Our Sky+ HD box had been getting more and more flakey over the last few months so we decided it was time to replace it. We dont actually have an HD subscription and we’ve been a long term customer so we phoned up and moved stuff about and managed to blag a free replacement box. So it arrives, is plugged in and ye-olde-faithful Samsung box is finally retired.
The thing then sat at the end of my desk for a week being used as a step-stool for Kevin and generally getting in the way. I opened it up out of curiosity and liberated the HD, this turned out to be royally screwed (ok I could have just changed the HD). There was an ungodly amount of dust in there and not really much else of use. So the question turned to what to do with it.
Knowing how locked down these are there was little point in trying to hack it, I’m not overly interested in breaking into it although its in theory possible to get a custom linux firmware in there (been done on older boxes) so its time to go in the in. However at this point I realised a standard micro ATX board would go in, with space to spare. It would make a nice replacement for the NEC PC that lives with our AV kit running Windows Media Centre. Three hours later its all running and does indeed fit perfectly. So some metal working and I have a Pentium G2030 in there, 64Gb SSD, 4GB of ram and a GF210 (I wanted this for HDMI out). We stream everything off a server so the small drive worked niceley. A quick visit to ebay and a 1U server PSU and PCI-E extender finished it all off.
This is a mix of pics from the first and second machine. Both are more or less the same excpet the lower scart hole has gone on the second and there is no GFX card in it. I also spent a lot more time on the rear panel as its for a friend. Mine was wiped with degreaser and sprayed with two coats of hammerite where as the second was sanded, filled, primered, sandeed… well you get the point.
Now I’m not the first to do this, you can find similar here: http://forums.bit-tech.net/showthread.php?t=220767 but its not quite ‘there’ in my eyes. The hardware and aproach is a little different, I wanted this to behave exactly as a Sky box in terms of lights, cabling etc so that I could give this box to anyone and it’ll work as if it was meant to be thi way. I do have the knowledge and ability to do the same and make new boards for the front panel but it seemed a waste. Now theres a micro on that front board and I have a logic analyser. So the box was partialy reassembled and the poking started. Hoping to find I2C or similar I was surprised to find the fron panel board speaks plain old RS232 at 19200 baud. A bit of poking, some quick software bashed up in Delphi and I have full control over the panel. Ace, and the board handles things like the sequencing of the LED ring so loads of work to make these behave now no longer needs doing. As its the Sky firmware doing it, it looks right. The buttons were sadly another story, they are a 4×4 matrix, a pain as it would be nice to use plain serial for both but hey, its still useful.
So I wrote some more code to listen to events generated by VMCController and then dispatch the apropriate serial commands. I was then the owner of a front panel that worked with MCE exactly the way the Sky one does on a real box, more or less. The power LED is an issue but that will come later.
So time for some custom electronics…