Teardown: Sling Adapter

The consumer electronics space is always in a state of flux, but perhaps nowhere is this more evident than with entertainment equipment. In the span of just a few decades we went from grainy VHS tapes on 24″ CRTs to 4K Blu-rays on 70″ LED panels, only to end up spending most of our viewing time watching streaming content on our smartphones. There’s no sign of things slowing down, either. In fact they’re arguably speeding up. Sure that 4K TV you bought a couple years back might have HDR, but does it have HDMI 2.1 and Dolby Vision?

So it’s little surprise that eBay is littered with outdated A/V gadgets that can be had for a pennies on the dollar. Take for example the SB700-100 Sling Adapter we’re looking at today. This device retailed for $99 when it was released in 2010, and enabled Dish Network users to stream content saved on their DVR to a smartphone or tablet. Being able to watch full TV shows and movies on a mobile device over the Internet was a neat trick back then, before Netflix had even started rolling out their Android application. But today it’s about as useful as an HD-DVD drive, which is why you can pick one up for as little as $5.

Of course, that’s only a deal if you can actually do something with the device. Contemporary reviews seemed pretty cagey about how the thing actually worked, explaining simply that plugging it into your Dish DVR imbued the set-top box with hitherto unheard of capabilities. They assured the reader that the performance was excellent, and that it would be $99 well spent should they decide to dive headfirst into this brave new world where your favorite TV shows and movies could finally be enjoyed in the bathroom.

Now, more than a decade after its release, we’ll crack open the SB700-100 Sling Adapter and see if we can’t figure out how this unusual piece of tech actually worked. Its days of slinging the latest episode of The Office may be over, but maybe this old dog can still learn a few new tricks.

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Trill: Easy Positional Touch Sensors For Your Projects

Creating capacitive touch-sensitive buttons is easy these days; many microcontrollers have cap-sense hardware built-in. This will work for simple on/off control, but what if you want a linear, position-sensitive input, like you’d find on a computer touchpad or your smartphone screen? Not so easy — at least until now. Trill is a family of capacitive touch sensors you can add to your projects as a linear slider, a square touchpad, or by creating your own touch surface.

Trill was created by the same team that designed Bela, an embedded platform for low-latency interactive applications, especially with audio. The new trio of Trill sensors rely on capacitive sensing to track finger movement, and communicate over I2C with your microcontroller or development board of choice. The Trill I2C library targets Arduino and Bela, but should be easy to port to any I2C host.

The hardware and software are both open-source — or will be as the Kickstarter that launched this morning has already met its goal. The firmware for the Cypress CY8C20636A (PDF) controller that powers these sensors will be released CC-BY-NC-SA. But, starting with the controller itself sounds like a lot of work that Trill has already done for you, so let’s have a look at what we know so far, along with a healthy dose of speculation.

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Infineon Buys Cypress For $10B

Infineon will acquire Cypress Semiconductors for nearly $10 Billion dollars. This is the latest merger or acquisition in the semiconductor industry, and these mergers and acquisitions show no sign of stopping anytime soon.

Infineon’s market currently consists mostly of products aimed at the automotive market and power management and control. Cypress, likewise, has a wide portfolio of automotive electronics, from the guts of instrument clusters to the brains of infotainment systems. The automotive electronics industry is going gangbusters right now, and companies in the market are flush with cash; Infineon acquiring Cypress allows both companies to focus their R&D to develop products for the same market.

As with all mergers and acquisitions, there is the question of what may be lost, or what may go out of production. Cypress is most famous for their PSOC microcontrollers, but for now those uCs, and their CapSense capability, seem safe. Cypress is also noteworthy for manufacturing old-school memories, but again it looks like you’ll still be able to buy these years down the line; in any event, Alliance memory is still around stuffing DRAMs in DIPs.

This acquisition of Cypress by Infineon is one of the largest in recent memory. Apple recently bought a $600 Million stake in Dialog, and Microchip acquired Microsemi for $8.35 Billion. Tesla bought Maxwell Technologies for a mere $218 Million. This deal between Infineon and Cypress puts the company in the upper echelon of recent mergers and acquisitions.

Cheap PSoC Enables Electrochemistry Research

You may think electrochemistry sounds like an esoteric field where lab-coated scientists labor away over sophisticated instruments and publish papers that only other electrochemists could love. And you’d be right, but only partially, because electrochemistry touches almost everything in modern life. For proof of that look no further than your nearest pocket, assuming that’s where you keep your smartphone and the electrochemical cell that powers it.

Electrochemistry is the study of the electrical properties of chemical reactions and does indeed need sophisticated instrumentation. That doesn’t mean the instruments have to break the grant budget, though, as [Kyle Lopin] shows with this dead-simple potentiostat built with one chip and one capacitor. A potentiostat controls the voltage on an electrode in an electrochemical cell. Such cells have three electrodes — a working electrode, a reference electrode, and a counter electrode. The flow of electrons between these electrodes and through the solutions under study reveal important properties about the reduction and oxidation states of the reaction. Rather than connect his cell to an expensive potentiostat, [Kyle] used a Cypress programmable system-on-chip development board to do everything. All that’s needed is to plug the PSoC into a USB port for programming, connect the electrodes to GPIO pins, and optionally add a 100 nF capacitor to improve the onboard DAC’s accuracy. The video below covers the whole process, albeit with a barely audible voiceover.

Still not sure about electrochemistry? Check out this 2018 Hackaday Prize entry that uses the electrochemistry of life to bring cell phones back to life.

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Spite, Thrift, And The Virtues Of An Affordable Logic Analyzer

[Larry Wall], the father of Perl, lists the three great virtues of all programmers: Laziness, Impatience, and Hubris. After seeing that Saleae jacked up the prices on their popular logic analyzers to ludicrous levels, [CNLohr] added a fourth virtue: Spite. And since his tests with a Cypress FX3 over the last few days may lead to a dirt-cheap DIY logic analyzer, we may soon be able to add another virtue: Thrift.

The story begins a year or two ago when [CNLohr] got a Cypress FX3 development board for $45. The board sat unused for want of a Windows machine, but after seeing our recent article on a minimalist logic analyzer based on an FX2, he started playing with the board to see if it could fan the flames of his Saleae hatred. The FX3 is a neat little chip that has a 100-MHz General Programmable Interface (GPIF) bus that basically lets it act like an easy to use FPGA.

Prepared to spend months on the project, he was surprised to make significant progress on his mission of spiteful thrift within a few days, reading 16 bits off the GPIF at over 200 megabytes per second and dumping it over the USB 3.0 port. [Charles]’ libraries for the FX3 lay the foundation for a lot of cool stuff, from logic analyzers to SDRs and beyond — now someone just has to build them.

The search for a cheap but capable logic analyzer is nothing new, of course. Last year, both [Jenny List] and [Bil Herd] looked at the $22 iCEstick as a potential Saleae beater.

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Logic Analyzer Pushes The Limits Of Miniaturization

Careful not to sneeze while using this diminutive logic analyzer — you could send it flying across the bench.

Undertaken more for the challenge than as a practical bench tool, [Uwe Hermann]’s tiny logic analyzer is an object lesson on getting a usable circuit as small as possible. Sure, some sacrifices had to be made; it’s only an eight-channel instrument without any kind of input protection at all, and lacks niceties like an EEPROM. But that allows it to fit on a mere 11 x 11-mm fleck of PCB. That’s a pretty impressive feat of miniaturization, given that the Cypress microcontroller running the show is in QFN package that takes up 64-mm² all by itself. A micro-USB connector takes up much of the back side of the board and allows the analyzer to talk to sigrok, an open-source signal analysis suite.

Everything about the project is totally open, including the PCB files, so you can build your own if you feel up to the challenge. We’d strongly suggest you check out this primer on logic analyzers first, though, especially since it focuses on the capabilities of the sigrok suite.

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Hackaday Links: January 25, 2015

Misumi is doing something pretty interesting with their huge catalog of aluminum extrusions, rods, bolts, and nuts. They’re putting up BOMs for 3D printers. If you’ve ever built a printer with instructions you’ve somehow found on the RepRap wiki, you know how much of a pain it is to go through McMaster or Misumi to find the right parts. Right now they have three builds, one with linear guides, one with a linear shaft, and one with V-wheels.

So you’re finally looking at those fancy SLA or powder printers. If you’re printing an objet d’arte like the Stanford bunny or the Utah teapot and don’t want to waste material, you’re obviously going to print a thin shell of material. That thin shell isn’t very strong, so how do you infill it? Spheres, of course. By importing an object into Meshmixer, you can build a 3D honeycomb inside a printed object. Just be sure to put a hole in the bottom to let the extra resin or powder out.

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer invented an automatic hammer? It’s been reinvented using a custom aluminum linkage, a freaking huge battery, and a solenoid. Next up is the makeup shotgun, and a reclining toilet.

[Jan] built a digitally controlled analog synth. We’ve seen a few of his FM synths VA synths built from an LPC-810 ARM chip before, but this is the first one that could reasonably be called an analog synth. He’s using a digital filter based on the Cypress PSoC-4.

The hip thing to do with 3D printers is low-poly Pokemon. I don’t know how it started, it’s just what the kids are doing these days. Those of us who were around for Gen 1 the first time it was released should notice a huge oversight by the entire 3D printing and Pokemon communities when it comes to low-poly Pokemon. I have corrected this oversight. I’ll work on a pure OpenSCAD model (thus ‘made completely out of programming code’) when I’m sufficiently bored.

*cough**bullshit* A camera that can see through walls *cough**bullshit* Seriously, what do you make of this?