Reverse Engineer then Drive LCD with FPGA

Fans of [Ben Heck] know that he has a soft spot for pinball machines and his projects that revolve around that topic tend to be pretty epic. This is a good example. At a trade show he saw an extra-wide format LCD screen which he thought would be perfect on a pinball build. He found out it’s a special module made for attaching to your car’s sun visor. The problem is that it only takes composite-in and he wanted higher quality video than that offers. The solution: reverse engineer the LCD protocol and implement it in an FPGA.

This project is a soup to nuts demonstration of replacing electronics drivers; the skill is certainly not limited to LCD modules. He starts by disassembling the hardware to find what look like differential signaling lines. With that in mind he hit the Internet looking for common video protocols which will help him figure out what he’s looking for. A four-channel oscilloscope sniffs the signal as the unit shows a blue screen with red words “NO SIGNAL”. That pattern is easy to spot since the pixels are mostly repeated except when red letters need to be displayed. Turns out the protocol is much like VGA with front porch, blanking, etc.

With copious notes about the timings [Ben] switches over to working with a Cyclone III FPGA to replace the screen’s stock controller. The product claims 800×234 resolution but when driving it using those parameters it doesn’t fill the entire screen. A bit more tweaking and he discovers the display actually has 1024×310 pixels. Bonus!

It’s going to take us a bit more study to figure out exactly how he boiled down the sniffed data to his single color-coded protocol sheet. But that’s half the fun! If you need a few more resources to understand how those signals work, check out one of our other favorite FPGA-LCD hacks.

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Save Data from Old Scopes with a GPIB Disk Emulator

If you still use old test equipment on a regular basis, you probably have been frustrated by the lack of options for pulling data off these aging devices. Many higher-end devices are equipped with GPIB ports, which are general purpose buses for communicating with a variety of obsolete peripherals. Since GPIB disk drives aren’t too common (or practical) these days, [Anders] made a GPIB adapter that emulates a disk drive and stores data to an SD card.

[Anders] designed a PCB with a PIC microcontroller that plugs into a GPIB port. The PIC emulates a disk drive using the AMIGO protocol or the SS/80 protocol, which can be selected in a configuration file on the SD card. Most test equipment supports one of these two protocols, so his adapter should work with pretty much any GPIB-equipped kit.

Data is saved to a single image file on the SD card, which is encoded in a native HP disk format. The image file can be opened on Windows and Linux with some utilities that [Anders] mentioned on his project page. If you have any old test equipment withGPIB lying around and want to build your own, the schematic and source code are up on his site or [Anders] is selling bare boards.

Now if it’s a protocol converter that you need we’ve seen those in a couple of different varieties.

Ultimate Oscilloscope Hack – Quake in Realtime

[Pekka] set himself up with quite the challenge – use an oscilloscope screen to display Quake in realtime – could it even be done? Old analog scope screens are just monochromatic CRTs but they are designed to draw waveforms, not render graphics.

Over the years Hackaday has tracked the evolution of scope-as-display hacks: Pong, Tetris, vector display and pre-rendered videos. Nothing that pushed boundaries quite like this.

[Pekka]’s solution starts off the same as many others, put the scope in X-Y mode and splice up your headphone cable – easy. He then had to figure out some way to create an audio signal that corresponded to the desire image. The famous “Youscope” example demos this, but that demo is pre-rendered. [Pekka] wanted to play Quake in realtime on the scope itself, not just watch a recording.

With only so much bandwidth available using a soundcard, [Pekka] figured he could draw a maximum of about a thousand lines on screen at a time. The first headache was that all of his audio cards had low-pass filters on them. No way around it, he adjusted his ceiling accordingly. ASIO and PortAudio were his tools of choice to create the audio on the fly from a queue of XY lines given.

To tell his audio engine what lines to draw, he solicited Darkplaces – an open source Quake rendering engine – and had it strip polygons down to the bare minimum. Then he had to whip out the digital hedge trimmers and continue pruning. This writeup really cannot do justice to all the ingenious tricks used to shove the most useful data possible through a headphone jack. If this kind of thing interests you at all, do yourself a favor and check out his well-illustrated project log.

In the end [Pekka] was not entirely happy with the results. The result is playable, but only just barely. The laptop struggles to keep it simple enough, the soundcard struggles to add enough detail and the scope struggles to display it all quickly enough. At the very least it sets the bar extraordinarily high for anyone looking to one-up him using this method. There is only so much water that can be squeezed from a rock.

See the video below of [Pekka] playing the first level of Quake.

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Pendulum Music for Oscilloscope and Photodiodes

Two turntables and a microphone? Try two oscilloscopes and a couple of photodiodes. [dfiction] reinterpreted Steve Reich’s classic feedback piece for more modern electronics. The video is embedded after the break.

The original Pendulum Music is a conceptual musical composition from the heady year of 1968. Basically, you set a bunch of microphones swinging across speakers, making feedback as they pass by. The resulting rhythmic and tonal oscillations change over time as the swinging damps down. It’s either mesmerizing or entirely boring, depending on your mindset.

In the [dfiction] version, the feedback is produced by passing a “light microphone” over an oscilloscope. And since he’s got a pair of these setups, the one microphone also feeds the other ‘scope. The resulting sound is this chaotic and gritty noise-rumble. We dig it.

If slowly evolving “process music” pushes the boundaries of your attention span (or if it’s just not your thing) you can totally skip around in the video. Try around 1:40 and 3:45 into the piece just to get an idea of what’s going on. But once you’re there, you might as well let it run its course.

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The Four Thousand Dollar MP3 Player

[Pat]’s friend got a Pono for Christmas, a digital audio player that prides itself on having the highest fidelity of any music player. It’s a digital audio device designed in hand with [Neil Young], a device that had a six million dollar Kickstarter, and is probably the highest-spec audio device that will be released for the foreseeable future.

The Pono is an interesting device. Where CDs have 16-bit, 44.1 kHz audio, the Pono can play modern lossless formats – up to 24-bit, 192 kHz audio. There will undoubtedly be audiophiles arguing over the merits of higher sampling rates and more bits, but there is one way to make all those arguments moot: building an MP3 player out of an oscilloscope.

Digital audio players are limited by the consumer market; there’s no economical way to put gigasamples per second into a device that will ultimately sell for a few thousand dollars. Oscilloscopes are not built for the consumer market, though, and the ADCs and DACs in a medium-range scope will always be above what a simple audio player can manage.

[Pat] figured the Tektronicx MDO3000 series scope sitting on his bench would be a great way to capture and play music and extremely high bit rates. He recorded a song to memory at a ‘lazy’ 1 Megasample per second through analog channel one. From there, a press of the button made this sample ready for playback (into a cheap, battery-powered speaker, of course).

Of course this entire experiment means nothing. the FLAC format can only handle a sampling rate of up to 655 kilosamples per second. While digital audio formats could theoretically record up to 2.5 Gigasamples per second, the question of ‘why’ would inevitably enter into the minds of audio engineers and anyone with an ounce of sense. Short of recording music from the master tapes or another analog source directly into an oscilloscope, there’s no way to obtain music at this high of a bit rate. It’s just a dumb demonstration, but it is the most expensive MP3 player you can buy.

Tripping on Oscilloshrooms With an Analog Scope

This might be an old trick, but it’s still cool to see a functional tool like the oscilloscope manipulated for an unrelated purpose such as this. [Jerobeam Fenderson] made a video explaining how to input stereo audio into an old digital scope in order to create of all things, dancing mushrooms… because why not?

In this case, [Jerobeam] used a Tektronix D11 5103N set in X Y mode and attached the left and right channels from his RME Fireface UC audio interface. One channel corresponds with X, and the other with Y. From here, he controls the wave forms discretely with the help of software like Pure Data (Pd) and Max (not free, but more powerful) which are visual programming environments made to enable musicians and artists to create software without writing lines of code. His video explains how to make a circle out of a sine wave, and then beat the crap out of it with math far beyond our comprehension. The outcome is pretty mesmerizing and leaves us wanting to try it out ourselves. Luckily, if you’re interested in experimenting with the voice of sine waves… [Jerobeam] has more information on his blog on how to do some scope play of your own whether your hardware is analog or digital.

You can see the dancing mushrooms in his video below:

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Scope Noob: Bridge Rectifier

Welcome back to this week’s installment of Scope Noob where I’m sharing my experiences learning to use my first oscilloscope. Last week I started out measuring mains frequency using an AC-AC wall wart adapter. Homework, for those following along, was to build a bridge rectifier and probe the signals from it. Let’s take a look.

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