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Ask HN: Where is the open source smart TV firmware?
87 points by yummypaint 30 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments
These things have been on the market for many years yet there doesn't seem to be any open firmware. I want to use content recognition capability to auto-mute commercials. I want to disable all telemetry so I can trust my own device. How would the difficulty of developing such a thing compare with projects like dd-wrt?

There really isn't anything because there isn't much reason to do it beyond "because I can".

The SoCs used in smart TVs are mostly older ARM and MIPS chips with just enough power for what they need to do so it's not like a game console where it's an interesting development target.

Beyond that, by their nature TVs have inputs, so plugging in your own device that runs whatever you want is trivial, so there's no real need to get something running on that device specifically when you can shove a stick in a HDMI socket and make it do whatever.

If the telemetry and whatever are your main concern you can just not connect the TV to the internet in the first place.

>If the telemetry and whatever are your main concern you can just not connect the TV to the internet in the first place.

That's not a solution. How long until TVs refuse to work unless they can phone home? Or phone home via built-in cellular?

Nowadays is hard to buy a non-smart TV and that means consumers (almost) don't have a choice anymore. Once that happens, we're at the mercy of manufacturers and we know how much they respect user privacy.

Companies like Samsung are already pushing hard to monetize their TVs, selling ads and shoving them down users throats. Imagine what a Samsung TV + Mobile combo can do to profile users: age, sexual preferences, political views, etc would be very easy to know by the manufacturer.

Going on a rabbit hole around TV privacy, I've read some TVs could connect to a nearby wifi if it's open access, or use HDMI as others pointed out. They can also capture images and sound and send it home to "improve sevices". I'm not sure how much of the above is real vs paranoid fears, but the prospect of this scenario being standard practice in the future is both possible and scary.

Call me paranoid but to avoid some folk on the other side of the world having a list of what I watch and pictures of my family I use the 'service mode' on my Samsung TV to switch off wifi capabilities and bluetooth. I also factory reset the device every few months. I'm not even sure that protects me 100% but at least I try. Because once your data is on the wild, got knows how secure it is, and what malicious actors can do with it...

> I've read some TVs could connect to a nearby wifi

This is a myth that goes around HN as far as I can tell. Nobody's ever provided a concrete example of a specific TV model which does this. It's like the "TVs soon coming with a 5G sim" one, which people also speculate on.

> Nobody's ever provided a concrete example of a specific TV model which does this.

The only concrete claim I could found is [1] - however, I admit, there is no further proof that this claim is true.

There are interesting discussions about the topic in [2] and [3], however even there are no addition concrete examples besides [1] - so, it might be that [1] is in fact how the rumor started.

> It's like the "TVs soon coming with a 5G sim" one,

Not yet, true, but there are enough signs that make such a development credible: Built-in connectivity over which you have no control is already standard for cars. Projects like Amazon Sidewalk show that vendors are clearly thinking about taking connectivity in their own hands. A large part of the value proposition of 5G is connectivity everywhere and a supercharged internet of things.

So I see this as the most likely trajectory for the future.

See also [4].

[1] https://forum.developer.samsung.com/t/if-you-choose-to-not-c...

[2] https://old.reddit.com/r/privacy/comments/bpr6xs/if_you_choo...

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25275350

[4] https://venturebeat.com/2019/05/01/huawei-reportedly-plans-f...

>you can just not connect the TV to the internet in the first place.

Make sure you have no open WiFi around and do not connenct the TV over HDMI, since it can also provide it with the Internet.

The open WiFi thing I have yet to see any evidence of, as discussed elsewhere in this thread, and while HDMI has supported ethernet for years I legitimately have never seen a device claim to actually use it. You'd need both the TV and something it's connected to supporting it for it to become a risk.

The same wires are used for HDMI ARC, so any device supporting ARC (most TVs) inherently can't support ethernet on the same port.

So apparently we need HDMI condoms now.

While I think this is a possible future, consider how many people today have trouble connecting their TV's to their home internet, or say don't know their own wifi password.

I think it may be some time before network connectivity is required on the majority of screens.

I can imagine it happening with scattered brands here and there. The bigger concern for me would be connecting to my neighbors ring or adding one of those low bandwidth lte network cards.

My guess is, we'll just skip the "wifi required" phase and go straight to "lte/5g/ring connectivity built-in". It's already like this with cars.

I can easily image a future where it's not even advertised anymore whether your device has a cloud connection or not - you just find its behaviour has magically changed one day.

I also expect other manufacturers to follow Amazon's example and create their own "ring" networks. So your Samsung TV might connect to the neighbor's Galaxy phone which is logged into their wifi, etc...

Wow I hadn't considered other companies doing what Amazon has done with sharing home wifi. That's a really good point.

In the EU at least tying hardware functionality to account creation would be non-compliant due to GDPR (see e.g. debate around Oculus Quest which is not available for sale in Germany due to this). Not everything can be solved through technology, some problems need to be solved by legislation.

I wonder why they never used that Ethernet-over-hdmi, which is a thing for many years now. There is likely something plugged into TV using hdmi that is connected to network.

Also, I recall reading that TVs from certain manufacturers had/has bugs in them that will prevent TVs from functioning after periods of time without connection or firmware updates.

> I wonder why they never used that Ethernet-over-hdmi, which is a thing for many years now.

The same wires on the HDMI cable are used for HDMI ARC, which is far more useful to most TVs (as it allows smart TV apps to back-feed their audio to a soundbar or receiver "upstream" of the display.

This would require cooperation from whatever HDMI device is at the other end to share its own network connection over HDMI.

Interesting… so it would not simply connect another device using dhcp?

I never needed to use it and I’m not sure what was the motivation to introduce it into hdmi, but requiring cooperation would explain why it wasn’t used widely.

> Interesting… so it would not simply connect another device using dhcp?

Most devices didn't support ethernet over HDMI, and it was not something that could be passively supported.

> I never needed to use it and I’m not sure what was the motivation to introduce it into hdmi

The idea was that you could have your TV or AV Receiver connected to your normal ethernet and any other connected devices would just magically have network connectivity as well.

Turns out that most people who care to wire their home theater don't mind just using a switch to connect everything directly, and most of the world will just use WiFi if given the opportunity.

Also AFAIK it was limited to 100mbit/sec so by the time it became a thing it was already kind of obsolete.

samsung will probably have an arrangement with comcast to connect to any xfinity hotspot for ads and telemetry or something like twilio’s super sim

Quite a few years, yet.

Based on the SammyGo project - https://www.samygo.tv/ - I'd say that it's relatively difficult, I think in most cases people are inclined purely to attach a HTPC or something similar to the TV and then just use the TV as a dumb monitor.

I think we are still a few years out from having to worry about TVs that need a constant internet connection - I connect mine to the internet whenever there's a firmware update that interests me, but for the most part I leave mine disconnected from any sort of internet.

When tinkering with black box hardware you run the risk of bricking it.

I'd be a little upset if I bricked my router. If I owned a 5000$ TV and bricked that I'd be extremely, extremely upset.

I'm sure that the price point discourages tinkering.

not to mention all kinds of anti-piracy/DRM measures that are usually baked into these machines, and things like HDPC [1] that are made to make this kind of tinkering a absolute pain in the arse.

To add to that this is such a niche market that nobody really cares. It's wayyy easier to just pirate the shows you want to watch and just play them locally via HDMI.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-bandwidth_Digital_Content...

What is a good place to seek out those shows?

The internet is known to be a hive of villainy and scurrilous behavior... I suggest starting there...

As with everything there are ways of mitigating risk. Buy a broken one, or even just the motherboard?

Not really open source, but I feel like http://zisworks.com is an honorable mention. He does custom FPGA's for high resolution monitors. It isn't as impressive today, but he's built boards that are capable of doing 4k @ 120hz. What I thought was particularly cool was 540p @ 480hz. Its wild! I've never seen something so smooth! Its like I experienced true level [1].

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1zBtJhgwBI

They make it about as hard as legally allowed to get the source code, and I don’t know what exactly you get when you ask them for the software, but Philips has open source firmware for at least some of its televisions.

For an example, https://www.p4c.philips.com/files/4/40pfk6300_12/40pfk6300_1... says

This television contains open source software. TP Vision Europe B.V. hereby offers to deliver, upon request, a copy of the complete corresponding source code for the copyrighted open source software packages used in this product for which such offer is requested by the respective licences.

This offer is valid up to three years after product purchase to anyone in receipt of this information.

To obtain the source code, please write in English to . . .

  Intellectual Property Dept. TP Vision Europe B.V. Prins

  Bernhardplein 200 1097 JB Amsterdam

  The Netherlands

That television uses FFMpeg, SQLite, zlib, and other libraries.

There is open source TV software, keep in mind- Android TV boxes, Linux PC sticks, Raspberry Pi running Kodi, etc.

I would actually pay to get LineageOS like upgrade on my now not so "smart" Android TV from 2015.

Kodi. And you can run a mythtv or tvheadend or nextpvr server to record shows from a tuner and automatically detect and skip commercials.

>I want to use content recognition capability to auto-mute commercials.

I looked into this on old 2014 android TVs (was actually modified tablet OS). You could install apps fine but you'd need even deeper level tools to reverse engineer the custom TV APP API to hook into the feed + channel metadata. I figured if you could count how high the CC syllables per minute that would be a good proxy for ads or indian soap opera then mute the sound and freeze frame.

I remember holding out for a dual HDMI input output Arm device that never materialised. Nowadays latest Android TV would probably have the hardware Tuner API open to any apps unless they are being stubborn and anti-user.

Something that I came across recently was commercial or hospitality TVs. They are made for waiting rooms or to display the menu at a restaurant.

These are the best I could find for a modern TV (IPS panel, proper size) but still pretty dumb as far as it goes. Some of them have management systems so user can display static images or youtube videos, but that's pretty much it.

perhaps this could be a direction to explore regarding dumb tv

From the comments here: So that's all it takes to keep the open-source community away from your proprietary hardware? Make it boring?

I think you're misunderstanding the problem statement.

Open source is particularly valuable when it allows you to use a device in a way not intended (or perhaps even envisioned) by the manufacturer.

But TVs are already about as hackable as you can get - They have a wide array of ports on the back that let you display any image/video you'd like. It's the polar opposite of something like a smartphone.

And it turns out most folks can hook into those ports just fine and get the results they want (hell, most tvs are directly controllable over hdmi these days).

People build things for free because it is fun, it is their hobby. If you want people to do unfun stuff you need to pay them.

Are you working on it?

My smart TV uses a proprietary SOC that no one has reverse engineered. It’s a few years old and someone recently managed to get into a 2017 model from that line. It’s the same problem that hinders open source firmware for cell phones: proprietary chips and no community desire/funding for reverse engineers.

Maybe you can patch the existing firmware, rather than starting from scratch: https://wiki.samygo.tv/index.php?title=SamyGO_Firmware_Patch...

I'm not sure whether sources are available.

A better solution would be to tap into an input like HDMI using RPi or Nvidia SBCs & existing software like OpenELEC or OSMC. You can lockdown telemetry with Pi-hole/firewalls or just not allow the TV to hop onto WiFi since your input source would be the one needing network access.

TV tuner cards have been available forever. I have no idea how much DRM and legal encumbrance there is to actually using one, but it is possible.

I would bet DRM is the main reason

Something like kdebigscreen ?

The clarion call applies to any and all "smart" consumer devices, whether cars, TV's, watches, doorbells or anything else in the so-called internet of things

You can't blame any dumb device manufacturer who wants to upgrade into being a surveillance capitalist as this guarantees the best valuation multiples

You can blame it on us for being idiot consumers and non-existent as citizens. At some point we simply need to pull the plug and get rid of that horror that passes as a business model

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