Numato Opsis: FPGA-based open video platform

Imagine that you’re running a conference and you want to do a professional job recording the speakers and their decks. You’ll need to record one video stream from the presenter’s laptop, and it’d be nice to have another of the presenter taken with a camera. But you also need to have the presenter’s screen displayed on a projector or two for the live audience. And maybe you’d like all of this dumped down to your computer so that you can simultaneously archive the presentation and stream it out over the Internet.

io-ports_png_project-bodyThat’s exactly the problem that the hdmi2usb project tries to solve on the software side for open-source software conventions. And to go with this software, [Tim Ansell] has built the Numato Opsis FPGA video board, to tie everything together. What’s great about the platform is that the hardware and the firmware are all open source too.

Because everything’s open and it’s got an FPGA on board doing the video processing, you’re basically free to do whatever you’d like with the content in transit, so it could serve as an FPGA video experimenter board. It also looks like they’re going to port code over so that the Opsis could replace the discontinued, but still open source, Milkimist One video effects platform.

One thing that’s really cute about the design is that it reports over USB as being a camera, so you can record the resulting video on any kind of computer without installing extra drivers. All in all, it’s an FPGA-video extravaganza with a bunch of open-source software support behind it. Very impressive, [Tim]!

Arduino Video Over 2 Wires for Under $50: Mesa-Video

If you want video support on your project, you might start from a device like a Raspberry Pi that comes with it built in. [Kevinhub88] doesn’t accept such compromises, so he and his Black Mesa Labs have come up with a whole new way to add video support to devices like the Arduino and other cheap controllers. This project is called Mesa-Video, and it can add digital video at a resolution of up to 800 by 600 pixels to any device that has a single serial output.

The video is created by an FT813, a low cost GPU from FTDI that offers a surprising amount of video oomph from a cheap, low power chip (he has demoed it running from a lemon battery), meaning that he is hoping to be able to sell the Mesa-Video for under $50.

UPDATE: [KevinHub88] let us know that he didn’t actually power the device from a lemon battery, as you would need a lot of lemons to make 50mA at 5V. Apologies for any confusion!

However, Mesa-Video is just the beginning. [Kevinhub88] wanted to get around the problem of stacking shields on Arduinos: add more  than one and you get problems. He wanted to create an interface that would be simpler, faster and more open, so he created the Mesa-Bus. This effectively wraps SPI and I2C traffic together over a simple, fast serial connection that doesn’t require much decoding. This means that you can send power and bi-directional data over a handful of wires, and still connect multiple devices at once, swapping them out as required. You could, for instance, do your development work on a PC talking to the prototype devices over Mesa-Bus, them swap the PC out for an Arduino when you have got the first version working in your dev environment. Is the Arduino not cutting it? Because Mesa-Bus is cross-platform and open source, it is easy to swap the Arduino for a Raspberry Pi without having to change your other devices. And, because all the data is going over a simple serial connection in plain text, it is easy to debug.

It’s an ambitious project, and [Kevinhub88] has a way to go: he is currently working on getting his first prototype Mesa-Bus devices up and running, and finalizing the design of the Mesa-Video. But it is an impressive start and we’ll be keeping a close eye on this work. Hopefully he can avoid that head crab problem as well because those things are as itchy as hell.

Transfer Data via YouTube

The original steganography technique dates back to 440 BC (according to Wikipedia) when a Greek wrote secret messages on a piece of wood, covered it in wax, and then wrote innocent text on the wax. The term, in general, means hiding a message in something that looks harmless. The LVDO project (and a recent Windows fork) says it is steganography, but we aren’t quite sure it meets the definition. What it does is converts data into a video that you can transfer like any other video. A receiver that knows what LVDO parameters you used to create the video can extract the data (although, apparently, the reproduction is not always completely error-free).

The reason we aren’t sure if this really counts as steganography is that–judging from the example YouTube video (which is not encoded)–the output video looks like snow. It uses a discrete cosine transform to produce patterns. If you are the secret police, you might not know what the message says, but you certainly know it must be something. We’d be more interested in something that encodes data in funny cat videos, for example.

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DDR-ing a Simon Game with a Raspberry Pi

Since 1998 we’ve been privileged to partake in an arcade game known as Dance Dance Revolution, but before that, way back in the 70’s, was the Simon game. It’s essentially a memory game that asks the player to remember a series of lights and sounds. [Uberdam] decided to get the best of both worlds and mixed the two together creating this giant foot controlled Simon game. (English translation.)

The wood platform that serves as the base of the project was fitted with four capacitive sensors, each one representing a “color” on the Simon game. When a player stomps on a color, a capacitive sensor sends a signal to a relay which in turn notifies the Raspberry Pi brain of the input. The Pi also takes care of showing the player the sequence of colored squares that must be stepped on, and keeps track of a player’s progress on a projector.

This is a pretty good way of showing how a small, tiny computer like the Raspberry Pi can have applications in niche environments while also being a pretty fun game. We all remember Simon as being frustrating, and we can only imagine how jumping around on a wooden box would make it even more exciting. Now, who can build a robot that can beat this version of Simon?

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Homemade Camera Stabilizer

We’ve featured quite a few camera gimbals and steady cams here, but this one stands out. For one, [Daniel Rhyoo] was in his sophomore year when he built it. His 2-axis camera gimbal uses brushless DC motors, and is made out of carbon fiber.

[Daniel] machined the carbon fiber parts on a CNC desktop mill and some hand tools. And he also had to teach himself Solid Works to design it. In his slick DIY guide, he starts off by listing the parts and where to source them from, along with the tools needed. Most gimbals use servos for axis movements, which limits the range and do not provide very smooth motion. Brushless motors overcome these limitations allowing a nice, smooth moving gimbal to be built with a wide range of movement. When [Aleksey Moskalenko] introduced the AlexMos brushless motor controller, [Daniel] ordered it out, and then waited until he could get his hands on the right kind of motors. CAD files for all of the machined parts are available for download (.zip file).

He then goes on to blog his build progress, with ample photos to describe the machining and assembly. He does a couple of nice design choices along the way – like using press-nuts to make assembly and dis-assembly easy, and dismantling one of the motors and replacing its shaft with a custom, longer one instead of using a coupler to extend it. At the end, the result is not only a nice looking, light weight rig, but one that works very well thanks to the motors and controller that he used. Check out the video below to see it in action.

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Better VGA On The STM32F4

[Cliff] is pushing VGA video out of a microcontroller at 800×600 resolution and 60 frames per second. This microcontroller has no video hardware. Before we get to the technical overview, here’s the very impressive demo.

The microcontroller in question is the STM32F4, a fairly powerful ARM that we’ve seen a lot of use in some pretty interesting applications. We’ve seen 800×600 VGA on the STM32F4 before, with a circles and text demo and the Bitbox console. [Cliff]’s build is much more capable, though; he’s running 800×600 @ 60FPS with an underclocked CPU and most (90%) of the microcontroller’s resources free.

This isn’t just a demo, though; [Cliff] is writing up a complete tutorial for generating VGA on this chip. It begins with an introduction to pushing pixels, and soon he’ll have a walkthrough on timing and his rasterization framework.

Just because [Cliff] has gone through the trouble of putting together these tutorials doesn’t mean you can’t pull out an STM Discovery board and make your own microcontroller video hacks. [Cliff] has an entire library of for graphics to allow others to build snazzy video apps.

Raspberry Pis And A Video Triptych

A filmmaker friend of [Thomas] mentioned that she would like to display a triptych at the 2015 Venice Art Walk. This is no ordinary triptych with a frame for three pictures – this is a video triptych, with three displays each showing a different video, and everything running in sync. Sounds like a cool engineering challenge, huh?

The electronics used in the build were three Raspberry Pi 2s and a trio of HDMI displays. Power is provided by a 12V, 10A switching supply with 5V stepdown converters for the Pis. The chassis is a bunch of aluminum bars and U channel encased in an extremely well made arts and crafts style frame. So far, nothing out of the ordinary.

Putting three monitors and three Pis in a frame isn’t the hard part of this build; getting three different displays all showing different videos is. For this, [Thomas] networked the Pis through an Ethernet hub, got the videos to play independently on a RAM disk with omxplayer. One of the Raspberry Pis serves as the master, commanding the slaves to start, stop, and rewind the video on cue. According to [Thomas], it’s a somewhat hacky solution with a bunch of sleep statements at the beginning of the script to allow the boot processes to finish. It’s a beautiful build, though, and if you ever need to command multiple monitors to display the same thing, this is how you do it.