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Poking around the outside of Time-Warner's set-top box

2003-06-22 , ,

Anyway, I got thinking about what was in the box itself. I’ve seen
it reboot and noticed that it has both warm and cold. I’ve
occasionally seen it screw up, dropping frames or audio and even lock
up. The form factor suggested that it was built around embedded
commodity chips with a MIPS or StrongARM CPU.

I’ve met cable installers and figured that if I were designing such
a beast I would include a simple operator interface accessible from
the screen. I spent some time punching in unlisted channels (it seemed
likely that there were ones not on the interactive guide) and found
that there are two #1999 and #996 which are a control panel and a
system summary (I also found that there is a silent video feed from
what looks like an apartment building lobby surveilance camera). It
seems that the box has both analog and digital connections and runs on
an private IP network in the range. The MAC for the box is
from the range assigned to Scientific-Atlanta Arcodan of Denmark
(00:01:a6), which isn’t particularly useful given that the box is
clearly marked as theirs. Poking around I found it has 7.5MB RAM free
and about 4MB taken by a framebuffer. The diagnostics register the
presence of a full collection of ports: serial (probably the IR),
scsi, usb, ethernet and a card slot. With the exception of the card
slot and usb, these ports are not externally exposed. It keeps basic
stats about uptime, retries, failures and some very limited data on
purchases but a fairly large amount on when and how many ads are seen
on the PPV and MOD channels.

A little searching around the internet turned up href="">documentation
from the manufacturer. The Scientific Atlanta Explorer 2100 box is
based on a 130MHz RISC (turns out it’s MIPS) with a board that comes
equipped with 16MB of RAM- 8MB RAM, 4MB graphics RAM, 4MB EEPROM, and
MPEG2 decoding. My guesses about what was inside were pretty good. I’d
love to get my hands on a broken unit and take it apart.


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