Custom Firmware on the Humax HDR-Fox T2

After the untimely death of my Topfield box, and less than stellar performance of the 3view box, I ended up sending that back & buying the Humax HDR-Fox T2. Since I bought it over a year ago there’s been a huge amount of progress on a custom firmware which enables you to install ‘packages‘ that add a whole bunch of new features, including;

– Web-based interface for controlling the box, searching the EPG, etc.
– Smartphone optimised web interface
– Auto-filing script for placing series linked programs in designated sub-folders
– Remote scheduling interface for setting timers on the box remotely
– Recording trimming to cut off unwanted segments of recordings
– Custom TV portal (offering Sky Player support)
– And loads more!

There are some videos on YouTube that show a lot of these features in action, together with a guide showing exactly how to install it onto your box. It’s a simple, and reversible process & the guys that have worked on it have helped improve the features on the box no end!

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Harmony 600 Replacement

Due to a clash with a toddler and my Harmony 555 all-in-one remote I bought a Harmony 600 in September last year. In the last month it’s been repeatedly rebooting/restarting. A new set of batteries sorts the issue out, but only for a couple of weeks, and then it starts happening again. There’s a thread on Logitech’s support site which talks about the problem, so it’s not an isolated issue.

The good thing is, that after raising a support ticket on Sunday, it only took a couple of message exchanges before they said it was faulty & shipped a new remote. They don’t even ask for the old one back, since they can de-activate it on their servers so that it can never be updated online.. pretty much rendering it useless, because there’s no way to update it without using their online app.

Kudos to Logitech for sorting this out so quickly! Really impressive.

Building a Zotac ION-based HTPC

I’ve been looking to replace my ageing Xbox which has reliably run XBMC for over 7 years with a box that can handle HD content, as well as acting as a NAS & download server. The Zotac ION box caught my eye, since the latest media center apps now support hardware acceleration for video playback & the nVidia ION GPU is supported.

Components

I bought the kit as a bundle from Mini-ITX.com and fitted a 32Gb SSD for the operating system, and a 1TB Western Digital Essentials HDD which would be attached via USB & powers down when not in use. The shopping list looks like this;

– Zotac ION-ITX-A Motherboard with Dual Core 1.6GHz Atom N330
– 2GB or 4GB DDR2 800 RAM included
– M350 Universal Mini-ITX Enclosure
(bundle costing £233 from Mini-ITX)

– OCZ Onyx 32GB SATA II 2.5in Solid State Disk
(about £50 from Amazon)

– 1TB Western Digital Essentials
(about £45 from Amazon)

OS

For the OS I wanted to use Windows 7; that’s what I’m most comfortable writing scripts + code for. The Linux distros for XBMC Live look pretty good, but there was too much of a learning curve involved for adding in the extra features I wanted.

Installing OS From USB

Since there’s no optical drive, I opted to install Windows 7 from a USB key. I actually used a 4Gb SD card from my camera & a SD card reader, and followed these instructions to make it bootable & have the Windows 7 installation on it. Installation went without a hitch.

Media Player

After installing the OS, I updated with the latest nVidia drivers, and started installing apps like XBMC. The latest Dharma release of XBMC supports hardware acceleration using DXVA2, however I was unable to get it working with 1080p content & gave up after a couple of hours. I then tried Media Portal which worked perfectly with whatever I threw at it. There’s a brilliant guide on how to configure Windows 7 and MediaPortal by Rhys Jones, which is useful to follow if you want to optimise your HTPC setup.

Remote Control

Next up was getting the remote control working correctly. I had a cheapo CyberLink remote, plus a Harmony 600.. I used the Cyberlink IR Reciever & mapped up keys into the Harmony 600. Some of the buttons worked, some didn’t. I ended up re-mapping the numeric keys to certain MediaPortal features using one of the plugins. I also re-mapped the MCE Green Button so that it runs MediaPortal (see this guide.. scroll to the Green Button heading).

Scripts

The HTPC also acts as a NAS + handles any downloads, so I’ve written a bunch of scripts to handle certain situtations.

– Timed execution of certain download tasks using Windows Scheduler. Making sure that the tasks don’t bring the HTPC out of sleep.
– Execution of scripts when the HTPC is brought out of sleep (like making sure MediaPortal is running)

Keyboard + Mouse Control

For times when I need a keyboard, I’m running Unified Remote on the HTPC and the client on my Android phone. This allows me to control most aspects of the HTPC via my phone, without having to buy extra hardware like a wireless mouse/keyboard.

Using Wireshark and MITM to explore a STB

I’ve recently bought a new Freeview HD box from 3view. It has a whole host of features and can be considered a “connected” device. As with most high-end set-top-boxes (STB) it pulls software firmware updates from the web, and I was interested to see where it went to get these updates & how it knew they were available.

I know about using tools to sniff network traffic, but have only done this to sniff traffic coming directly out of the PC I’m running the capture software on. Buying this 3view box gave me more of an inventive to expand my knowledge & figure out how to capture the traffic from other devices.

It was actually relatively easy. I decided to do a Machine in the Middle (MITM) ‘attack’ which was documented over at the Wireshark wiki.

In my case I didn’t have 2 network cards, but did have a laptop with one network card, and a wireless card. In Windows XP I bridged the NIC to the Wireless adapter, then plugged in a cross-over cable that linked the 3view box to my laptop. Then, after a bit of messing about with IP addresses it started working.. my 3view box was accessing my wireless router via my laptop.

Now that all the traffic from the 3view box was going via my laptop, all I then needed to do was fire up Wireshark & take a look at the packets.

Intercepting the traffic allowed me to see where the box was going for it’s updates, and the User Agent. That’s been documented over at the 3viewer community website I set up for 3view owners.

http://3viewer.elementfx.com/

3view Community Website – Forums and News

Last week I put in my order for a new Freeview HD box from 3view.. the box is due to be shipped on the 27th May 2010. Apart from the official 3view Facebook group, there were no forums or news sites to speak of, so I’ve set up a site called 3viewer which is hosted on some free space with x10hosting.

http://3viewer.elementfx.com/

Site performance isn’t going to blow anyone away (it seems especially poor when the US is awake), but it’s got full PHP support, MySQL databases and everything I needed to set up Joomla and phpBB. Other free hosting (such as Zymic) runs into problems with Joomla extensions because it doesn’t support unzipping of files, which is a bit rubbish.

If you’re in the market for a new Freeview HD box then check out the coverage of the 3view box over at 3viewer.. it looks as though it’ll be a decent box with some interesting Internet-connected features. I’ll be posting independent reviews and videos as time permits.

3view Q&A – Freeview HD

This year Freeview goes HD.. but as yet there isn’t any hardware available to consumers. I’ve been keeping my eye on 2 boxes, the Humax DVB-T2 HD and one by a new British company called 3view.

3view has peeked my interest because of some of the more innovative features they’re including, like the support for VOD, apps (e.g. Facebook), and web-browser that allows you to view sites like Channel 4’s 4oD.

There’s a feature list on their site, but I also emailed them to clarify a few things. What I asked may be of interest to others, so here’s what they said;


Q: Now that the BBC intends to restrict the EPG data, is that something that won’t be available on the 3view box?

A: We are currently in discussions with BBC about this. There shouldn’t be any problems and the EPG data will be available on the 3view box.


Q: Is the box able to play back DivX/Xvid?

A: DivX5 or higher – no problem but the older version codec hasn’t been tested. We have tested Xvid and that’s fine too.


Q: With the H264 support, I’m assuming these can be in an MKV container? Will it play back 1080p video without a problem? And how about support for pass-through on DTS soundtracks? Oh, and embedded subtitles?

A: There won’t be any problems with playing back 1080p videos. Embedded subtitles tracks will not work in the current version, once recorded. We may add that in the future.


Q: Is there any way for users to customise the software on the box? I love the Topfield TF5800 because you can add user-written apps to plug gaps in functionality and generally make the box so much better.

A: Not yet- once we have a solid code base we may allow some customer tinkering – but not from launch, as bug tracking will become too complex for a V1.0.


Q: Is the remote control IR, or Wireless?

A: It is IR – BUT we have zwave installed and may offer zwave remotes in the future for extra web interoperability


Q: Are you able to record 2 programs, and watch 1 other (as long as it’s on the same multiplex as one of the recorded programs)?

A: Not at the moment – it’s record one and watch one. We will be adding that in a future upgrade.


Q: Do you think the box will be firmware upgradable to include support for the BBC’s Canvas project when that starts to get finalised & implemented?

A: We anticipate a YES but we cannot be sure as it is not a reality yet.

Flat Cat 6

128381306-40 This year I’m moving to HD at home, but streaming HD over a wireless connection is far from ideal. The next step up from that is to use the Ethernet over power adapters (like Homeplug) which are supposed to be pretty decent, yet expensive. However, I’ve gone for a wired connection using some really flat Cat 6 gigabit Ethernet cable.

Usually it’s a really hassle running cable from your router to the device, but because this cable is so flat it’ll go easily under most doors and you can then run it under the carpet.

At about £14 from CPC (for 15 meters) it’s not a bad price compared to buying wireless or power adapter kits.