Useful HDMI hardware (despite the industry's best efforts) - the NeTV

2012-01-06 00:41:19 -0500

Originally posted on tumblr

Bunnie just announced that the NeTV was actually available from Adafruit. It's unusual to see a consumer product where most of the documentation is presented at a crypto hacker conference - though if that's your thing, it's also worth taking a look at the Ubertooth One, one of last year's KickStarter successes, for a similarly near-consumer device which first appeared at ShmooCon.

This device takes something that was a simple task back in the late 80's - specifically, overlaying content on a live video stream - and making it possible again, despite the modern advances that have gotten in the way. Back then, a low-end Amiga desktop computer could "genlock" (clock synchronize) with an NTSC video signal, and then overlay its own video output on it, producing a new combined NTSC signal - without the need for expensive studio hardware. (Legend has it that these machines were used for the early episodes of Babylon 5, before it had a budget...) Thirty years later, due to accumulated fear of the "analog hole", HDCP-compliant HDMI video devices perform a key exchange to confirm that both ends of the connection are promising to be limited in the way the studios desire. Turns out that, as with DVD, "crypto" isn't magic, and cheap crypto really isn't magic. The NeTV box doesn't decrypt the signal at all; after intercepting the session and helping itself to the key, it generates precisely timed, properly encrypted, replacement pixels - from any source you want, using a webkit browser as the renderer.

I think this is going to be an honestly useful gadget; Bunnie mentions obvious cases like "overlaying the televised debates with real twitter feeds instead of sanitized news-station feeds", but it would also support a bunch of the old TiVo hacks like "display caller id of that phone" or "alert me that the laundry is done" - little things that don't deserve any continuous visual space, but should just appear and go away at will.

That said, I'd bring it up here entirely out of respect for the techno-wizardry involved :-)