Fake but cool video hacking in Times Square

[Video Link] Johnny Foreigner says: "No idea if this is for real - looks like a guy has created a video repeater that "somehow" manages to overwhelm the inputs of any screen in the vicinity. The demo shows the inventor taking over a couple of small screens at ground level, before attaching the device to a huge red balloon and floating it up high to hack bigger screens up above."

It's got to be fake, but I like it! Do you think you could get in trouble for using a tethered balloon in Times Square, though?

(Submitterated by Johnny Foreigner)


  1. The screens get a wireless video feed. He’s simply sending out a stronger signal (due to immediate proximity) from his repeater.

  2. Lazy fake. The iPhone doesn’t transmit video out of its headphone jack. Not to mention there is no way this would work, even in principle.

    1. It doesn’t but an app could make it encode the video into bits sent through the audio jack – infact its quite an elegant solution. This does not make the video real but it discredits the silver bullet you think you found :p

  3. Hey! No bursting my bubble. It was on the internetz, so it’s true. Some people just have no faith. You make the unicorns cry :(

  4. I like how the screens do that half-video-flicker thing when the sensor gets close and then moves away. It really helps sell the effect.

    I also like that we live in a world where special effects technology produced on a home PC looks so good that if you didn’t know this was technologically impossible (the headphone jack?) you couldn’t be sure if it was fake or not.

    I don’t think this was a lazy fake, either. I think it was meant to be an obvious joke. The headphone jack just makes it funnier.

  5. I mean in theory you can hijack anything receiving a wireless signal (such as an OTA TV set). However, I’m guessing all these screens are hardwired, so inductive anything isn’t going to work.


  6. This was neat, who cares if it was faked. It’s the role of science fiction to inspire future technological jumps. Maybe this isn’t possible, but someday… (looks off into the sunset longingly) …..it will be.

  7. Agree with all of the above, also want to point out well they’ve done the compositing (or whatever) with the balloon – they get the translucency and highlights correct. Probably easiest to do with a CG balloon, but it could also just be really good manipulation.

  8. Also, where he ‘hacks’ the 4-screen display at 0:55. I don’t know how those work, but I’d expect the video to override each screen individually, or maybe only one screen, rather than what we see.

  9. I love how you all overlook the simplest explanation: that the video was actually playing on those screens. How? Just ask the person who owns the screens if you can borrow them for 30 seconds.

    That’s how the brilliant Utrecht station hack worked.

    1. The other argument against that would be that hey – it’s Times Square. I imagine whoever controls those screens is probably not about to let someone “borrow” them, however innocuous the usage.
      Considering what’s involved in both option, I’d say digital manipulation *is* the simplest explanation.
      It would be a lot more impressive if your original suggestion were correct, though. :D

  10. Actually, VGA signal DOES come out of the iPhone’s four-pin 1/8th inch headphone out, so that’s not a viable reason to discredit this video. I would argue that the small footprint of the two devices combined with distance between the home-brew devices transmitting between each other is more sketchy.

    Even if this does prove to be real, the transmission power rate between the two devices would be largely outside of the FCC spec, and would lead me to think they’d need bigger hardware (and batteries) to support.

  11. Okay, I take my previous comment back. The Utrecht station hack isn’t that brilliant, and it might have been done with video effects. Boy do I feel stupid.

  12. I though the transition with the four screens was rather good, actually- the picture showed briefly on each screen separately before merging, like the software needed time to catch up with the inputs.

    I guarantee you, there are effects artists out there who would have done that transition with a slow fade out from television static.

  13. About the headphone jack – that actually makes some sense. Since Apple has locked down the IO port on the iPhone, there have been efforts to both send power and IO through the headphone/microphone jack to adapt hardware to these devices. It’s not enough bandwidth to run video at that resolution though…

    See http://eecs.umich.edu/~prabal/projects/hijack/

  14. I smell viral marketing for some yet-to-be-revealed brand. One way to get the billboard owners to play long is to be a big ad agency.

  15. There are so many technical reasons why this can’t work.

    Heres the first few that pop into my head.

    The electronics on that device aren’t going to do much on there own. How much power can you draw from an iphone headphone socket anyway? The 2 devices are pretty far away from each other so you’d need a few watts that simply aren’t available.

    Those screens are arrays of different sizes and are addressed differently to each other. Some may in fact have wireless links to update the video on them, but I seriously doubt they would carry live unencoded video data streams. More likely TCP/IP over wifi to a PC that drives them. I suspect the bus stop poster does something like this or via a modem/isdn. The bigger screens I havnt a clue.

    Theres no way they would just appear in the correct screen res to fit and the correct ratio. They’d be all over the place.

    ill stop before i become any more of a bore.

  16. Faking TV’s is easy….
    I’d re-enter my comment, but since I’m having a hard enough time with the insane capcha, that just deleted my text….(4th time!!!!)

    in brief, it take a few minutes per tv… they just would have started with tv’s that were turned off to get better reflections imagine, then compped other footage back in before they cut them.

    look at an example I did in about 10 minutes when i was muckin around the other day…

  17. Boy, I don’t know how all the rest of you (much more technically proficient geeks than I) missed that most OBVIOUS problem with this video, but . . .

    When you watch the initial video-recording sequence, you notice a slight bit of lag time between the actual movements of the subject and what comes out on the phone screen. Typical. BUT, you see the same lag when the phone is supposedly “broadcasting” to the hijacked screens.


    What is playing on the hijacked screens PROCEEDS the movements of the phone. Which should be the OPPOSITE if the phone is indeed broadcasting to the screen. I think the hoaxers made sure that there was a lag, but for some reason got it backwards, possibly thinking that we would accept lag IF it showed up the same way that you saw it in the initial video-recording sequence.

    Anyone? Anyone? Anyone?

  18. Crap. Spoke too soon. I went back and looked again in freeze-frame, and it IS in the right order.


    1. Not to make you feel even worse, but I do not think “proceeds” means what you think it means.

  19. the only thing that got hacked here is your willing suspension of disbelief.

    for a million technical reasons, it is a fake. but consider this: even a shielded cable would prevent that hack from working, and they definitely put shielded cables on their multimillion dollar advert space.

  20. So, this is a good FX job, but anyone with After Effects/Mocha experience can pull it off, including the realistic lighting and translucency effects.

    But aside from the exposed-circuit-board “tech” and snazzy flickering screens being completely preposterous (although easy to sell to a population hooked on “CSI science”), the real reason this is obviously fake is because the “filmmakers” took great pains to shake the camera just enough, and they frequently put stuff in front of each of the “hijacked” screens, as if they were trying really hard to convince us that it was a “natural” shot.

    It’s the “District 9” effect. The worse the cinematography is, the less likely we are to believe that that anyone put any time into it.

  21. I’ve never been to Times Square, but in the final exhibition on the big screen, the bottom text still says “For Audio Dial xxx-xxxxx (charges may apply)”. I was under the impression that it was also part of the video signal.

    1. That one bugged me too, but if anything, it’s an argument against a simple CG job. Wouldn’t the CG artist have edited out such an obvious tell?

  22. You can send data over the headphone jack but nothing like what would be needed to send video of the resolution they are showing. Also they are supposedly overriding the signal and magically it shows up on every screen in the right resolution. Amusing but definitely fake.

  23. All these video screens are using the same previously unknown insecure wireless protocol? And they all locate their receivers in the middle of the displays? Nice.

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