FPGA Powers Blazingly Fast LED Matrix Audio Visualizer

[Sam Miller], [Sahil Gupta], and [Mashrur Mohiuddin] worked together on a very fast LED matrix display for their final project in ECE 5760 at Cornell University.

Real time!
Real time!

They started, as any good engineering students, by finding a way to make their lives easier. [Sam] had built a 32×32 LED matrix for another class. So, they made three more and ended up with a larger and more impressive 64×64 LED display.

They claim their motivation was the love of music, but we have a suspicion that the true reason was the love all EEs share for unnaturally bright LEDs; just look at any appliance at night and try not be blinded.

The brains of the display is an Altera DE2-115 FPGA board. The code is all pure Verilog. The FFT and LED control are implemented in hardware on the FPGA; none of that Altera core stuff. To generate images and patterns they wrote a series of python scripts. But for us it’s the particle test shown in the video below that really turns our head. This system is capable of tracking and reacting to a lot of different elements on the fly why scanning the display at about 310 FPS. They have tested display scanning at twice that speed but some screen-wrap artifacts need to be worked out before that’s ready for prime time.

The team has promised to upload all the code to GitHub, but it will likely be a while before the success hangover blows over and they can approach the project again. You can view a video interview and samples of the visualizations in the videos after the break.

Thanks to their Professor, [Bruce Land], for submitting the tip! His students are always doing cool things. You can even watch some of his excellent courses online if you like: Here’s one on the AVR micro-controller.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: 8-Bit Arduino Audio for Squares

A stock Arduino isn’t really known for its hi-fi audio generating abilities. For “serious” audio like sample playback, people usually add a shield with hardware to do the heavy lifting. Short of that, many projects limit themselves to constant-volume square waves, which is musically uninspiring, but it’s easy.

[Connor]’s volume-control scheme for the Arduino bridges the gap. He starts off with the tone library that makes those boring square waves, and adds dynamic volume control. The difference is easy to hear: in nature almost no sounds start and end instantaneously. Hit a gong and it rings, all the while getting quieter. That’s what [Connor]’s code lets you do with your Arduino and very little extra work on your part.

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A Cake Tin Makes A Great Tube Amp Chassis

If you have ever had a go at building a tube-based project you will probably be familiar with the amount of metalwork required to provide support structures for the tubes themselves and the various heavy transformers and large electrolytic capacitors. Electronic construction sixty years ago was as much about building the chassis of a project as it was about building the project itself, and it was thus not uncommon to see creative re-use of a chassis salvaged from another piece of equipment.

This morning we stumbled upon a rather nice solution to some of the metalwork woes facing the tube constructor courtesy of [Bruce], who built his tube audio amplifier on a chassis made from a cake tin and with its transformers housed in decorative display tins.

The circuit itself is a straightforward single-ended design using an ECL82 triode-pentode on each stereo channel, and comes courtesy of [Nitin William]. The power supply is on-board, and uses a pair of silicon diodes rather than another tube as the rectifier.

It’s true that [Bruce] has not entirely escaped metalwork, he’s still had to create the holes for his tubes and various mountings for other components. But a lot of the hard work in making a tube chassis is taken care of with the cake tin design, and the result looks rather professional.

We have something of a personal interest in single-ended tube amplifiers here at Hackaday, as more than one of us have one in our constructional past, present, or immediate futures. They are a great way to dip your toe in the water of tube amplifier design, being fairly simple and easy to make without breaking the bank. We’ve certainly featured our share of tube projects here over the years, for example our “Groove tube” round-up, or our look at some alternative audio amplifiers.

Netbook Finds New Home in a Jaguar Dashboard

You’d figure a luxury car like a Jaguar would have a high-end infotainment system. [RichTatham]’s Jag did, but the trouble was that it was a high-end system when a cassette deck and trunk-mounted CD changer were big deals. So naturally, he saw this as a great reason to modernize the system by grafting a netbook into the Jag’s dash. The results are fantastic!

Even though the Jag’s original system didn’t have much left that made it into the final project — the navigation system, CD changer, phone and even the amps ended up on the scrap heap — at least the dashboard instrument cluster proved to be very amenable to his mods. By substituting a climate control cluster from another model into his car, he was able to free up tons of space for the netbook’s 8″ display. A custom bezel and some clever brackets completed the head-end of the new system, and the look is as close to a factory install as you’re likely to find in an aftermarket mod. With the netbook stashed in the bay vacated by the OEM system, a GPS dongle, and a USB sound card connected to a 5.1 amp using the original speakers this jag is ready to bump. We bet that the system sounds as good as it looks, and with the added functionality of a Windows PC to boot.

For obvious reasons, lots of computers make it into hackers’ dashboards, whether they be Windows like this one, Samsung tablets or Nexus tablets running Android, and even phones. But [Rich]’s build is top notch, and takes in-car integrations to the next level.

[via r/diy]

Amazing Oscilloscope Graphics

From what we can understand, [ompuco] has built a 2D audio output on top of the Unity game engine, enabling him to output X and Y values from his stereo soundcard straight to an oscilloscope in XY mode. His code simply scans through all the vertexes in the scene and outputs the right voltages into the left and right audio streams. He’s using this to create some pretty incredible animations. Check out the video “additives” below for an example. (See if you can figure out what’s being “added”.)

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Color-Changing LED Makes Techno Music

As much as we like addressable LEDs for their obedience, why do we always have to control everything? At least participants of the MusicMaker Hacklab, which was part of the Artefact Festival in February this year, have learned, that sometimes we should just sit down with our electronics and listen.

With the end of the Artefact Festival approaching, they still had this leftover color-changing LED from an otherwise scavenged toy reverb microphone. When powered by a 9 V battery, the LED would start a tiny light show, flashing, fading and mixing the very best out of its three primary colors. Acoustically, however, it spent most of its time in silent dignity.

singing_led_led_anatomy

As you may know, this kind of LED contains a tiny integrated circuit. This IC pulse-width-modulates the current through the light-emitting junctions in preprogrammed patterns, thus creating the colorful light effects.

To give the LED a voice, the participants added a 1 kΩ series resistor to the LED’s “anode”, which effectively translates variations in the current passing through the LED into measurable variations of voltage. This signal could then be fed into a small speaker or a mixing console. The LED expressed its gratitude for the life-changing modification by chanting its very own disco song.

singing_led_hook_up_schematic

This particular IC seems to operate at a switching frequency of about 1.1 kHz and the resulting square wave signal noticeably dominates the mix. However, not everything we hear there may be explained solely by the PWM. There are those rhythmic “thump” noises, shifts in pitch and amplitude of the sound and more to analyze and learn from. Not wanting to spoil your fun of making sense of the beeps and cracks (feel free to spoil as much as you want in the comments!), we just say enjoy the video and thanks to the people of the STUK Belgium for sharing their findings.

Bela: Real-Time BeagleBone Audio/Analog Cape

Bela is a cape for the BeagleBone Black that’s aimed at artists and musicians. Actually, the cape is much less than half of the story — the rest is in some clever software and a real-time Linux distribution. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s talk hardware first.

First off, the cape has stereo input and output as well as two amplified speaker outs. It can do all of your audio stuff. It also has two banks of analogue inputs and outputs, each capable of handling eight signals. In our opinion, this is where the Bela is cool. In particular, the analog outputs are not Arduino-style “analog outputs” where it’s actually a digital output on which you can do PWM to fake an analog signal. These are eight 16-bit outputs from an AD5668 DAC which means that you can use the voltages directly, without filtering.

Then there’s the real trick. All of these input and output peripherals are hooked up to the BeagleBone’s Programmable Realtime Units (PRUs) — a hardware subsystem that’s independent of the CPU but can work along with it. The PRU is interfaced with the real-time Linux core to give you sub-microsecond response in your application. This is a big deal because a lot of other audio-processing systems have latencies that get into the tens of milliseconds or worse, where it starts to be perceptible as a slight lag by humans.

The downside of this custom analog and audio I/O is that it’s not yet supported by kernel drivers, and you’ll need to use their “Heavy Audio Tools” which compiles Pd programs into C code, which can then drive the PRUs. Of course, you can write directly for the PRUs yourself as well. If you just want to play MP3s, get something you have a bunch of simpler, better options. If you need to do responsive real-time audio installations, Bela is a way to go.

The project is open-source, but we had to do a bunch of digging to find what we were looking for. The hardware is in zip files here, and you’ll find the software here. The demo projects look/sound pretty cool and their Kickstarter is long over-funded, so we’re interested to see what folks make with these.