Apple TV Gen 2 and 3 Cracked; RTI Gets Two-Way IP Control
My Device cracks second- and third-generation Apple TV for two-way IP control, including on-screen display (OSD) and feedback for RTI home automation systems. Here's how they did it.
Julie Jacobson · July 9, 2014
Remote Technologies Inc. (RTI) may have the richest two-way Apple TV control on the market, with full keyboard support and feedback, even for the second- and third-generation products that have not played friendly with IP-enabled home automation systems.
“As many readers are most likely aware, ATV has been a tough nut to crack,” says Matt Crump of Australia-based My Device, which created the new driver.
Most third-party controllers communicate one-way via IR with first- and second-gen ATVs. Others offer two-way IP control for the first-gen media box, but not the second and third generations which added a new layer of proprietary technology that makes Apple so famous … and abhorred.
“Once the ATV gen 2/3 came out, all of these modules stopped working,” says Crump.
The “fix” was for dealers to go back to gen 1 devices or, for newer boxes, use the home automation system to control iTunes via IP but not the ATV box. For that … good old fashioned IR communications.
“This is the first ATV driver for RTI,” says Crump, “and as far as I am aware no other control system offers a search capability (i.e., able to send keystrokes) or NOW PLAYING feedback.”
The driver supports up to eight Apple TV units of any generation (“the big old silver one right through to the latest gen 3,” Crump says) and pairs with each of them.
Crump adds, “Always conscious of how much time has to be spent creating a layout for a driver that supports multiple zones, the driver allows an integrator to create a single page in ID and change control/feedback via a single driver command.”
The driver works with all RTI control products, including handheld remotes, touchscreens, and iOS and Android devices. Here’s what the My Device RTI driver provides:
- IP control that mimics the IR remote (cursor navigation, play/pause, menu and select)
- Context menu
- Jump to the home screen (shortcut)
- Discrete play and pause commands (rather than toggle)
- Skip to next/previous
- Full keyboard support (allows searching and entering user/password details)
- Unit name (read from the device)
- Shuffle state
- Repeat state
- Play state
- Pause state
- Currently playing (artist, album, track name, genre, radio station, playback position, track length, cover art)
- Playback starting – used to power on an amp.
- Playback stopped – used to power off an amp.
- Keyboard entry required – display a virtual keyboard
How’d They Do That?
In developing the driver, Crump says, “Large parts of the puzzle had already been figured out by other very clever reverse engineers.”
In 2008, for example, Michael Croes figured out how the pairing process was initialized.
Then Jeffrey Sharkey figured out how to control some of the basic features of iTunes.
“I used this knowledge and the assumption that Apple probably didn’t reinvent the wheel when it came to controlling the Apple TV vs iTunes,” Crump says.
He then played around with Apple’s “Remote” app for controlling Apple TV with touch gestures.
Using the utility Wireshark, Crump captured traffic from his iPhone and ATV, and spent countless hours analyzing the data.
“Eventually,” he says, “I figured out all the parts that were required to take control of an unmodified ATV and make it believe it was being controlled by the Remote app.”
So what happens when Apple releases a major update? Crump doesn’t foresee a problem with the driver: “I think given it works with all three generations, and after an update I just applied, I’d say it should be OK. They stopped updating the gen 1 years ago and the same code works against the current firmware on the gen 3.”
Crump says he currently is investigating porting the driver to other control platforms. Currently, in addition to RTI, his company writes modules for Control4.
As for this one, he says, “I suspect (hope!) this driver is going to be at least as popular as the Sonos one was a few years ago based on the feedback I’ve been getting via the RTI forums.”
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Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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