[TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

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[TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Josh Koffman
Hi all,

I have a small Intel powered set top box that was configured as a
display appliance. Something has gone wrong with the installed
software. No worried there, I'm getting an updated model. But now I've
got this box that is functioning find hardware-wise, and I'd like to
try installing a new OS on it and maybe turn it back into a set top
box.

I've tried bootable USB drives with Linux (several kinds), but no
dice. Something seems to be blocking the booting. I've been in the
BIOS. I'm not normally stymied this way with computers, but I've also
never worked on a computer quite like this before.

Does anyone know of any set top box hacking forums or resources on the
internet? I'd love to be able to ask someone who has played with these
things a few questions.

Thanks!

Josh
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Harold Hallikainen-3
I'm also curious about that. I have an obsolete Roku (won't play Netflix
anymore) that I'd like to divert from the trash.

Harold


> Hi all,
>
> I have a small Intel powered set top box that was configured as a
> display appliance. Something has gone wrong with the installed
> software. No worried there, I'm getting an updated model. But now I've
> got this box that is functioning find hardware-wise, and I'd like to
> try installing a new OS on it and maybe turn it back into a set top
> box.
>
> I've tried bootable USB drives with Linux (several kinds), but no
> dice. Something seems to be blocking the booting. I've been in the
> BIOS. I'm not normally stymied this way with computers, but I've also
> never worked on a computer quite like this before.
>
> Does anyone know of any set top box hacking forums or resources on the
> internet? I'd love to be able to ask someone who has played with these
> things a few questions.
>
> Thanks!
>
> Josh
> --
> A common mistake that people make when trying to design something
> completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete
> fools.
>         -Douglas Adams
> --
> http://www.piclist.com/techref/piclist PIC/SX FAQ & list archive
> View/change your membership options at
> http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/piclist
>


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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Josh Koffman
On Fri, Nov 6, 2020 at 6:37 PM Harold Hallikainen
<[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> I'm also curious about that. I have an obsolete Roku (won't play Netflix
> anymore) that I'd like to divert from the trash.

I'm hoping my path would be a bit easier. I don't know what the Roku
runs OS-wise, but this thing either has an Intel or an ARM inside. At
least, the BIOS looks like it. It says it's an UEFI BIOS. It used to
run Android, now it runs Linux. I'd be happy with Linux.

I have no idea what I'm doing though, so there's some room for
improvement here! When I try the bootable Linux USB I just get a blank
screen. I wonder if I need to find an ARM specific Linux live USB. I
assumed it was an Intel processor but now that I think about it, I
could very well be wrong. I haven't managed to find an ARM based live
USB yet, but I'll keep looking.

Josh
--
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Clint Jay
In reply to this post by Josh Koffman
Usual advice is to check for FCC database entries, open the box and look
for board designators, familiar chips or just chip numbers  and google
rerelentlessly for datasheets.

I've repurposed a couple of Intel based display appliances and it wasn't
difficult to get them running linux, one of them really didn't get on with
the latest Ubuntu but it did at least show part of the boot process before
going dark.

If yours shows any attempts at booting from a stick with an x86 or x64
version of an OS on then I'd say it's almost definitely not ARM


On Fri, 6 Nov 2020, 23:26 Josh Koffman, <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Hi all,
>
> I have a small Intel powered set top box that was configured as a
> display appliance. Something has gone wrong with the installed
> software. No worried there, I'm getting an updated model. But now I've
> got this box that is functioning find hardware-wise, and I'd like to
> try installing a new OS on it and maybe turn it back into a set top
> box.
>
> I've tried bootable USB drives with Linux (several kinds), but no
> dice. Something seems to be blocking the booting. I've been in the
> BIOS. I'm not normally stymied this way with computers, but I've also
> never worked on a computer quite like this before.
>
> Does anyone know of any set top box hacking forums or resources on the
> internet? I'd love to be able to ask someone who has played with these
> things a few questions.
>
> Thanks!
>
> Josh
> --
> A common mistake that people make when trying to design something
> completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete
> fools.
>         -Douglas Adams
> --
> http://www.piclist.com/techref/piclist PIC/SX FAQ & list archive
> View/change your membership options at
> http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/piclist
>
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Richard Prosser
Rasperian (etc) is an Arm based Linux. Might be worth a try. Sounds a bit
like the display drivers are missing - can you find the connections for a
console port- that may give some clues as to what's required.
RP


On Sat, 7 Nov 2020 at 19:46, Clint Jay <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Usual advice is to check for FCC database entries, open the box and look
> for board designators, familiar chips or just chip numbers  and google
> rerelentlessly for datasheets.
>
> I've repurposed a couple of Intel based display appliances and it wasn't
> difficult to get them running linux, one of them really didn't get on with
> the latest Ubuntu but it did at least show part of the boot process before
> going dark.
>
> If yours shows any attempts at booting from a stick with an x86 or x64
> version of an OS on then I'd say it's almost definitely not ARM
>
>
> On Fri, 6 Nov 2020, 23:26 Josh Koffman, <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> > Hi all,
> >
> > I have a small Intel powered set top box that was configured as a
> > display appliance. Something has gone wrong with the installed
> > software. No worried there, I'm getting an updated model. But now I've
> > got this box that is functioning find hardware-wise, and I'd like to
> > try installing a new OS on it and maybe turn it back into a set top
> > box.
> >
> > I've tried bootable USB drives with Linux (several kinds), but no
> > dice. Something seems to be blocking the booting. I've been in the
> > BIOS. I'm not normally stymied this way with computers, but I've also
> > never worked on a computer quite like this before.
> >
> > Does anyone know of any set top box hacking forums or resources on the
> > internet? I'd love to be able to ask someone who has played with these
> > things a few questions.
> >
> > Thanks!
> >
> > Josh
> > --
> > A common mistake that people make when trying to design something
> > completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete
> > fools.
> >         -Douglas Adams
> > --
> > http://www.piclist.com/techref/piclist PIC/SX FAQ & list archive
> > View/change your membership options at
> > http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/piclist
> >
> --
> http://www.piclist.com/techref/piclist PIC/SX FAQ & list archive
> View/change your membership options at
> http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/piclist
>
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Manu Abraham-2
In reply to this post by Josh Koffman
On Sat, Nov 7, 2020 at 4:56 AM Josh Koffman <[hidden email]> wrote:

> Does anyone know of any set top box hacking forums or resources on the
> internet? I'd love to be able to ask someone who has played with these
> things a few questions.

If your vendor provides a firmware update, or if you can dump the firmware,
you can use the strings utility, to get a bit of insight.

Other than that, the usual process, look for headers (UART), TP's
Chipset numbers and so on. Documenting your device is the best to go.
Even if you think you got everything in there, most likely you might need to
set up your device tree unless someone has already done it for you.

There exists this high probability that someone has got into some digging
into a similar device as yours. Identify your device, batch up with such
people. That's the way to go for such developments (err .. hacks)..

Cheers,

Manu
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

sergio
In reply to this post by Josh Koffman


On Fri, 6 Nov 2020, Josh Koffman wrote:

> On Fri, Nov 6, 2020 at 6:37 PM Harold Hallikainen
> <[hidden email]> wrote:
>>
>> I'm also curious about that. I have an obsolete Roku (won't play Netflix
>> anymore) that I'd like to divert from the trash.
>
> I'm hoping my path would be a bit easier. I don't know what the Roku
> runs OS-wise, but this thing either has an Intel or an ARM inside. At
> least, the BIOS looks like it. It says it's an UEFI BIOS. It used to
> run Android, now it runs Linux. I'd be happy with Linux.
>
> I have no idea what I'm doing though, so there's some room for
> improvement here! When I try the bootable Linux USB I just get a blank
> screen. I wonder if I need to find an ARM specific Linux live USB. I
> assumed it was an Intel processor but now that I think about it, I
> could very well be wrong. I haven't managed to find an ARM based live
> USB yet, but I'll keep looking.
>
> Josh

You might https://www.armbian.com/

He has a ***LOT*** of ports of linux for different ARM SoCs

Regards
Sergio Masci
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Josh Koffman
In reply to this post by Clint Jay
On Sat, Nov 7, 2020 at 1:46 AM Clint Jay <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
> Usual advice is to check for FCC database entries, open the box and look
> for board designators, familiar chips or just chip numbers  and google
> rerelentlessly for datasheets.
>
> I've repurposed a couple of Intel based display appliances and it wasn't
> difficult to get them running linux, one of them really didn't get on with
> the latest Ubuntu but it did at least show part of the boot process before
> going dark.
>
> If yours shows any attempts at booting from a stick with an x86 or x64
> version of an OS on then I'd say it's almost definitely not ARM

Bit of an update here. I spent a bit of time both inside the device
and on the internet. It is indeed Intel based (Atom x5 Z8350 CPU).
This particular unit is based off an Alfawise X5 Mini PC, which
appears to have an AZW Z83 board in it (still trying to figure out
exactly which variant).

I haven't yet figured out why booting off a USB doesn't work. I get
nothing on screen. Maybe I should try making a non-Linux boot USB just
to see what happens. I've found links to the original installs that
this machine shipped with (Windows and Android, dual boot), but the
links are all dead. That's ok though, I don't really want to put
either of those on here. I know it's got Linux installed currently,
but no idea what variant. It would be nice to get something like Mint
or something else HTPC centric installed. I'm certainly not going to
be using this machine for development or actual work. But having a
little box to play movies would be nice!

Thank you all for the suggestions!

Josh
--
A common mistake that people make when trying to design something
completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete
fools.
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Adam Field
On Mon, Nov 9, 2020 at 9:07 PM Josh Koffman <[hidden email]> wrote:

>
>
> I haven't yet figured out why booting off a USB doesn't work. I get
> nothing on screen. Maybe I should try making a non-Linux boot USB just
> to see what happens. I've found links to the original installs that
> this machine shipped with (Windows and Android, dual boot), but the
> links are all dead. That's ok though, I don't really want to put
> either of those on here. I know it's got Linux installed currently,
> but no idea what variant. It would be nice to get something like Mint
> or something else HTPC centric installed. I'm certainly not going to
> be using this machine for development or actual work. But having a
> little box to play movies would be nice!
>
> I had a Atom system many years ago, and ran into USB boot issues. If I
remember it didn't like booting from the USB3 ports but the front USB2
worked fine. May be worth a shot, I don't know the specifics of the machine
any more.
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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Clint Jay
In reply to this post by Josh Koffman
There's a thread on hacking those STBs/boards which I think offers reasons
why you can't boot from USB:

https://forum.freaktab.com/forum/tv-player-support/intel-based-tv-players/661771-alfawise-x5-mini-pc-intel-atom-x5-z8350-2gb-ddr3-32gb-rom-gig-lan-windows-10-android-5-1/page7

On Tue, 10 Nov 2020 at 02:07, Josh Koffman <[hidden email]> wrote:

> On Sat, Nov 7, 2020 at 1:46 AM Clint Jay <[hidden email]> wrote:
> >
> > Usual advice is to check for FCC database entries, open the box and look
> > for board designators, familiar chips or just chip numbers  and google
> > rerelentlessly for datasheets.
> >
> > I've repurposed a couple of Intel based display appliances and it wasn't
> > difficult to get them running linux, one of them really didn't get on
> with
> > the latest Ubuntu but it did at least show part of the boot process
> before
> > going dark.
> >
> > If yours shows any attempts at booting from a stick with an x86 or x64
> > version of an OS on then I'd say it's almost definitely not ARM
>
> Bit of an update here. I spent a bit of time both inside the device
> and on the internet. It is indeed Intel based (Atom x5 Z8350 CPU).
> This particular unit is based off an Alfawise X5 Mini PC, which
> appears to have an AZW Z83 board in it (still trying to figure out
> exactly which variant).
>
> I haven't yet figured out why booting off a USB doesn't work. I get
> nothing on screen. Maybe I should try making a non-Linux boot USB just
> to see what happens. I've found links to the original installs that
> this machine shipped with (Windows and Android, dual boot), but the
> links are all dead. That's ok though, I don't really want to put
> either of those on here. I know it's got Linux installed currently,
> but no idea what variant. It would be nice to get something like Mint
> or something else HTPC centric installed. I'm certainly not going to
> be using this machine for development or actual work. But having a
> little box to play movies would be nice!
>
> Thank you all for the suggestions!
>
> Josh
> --
> A common mistake that people make when trying to design something
> completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete
> fools.
>         -Douglas Adams
> --
> http://www.piclist.com/techref/piclist PIC/SX FAQ & list archive
> View/change your membership options at
> http://mailman.mit.edu/mailman/listinfo/piclist
>


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Re: [TECH] Set Top Box Resource?

Josh Koffman
On Tue, Nov 10, 2020 at 8:22 AM Clint Jay <[hidden email]> wrote:
>
> There's a thread on hacking those STBs/boards which I think offers reasons why you can't boot from USB:
>
> https://forum.freaktab.com/forum/tv-player-support/intel-based-tv-players/661771-alfawise-x5-mini-pc-intel-atom-x5-z8350-2gb-ddr3-32gb-rom-gig-lan-windows-10-android-5-1/page7

Ah, thank you for this find. Very interesting! I have been poking
around that forum but hadn't seen this post. Actually, it looks like I
have a browser tab sitting in this thread, I just hadn't gotten to
that page yet.

As Adam and the folks in the thread mentioned, I seem to have better
luck with the board recognizing a USB stick when it's in the USB2
port.

I think I'm going to make a full Mint Linux live USB and see if I can
get that to boot. Perhaps the rescue distros just don't have
compatible enough drivers to get them going on this hardware.

Thank you!

Josh
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