In this time of lockdown I’ve taken to doing a lot of cycling on an indoors exercise bike. It’s very convenient, and I can put up a film or TV show to watch while I exercise. I have a TV set top box capable of recording live TV for later playback. I figured I could use that to watch stuff while I cycle.
To cut a long story short – Nope. No way. That’s illegal. I’ve committed thought crimes for even daring to consider that.
In my home there is a TV (for which we pay the required UK TV license), and a Virgin Media V6 tivo box (for which we pay a rather exorbitant monthly fee). The V6 can record live TV, and can play it back later, but things start to get a bit tricky when you want to view it from somewhere other than directly on the TV.
Virgin Media offers a mobile app that can interface with the V6 and lets you use your phone as a 2nd remote control. It also lets you stream videos when you are connected to the same network (i.e. at home). It also lets you download recorded programs for offline viewing. At least, it’s technically capable of doing those things.
In actuality, many of the films and TV shows that you record cannot be viewed remotely, and the majority of them cannot be downloaded to a mobile device for offline viewing. This has two major side effects:
- I cannot watch a program while enjoying the comfort of the outdoors sun at the bottom of my garden where the Wi-Fi signal is poor. Despite still being in the same home, as far as virgin is concerned, I could be anywhere, doing illegal and nasty things. So: no downloads, no outdoors.
- I cannot watch a film while exercising in a separate room. Again, despite still being in the same home unless I’m willing to lug the exercise bike or the TV to a different place in the building, I should be considered a criminal risk of the highest order. So: no streaming, no exercise for me.
I know that the V6 box itself should be able to do this. Evidenced by the fact that certain select recordings can be streamed and downloaded. So why not others?
Copyright. DRM. The usual sanctimonious corporate bullshit.
I set out to see if there was a way I could just use some ulterior means of watching the content that has been legally paid for and acquired. Thus, I fell down a rabbit hole of early 00’s web design and sketchy software.
My first port of call which was of interest was a Virgin Media support thread where someone was discussing telnet access to the box. I tried this, and the interface available seems to work! Except it is not telnet as one typically knows it, there’s nothing like a Linux shell. Instead, it is a stripped-down interface which effectively acts as a remote control. Great if you want to hook it up to a voice assistant, useless if you want to hack the hardware.
Next, I figured that maybe the tivo forums themselves would provide some assistance. Unfortunately, all of the threads that I found were ancient and often referred to old versions of the software. Above that, these forums are geared specifically to the stock tivo systems, and not whatever cut down system Virgin shoved into the V6. So, they were not of much help. Though I did find a full list of telnet commands there.
On the forums I did find frequent references to two pieces of software – pyTivo and Tivo Desktop. pyTivo is a python interface for accessing recorded shows, and Tivo Desktop is similar, but seems to be a more “official” program. Despite the V6 offering a media access key, it doesn’t seem to be compatible with either program, where each simply states that no tivo devices could be found on the network. No luck there.
I found mention of “Zipper“, and a way to enable full SSH on tivo boxes – my suspicions were correct. They use some form of Linux. OK. How do I get in? Well there’s a handy link to – nope. The links are dead. thankfully the internet archive kept a copy. Great! Except that the last step needed telnet access, which no longer exists as it did back in 2009. Darn.
Backtracking a bit, I did find some words which sparked interest:
Extraction means getting the shows directly off the drive without the Tivo operating. This would include copy protected shows. The discussion on how to do that is banned on hereSource – Tivo forums
ah-hah. Banned discussion. Now that is interesting. I need to know more about this “extraction” of which you speak. I have paid for access to all my recordings, I find it odd that all they can do is sit in a hard drive never to be enjoyed. I am sure that is not what the creators of the shows had in mind when they were made.
Unfortunately, it seems that there are only really two ways to “extract”, neither of which are very appealing to me.
- Open up the device and physically copy files off of the drive – Could be an option, I’d need to open one up, and all I have to go on is one comment saying the hard drive is detachable. Nothing about how exactly I would connect it to a computer, nor how to read it.
- Record the HDMI output – Untenable on 2 counts – I’d need to watch the entire broadcast to record the output in the first place, and the output is HDCP protected. Lovely, the HDMI standard has DRM built in. Good job. Fantastic work, whoever engineered that one.
So just to wrap things up:
- I cannot watch the shows I’ve paid for while exercising during lockdown
- There is no way to easily access those shows outside of the DRM-locked app
- The legal framework means I am a horrible person for even considering this
And worst of all – I have spent an afternoon getting worked up, stressed, and angry at computers when I could have relaxed with some exercise.
And Fck any individual, company, and government that enables and normalises it.
Header by Markus Winkler