Reversing the IT-24 USB Image Protocol

Written 2014-03-02

Tags:USB IT-24 UART Hardware RLE RigExpert Universal Serial Bus 

Figuring it out


RigExpert makes a handheld 13cm band antenna analyzer, the IT-24. It is small, lightweight, and both measures and graphs SWR. However, until today, the IT-24 required a Windows tool called LCD2CLIP, which is used to copy the current analyzer frame to the windows clipboard. The image transfer is started by pressing the button labeled with a rectangle on the analyzer.


I started by examining the USB drivers - inside the IT-24 is a USB-FTDI interface. These show up under /dev/ttyUSB in Linux. The baud-rate is 115200. Pressing the screencapture button sends a newline,carriage-return,"screencomp", resolution,and then a compressed bytestream terminated with another newline and carriage return.

Gathering data and initial guesses

To verify the link quality, I recorded a few captures of the main menu using dd on the USB-emulated serial port device, and all captures of the main menu were the same. Changing the menu selection changed the capture data. The menu images were 4 to 5 pixels per byte. Captures of the graph page were 7 to 8 pixels per byte. This indicated that some form of compression was in use. Next I captured an SWR-sweep graph of the same antenna twice. Because they were different sweeps, the images were similar but not identical. Converting both dumps to hexadecimal and comparing in meld showed that the differences in binary dumps were similar to where the graphs would be different. Also suspicious was the fact that after subtracting the header and footer, the dump size was always a multiple of 3 bytes.


The next step was building a simple parser and gathering statistics. For each three-byte packet, the first and second bytes had a limited number of possible values. Additionally, when the first and second bytes are combined, the values line up, so this appeared to be a 16-bit integer. The third byte of all packets has the interesting property, when added together, of equalling the total number of pixels in the image, which is known from the ASCII header. This pretty much nails it down as Run-Length-Encoding .

Documented Format


  1. CarriageReturn
  2. NewLine
  3. "screencomp"
  4. width
  5. "x"
  6. height


RLE encoded, 3 bytes per packet representing between 1 and 255 pixels. Per packet:
  1. 2 bytes RGB565.
  2. 1 byte repeat-count.


  1. CarriageReturn
  2. NewLine

Code and closing

I wrote a python tool to scrape images from the IT-24 and posted it to github. A few revisions back you can find an earlier parser written in 'C' that was just enough to work out the rest of the format. Using the above program, it's perfectly reasonable to record a few graphs per minute to a PC using the IT-24 from RigExpert.