How I turned my old 55″ Samsung TV into a SmartTV with AmbiLight

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Fully working AmbiLight

TLDR;

This solution, uses an AndroidTV box to provide the SmartTV functionality. For the ambilight, I had to “hack” into my TV to grab the pixel-information of what is shown on the screen and send that to an ESP8266-controller to control the LED-strip attached to it.

Motivation

I’m one of these guys who likes to modify and improve things that I already own, without buying new ones.

So, one day I decided to improve my old Samsung TV, which I got as a present from my parents, to extend it being more “smart” with a Philips-like Ambilight solution.

The Smart TV

Android TV homescreen
Photo by android.com

Looking around at many of the solutions, AppleTV, AndroidTV, etc… I opted for the Xiami MiBox, which recently got upgraded to AndroidTV Oreo.

It’s a full working stock AndroidTV, with built in ChromeCast and which also allows me to sideload apps, that are not accessible from the GooglePlay-store.

For 70,- bucks a great extension.

The Ambilight

Now this one is tricky. As of now, there is a great ambilight project out there, the hyperion-project. But the fact, that I have to use an HDMI-splitter and not being able to switch HDMI-sources with my TV remote and automatically having the LED-strip using that source, bothered me.

As a smartphone-user who is familiar with rooting and installing custom software, I thought of the idea, that there MUST be some “rooting” method for a TV, to gain access to the TV’s pixel data and to send that somehow to a LED-strip. Luckily, there actually is something like that, well… kind of.

Doing my research, I stumbled upon SamyGO. Which is a community of programmers, providing useful instructions, how to “root” a Samsung TV, and offering some useful “libraries” to extend it’s functionality. Unfortunately, the information is just accessible to people who donate a small amount of BTC (10$) to the forum-owner. Which is really worth the money.

After I rooted my TV, I hoped, that one of these programmers already had the same idea like me and developed a library for an ambilight-solution. But unfortunately there wasn’t — so I had to write my own.

Since, I could not find any instructions on how to write libraries, I started digging into the source-code of other libraries to find out, how they’re developed. Well, after some trial&error, and after crashing my TV a bunch of times :-D, I finally had a working solution.

How it works

The idea is very simple. I grab the TVs pixel, and send them via UDP to an ESP8266, which controls the LED-strip. This works no matter what is displayed on the TV, so the integrated tuner, every HDMI-source (AndroidTV, PlayStation4, … you name it).

Installation

So, if you want to try it on your own, here are some instructions how to achieve the same result as I have.

Requirements

  • Samsung TV (E, F or H series)
  • Good USB-Stick (16GB)
  • ESP8266 12E (NodeMCU)
  • Addressable LED-strip (WS2801, WS2811… etc)
  • Power supply unit for the LED strip
  • Xiaomi MiBox

Rooting the TV

Head over to https://forum.samygo.tv/, get into the Donator group and find a rooting method that works for your TV. I’d suggest one of these methods, where you install the root onto a USB stick. Since this is the saver method. If you screw anything up, you can remove the USB stick, and start over again, without messing with your TV system.

Setting up the AmbientLight

When you’re in the donor group, you should be able to access the files provided by me in the libAmbilight-topic and follow the installation-instructions there: https://forum.samygo.tv/viewtopic.php?f=75&t=12460

Total Costs

  • TV 55″: free (but 830 € if I hadn’t one)
  • USB-Stick: 20 €
  • ESP8266: 5 €
  • LED-strip: 40€
  • PSU for LED-strip: 10€
  • Xiaomi MiBox: 70 €
  • Total: ~ 145 € (975 € with TV)
  • Hours spent in research and programming: ~ 70h

Conclusion

Now the question is, was it worth all the effort. Considering that, if I haven’t had the TV and had to buy a new one, I would’ve spent 975 € for these setup, and another 70h of research and programming. Since there’s a Philips 55″ with AndroidTV and ambilight for around 700 €, it’d be much cheaper buying a new one with all the features included.

Another option would be to sell the TV, since it’s an older model, I don’t think I’d get more than 400 € for it, so I’d have to spend 300€ to buy the Philips one, which would be 150€ more than extending it myself. Although, I’d save on the 70hrs of research and programming.

IMHO: It was totally worth it. The 70 € for the MiBox is a really good deal. The nice-to-have-ambilight which is another 75€ was a great opportunity to improve my programming skills.

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