Earlier this Fall, a Samsung warehouse in South Africa was robbed and the thieves got away with a quantity of smart televisions. Samsung proceeded to implement a little-known feature called “TV Block” which is installed on all of their TV products. The serial numbers of the stolen TV sets are flagged in their servers, and if one of these sets tries to connect the internet in the future, it will recognize that it is stolen and proceed to brick itself, disabling all television functionality.
So while this real-life scenario makes sense, it is a bit alarming to realize the implication of such a feature — the manufacturer can reach into your TV and disable it from afar. One can assume that Samsung won’t abuse this capability, because acting otherwise would harm their reputation. In a press release, Samsung announced that any consumers whose sets were incorrectly bricked can have their sets un-bricked after demonstrating proper ownership.
Despite such good intentions, the mere existence of such a feature is worrisome. What someone hacks the system and begins bricking TVs all over the world willy-nilly? If you are concerned about this possibility, one option of course is to never connect your TV set to the internet. But in that case, it might be better to just buy a “dumb” television set instead.
Anti-theft immobilizers are not new — one system was patented over 100 years ago to thwart car thieves. Car stereo systems have also long featured technology that renders them unusable when stolen. Although this robbery brought Samsung’s “TV Block” to consumers’ attention, we wonder if other manufacturers have similar anti-theft systems which aren’t well publicized. If you know of any, please share in the comments below.
Samsung is causing much angst among its SmartThings customers by shutting down support for its original SmartThings home automation hub as of the end of June. These are network-connected home automation routers providing Zigbee and Z-Wave connectivity to your sensors and actuators. It’s not entirely unreasonable for manufacturers to replace aging hardware with new models. But in this case the original hubs, otherwise fully functional and up to the task, have intentionally been bricked.
Users were offered a chance to upgrade to a newer version of the hub at a discount. But the hardware isn’t being made by Samsung anymore, after they redirected their SmartThings group to focus entirely on software. With this new dedication to software, you’d be forgiven for thinking the team implemented a seamless transition plan for its loyal user base — customers who supported and built up a thriving community since the young Colorado-based SmartThings company bootstrapped itself by a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2012. Instead, Samsung seems to leave many of those users in the lurch.
There is no upgrade path for switching to a new hub, meaning that the user has to manually reconnect each sensor in the house which often involves a cryptic sequence of button presses and flashing lights (the modern equivalent of setting the time on your VCR). Soon after you re-pair all your devices, you will discover that the level of software customization and tools that you’ve relied upon for home automation has, or is about to, disappear. They’ve replaced the original SmartThings app with a new in-house app, which by all accounts significantly dumbs down the features and isn’t being well-received by the community. Another very popular tool called Groovy IDE, which allowed users to add support for third-party devices and complex automation tasks, is about to be discontinued, as well.
It’s a tragedy every time a modern smartphone is tossed into e-waste. We prefer to find another life for these bundles of useful hardware. But given all the on-board barriers erected by manufacturers, it’s impractical to repurpose smartphones without their support. A bit of good news on this front is Samsung testing the waters with a public beta of their “Galaxy Upcycling at Home” program, turning a few select devices into SmartThings sensor nodes.
More devices and functionality are promised, but this initial release is barely a shadow of what Samsung promised in 2017. Missed the announcement back then? Head over to a “How it started/How it’s going” comparison from iFixit, who minced no words starting with their title Galaxy Upcycling: How Samsung Ruined Their Best Idea in Years. They saw a bunch of Samsung engineers at Bay Area Maker Faire 2017, showing off a bunch of fun projects reusing old phones as open hardware. The placeholder GitHub repository left from that announcement still has a vision of a community of makers dreaming up novel uses. This is our jam! But sadly it has remained a placeholder for four years and, given what we see today, it is more likely to be taken down than to become reality.
The stark difference between original promise and actual results feel like an amateur Kickstarter, not something from a giant international conglomerate. Possibly for the same reason: lack of resources and expertise for execution. It’s hard to find support in a large corporate bureaucracy when there is no obvious contribution to the bottom line. Even today’s limited form has only a tenuous link of possibly helping to sell other SmartThings-enabled smart home devices.
Have you ever pulled a piece of electronics from the trash that looked like nothing was wrong with it, only to take it home and find out it really is dead? Since you’re reading Hackaday, we already know the answer. Trash picking is an honored hacker tradition, and we all know it’s a gamble every time you pull something from the curb. But when the Samsung Galaxy Tab S that [Everett] pulled from the e-waste bin wouldn’t take a charge, he decided to crack it open and see if it was really beyond repair.
The first step was using a USB power meter to see if the tablet was actually pulling any current when plugged in. With just 10 mA on the line, [Everett] knew the device wasn’t even attempting to charge itself. So his next step was to pull the battery and charge it from a bench supply. This got the tablet to wake up, and as far as he could tell, everything else worked as expected. It seemed like the only issue was a blown charging circuit.
Now at this point, [Everett] could have just gone online and bought a new motherboard for the tablet and called it a day. But where’s the fun in that? Instead, he wired up a simple charging circuit using a TP4056 IC on a scrap of flexible PCB and mounted it to a square of Kapton tape. He then used 34 AWG magnet wire to connect it between the tablet’s USB port and the battery, bypassing the tablet’s electronics entirely.
The fix worked, but there was a slight problem. Since the TP4056 only goes up to 4.2 V and the battery maxes out at 4.35 V, [Everett] says his hacked charger can only bring the tablet up to 92% capacity according to Android. But considering the alternative, we think its more than a worthy trade-off.
The problem stems from the logging system that stores user data and passes it back to Samsung over the Internet. Which data is logged and sent back is managed by an XML file which contains the policy settings that control this behaviour. According to a source known only as “Gary” “Gray”, the XML file posted on Samsung’s servers on June 18 featured a malformed list element. This caused a crash in the player’s main software routine, leading the player to reboot.
The failure was exacerbated by the fact that the XML file is parsed very early in the boot sequence, even before checking for firmware updates or a new XML file. This has prevented Samsung from rolling out an update or fix over the air, and is why the player gets stuck in a loop of continuous reboots.
Reportedly, the file can be found at this URL, though is now an updated version that shouldn’t brick players. Samsung have had to resort to a mail-in repair scheme, wherein technicians with service tools can manually remove the offending XML file from the player’s storage, allowing it to boot cleanly once again. While this shows our initial assumptions were off the mark, we’re glad to see a solution to the problem, albeit one that requires a lot of messing around.
Last Friday, thousands of owners of Samsung Blu Ray players found that their home entertainment devices would no longer boot up. While devices getting stuck in a power-cycling loop is not uncommon, this case stands out as it affected a huge range of devices all at the same time. Samsung’s support forum paints a bleak picture, with one thread on the issue stretching to 177 pages in just a week.
So what is going on, and what can be done to fix the problem? There’s a lot of conflicting information on that. Some people’s gear has started working again, others have not and there are reports of customers being told to seek in-person repair service. Let’s dive in with some wild speculation on the problem and circle back by commiserating about the woes of web-connected appliances.
Vertical video is bad, or so we’re told, and you shouldn’t shoot a video with your phone in a vertical position. Why? Because all monitors are wider than they are tall. This conventional wisdom is being challenged by none other than Samsung. There is now a vertical TV (Korean, Google Translate link) , engineered specifically videos shot on mobile phones.
“Samsung Electronics analyzed the characteristics of the Millennial generation, which is familiar with mobile content, and presented a new concept TV ‘The Sero’ (loosely translated as ‘The Vertical’), which is based on the vertical screen, unlike the conventional TV,” so goes the press release.
Features of The Sero TV include synchronization between the screen and a mobile device, and mirroring functions based on NFC. This display is no slouch in the audio department, either: it features a 4.1 channel, 60-watt high-end speaker. A built-in microphone and support for Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant means artificial intelligence can easily control various functions of the display.
The Sero will be released in Korea at the end of May, with a reported price tag of 18,900,000 South Korean Won. A quick Google search tells us that converts to an implausible-sounding $16,295 USD, but it’s not as if you were going to buy one anyway.
Nevertheless, there actually is a market for ‘vertical’ or portrait displays; thanks to the ever-widening of aspect ratios by LCD manufacturers, it makes sense to edit documents with a vertically-oriented monitor. You can fit more code on the screen if you just rotate your monitor. Apple was one of the first companies to realize this with the release of the Macintosh Portrait Display in 1989, providing a wondrous 640×870 grayscale resolution display for desktop publishing. Of course, the Radius full page display was released a few years earlier and the Xerox Alto had a vertically oriented screen. But wait a minute, can’t you just rotate your monitor and save $16k?