An Open Source HDMI Implementation For FPGAs

With some clever hacks and fast IO work, it’s possible to get your average garden-variety microcontroller to output some form of video. Old analog standards like composite and VGA are just slow enough that it’s possible to bitbash one’s way to success. If you’re serious about video work, however, you’ll want something more capable. For those use cases, [purisame]’s got what you need – an open source HDMI implementation for FPGAs.

Unlike other free and open source projects in this space, [purisame] has eschewed simply outputting compatible DVI signals on the port. This implementation is pure HDMI 1.4b, enabling the extended capabilities this brings, like combined video and audio streams. Thus far, it’s been tested on Xilinx and Altera platforms, though it may be compatible with Lattice, too.

In addition to the code, [purisame] breaks down options for those looking at going into production with an HDMI device. Licencing the technology for sale can be a fraught area, so a lawyer is recommended if you’re heading to market. Oh, and funnily enough, if your really do want to do HDMI on an Arduino, there’s a shield for that, too. Natch!

WiFi Goes Open

For most people, adding WiFi to a project means grabbing something like an ESP8266 or an ESP32. But if you are developing your own design on an FPGA, that means adding another package. If you are targeting Linux, the OpenWifi project has a good start at providing WiFi in Verilog. There are examples for many development boards and advice for porting to your own target on GitHub. You can also see one of the developers, [Xianjun Jiao], demonstrate the whole thing in the video below.

The demo uses a Xilinx Zynq, so the Linux backend runs on the Arm processor that is on the same chip as the FPGA doing the software-defined radio. We’ll warn you that this project is not for the faint of heart. If you want to understand the code, you’ll have to dig into a lot of WiFi trivia.

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FPGA Raises Component Video From A Sinclair ZX Spectrum

An abiding memory of the early-80s heyday of 8-bit computing for many is operating their computer from the carpet in front of the family TV. While the kids in the computer adverts had parents who bought them a portable colour telly on which to play Jet Set Willy, the average kid had used up all the Christmas present money on the computer itself. The cable would have been an RF connection to the TV antenna socket, and the picture quality? At the time we thought it was amazing because we didn’t know any different, but with the benefit of nearly 40 years’ hindsight, it was awful.

For ZX Spectrum owners in 2020 a standard modification is to bring out a composite video signal, but [c0pperdragon] has gone a step or two beyond that with a component video interface. And this isn’t a mod in which the signals are lifted from the Spectrum’s colour encoder circuitry, instead it uses an FPGA hooked directly to the ULA chip to generate the component video itself.

The Altera chip sits on a little PCB designed to occupy the footprint of the original Astec modulator, and sports a neat bundle of wires hooked up to the various Spectrum signals it needs. There are a couple of jumpers to select the output type and resolution, it supports YPbPr or RGsB outputs and both 288p and 576p. If you think perhaps it looks a little familiar, that’s because it’s the sister project of an earlier board for the Commodore 64. So if you have a Spectrum and are annoyed by UHF and PAL, perhaps it’s worth a look.

Hackaday Links: May 24, 2020

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Gershon Kingsley in December 2019 at the age of 97. The composer and electronic music pioneer was not exactly a household name, but the things he did with the Moog synthesizer, especially the surprise hit “Pop Corn”, which he wrote in 1969, are sure to be familiar. The song has been covered dozens of times, in the process of which the spelling of the name changed to “Popcorn.” We’re most familiar with the 1972 cover by Hot Butter, an earworm from our youth that doesn’t hide the Moog as deeply in the backing instruments as Kingsley did in the original. Or, perhaps you prefer the cover done by a robotic glockenspiel, because robotic glockenspiel.

A few months back, we covered the audacious plan to recover the radio gear from the Titanic. At the time, the potential salvors, Atlanta-based RMS Titanic, Inc., were seeking permission to cut into the submerged remains of the Titanic‘s Marconi room to remove as much of the wireless gear as possible. A federal judge granted permission for the salvage operation last Friday, giving the company the green light to prepare an expedition for this summer. The US government, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Park Service, argued strenuously to leave the wreck be and treat it as a tomb for the 1,527 victims. For our part, we had a great discussion about the merits in the comments section of the previous article. Now that it’s a done deal, we’d love to hear what you have to say about this again.

Although life appears to be slowly returning to what passes for normal, that doesn’t mean you might not still have some cycles to spare, especially when the time spent can bolster your skillset. And so if you’re looking to adding FPGAs to your resume, check out this remote lab on FPGA vision systems offered by Bonn-Rhein-Sieg University. The setup allows you to watch lectures, download code examples, and build them on your local computer, and then upload the resulting binaries to real hardware running on the lab’s servers in Germany. It sounds like a great way to get access to FPGA hardware that you’d otherwise have a hard time laying hands on. Or, you know, you could have just come to the 2019 Hackaday Superconference.

Speaking of skill-builders, oscilloscope owners who want to sharpen their skills could do worse than to listen to the advice of a real scope jockey like Allen Wolke. He recently posted a helpful video listing the five most common reasons for your scope giving “wrong” voltage readings. Spoiler alert: the instrument is probably doing exactly what you told it to do. As a scope newbie, we found the insights very helpful, and we can imagine even seasoned users could make simple mistakes like using the wrong probe attenuation or forgetting that scope response isn’t flat across its bandwidth.

Safety tip for the gearheads among us: your jack stands might be unsafe to use. Harbor Freight, the stalwart purveyor of cheap tools, has issued a recall of two different models of its jack stands. It seems that the pawls can kick out under the right conditions, sending the supported load crashing to the ground. This qualifies as a Very Bad Day for anyone unlucky enough to be working underneath when it happens. Defective jack stands can be returned to Harbor Freight for store credit, so check your garage and be safe out there in the shop.

And finally, because everyone loves a good flame war, Ars Technica has come up with a pronunciation guide for common tech terms. We have to admit that most of these are not surprising; few among the technology literate would mispronounce “Linux” or “sudo”. We will admit to a non-fanboy level of ignorance on whether the “X” in “iOS X” was a Roman numeral or not, but learning that the “iOS” part is correctly pronounced as three syllables, not two was a bit shocking. It’s all an exercise in pedantry that reminds us of a mildly heated discussion we had around the secret Hackaday writers’ bunker and whether “a LED” or “an LED” is the correct style. If the Internet was made for anything, it was stuff like this.

EDSAC Lives In MiSTer

There’s a lot of argument over which was the first modern computer to be built. There’s room for debate, but EDSAC — the work of Dr. Maurice Wilkes — certainly was among the first. While we’ve seen simulators before, [hrvach’s] FPGA-based simulator for the MiSTer platform has a lot going for it. Check out the video, below.

So much of what we take for granted today was first developed on the EDSAC. For example, the “Wheeler jump” (named after graduate student David Wheeler) was the origin of the idea of a subroutine.

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All Your Passwords Are Belong To FPGA

When used for cracking passwords, a modern high-end graphics card will absolutely chew through “classic” hashing algorithms like SHA-1 and SHA-2. When a single desktop machine can run through 50+ billion password combinations per second, even decent passwords can be guessed in a worryingly short amount of time. Luckily, advanced password hashing functions such as bcrypt are designed specifically to make these sort of brute-force attacks impractically slow.

Cracking bcrypt on desktop hardware might be out of the question, but the folks over at [Scattered Secrets] had a hunch that an array of FPGAs might be up to the task. While the clock speed on these programmable chips might seem low compared to a modern CPUs and GPUs, they don’t have all that burdensome overhead to contend with. This makes the dedicated circuitry in the FPGA many times more efficient at performing the same task. Using a decade-old FPGA board intended for mining cryptocurrency, the team was able to demonstrate a four-fold performance improvement over the latest generation of GPUs.

An earlier version of the FPGA cracker

After seeing what a single quad FPGA board was capable of, the [Scattered Secrets] team started scaling the concept up. The first version of the hardware crammed a dozen of the ZTEX FPGA boards and a master control computer computer into a standard 4U server case. For the second version, they bumped that up to 18 boards for a total of 72 FPGAs, and made incremental improvements to the power and connectivity systems.

Each 4U FPGA cracker is capable of 2.1 million bcrypt hashes per second, while consuming just 585 watts. To put that into perspective, [Scattered Secrets] says you’d need at least 75 Nvidia RTX-2080Ti graphics cards to match that performance. Such an array would not only take up a whole server rack, but would burn through a staggering 25 kilowatts. Now might be a good time to change your password to something longer, or finally get onboard with 2FA.

We’ve covered attempts to reverse engineer hardware designed for cryptocurrency mining, but those were based around application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) which by definition are very difficult to repurpose. On the other hand, disused FPGA-based miners offer tantalizing possibilities; once you wrap your mind around how they work, anyway.

[Thanks to Piejoe for the tip.]

The DOOM Chip

It’s a trope among thriller writers; the three-word apocalyptic title. An innocuous item with the power to release unimaginable disaster, which of course our plucky hero must secure to save the day. Happily [Sylvain Lefebvre]’s DOOM chip will not cause the world to end, but it does present a vision of a very 1990s apocalypse. It’s a hardware-only implementation of the first level from id Software’s iconic 1993 first-person-shooter, DOOM. As he puts it: “Algorithm is burned into wires, LUTs and flip-flops on an #FPGA: no CPU, no opcodes, no instruction counter. Running on Altera CycloneV + SDRAM”. It’s the game, or at least the E1M1 map from it sans monsters, solely in silicon. In a very on-theme touch, the rendering engine has 666 lines of code, and the level data is transcribed from the original into hardware tables by a LUA script. It doesn’t appear to be in his GitHub account so far, but we live in hope that one day he’ll put it up.

“Will it run DOOM” is almost a standard for new hardware, but it conceals the immense legacy of this game. It wasn’t the first to adopt a 1st-person 3D gaming environment, but it was the game that defined the genre of realistic and immersive FPS releases that continue to this day. We first played DOOM on a creaking 386, we’ve seen it on all kinds of hardware since, and like very few other games of its age it’s still receiving active development from a large community today. We still mourn slightly that it’s taken the best part of three decades for someone to do a decent Amiga port.