Hack your Linux satellite box and access it online

28th Feb 2009 | 08:00

Hack your Linux satellite box and access it online

How to set your recordings and share files via the web

Project 1: Connect to your receiver from anywhere

Recently we looked at networking your Linux receiver – and described how you can stream video from it to any PC on the same network.

Now we'll take these networking aspirations further afield by going online. Although a few satellite receivers offer the Ethernet port that gives rise to such flexibility, only Linux-based receivers are capable of taking full advantage of such functionality.

However, if your networkable receiver is not Linux-based but nevertheless gives you a 'web interface' you should be able to at least try out our first project. To determine if your receiver has a web interface, type its IP address into the web browser of a PC connected to your home network. The web page in question usually provides features like timer programming, channel selection and EPG access. Sometimes you can even arrange for channels to 'stream' or recordings to be downloaded.

Every Linux satellite receiver can be considered as a low-powered computer (by today's PC standards, certainly) to which tuners, video hardware, infrared remote control and other such satellite receiver 'goodies' have been bolted on. As we discussed last month, the open-source nature of Linux means that international userbases for the various Linux receivers spring up and either develop new firmware or refine previous versions. These users also release 'plug-ins' that add new functions to the various receivers.

Dream Multimedia was responsible for launching the market for Linux-based satellite receivers with its Dreambox series, and remains dominant in this particular market. So successful has it been that 'pirate' Dreamboxes, sourced from Far-Eastern factories, have even made an appearance.

The default Dreambox firmware is known as 'Enigma', maybe as a nod to version 7.2 of the Red Hat Linux distribution for PCs. Enigma remains popular and, indeed, has been installed on various non-Dreambox, Linux-based receivers including the ABCom IPBox range, Kathrein UFS10, Relook 400 and Triple Dragon.

When upgrading to a new firmware it is critically important to choose one that has been 'ported' to your specific receiver – the processor and hardware configurations vary widely. You'll find them on the various websites and forums that support the receivers.

We'll be making reference in this article to the latest variant (Enigma 2). However, it should be borne in mind that all Linux firmwares offer similar features or can be updated to do so with plug-ins. The web interface and FTP client seem to be common to all.

Many of the third-party firmwares are supplied with various CAM emulations that aren't included with Enigma, presumably for legal reasons. Yet in most other respects they are similar.

Before you start, here's what you'll need

  • A Dreambox or similar Linux receiver
  • A home network based around a router or hub with a broadband internet connection
  • An Ethernet cable of sufficient length to connect your Linux-powered receiver to the
    network
  • A personal computer, also connected to your network (for streaming and FTP)

OK, let's get started...

Project 1: Connect to your receiver from anywhere in the world

If your Linux receiver is connected to a broadbanded home network, then fascinating opportunities become possible – ones that knock even Sky+ into a cocked hat.

With appropriate network configuration, its web interface can be accessed from any web browser on any internet-connected computer anywhere in the world.

That means you can remotely-select channels, set the timer to record programmes you've forgotten about in your hurry to get to the airport and even download recordings. You could, in theory, stream live TV programmes, although limited network bandwidth (which starts with the restricted upload speeds of domestic broadband connections) means that unless the TV channel in question has a very low bitrate (e.g. the German shopping channel AllesfürsHandy on Astra 1H 19.2° tp 92, 12.246GHz/V, 27500, FEC 3/4) pictures and sound will be 'stuttery' if available at all.

It is to be hoped that someone will take their cue from products like the Slingbox and release a real-time transcoding plug-in that will convert the high-quality MPEG-2 normally associated with digital satellite into low-resolution DivX, or something equally suited to low-bandwidth streaming.

For the same reason recordings (which, in the case of the DM800HD PVR's Enigma2, you'll find in the 'movielist' accessible from the Movie/Timer tab) will probably take a long time to transfer – unless they're particularly short in duration. A 300MB file might, in the real world, take several hours to download. Nevertheless, there's a lot of potential – and so here's how to start realising it.

1. The first step is to allow remote internet connections to reach your receiver. To do this, something known as 'port forwarding' needs to be set up on your wireless router so that its internal security firewall can be bypassed only for the relevant 'traffic'. The exact method will depend on your particular wireless router. We used a Belkin model – but similar principles will apply to other models.

Open up the router's configuration page in a web browser. Look for an option labelled 'virtual servers' or 'port forwarding'. In some cases, you'll need to enter the relevant password to get into this. You will find a table, with multiple columns. We will use two such columns.

For the first available column:
1. If there's a description box, enter the name of your receiver (e.g. 'Dreambox' or EV8000S) so that you know what it's for
2. For 'inbound port', specify '80' For 'type', select 'TCP'
3. For (private) IP address, enter the IP address of your receiver
4. For private (or outgoing) port, enter '80'

For the second available column:
1. If there's a description box, enter the name of your receiver
2. For 'inbound port', specify '8001'
3. For 'type', select 'TCP'
4. For (private) IP address, enter the IP address of your receiver
5. For private (or outgoing) port, enter '8001'
6. Ensure that both are enabled – usually via a checkbox in the relevant column. Click on 'save' or 'apply'.

2. The next stage is to ensure that you can always reach your receiver. Unfortunately, most domestic internet providers allocate IP addresses to their subscribers 'dynamically'. What this means is that your IP address could change – and as a result you will have no idea of what to type into the web browser of your remote PC. Fortunately, there's a (usually) free solution in the form of a dynamic domain name service. What this does is to assign a domain name to your IP address – if it detects that your IP address has changed, then it will automatically acquire your new address.

We'll be using the DynDNS service for this purpose. Basic use is free, although there's only a limited number of 'preset' top-level domains to choose from.

Go to the site, click on the 'create account' option and follow the instructions. It's easy to do, indeed, DynDNS will even detect your current IP address, thereby sparing you the trouble of entering it.

Choose a preset domain name you can remember and enter for the first part of the domain name something equally memorable to you. Using this service requires confirmation; you'll be sent an e-mail containing a link that enables you to continue registration.

3. Once you've completed the process, entering your allocated domain name into a browser on a networked home PC will take you to your wireless router's configuration page. But when you enter the domain into a networked PC you should instead see your receiver's web interface. To ensure that all is well before travelling, it might be a good idea to call up a friend and ask him to try it.

Project 2: Access your files from anywhere

Project 2: Make your files securely available to anyone anywhere in the world

Most Linux-based satellite receivers (including the DM800 HD PVR and its default Enigma2 firmware) feature something known as a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) server – if not, you should be able to find one as a plug-in for your particular model.

Basically, FTP allows networked users to log into your box using a special program known as a 'FTP client' –- one example is CuteFTP (www.cuteftp.com) – and access its hard drive. They can then download from or upload files to the box – you're advised to create a directory called 'public' for this purpose; all FTP clients have a 'make directory' option.

Into this directory you could, for example, put holiday photographs that you might want people to see. You can also use FTP to download and delete recordings (including timeshift files that are no longer needed). In the case of the DM800, this folder is /media/hdd. It's possible to access your receiver via FTP on any locally networked PC, but if you want access via the internet further work is required. Once again, I'll describe the steps I needed to take with my own Belkin wireless router.

1. Open up the router's configuration page in a web browser. Look for an option labelled 'virtual servers' or 'port forwarding'. In some cases you'll need to enter the relevant password to get into this. You will find a table with multiple columns. We will use two such columns.

For the first available column:
1. If there's a description box, enter the name of your receiver
2. For 'inbound port', specify '21'
3. For 'type', select 'TCP'
4. For (private) IP address, enter the IP address of your receiver
5. For private (or outgoing) port, enter '21' You should also use dynamic DNS, as described above.

2. To login to the receiver remotely via FTP, enter your domain into an FTP client. You'll then be asked for a username and password. For Dreamboxes the defaults are 'root' (as is standard with Linux) and 'dreambox' respectively. You're advised to change the password as soon as possible to prevent unauthorised users from accessing your fi les and potentially causing havoc – remember that they can delete files if they are particularly cruel. If your receiver allows you to change such details via an onscreen menu, then the job is easier.

3. In most cases, though, you'll probably have to use a protocol known as 'telnet' to talk to the machine from a PC. If you're using Windows bring up the command prompt (which you'll find in Program Files/Accessories) and enter 'telnet', followed by the IP address of your receiver. Login with the default username (usually 'root') and enter a password if specified. Then type 'passwd' (a Linux command). You'll be prompted to enter a new password and then asked to repeat it. As with all other passwords, choose a unique one that you won't forget. You'll need it from now on.

4. Most FTP programs have windows for the local system (i.e. the HDDs of the PC you're using to access the site) and the remote system (the receiver's own storage). It's easy to copy between local and remote systems just by highlighting the relevant files and clicking on the appropriate transfer button. You should then brief users on how to use the system and what directories they should be looking for – and ensure that they keep login details to themselves.

5. A possibility related to FTP is to use your receiver as a web server –- various plug-ins exist for this, certainly for Enigma 2. Although beyond the scope of this article, such a facility means that you could use your Linux-based receiver to host a website, if it's too big to fit in the meagre personal webspace that tends to be allocated by ISPs. Visitors would enter the URL assigned to you by the dynamic domain-name service. The downside is that access would be slow, especially if multiple users are visiting the site.

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First published in What Satellite and Digital TV, Issue 271

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