We hacked our TVs. Here’s how.
"Archers use our Chromecasts to play videos and music. This is great! What was not so great, however, was that after using the TVs, we were doing a less than stellar job remembering to turn back to the digital signage channel. So we devised a solution: We came up with a hack to return the TV to the digital signage channel automatically using cheap, off the shelf hardware."
We have TVs throughout our office. Each is equipped with Chromecast and a digital signage box, which features office events, our custom dashboard with the weather and train schedule, a cool clock, our Bonus.ly feed and videos. It’s one of the ways we communicate to the team, and to visitors, all the cool stuff that’s going on at Archer.
Employees also use the Chromecasts to play videos and music. This is great! What was not so great, however, was that after using the TVs, we were doing a less than stellar job remembering to turn back to the digital signage channel. So we devised a solution: We came up with a hack to return the TV to the digital signage channel automatically using cheap, off the shelf hardware.
Our TVs are manufactured by Samsung, and marketed as Smart TVs. They are compatible with apps, but the intended use for these apps is more for companies like Netflix, not a home automation system. A few people have tried to create hacks to write their own apps, but we found those hacks no longer worked with our current TV OS and we couldn’t find any reliable methods that gave us the control we wanted.
That’s when we came up with our own low tech solution.
We took some old Android phones we were no longer using, and plugged IR emitters into the phones’ headphone jacks. These use the audio signals from the headphone jack to produce infrared signals that control the TVs, basically acting as a universal remote.
Granted, it wasn’t quite that easy. We wanted to have a specific sequence of commands play daily to set the channel back to the correct channel. Needless to say, this wasn’t a feature in the universal remote app that comes with the plugs. The solution? We simply recorded the audio output from the headphone jack as we did the sequence of commands we wanted in the app. With the sequence recorded as audio, we just need to play it back daily. For that we just set up an alarm on the phone to play every day and use the audio file as the alarm sound.
From there, it was just a matter of mounting the phones to the back of the TV with some Velcro. Our TVs come equipped with USB plugs, so they became the power source for the phones.
All told, it was a simple and effective solution. Since implementation, we’ve observed that the TVs are on the correct channel most of the time now - with no human intervention needed.