A video showing a man using his iPhone to hijack the “JumboTron” video screens in Times Square has gone viral, raking in close to a million views on YouTube since it was posted on Sunday. It has also sparked a raging debate on Twitter and blog comments: Is it real or a hoax?
“The way it works is pretty simple: plug in my transmitter into the iphone 4 and play back any video clip,” explains the text that accompanies the video posted by the mysterious BITcrash44. “The transmitter instantly sends the video signal to the video repeater and the video repeater overrides any video screen that it’s being held next to.”
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In one scene, the man is seen emerging from a store carrying what looks like a weather balloon (Times Square really has everything) and attaching the “repeater” to it. He floats it next to a giant video screen and the live feed of CNN is suddenly replaced with his image.
Without knowing the exact details of how each of the screens work, it’s impossible to tell whether it’s real or fake, says UC San Diego Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Pamela Cosman. But she’s skeptical. The key thing to know is whether the screens are getting their video signals wirelessly or through a wired connection.
“If they get their signals wirelessly, then it might in fact be possible to send them a signal which they could display if you knew the frequency and format and so forth of their real signals,” she says, adding that it would be very complicated to do and you would have to contend with interference from the true signal.
“But if the screens are getting their signals on a wire,” Cosman says, “then transmitting wirelessly at them is not going to take them over because they wouldn’t even be equipped with a receiver.”
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Even assuming the screens are getting their signals wirelessly, Cosman says that what she finds most problematic is how the transmitter is able to decipher the different frequencies and different formats of each screen.
“If one screen is wirelessly getting the signal from CBS, and another screen is wirelessly getting the signal from NBC (there may be hundreds of video broadcasters in the area) then how can the little device transmit on all those separate frequencies and different formats at the same time in order to take over any screen?” Cosman said. “That is what I see as a problem.”
It’s not looking good for the veracity of BITCrash44’s video with more and more analysts concluding it’s a fake. One thing they can all agree on, however, it’s that it’s a delightful watch.
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