Spit Out VGA with Non-Programmable Logic Chips

It’s not uncommon to bitbang a protocol with a microcontroller in a pinch. I2C is frequently crunched from scratch, same with simple serial protocols, occasionally complex systems like Ethernet, and a whole host of other communication standards. But VGA gets pretty tricky because of the timing requirements, so it’s less common to bitbang. [Sven] completely threw caution to the wind. He didn’t just bitbang VGA on an Arduino, but he went one step further and configured an array of 7400 logic chips to output a VGA signal.

[Sven]’s project is in two parts. In part one, he discusses choosing a resolution and setting up the timing signal. He proceeds to output a simple(-ish) VGA signal that can be displayed on a monitor using a single gate. At that point only a red image was displayed, but getting signal lock from the monitor is a great proof of concept and [Sven] moved on to more intricate display tricks.

With the next iteration of the project [Sven] talks about adding in more circuitry to handle things like frame counting, geometry, and color. The graphics that are displayed were planned out in a simulator first, then used to design the 7400 chip configuration for that particular graphic display. It made us chuckle that [Sven] reports his monitor managed to survive this latest project!

We don’t remember seeing non-programmable integrated circuits used for VGA generation before. But bitbanging the signal on an Arduino or from an SD card slot is a great test of your ability to calculate and implement precise timings with an embedded system. Give it a try!

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Bitbanging I2C by hand


Play around with electronics long enough, and eventually you’ll run into I2C devices. These chips – everything from sensors and memory to DACs and ADCs – use a standardized interface that consists of only two wires. Interacting with these devices is usually done with a microcontroller and an I2C library, but [Kevin] wanted to take that one step further. He’s bitbanging I2C devices by hand and getting a great education in the I2C protocol in the process.

Every I2C device is controlled by two connections to a microcontroller, a data line and a clock line. [Kevin] connected these lines to tact switches through a pair of transistors, allowing him to manually key in I2C commands one bit at a time.

[Kevin] is using a 24LC256 EEPROM for this demonstration, and by entering a control byte and two address bytes, he can enter a single byte of data by hand that will be saved for many, many years in this tiny chip.

Of course getting data into a chip is only half of the problem. By altering the control byte at the beginning of an I2C message by one bit, [Kevin] can also read data out of the chip.

This isn’t [Kevin]’s first experimentation in controlling chips solely with buttons. Earlier, we saw him play around with a 595 shift register using five push buttons. It’s a great way to intuit how these chips actually work, and would be an exceptional learning exercise for tinkerers young and old,

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Adding USB connectivity to old benchtop tools


[Scott] was recently given a frequency counter, and once he brought it home, he started contemplating how he could possibly make it better. While the counter worked well as-is, he wanted to find a way to record data readings over a reasonably long period of time. He figured that interfacing it with his computer would be the best way to do this, but he had to find a way to connect the devices first.

He started poking around inside the frequency counter and stumbled upon a possible data source when taking a closer look at the display board. He found that he could read the frequency data as it was being written to the display, and send that data to his computer. He used an ATMega48 to intercept the data and code from the V-USB project to bit-bang the data to his PC over USB.

Now, anything he sees on the frequency counter can be easily collected and graphed on his computer with little fuss.

Stick around to see a quick video demonstration of his hack in action.

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Introduction to FTDI bitbang mode

It was an interface that launched a thousand hacks. Near trivial to program, enough I/O lines for useful work, and sufficiently fast for a multitude of applications: homebrew logic analyzers, chip programmers, LCD interfaces and LED light shows, to name a few.

Today the parallel printer port is on the brink of extinction (and good riddance, some would say). Largely rendered obsolete by USB, few (if any) new peripherals even include a parallel connector, and today’s shrinking computers — nettops, netbooks, media center PCs — wouldn’t have space for it anyway. That’s great for tidy desks, but not so good if you enjoyed the dirt-cheap hacks that the legacy parallel port made possible.

Fear not, for there’s a viable USB alternative that can resurrect many of these classic hacks! And if you’ve done much work with Arduino, there’s a good chance it’s already lurking in your parts drawer.

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