Cable decrypt boxes or decoders or otherwise also known as a black box (set top box) is able to descramble channel signals so that you are able to watch all channels, but they have been around for the longest time. I felt this was an interesting topic and I was torn on whether I should share the information. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I decided I should still share my research.
Do note that I do not condone purchase or use of any of the equipment that are highlighted here. If I wasn’t clear enough in the first paragraph, cable decoders or black boxes are ILLEGAL to use..
Update: With BPL or EPL now available on cross-carriage on Starhub, the question is whether Mio Stadium is also available on these boxes? Apparently yes, while you may need a firmware update, generally it seems that a new channel search should be able to reveal the channels. In fact, the reviews on this unit sold here reveals that Mio Stadium is WORKING. Check out the MYHD HD-600C product link here. Gosh, at US$87, the price of one of this box is about two months subscription when Starhub and Singtel are both charging $59.90 for the sports channel.
Some years back, when signals were sent via analog means, at that time, there were already set top boxes with the codes pre-installed on smart cards or pre-programmed directly into boxes as well. Also, you could actually decode them on PCs. You could install a program called CCDXP-32 and go about de-crypting starhub signals on your TV. An example of how it used to work is shown through this short youtube clip.
The program works by manipulating the vertical and horizontal synchronizing signal which had been scrambled. Also, another way cable providers encrypt the signal was to apply a color polarity switcher. The program allow you to control these various aspects and automate the steps.
Ah but I digress as that was then. Now, Starhub and majority of the rest of the cable providers around the world have switched to Nagravision. Signals are distributed by digital means and the decryption unit is either integrated into a receiver, available as a conditional access module (CAM), or as one of many encryption schemes supported on a CAM emulator. Nagravision has been adopted all over the world as a conditional access system, with many providers. There’s also Nagravision 3 (N3) which is a newer form of encryption and is not so hack-friendly.
The Dreambox series, are Linux-based set top boxes that have sinced been hacked / patched to decrypt digital signals. There are a number of keys and firmware tweaks specifically for the Singapore market. In fact, the china markets are rifled with the boxes. The advantage of the popularity and the open source nature access means that you are never alone in usage and a firmware update is always a possibility. This would help address updates and patches to support the newer channels. It also enables the receiver to store digital copies of DVB MPEG transport streams on Network file systems or broadcast the streams as IPTV to VideoLAN and XBMC Media Center clients. Unlike many PC based PVR systems that use free-to-air type of DVB receiver cards, the built-in conditional access allows receiving and storing encrypted content. There are also forums dedicated to the Dreambox support which have a pretty active user group. Hot and frequently updated topics include on DM500 guides, on connecting the Dreambox to the Internet, or flashing the Dreambox and to setting it up for recording directly to a harddrive. A google search should quickly bring out the forums.
And buying it is actually shockingly straightforward. You don’t need to go to any seedy shops and can actually buy it from the comfort of your home. They are quite the rage on AliExpress (direct link here), with a large number of Singapore orders already. Shipping is done professionally through DHL. Pricing wise is also surprisingly affordable. A low-end Dreambox 500 or DM500 would only set you back approximately US$60. That is about S$80 only. Each unit purportedly offers all the StarHub cable TV channels. In comparison, StarHub’s plan for the full tier of channels costs more than S$100 per month, with the final price dependent on any customisation of the packages.
There’s also HD-Decoder boxes out there too. The FYHDC-800IV, the white colour box, shown below seemed to be very popular. While it may not have the full features of the Dreambox, it only cost $US100 thereabouts and there’s no configuration required. Just load it up, scan channels if required, and view to your heart’s desire. However, comments suggest that depending on the signal strength, it may not be able to decrypt certain channels. So you may end up missing a couple of channels from the 100s available.
Now with Starhub having rolled out Nagra 3 encryption, these boxes have finally been made invalid, although only the HD channels are affected. Seems like what the suppliers are doing is to use a technology called Internet Card Sharing (ICS) or Internet Key Sharing (IKS). The Username and Password would be entered via the option menu.
They both use internet connections to share “keys”, but these are not the keys that “autoroll”, they are called Control Word “keys” or CWs, each channel on each provider has its own CW that is valid for approximately 5 minutes, this CW is an 8 byte number, this 8 byte number is used to unscramble the digital Video/audio packets for the 1 channel, so every time you change channels you need the Decrypted CW for that channel, and this is what I K S/I C S provides your receiver via the internet connection.
With ICS the receiver is connected directly to the shared N3 card, there is an interface that allows more than 1 receiver to connect to the one card, each receiver gets the Encrypted CW packet from “the stream” for the selected channel, it sends it to the shared card via the internet, then gets back the Decrypted CW via the internet to use to unscramble that channels Video/audio, so the shared card replaces the softcam in the bin file.
ICS groups must be small and VERY private, because each user has direct access to the card, any of them can get the cards CAM ID, this ID leads directly back to the subbed account holders name and address, so DN would shut this account off and prosecute the account holder if possible, these groups would usually only be 10 to 20 users.
IKS doesn’t give users direct card access, they are connecting to a server that has all the channels listed by ID, with each channel ID is the latest decrypted CW for that channel, so the card is not being shared directly, the Decrypted CWs are being shared.
The receiver still sends the Encrypted CW packet via the internet to the server, the server uses that packet to ID the channel, and sends back the Decrypted CW for that channel, the card is not involved in any of this.
If the Encrypted packet has not been “seen” by the server before, so its a new CW, then the server will send that encrypted packet to another location, the card server, where it will be Decrypted by the Subbed N3 card then sent back to the User server to be saved and sent out to any user watching that channel.
IKS setups have no limit on users, just the server limits, but more servers can be added to increase port capacity.
As said above none of this is new, card sharing has been going on since the first smart cards were used in Europe.
IKS is newer since it is only used if a large sharing group is wanted, the extra cost of servers just doesn’t make sense with smaller groups.
Lastly, any internet use can be traced back to you, but this includes downloading bin files, the risk is always all yours, always has been.
End of the day, this is still illegal. And if Starhub catches you tapping their signals through an illegal set top box decoder, you are in for a hefty fine. In a news article about two years ago, Starhub had warned that it “will not hesitate to take strong and decisive action to protect our rights, and the rights of our content providers”. Its spokesman added: “In addition, StarHub has the means to detect these illegal set-top boxes and render them useless.”