FPGA Based Ambilight Clone

The Philips Ambilight – a bunch of rear-facing RGB LEDs taped to the back of a TV – is becoming the standard project for anyone beginning to tinker with FPGAs. [DrX]’s is the best one we’ve seen yet, with a single board that reads and HDMI stream, makes blinkey lights go, and outputs the HDMI stream to the TV or monitor.

[DrX] is using an FPGA development board with two HDMI connectors – the Scarab miniSpartan6+ – and a strand of WS2801 individually addressable RGB LEDs for this project. With a bit of level shifting, driving the LEDs was easily taken care of. But what about decoding HDMI?

Most of the project is borrowed from a project that displays a logo in the corner of a 720p video stream. The hardware is the same, but for an Ambilight clone, you need to read the video stream and process it, not just write to it. By carefully keeping track of the R, G, and B values for each pixel along with the pixel clock,  the colors along the edge of a display can be averaged. It’s not as difficult or as memory-intensive as building a frame buffer; nearly all of the picture data is thrown out when assembling the averages around the perimeter of the display. It does work, though.

After figuring out the average color around the perimeter of the display, it’s just a simple matter of driving the LEDs. Tape those LEDs to the back of a TV, and there’s an Ambilight clone, made with an FPGA.

[DrX] has a few videos of his project in action. You can check those out below.

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The Small & Cheap miniSpartan6+


There have been quite a few boards put out in recent months with an FPGA, some RAM, Flash, and a bunch of I/O, the working theory being FPGAs are the new hotness, ready to steal the crown from Arduino and put a programmable logic development board in the hands of millions. We’re not so sure that’s going to happen. but Scarab Hardware’s miniSpartan6+ board does look pretty nice, and has more than enough on board to serve as anyone’s first FPGA platform. It’s also one of the first FPGA boards we’ve seen that is breadboard friendly. Nice touch.

This tiny board features a Spartan6 LX9 FPGA, with just under 10,000 logic cells. An FPGA platform is useless without some sort of IDE, so the Scarab Hardware folks have taken the Mojo IDE, improved the GUI, added a few libraries, and rolled everything up into a ‘not the Arduino IDE, but as simple and better’ platform.

Right now, the crowdfunding campaign for the miniSpartan6+ is well over 200% funded with a little less than a month to go. The stretch goals the team have in mind – a very likely probability, given what they’re asking – include a faster FPGA, a higher resolution ADC, and support for HDMI input and output. That last bit – HDMI input – will allow anyone to do some cool things like overlaying video with HDMI for a pretty reasonable cost.