and rectangular, similar the a Zenith Space Command, but has four horizontal rocker buttons, low profile, can’t have much throw.

      1. You can play ultrasound out of your phone, so that should be a very easy hack. Download a “bat detector” to see what you are getting from the remote, then play it back on a sound board.
        Job done!

  3. Many modern televisions have a separate ‘on’ vs ‘off’ IR code. Using these, you don’t have to stay in sync with the state of the device to prevent turning it off when you mean on or vice versa. I haven’t figured out a good source to get these codes since the remote usually only spits out the toggle code. I captured mine from a Harmony Hub, but there’s got to be another way.

    1. i just make a ir blaster and open a webcam recording my tv and send every combination of code to the tv and fast forwards the video till the tv turns off and look at the code it sent at the time since it would display it on the tv before it shut off

  4. This is excellent. It especially nicely covers all the “Hello World” issues of programming the esp8266 in C. I have been playing with the nodemcu cards for a little while, and have only managed to program them in Lua, which sucks a lot of juice out of this little chip. Seeing this, I immediately went to Adafruit and bought some IR leds and receiver modules.

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