VGA In Memoriam

The reports of the death of the VGA connector are greatly exaggerated. Rumors of the demise of the VGA connector has been going around for a decade now, but VGA has been remarkably resiliant in the face of its impending doom; this post was written on a nine-month old laptop connected to an external monitor through the very familiar thick cable with two blue ends. VGA is a port that can still be found on the back of millions of TVs and monitors that will be shipped this year.

This year is, however, the year that VGA finally dies. After 30 years, after being depreciated by several technologies, and after it became easy to put a VGA output on everything from an eight-pin microcontroller to a Raspberry Pi, VGA has died. It’s not supported by the latest Intel chips, and it’s hard to find a motherboard with the very familiar VGA connector.

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Scrolling a Message on a Building in a Time Lapse Video

[Saulius Lukse] has a really interesting way of turning a couple of buildings into his own addressable display. The effect is not seen in real life, but is a clever video rendering with stock he pulled from time-lapse cameras. Now if you want to play Tetris using the windows of a building you add wireless lightbulbs to every window. But that’s a lot of work. You can fake playing Tetris (or scrolling messages in this case) if you just show a video of the buildings and swap in your own image manipulation.

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[Saulius] starts with a time lapse sequence of a city scape. It needs to be one with a large building or two to provide a good scrolling surface. The building is extracted from the scene with the background transparent. The really time consuming part is creating a distinct image with one window lit for each window that is going to be used. This set of windows are the ‘pixels’ used to create the scrolling images. This is accomplished by masking out one image of the building with every office light turned off, then masking out each window individually with the office illuminated. This masking means everything going on around the building (traffic, weather, people) will be preserved, while the windows can be individually manipulated.

Next the program jinx is used to create the building animation. This program is designed to create scrolling messages on LED panels. [Saulius] provides a Python script that takes the images, the output of jinx, and combines them to create the final set of moving images.

The result is a city wishing you a “Happy New Year!”

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PiNoculars – A Farseeing Pi Camera

The Raspberry Pi camera provides a 5 megapixel resolution with still images of up to 2592 x 1944 and multiple video modes including 2592 x 1944 at 15 frames per second. With it being mounted on a small board it is ideal for using in hacks. [Josh Williams] mounted the camera on the lens of binoculars to capture some startling images, including this squirrel.

The camera is installed on a custom, laser cut mount that fastens to one eyepiece of the binoculars. The Pi itself is mounted above the binoculars. An LCD touch screen from Adafruit allows [Josh] to select the image and adjust the focus. Snapping pictures is done using either the touch screen or switches that come with the screen.

The Instructable [Josh] wrote is extremely detailed and includes two different ways of mounting the Pi on the binoculars. The quick and dirty method just straps on with tape. The highly engineered method delves into Inkscape to design a plywood mount that is laser cut. For portable operation, [Josh] uses one of the ubiquitous battery packs meant for USB charging.

Basic setup of the Pi and camera are in a video after the break.

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Android Set Top Box Lets You Stream and Record via HDMI Input

While on the hunt for some hardware that would let him stream video throughout his LAN [danman] got a tip to try the €69 Tronsmart Pavo M9 (which he points out is a re-branded Zidoo X9). With some handy Linux terminal work and a few key pieces of software [danman] was able to get this going.

The Android box was able to record video from the HDMI input with pre-installed software found in the main menu as [danman] explains on his blog. File format options are available in the record menu, however none of them were suitable for streaming the video (which was the goal, remember?).

[danman] was able to poke around the system easily since these boxes come factory rooted (or at least the Tronsmart variant that [danman] uses in his demo did). Can anyone with a Zidoo X9 verify access to the root directory?

Long story short, [danman] was able to get the stream working over the network. Although he did have to make some changes to the stream command he was issuing over ssh. He finds the fix in the ffmpeg documentation which saves you the trouble of reading through it but you’ll have to check out his blog post for that (pro tip: he links to a sweet little .apk reverse engineering tool as well).

We’ve seen set top box hacks before, however, streaming and recording HDMI at this price is a rare find. If you’ve been hacking up the same tree let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to send in those tips!

Driving WS2811 LEDs with…VGA?

We thought we’d seen it all. All the ways to drive WS2811/2812 “Neopixel” LEDs, that is. And then [Steve Hardy] comes up with a new one: hacking a computer’s VGA output to drive 500 WS2811s in a string. And it’s quite a hack. You can check out the video (it’s worth enduring the horrible wind noise) below the break.

bits[Steve]’s big realization was that he could send the digital data that the Neopixels needed by carefully selecting a resolution and clock rate for the VGA to match the timings that the WS2811 modules wanted. A resolution of 840×1000 at 28MHz produces 70 pixels per WS2811 bit, or 12 bits per line. This means two VGA lines need to be sent for the RGB triple for each LED, hence the 1000 rows.

There are some further tricks before [Steve] got around to writing a custom OpenGL shader that converts regular graphics to his strange black-and-white bit pattern to drive the LEDs, but you’re going to have to read [Steve’s] blog for all that. If you’re waiting for a full code write-up, [Steve] says that one’s pending.

We’re just stoked to see the computing power that lies within a video card used for other purposes. Once you think of the VGA output as a general-purpose high speed (analog!) output, it opens up a whole bunch of possibilities if you can write the corresponding video software. As [Steve] points out, he’s only using the red channel right now — he could trivially add another 1000 LEDs just by tweaking his video code.

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Hillbilly Lego Focus Puller

There’s almost nothing you can’t build with the right set of Lego parts. [Rigjob] built up a Lego-based wireless remote follow-focus system that’ll give professional systems a run for their money.

Now [Rigjob] self-identifies as a hillbilly, but he’s not just a redneck with a camera. He’s set up the Lego controller to remember minimum and maximum focus positions as well as mark points along the way. The controller simply won’t turn the lens outside of the focus range, and an interactive graph shows you where you are within the range. For a focus wheel, he uses (drum-roll please!) a Lego off-road wheel. It looks really comfortable, usable, and actually quite professional.

There’s a lot of tech in the Lego controller and motors that make this “simple” hack simple. Under the hood, there’s a Bluetooth connection, a geared stepper motor with a position sensor, a communication protocol, and a whole ton of programming in the Lego controller that makes it all drag-and-drop programmable. But to a long-bearded hillbilly cameraman, it all looks like child’s play. And that’s the hallmark of good design. Kudos, Lego.

If you can’t get enough Lego camera tech, check out this DIY slit-scan stargate rig, or (what else?) a Lego 3D chocolate printer.

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Making a Wooden Multi-Mirror Display Device

Do you have 835 servo motors sitting around? Why not build your own binary wood-pixel-display-device?

Using the same basic concept as a DMD (Digital Micromirror Device) — the heart of all DLP projection technology — an artist created this wooden mirror. It features 835 wood “pixels” which are controlled by servo motors. Each pixel or wood chip can flip 30 degrees down, and 30 degrees up. A series of spot lights shining on the mirror provides lighting so shadows form when the pixels are “off”. The result is quite fascinating.

A small camera mounted in the middle of the display takes a black and white image of whoever (or whatever) is standing in front of the mirror. A bit of image processing later, and the mirror displays what it sees.

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