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

Colors in the image are not very accurate because of the smartphone camera

TLDR;

Motivation

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 SmartTV

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

Installation

Requirements

  • 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

Setting up the AmbientLight

Total Costs

  • 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

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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Adis Durakovic

Adis Durakovic

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Digital Entrepreneur & Developer. Based in Vienna/Austria.