Firmware downgrade for LG Smart TVs

I must admit, I’m baffled to see LG pull a stunt like this after having faced public backlash over their spying on their customers’ TV viewing habits. After backpedaling on the issue last year, they’ve now done a full 180 and reserve the right to record your entire viewing habits and share this data with everyone and their mom, even in countries with most likely less strict data protection laws. And here’s the kicker: if you don’t agree to these terms, many of the SmartTV features you paid for will be lost!

That’s apparently par for the course cause LG also removed the ability to switch audio tracks on local DLNA playback some firmwares ago (alledgedly due to copyright reasons). And when I set my LG TV to a non-existant gateway to stop it from sending my data to LG (my old Fritzbox does not blacklist), I could not connect to my local NAS anymore despite it being in the same network segment.

Also bad is the fact that, probably due to being embarrassed on a regular basis by all the bugs and removed features of their firmwares, LG does not offer changelogs. So when you’ve updated your TV’s firmware on the slim hope of seeing some improvements/fixes, you’ll notice the new terms you’ll be forced to agree to only after the fact! And since LG offers no way to downgrade the firmware, you’re suddenly stuck with a device with less features and more spying on you than you bargained for.

Fortunately, some Russian hackers felt the need to adress the issue and reverse engineered the firmware update process and made a small business out of giving the LG customers what they want. Others took note and devised a do-it-yourself approach to downgrade your TV (thx, nenif).

How to downgrade your LG TV’s firmware
The idea is simple enough: download an older official firmware from the LG website and use your own DNS server on your PC/laptop to trick your TV into thinking it’s downloading from the official site. Supposedly this method applies to the 2012/2013 models, I’ve successfully done it with my 40LN5758 (downgrading from 04.22.xx to 04.04.05).

NOTE: I’M NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING THAT MIGHT GO WRONG WITH THE DOWNGRADE – YOU’RE DOING THIS AT YOUR OWN RISK!

  • Download LgDTVUpDater_new.zip and unzip it to your drive c:\ (another destination will likely result in some wrong paths).
  • Check out the folder “Antwort” inside the htdocs folder. That’s a translation of “response”, meaning the server’s responses people already received and listed for your convenience. Browsing the files inside you can see links to lots of older firmwares.
  • Download the firmware you want to downgrade to and unzip it to C:\LgDTVUpDater\htdocs\
  • Open C:\LgDTVUpDater\dns\AcrylicHosts.txt in an editor like Notepad++ and change the IP adress of snu.lge.com in the last line to your PC’s address (in my case 10.10.10.40), then save the file.
  • Start C:\LgDTVUpDater\startDNS.bat and then C:\LgDTVUpDater\startHTTP.bat with a double-click resulting in 2 black windows (showing that the Acrylic DNS server and the Apache server are running) and probably your firewall complaining. In that case, allow both.
  • On your TV select Settings > Network Connection > Start Connection > Cancel > Manual Setup > Wired (firmware updates are huge and any disconnects over wireless might lead to bricking your TV). Keep IP MODE on Auto Input, set DNS MODE to Manual Input and enter your PC’s IP address
  • Select Settings > Support > Software Update > Check Update Version but do not update! Close when the check has been performed. This check generates a file with some needed info on your TV’s model.
  • Open C:\LgDTVUpDater\htdocs\in_dump.txt and copy your TV’s model name from inside the MODEL_NM-tag. For my LN5758 it’s
    HE_DTV_NC4M_AFAAABAA
  • Check C:\LgDTVUpDater\htdocs\ if a file of that name already exists (these are text files with a simple xml structure inside, they have no extension like .txt or .xml). If not, copy one of the other files over to that name
  • Edit the new file, in my case HE_DTV_NC4H_AFAAABAA. It will look quite jumbled cause there are no line breaks. If you add them manually, it looks something like this:

    response

  • There are only a few entries to change:
    IMAGE_URL: the IP of your PC
    IMAGE_NAME: name of the firmware file you unzipped
    CDN_URLIP: IP of your PC and name of the firmware

    You can also change
    UPDATE_MAJOR_VER: major version of the firmware
    UPDATE_MINOR_VER: minor version of the firmware

    but this should only be cosmetic cause the revision number is also stored inside the epk. The FORCE_FLAG set to Y should ensure any current version being overwritten with the one you’ve downloaded, thus enabling the downgrade in the first place.
    Save the file.

  • Now close the two command prompt windows and double-click again on C:\LgDTVUpDater\startDNS.bat and then C:\LgDTVUpDater\startHTTP.bat
  • On your TV select Settings > Support > Software Update > Check Update Version: a new firmware is found! Update.
  • When the update is through (which should be pretty fast since it’s done from your PC), the TV will reboot.
  • Upon restart, you’ll get a message window with another progress bar (in my case a yellow frame with the foreign language text flipped). The firmware you just downloaded to your TV is now being installed. Once this is through, the downgrade is complete.
  • For good measure you should reset the TV to factory defaults. Please note, that you will have to scan and sort channels after that. Even if you don’t reset, you’ll have to agree to this firmware’s terms of use before you can use Smart TV functionality. As mentioned above, these should be less restrictive than the ones you had to agree to before. If not, downgrade to an even older version ;)

Feel free to add model numbers of TVs you successfully downgraded or links to firmwares in the comment section.

LG 42LN5758 – Why LG? Why indeed!

lgsux

True, it’s been a while since my last entry. Regrettably that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen crappy devices over the last few years. However, of all the devices I’ve tested recently, the LG annoyed me enough to write about it, so here it goes. I figured, Amazon’s Cyber Monday might be the right time to get a bargain on a new TV for the inlaws and the feature list of the LG 42LN5758 looked appealing. Little did I know at the time of LG’s sneaky way of logging info on their users’ viewing habits as uncovered by DoctorBeet. And sure enough, my model on firmware 03.20.38 does send the filenames of all media files on an attached USB drive to an LG server:

sniff

Of course, I could block the URLs in my router (there’s not even an option in the menu to turn this off) or wait for a firmware update dealing with this once LG figured out, the public backlash wasn’t worth the extra pennies they might gain from advertisers (apparently it’s time now, please check the update at the bottom of this page). However, I’ve read a lot of complaints about firmware updates removing features with no chance of getting them back as well as LG making it next to impossible to downgrade to a previous version.

nooption

That’s obviously par for the course cause LG makes it needlessly complicated to do the initial channel scan: you have to select ALL instead of ASTRA and then NONE which is quit unintuitive if you’ve seen the menu. Hilariously enough, they seem to think their method of sorting channels on the TV with the remote involves only a few simple steps “making your life so much easier”, I kid you not. To transfer the channel list to USB to do the sorting on your PC, you have to take this clumsy approach:

- use a regular LG remote (fortunately there’s no oh-so-improved ‘Magic Remote’ or Logitech Harmony required)
- press and hold SETTINGS until the channel info appears at the top of the screen
- release immediately and as fast as you can enter ’1105′ followed by OK
- in the upcoming Installation Menu select USB Cloning > Send to USB
- sort the channels in Chansort on your PC and repeat the process

Why does it have to be this complicated? Why can’t the channel list be copied from a regular menu? Beats me! Apparently all TV manufacturers consider this data to be so much more than a bunch of parameters, easily being stored and edited in a simple CSV file like this

Pr#;Channel Name;Favorites;Lock;Skip;Hide;Encrypted;Satellite;Ch/Tp;Freq;ONID;TSID;SymRate;SID;VPID;APID
40;CNN Int.;0;;;;;ASTRA 19.2E;;11778;1;1068;27500;28522;165;100

they make you jump through extra hoops to get it.

The same goes for USB recording: it’s embarassing to see manufacturers – in an act of preemptive obedience towards rightsholders – encrypt all lawful (!) recordings so they cannot be watched elsewhere. But what’s the point of using exotic filesystems which renders a recording USB HDD useless for anything else? The Samsung UE40D8090 uses XFS as a filesystem but writes to drives already partitioned with it. Thus I can split my drive into NTFS/XFS partitions and play back media files from the NTFS partition and record to the XFS partition, all on the same drive. Not so with the LG, even an already paritioned drive (with JFS in this case) will be formatted. The LG apparently creates an extra 50 MB ext3 partition with a 500 KB binary ‘LGDB.vol’ file on it and if even if you keep this partition/file when resizing the JFS partition and adding a new NTFS partition, the LG deems the drive unusable and wants to format it again which prevents you from using it for anything else.

jfs-usb-recording

Also annoying is the fact that you cannot switch inputs fast cause pressing INPUT on your remote usually opens the fancy input list where repeated presses of INPUT do cycle through the input sources which still need to be confirmed by pressing OK. Switching from USB playback to TV like this, however, does not work, you need to press BACK (which apparently manufacturers just cannot agree on where to place on a remote) several times, depending on how deep down you were in the folder structure of your USB device, to get back to the input list where only then you can select another source. Worse, to eject the USB device you first need to switch to another source to be able to call up the Quick Menu (Q.MENU on the remote) where you need to press RIGHT 11 (!) times to reach the ‘Eject USB device’ button (how’s that for quick?) cause the generally commendable first-to-last/last-to-first vertical navigation in menus inconsistently does not apply to right/left navigation.

The main issue for the inlaws however is that one of them is hard of hearing and therefore needs to listen to the TV with a wireless TV headphone while the spouse listens via the TV’s speakers (a not too uncommon arrangement, IMO). Their current CRT TV has a cinch line-out so the speakers do stay on with the volume-adjustable headphones attached. Unfortunately the LG only has a cinch line-in and the headphone jack mutes the speakers once a headphone is plugged in. And of course you cannot turn this off and therefore cannot have audio over headphones and speakers simultaneously.

So why is there an option in the audio menu to switch between speakers and headphones, you ask? My guess is that some of the geniuses at LG eventually figured out that the placement of the headphone jack (which looks like a dummy connector, by the way) on the rear side (!) of the TV would make it inaccessible with the TV being mounted to the wall. Guess how many customers did not think of this and had to unscrew the TV again. That was probably the same genius that placed the volume/channel/settings buttons on the rear side of the device too.

lgrear

While waiting for LG customer support to comment on this, I found various entries on popular consumer electronics boards suggesting this feature has been requested by customers like forever. And sure enough, LG support told me the only way to get audio from speakers and headphone simultaneously would be to use a SCART to RCA adapter which I’d already tried in the meantime resulting in speakers and headphone being slightly out of sync and therefore unusable but especially as there is no sound coming out of the headphones when recordings/media files are played back from an attached USB device! Facing these facts, the support acted in true LG fashion by shifting the blame on me, suggesting they’d expect customers to conduct proper research into a device’s features prior purchase.

Of course I didn’t bother to ask how the phrase ‘AUDIO menu items are disabled when connecting a headphone’ from the manual PDF could possibly be construed to mean that simultaneous audio is impossible, nor did I bother to test the validity of the phrase ‘Optical Digital Audio Out is not available when connecting a headphone’ by buying a Toslink to Cinch converter. I simply decided to switch to another brand.

Why LG? Why indeed!

Update, December 14th
Apparently LG has finally caved and released update 04.20.29 (currently only available via the TV’s support menu) that stops sending unencrypted user data and USB filenames to LG (HBBTV data apparently is still being sent to the networks). You can verify this by downloading this dump file and browsing it in Wireshark. Right-click > save as and once downloaded rename to .zip (I can’t be bothered to purchase WordPress’ Space Upgrade just for a new filetype). While logging this file I briefly watched ARD (with HBBTV) and ZDF before switching to USB and playing back the file “LGsux.avi”.

While it’s nice to see that LG finally got it, it took them two intermediate updates (04.00.49 and 04.04.05) the latter of which forced you to agree to a new privacy policy which only was possible AFTER the upgrade! Failing to accept the new terms of the Collection and Use of Data (PDF in German), would result in not being able to adjust basic settings, like choice of satellite. And to top it all off, LG apparently changed the TTL file format in this one which means, channels cannot be sorted on the PC anymore until Chansort is updated to handle this!

In case you were wondering: NO, of course LG did NOT enable simultaneous audio over TV speakers and headphones in any of these updates. Hey, it’s only been requested for 2 years or so…

Asus O!Play HDP-R1

Asus-O!play-HDP-R1

I finally got my hands on the O!Play just to be disappointed again. True, it does play back DVD Menus and idx/sub subtitles properly and even completely turns off my attached WD passport drive including LED, something WD seems to be incapable of doing with their WD TV. However, it’s design is a bit too clunky for taking it with you on a video night over at friends.

O!Play vs WDTV: can you say clunky?O!Play vs WDTV: can you say clunky?

Judging from the looks of the (pretty slow) GUI, it uses a similar chip to Antarius and Auvisio and although it’s possible to turn off the annoying video preview, because of the empty preview window

file names still cannot use the whole width of the screen.

That’s something the Xtreamer apparently is capable of, I really need to get me one of those. Next!

Auvisio True Vision 1080p

Auvisio True Vision 1080p

Since the WD TV most likely won’t ever support idx/subs properly and Asus does have no clue when the O!Play HDP-R1 will be available in Germany, I’m still checking out other devices despite their quite ugly (apparantly generic) design.

Auvisio GUI

From the looks of GUI and menus (a puny 16 chars max, why don’t they do it like Xtreamer?) it would appear the Auvisio is equipped with the same (Realtek 128X?) chip as the Antarius, with no DTS downmix but quite an impressive feature list given it’s price tag of 99,- Euros:

  • LAN support (no WLAN)
  • full DVD menu support (ISOs/VOBs)
  • USB hub support
  • HDD support > 1 TB (1.5 TB Maxtor drive worked flawlessly)
  • pretty much every HD trailer I’ve tried played back fine

However, contrary to the Antarius there’s no setting to turn off the annoying video preview. So I mailed Pearl, the mail-order company that sells Auvisio, to ask about any upcoming firmware updates that might fix this flaw but apparently the manufactury does offer

no end user customer support!

As confirmed by the Pearl hotline, the Asian manufacturer does not deal with end users ever. So if you’ve got any problems with/suggestions about their product you can mail the retailer who will pass them on eventually but you won’t get any feedback. If it’s commercially viable the manufacturer might release an update but don’t count on it.

Sorry, but I won’t support any company that out of touch with it’s customers. Next!

Fifteen Classic PC Design Mistakes

I’ve just read these interesting examples of flawed tech over at Technologizer.com who ask the very same question I keep asking myself whenever I come across unexpected and pointless flaws in consumer electronics devices: “What were they thinking?” Sadly, it would appear that common sense and best practice are still unheard of in 2009 in certain design/engineer circles.

Trekstor MovieStation Antarius

Trekstor Antarius

Just popping in for a brief review of the Trekstor Antarius I’ve borrowed from a friend for a couple of days.  Similar to the WD TV DVD menus are ignored but as it recognizes VOBs < 30 mins and ISOs < 40 mins and allows the user to select each title of these files via the remote, watching episodic shows and music DVDs is possible. Although it’s still gonna take me some time to jump on the HD bandwagon my next mediaplayer is bound to have HD support, however despite being advertized as such, the Antarius falls short of that category cause as of firmware 1.26 there’s

no H.264 support.

When pressing play on some trailers resulted in “invalid file” I re-checked homepage and manual and indeed, somewhere in the fineprint it says that MPEG-4 Part 2 ASP (xvid/divx) is supported up to 1080p but not MPEG-4 Part 10 AVC  (H.264) which means that pretty much every mkv out there won’t play back. Epic fail.

OTOH I don’t feel to bad about skipping this device cause I think both design and UI suck and it comes with further flaws (YMMV), some of which might get fixed by an upcoming firmware:

  • due to a pointless preview window on the right side of the screen the file browser is limited to a puny 16 (!) chars with painfully slow scrolling (yes, it’s even slower than my old Panasonic’s display)
17 chars

file browser: 16 chars max

  • the remote’s NEXT does not skip to the next song but goes PAGE DOWN (thanks for breaking usability)
  • no shuffle play (and as a matter of fact even no continuous play in folders unless you switch to music mode and select “repeat all”)
  • m3u playlist selection
  • some ID3 v2.3 tags don’t work (no time for further testing)
  • after file copy is done (you can’t write on FAT32 but only NTFS drives!) you’ll end up at root dir instead of the dirs you were in
  • on -> standby -> no power -> power -> on (instead of standby)
  • with some idx/sub only every other item is shown
  • no srt font size selection so word wrap does not work properly with some subs

Next up for testing are EGreat EG-M34A, Xtreamer and Asus O!Play HDP-R1 (I’m not kidding, that’s the name!), whichever is available in Germany first.

WD TV HD Media Player

WD TV

Currently I have all my original DVDs stuffed away in the basement and ripped to my Mediacenter PC in the living room which keeps me from playing DJ. But I’m still looking for a smaller device for bedroom and at my girlfriend’s. Since Philips does not seem to be interested in fixing bugs but rather releases new hardware I’ve started checking out other products, this time Western Digital’s WD TV.

You see, in Germany you can return products purchased over the internet for a complete refund within two weeks no questions asked. Some local retailers try to keep up offering the same return policy which means I can test the player for 14 days and give it back and buy it elsewhere again, repeat. Of course device and packaging have to be in mint condition which is why I carefully open it, don’t remove foil and use my own cables and batteries. Unfortunately the device is flawed as well:

No DVD menu support.

I know, it’s meant to be a HD player and therefore SD material is hardly prioritized, still I don’t get why one of the oldest formats around that any cheapo standalone can playback is not supported. I usually don’t care about menus but having to fast forward through the first three eps of a DVD to watch the last ep is a PITA. Sometimes even this won’t work as VOBs < 30 mins and ISOs < 40 are not recognized (for no technical reason). Apparently I’m not the only one who expected their media center to support old formats as well.

Although 4 months for the first firmware update with so few features seemed like a bad joke, a huge community evolved around the WD TV, just check out AVS Forums english and german Wiki, modded firmware (with nice extra features like network support). WD is doing the right thing by listening to the community and trying to make the WD TV a better product. Way to go.

However, the current 1.02.07 firmware still has some serious bugs some of which affect my personal viewing habits like messed up idx/sub subtitle display due to weird palette interpretation. I’ve upped a rar file with some screenshots to demonstrate this effect (right-click, save as, rename to .rar). During my tests I’ve corrected some serious issues in the german UI which I’ve mailed to WD and b-rad.cc who said to implement them. If you don’t want to wait or feel uncomfortable to install B-rad’s modded firmware just to have some proper translations on your screen you can patch the official 1.02.07 firmware like this:

  • download xdelta
  • download my corrected UI translation of 1.02.07 final or 1.02.08 pre (right-click, save as, rename to .rar)
  • rename the official wdtv.bin to wdtv.old.bin
  • open a dos prompt in windows: START > RUN > cmd [ENTER]
  • apply the patch by typing: xdelta -d -s wdtv.old.bin wdtv.xdelta wdtv.bin
  • open wdtv.ver in notepad and change version to 1.02.08
  • copy wdtv.bin and wdtv.ver to an USB stick’s root dir and flash the device

I’ve only corrected the german UI files (ge.po, ge.mo) and adjusted their MD5s, other than that your new wdtv.bin will be identical to the official firmware.  It goes without saying that I don’t take any responsibility in case you brick your WD TV. Done properly you can always flash over the original fimware by adding a higher version number to wdtv.ver.

I really hope WD is gonna put some more effort into this device and not just it’s already planned successor. Until then I’m gonna return my device and wait for positive rewiews on the next firmware update.