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Music Media Hardware Hacking Technology

XM Radio Hacked by Car Computer Hobbyists 189

An anonymous reader writes "There is an article over at that talks about a small Florida company called Hybrid Mobile Solutions, that hacked XM Radio. They created a cable and software that makes the new XM Commander and XM Direct units work just like an XMPCR. They are in negotiations with TimeTrax to allow recording of XM Radio to MP3's. XMPCR was canned due to this late last month."
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XM Radio Hacked by Car Computer Hobbyists

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  • TimeTrax... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:33AM (#10535713)
    Seems they don't need any help from these guys. They have made their own device [] to replace the pulled XMPCR...
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:5, Informative)

    by TheJavaGuy ( 725547 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:33AM (#10535718) Homepage
    I've never come across the term before. Anyone got a handy explanation?

    Check this [] out.

  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:5, Informative)

    by erick99 ( 743982 ) <> on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:34AM (#10535733)
    It's the personal computer receiver for XM satellite radio. XM used to sell it but discontinued it when the TimeTrax software came out that allowed the XMPCR user to record music from the XMPCR hardware. The RIAA was apparently behind that action.
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:3, Informative)

    by eseiat ( 650560 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:36AM (#10535751) Homepage
    Here [] is the official definition of what it is, picture and all.

    Basically, XM canned this because people were recording the stream and distributing it over the web. Since XM is a premium service, they didn't want their shows being disseminated over the web so they have cancelled this product and will most likely create something new that is less easy to record from, although I'm sure it won't be impossible for the 1337 hackers out there.
  • by Triumph The Insult C ( 586706 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:36AM (#10535756) Homepage Journal
    a $250 profit []

    the XMPCR is a little box that allows you to listen to XM radio on your pc/mac/sun (mac/sun supported by 3rd party apps). it's a little box that has an audio out which you simply plug in to your mic or line-in. it's controlled via usb (the unit internally has a usb->serial adapter which happens to be well supported by *bsd, linux, etc).

    the protocol that goes over the usb cable (used to change channels, etc) was reverse engineered, and people started making all sorts of applications to play with them. timetrax is one that allows you to record the music, as well as automatically add the title, artist, etc info to the ripped song
  • by dr bacardi ( 48590 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:39AM (#10535786) Homepage
    Not a dupe.

    The other stories you linked to are regarding the xmpcr which is no longer available.

    This story is about an interface hack that allows you to use XM radio units originally intended for use in a car on your computer.
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheJavaGuy ( 725547 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:39AM (#10535790) Homepage
    Hmmm... that link's redirecting straight to the XM Radio home page.

    I'm using an opera browser and it goes to the correct page. I just checked with IE and the results is like what you said.

    Here [] is a chached version for IE users.

  • Re:TimeTrax... (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:40AM (#10535791)
    Yes, you do need an XM Radio. But now you don't need to go buy one of the special XMPCR radios on eBay for an outrageous sum of cash anymore!
  • by strictfoo ( 805322 ) <.strictfoo-signup. .at.> on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:41AM (#10535808) Journal
    XMPCR replacement: DirectPCR []
  • Some Facts (Score:5, Informative)

    by diagnosis ( 38691 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @11:44AM (#10535830) Homepage
    XMPCR: Time-shifting software for PC-based XM radio receiveers.

    The new replacement: XmDirect Tuner Interface Cable. From the manufacturer:

    With this cable and our software you will once again be able listen to XM satellite radio in your home or in your car using the included Hybrid eXeM interface along with the xmDirect...The SDK is available for developers that want to continue using xm radio within their applications.

    The email address to request the SDK (by the way, serious points for offering AND publicizing the SDK) is sdk at hybrid-mobile dot com.

    A cool picture: This picture [] shows the adapter plugged into what looks like the butt of a Dell laptop.

    What is going to happen: Someone is going to get the crap sued out of them.

    Rate free iPod offers: []
    (Flat screens and Desktop PCs too)
  • Re:TimeTrax... (Score:2, Informative)

    by steve6534 ( 809539 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:05PM (#10536054) Homepage
    According to you can use timetrax directly with the new DirectPCR : (DirectPCR [])
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:5, Informative)

    by CptnSbaitso ( 800632 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:05PM (#10536057)
    XMPCR is the XM PC Receiver for XM Satellite Radio. It is a USB device which connects to a Windows PC (with the included software, but there are Linux, Macintosh and Perl versions). It streams XM radio into your sound card and makes it extremely easy to record. It provide artist and title with each track so that you can even record songs and label them with the appropriate artist and title automatically.

    Of course, we are just speaking hypothetically. :-) These were being offered for $50 dollars until about one month ago, when XM discontinued them. Since then, many folks have been trying to find a way to produce XMPCRs.

    For a little more info (and a photo), check out the XMFan Store []. They are now very difficult (or expensive) to find. Personally, I don't know that I could be talked into selling mine!
  • Re:What is XM Radio? (Score:2, Informative)

    by mmkkbb ( 816035 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:07PM (#10536067) Homepage Journal
    XM Radio and Sirius are two companies who have started offering satellite-based audio for a monthly fee. you can buy a receiver for one or the other (usually in your car, but their are portable ones too) and receive the same content anywhere (in the continental US, i believe)

    they are mostly commercial free.
  • Re:Some Facts (Score:4, Informative)

    by dschuetz ( 10924 ) <> on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:11PM (#10536122)
    Some other facts:
    • It's not been conclusively proven that the recording features of TimeTrax hastened the demise of the XM-PCR unit. In fact, IIRC, XM Radio hasn't even admitted that they've discontinued it. Many feel the PCR was on its way out regardless (which was part of why many sites were selling at steep discounts in the month or two prior to its disappearance).
    • This unit is basically just a pinout converter, maybe with level adjustment and such. The software must use the XM Direct protocol, which is different from the XM PCR protocl and has not yet been published (by anyone, even those who created this system).
    • Another system (at includes a USB adaptor and a microcontroller-based protocol converter, that accepts the existing XM PCR commands and converts them to XM Direct. That system works with all existing software except the stock software distributed with XM PCR.
    What is going to happen: Someone is going to get the crap sued out of them.

    Why? They've done nothing wrong. In fact, they've done exactly what Terk/Blitzsafe is doing -- provided an interface between the XM Direct tuner module and a head unit. Only in this case the head unit is a PC, not a car radio.
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:4, Informative)

    by julesh ( 229690 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:12PM (#10536136)
    But the slashdot thieves will argue that they have some sorta 'right' to steal it.

    I suspect they will. It's called the MPAA v Betamax decision; it states you have a legal right to make recordings for the purpose of 'time shifting'.
  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:3, Informative)

    by strictfoo ( 805322 ) <.strictfoo-signup. .at.> on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:15PM (#10536158) Journal
    I don't think you quite have a grasp on what "derivative" means. It's close to what you think, but not quite:

    Obtained by derivation; derived; not radical, original, or fundamental; originating, deduced, or formed from something else; secondary; as, a derivative conveyance; a derivative word.

    A derivative work, based for example on a XM radio broadcast, would be if you were to take the content of that broadcast and use it to make your own production or broadcast. Creating derivative works is similar to covering a previously recorded song, or sampling a song to use in your song (see Rap).

    A MP3 != a derivative work.
  • by JazzHarper ( 745403 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:27PM (#10536332) Journal
    Schematics simply don't exist any more.

    The chips that go into digital radio contain logic that has been synthesized from behavioral models. No one, not even the architect of the chip, ever sees a gate-level schematic or logic diagram.
  • Not the first... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) * on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:27PM (#10536336)
    First of all, this isn't a hack of XM Radio per se, it's just a simple reverse engineering of the undocumented cable spec for the XMDirect unit. The XMDirect has an 8 pin mini-DIN pinout and an internal 32 bit Atmel which translates serial instructions between XM's undocumented "car headunit" serial format and the standard, internal "A5 5A" serial format used directly by the XMPCR units, for which there is already quite a bit of Open Source software [] (incidentally, PCRCommander does pretty much everything that TimeTrax does).

    This "solution" is pretty much just a cable, and this groups software which does the translation. If you want something that works with all the existing software out there now, what you really want is the DirectPCR [] brought to you by Ryan and the XMFan people []. The DirectPCR is more expensive, because it's actually got a microprocessor that reverse translates the standard "A5 5A" serial commands into XM Direct format (which is then dutifully translated back by the XM Direct).

    The DirectPCR is the best solution if you really want something with the power and cool factor of the now-defunct XMPCR (no I don't have any business relationship, I'm just an XMFan regular and have been following developments). As for "hack factor" at least three separate people or groups have separately done the XMDirect protocol translation. If you have the right equipment, it's probably about an afternoon's work - just hook up two serial monitors side by side and dump away. So there isn't that much hack cred to speak of in this. Furthermore, if you're comfortable with a soldering iron, you can trivially build an XMPCR-compatible unit out of a SkyFi with a DB9 header, a MAX232, and an optical adapter board.

  • Re:XMPCR? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 15, 2004 @12:58PM (#10536762)
    The "digital quality" label is just a marketing buzz. Neither satellite services offers anything close to CD quality. Its not as good even as the 128 bit stuff that iTMS uses.

    Its slightly better (only slightly) better than FM radio.

    Yes, I do have a receiver, thanks.
  • by eelsfan ( 813526 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @01:44PM (#10537399)
    Recently, after the death of the XMPCR, XM announced that they will broadcast the signal to your computer for an extra $3.99 ($7.99 if you don't already have a player) a month. Sounds like they killed XMPCR to make more money... []XM info
  • Re:Hackers? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) * on Friday October 15, 2004 @02:09PM (#10537708)
    There was no reverse engineering of the service itself by these guys, or of the XM Tuner unit. The tuner module found in every XM unit speaks the same serial protocol as the PCR, and the PCR protocol was deciphered ages ago by dobbz, nsayer, and others from the XMFan board (and later apparently nsayer was assisted in filling in the gaps by XM themselves when they actually supported the 3rd party XMPCR development community).

    This is just a serial protocol translator, one of at least 3 or 4 separate implementations that have popped up in the last 3 or 4 weeks - a modest reverse engineering of the XMDirect's headunit protocol, translating (probably 1:1) serial commands to the internal tuner (tincan) serial format.
  • by GadgetMountainMan ( 236110 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @02:11PM (#10537728)
    The SkyFi and XM PCR have been hacked for digital out.
    you can buy the kit for the PCR
    as either a toslink ies/xmpcr -toslink-digital-output-board.html
    or coaxial ies/xmpcr -coaxial-digital-output-board.html

    the SkyFi doesn't have as much space so there were a couple guys that were doing the mods, but didn't offer a kit.
  • by telemonster ( 605238 ) on Friday October 15, 2004 @03:54PM (#10539011) Homepage
    Couldn't one just take the GNUnilink package from Sourceforge/Freshmeat and combine it with the short-lived Sony XM receiver that was a Unilink module, and control it that way?

    (Unilink is Sony's protocol that allows decks to control disc changers and a limited number of other devices like TV tuners, mobile VHS VCR, DSP modules and so forth).

  • by 4phun ( 822581 ) on Saturday October 16, 2004 @03:10PM (#10545716)
    I had to leave last night for an overnight trip so I didn't me to anser your question and leave a few tips. First, you must subscribe to activate the xmDirect unit. This is an xmdecoder in a 'breakout box' designed to interface to car radios already built to add on XM. What the folks in Florida have done is provide a computer interface similar to the old XMPCR. You still need to provide an external six-volt power supply and a audio amplifier which can be your computer sound card and amplified speakers. xmDirect comes with an antenna for use on the car. These cost thirty dollars alone. xmDirect is on sale at Circuit City for $44 right now. You will need the adapter from the guys in Florida which is another $45 and you will need to get their free SDK and write your own software or else you must buy TimeTrax 2.5 for another $30. This will allow you to rip satellite radio signals to your PC hard disk in MP3 format with name and composer automatically supplied by XM. This ability is what stunned RIAA especially after they have fought so hard to stop people from sharing their tunes via the internet. They would have no way of knowing who to sue next if geeks were grabbing the tunes right of the air which would be untraceable by their lawyers and snitches. There is another outfit selling a competing product for $170 based on the xmDirect which includes all you need. Look at the xmFAN site for details. Now XM charges you $10 for one decoder and $7 for each additional one for personal use. TIP you can call customer service and deactivate one hardware unit and activate another without paying a fee. You must pay a ten dollar (or fifteen if you do it over the phone) activation fee for each new hardware item you have going at the same time. I have two Roadys so I can suspend one and activate the xmDirect hardware for no charge with a simple phone call, later I can switch back to two active Roadys and let the xmDirect go inactive. But the xmDirect has a lot of potential in the car, not just the home which makes it a better value than the xmPCR. Use xmDirect connected to the computer to rip MP3s and then reinstall it in your car for live audio while you commute. Vic Ki4je

"The number of Unix installations has grown to 10, with more expected." -- The Unix Programmer's Manual, 2nd Edition, June, 1972