A Simple Circuit For Testing Infrared Remote Controls

Every now and then a remote control acts up. Maybe you are trying to change the channel on your television and it’s just not working. A quick way to determine if the remote control is still working is by using a cell phone camera to try to see if the IR LED is still lighting up. That can work sometimes but not always. [Rui] had this problem and he decided to build his own circuit to make it easier to tell if a remote control was having problems.

The circuit uses a Vishay V34836 infrared receiver to pick up the invisible signals that are sent from a remote control. A Microchip 12F683 processes the data and has two main output modes. If the remote control is receiving data continuously, then a green LED lights up to indicate that the remote is functioning properly. If some data is received but not in a continuous stream, then a yellow LED lights up instead. This indicates that the batteries on the remote need to be replaced.

The circuit also includes a red LED as a power indicator as well as RS232 output of the actual received data. The PCB was cut using a milling machine. It’s glued to the top of a dual AAA battery holder, which provides plenty of current to run the circuit.

Two New Dev Boards That Won’t Make Your Wallet Hurt-So-Good

If you’ve been keeping up with the hobbyist FPGA community, you’ll recognize the DE0 Nano as “that small form-factor FPGA” with a deep history of projects from Oldland cpu cores to synthesizable Parallax Propeller processors. After more than four years in the field though, it’s about time for a reboot.

Its successor, the DE0 Nano SoC, is a complete redesign from multiples perspectives while doing it’s best to preserve the bite-size form factor and price that made the first model so appealing. First, the dev board boasts a Cyclone V with 40,000 logical elements (up from the DE0’s 22K) and an integrated dual-core Arm Cortex A9 Processor. The PCB layout also brings us  3.3V Arduino shield compatibility via female headers, 1 Gig of external DDR3 SDRAM and gigabit ethernet support via two onboard ASICs to handle the protocol. The folks at Terasic also seem to be tipping their hats towards the “Duino-Pi” hobbyist community, given that they’ve kindly provided both Linux and Arduino images to get you started a few steps above your classic finite-state machines and everyday combinational logic.

And while the new SoC model sports a slightly larger form factor at 68.59mm x 96mm (as opposed to the original’s 49mm x 75.2mm), we’d say it’s a small price to pay in footprint for a whirlwind of new possibilities on the logic level. The board hits online shelves now at a respectable $100.

Next, as a heads-up, the aforementioned Arduino Zero finally makes it’s release on June 15. If you’ve ever considered taking the leap from an 8-bit to a 32-bit processor without having to hassle through the setup of an ARM toolchain, now might be a great time to get started.

via [the Arduino Blog]

Update: Battlezone on Vector Display Step-by-Step

When we ran the story of Battlezone played on tube displays earlier this week there were immediately questions about recreating the hack. At the time the software wasn’t available, and there is also a bit of hardware hacking necessary to get the audio working. You asked and [Eric] from Tubetime delivered. He’s posted a pair of articles that show how to get an STM32F4 Discovery board to play the classic game, along with instructions to build the firmware.

The hardware hack in this case is untangling the pinout used on the discovery board. It seems that one of the lines needed to get sound working for this hack is tied to one of the two DACs. If you read the original coverage you’ll remember that both of the DACs are used to drive X and Y on the vector display. The image above shows a cut trace on the bottom of the board. You’ll then need to route that signal to an alternate pin by soldering a jumper wire from the chip to a resistor on the board.

This (as well as one other alteration that bridges two of the chip pins) is a great example of work you should be unafraid to do on your own dev boards. We’ve had to do it with the Launchpad boards to get at the functionality we needed. We’d like to hear your own epic stories of abusing dev boards to do your bidding. Let us know in the comments.

Better VGA On The STM32F4

[Cliff] is pushing VGA video out of a microcontroller at 800×600 resolution and 60 frames per second. This microcontroller has no video hardware. Before we get to the technical overview, here’s the very impressive demo.

The microcontroller in question is the STM32F4, a fairly powerful ARM that we’ve seen a lot of use in some pretty interesting applications. We’ve seen 800×600 VGA on the STM32F4 before, with a circles and text demo and the Bitbox console. [Cliff]’s build is much more capable, though; he’s running 800×600 @ 60FPS with an underclocked CPU and most (90%) of the microcontroller’s resources free.

This isn’t just a demo, though; [Cliff] is writing up a complete tutorial for generating VGA on this chip. It begins with an introduction to pushing pixels, and soon he’ll have a walkthrough on timing and his rasterization framework.

Just because [Cliff] has gone through the trouble of putting together these tutorials doesn’t mean you can’t pull out an STM Discovery board and make your own microcontroller video hacks. [Cliff] has an entire library of for graphics to allow others to build snazzy video apps.

ESP8266 As A Networked MP3 Decoder

Support libraries, good application notes, and worked examples from a manufacturer can really help speed us on our way in making cool stuff with new parts. Espressif Systems has been doing a good job with their ESP8266 product (of course, it doesn’t hurt that the thing makes a sub-$5 IOT device a reality). Only recently, though, have they started publishing completed, complex application examples. This demo, a networked MP3 webradio player, just popped up in Github, written by the man better known to us as Sprite_tm. We can’t wait to see more.

The MP3 decoder itself is a port of the MAD MP3 library, adapted for smaller amounts of SRAM and ported to the ESP8266. With a couple external parts, you can make an internet-connected device that you can point to any Icecast MP3 stream, for instance, and it’ll decode and play the resulting audio.

What external parts, you ask? First is something to do the digital-to-analog conversion. The application, as written, is build for an ES9023 DAC, but basically anything that speaks I2S should be workable with only a little bit of datasheet-poking and head-scratching. Of course, you could get rid of the nice-sounding DAC chip and output 5-bit PWM directly from the ESP8266, but aside from being a nice quick demo, it’s going to sound like crap.

The other suggested external IC is an SPI RAM chip to allow for buffering of the incoming MP3 file. WiFi — and TCP networks in general — being what they are, you’re going to want to buffer the MP3 files to prevent glitching. As with the dedicated DAC, you could get away without it (and there are defines in the “playerconfig.h” file to do so) but you’ll probably regret it.

In sum, an ESP8266 chip, a cheap I2S DAC, and some external RAM and you’ve got a webradio player. OK, maybe we’d also add an amplifier chip, power supply, and a speaker. Hmmm…. and a display? Or leave it all configurable over WiFi? Point is, it’s a great worked code example, and a neat DIY device to show your friends.

The downsides? So far, only the mono version of the libMAD decoder / synth has been ported over to ESP8266. The github link is begging for a pull request, the unported code is just sitting there, and we think that someone should take up the task.

Other Resources

In our search for other code examples for the ESP8266, we stumbled on three repositories that appear to be official Espressif repositories on Github: espressif, EspressifSystems, and EspressifApp (for mobile apps that connect to the ESP8266). The official “Low Power Voltage Measurement” example looks like a great place to start, and it uses the current version of the SDK and toolchain.

There’s also an active forum, with their own community Github repository, with a few “Hello World” examples and a nice walkthrough of the toolchain.

And of course, we’ve reported on a few in the past. This application keeps track of battery levels, for instance. If you’ve got the time, have a look at all the posts tagged ESP8266 here on Hackaday.

You couldn’t possibly want more resources for getting started with your ESP8266 project. Oh wait, you want Arduino IDE support?

Thanks [Sprite_tm] for the tip.

Embed with Elliot: Multiplexing SPI Uses Few Pins

[Ralph Doncaster], aka Nerdralph, seems to be absolutely driven to see how few resources he can use on a microcontroller to get the job done. In this post on his blog, [Ralph] writes some custom bit-banged SPI code to cut the number of SPI lines necessary to drive an nRF24L01+ radio module from four down to two. That really helps if you’re using a micro with only six free pins, like an ATtiny85.

If you’re going to say, “why don’t you just buy a bigger microcontroller?”, you’re missing the point. This exercise strikes us as optimization for optimization’s sake and a dirty hack, both of which are points in its favor.  There are also a couple of techniques here for your mental toolbox. We thought it was interesting enough to look at in depth.

Continue reading “Embed with Elliot: Multiplexing SPI Uses Few Pins”

Optimizing AVR LCD Libraries

A while ago, [Paul Stoffregen], the creator of the Teensy family of microcontrollers dug into the most popular Arduino library for driving TFT LCDs. The Teensy isn’t an Arduino – it’s much faster – but [Paul]’s library does everything more efficiently.

Even when using a standard Arduino, there are still speed and efficiency gains to be made when driving a TFT. [Xark] recently released his re-mix of the Adafruit GFX library and LCD drivers. It’s several times faster than the Adafruit library, so just in case you haven’t moved on the Teensy platform yet, this is the way to use one of these repurposed cell phone displays.

After reading about [Paul]’s experience with improving the TFT library for the Teensy, [Xark] grabbed an Arduino, an LCD, and an Open Workbench Logic Sniffer to see where the inefficiencies in the Adafruit library were. These displays are driven via SPI, where the clock signal goes low for every byte shifted out over the data line. With the Adafruit library, there was a lot of wasted time in between each clock signal, and with the right code the performance could be improved dramatically.

The writeup on how [Xark] improved the code for these displays is fantastic, and the results are impressive; he can fill a screen with pixels at about 13FPS, making games that don’t redraw too much of the screen at any one time a real possibility.