Bitluni Brings All The ESP-32 Multimedia Hacks To Supercon

Of all the people I was looking forward to meeting at Supercon, aside from my Hackaday colleagues with whom I had worked for five years without ever meeting, was a fellow from Germany named Matthias Balwierz. The name might not ring a bell, but he’ll certainly be familiar to Hackaday readers as Bitluni, the sometimes goofy but always entertaining and enlightening face of “Bitluni’s Lab” on YouTube.

I’d been covering Bitluni’s many ESP32 hacks over the years, and had struck up a correspondence with him, swapping ideas and asking for advice on the many projects I start but somehow never finish. Luckily for us, Bitluni is far better on follow-through than I am, and he brought that breadth and depth of experience to the Design Lab stage for that venue’s last talk of the 2019 Superconference, before the party moved next door for the badge-hacking presentations.

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Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era

After over a decade of laptop use, I made the move a couple of months ago back to a desktop computer. An ex-corporate compact PC and a large widescreen monitor on a stand, and alongside them a proper mouse and my trusty IBM Model M that has served me for decades. At a stroke, the ergonomics of my workspace changed for the better, as I no longer have to bend slightly to see the screen.

The previous desktop PC was from an earlier time. I think it had whatever the AMD competitor to a Pentium 4 was, and if I recall correctly, its 512 MB of memory was considered to be quite something. On the back it had an entirely different set of sockets to my new one, a brace of serial ports, a SCSI port, and a parallel printer port. Inside the case, its various drives were served by a set of ribbon cables. It even boasted a floppy drive. By contrast the cabling on its successor is a lot lighter, with much less bulky connectors. A few USB plugs and a network cable, and SATA for its disk drive. The days of bulky multiway interconnects are behind us, and probably most of us are heaving a sigh of relief. Continue reading “Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era”

VGA Signal In A Browser Window, Thanks To Reverse Engineering

Epiphan VGA2USB LR VGA-to-USB devices

[Ben Cox] found some interesting USB devices on eBay. The Epiphan VGA2USB LR accepts VGA video on one end and presents it as a USB webcam-like video signal on the other. Never have to haul a VGA monitor out again? Sounds good to us! The devices are old and abandoned hardware, but they do claim Linux support, so one BUY button mash later and [Ben] was waiting patiently for them in the mail.

But when they did arrive, the devices didn’t enumerate as a USB UVC video device as expected. The vendor has a custom driver, support for which ended in Linux 4.9 — meaning none of [Ben]’s machines would run it. By now [Ben] was curious about how all this worked and began digging, aiming to create a userspace driver for the device. He was successful, and with his usual detail [Ben] explains not only the process he followed to troubleshoot the problem but also how these devices (and his driver) work. Skip to the end of the project page for the summary, but the whole thing is worth a read.

The resulting driver is not optimized, but will do about 7 fps. [Ben] even rigged up a small web server inside the driver to present a simple interface for the video in a pinch. It can even record its output to a video file, which is awfully handy. The code is available on his GitHub repository, so give it a look and maybe head to eBay for a bit of bargain-hunting of your own.

Time Sync Through Your VGA Connector

While it might be in its twilight years, the venerable VGA video connector conceals a versatile interface that  can still provide the experimenter with the opportunity for a variety of hacks. We’ve not seen anything quite like [flok]’s one, in which he uses the VGA interface to insert timing information from which an NTPd instance gets its reference.

If this seems counter-intuitive because a VGA interface is an analogue output rather than a digital input, then you are correct to smell a rat. And he comes clean in his first sentence, as he’s not using the VGA lines themselves but the I2C interface that is a feature of all but the most basic of VGA cards. This is the means by which a plug-and-play operating system can identify a monitor’s capabilities, but there’s little to stop it being used for other purposes. In this case an Arduino fed by a 1-pulse-per-second timing signal from a temperature compensated crystal oscillator provides the I2C peripheral which is polled by NTPd.

This project should be of interest to any tinkerer because of its invaluable information on identifying and using the I2C interface on a VGA socket. So if you’ve used your VGA card as an SDR you might find it interesting, but hurry or you could have missed the boat entirely.

VGA plug image: Swift.Hg [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Hackaday Podcast 027: Confusingly USB-C, Glowey Displays, Logically VGA, Hackers Who Changed Gaming

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys dive into the most interesting hacks of the week. Confused by USB-C? So are we, and so is the Raspberry Pi 4. Learning VGA is a lot easier when abstract concepts are unpacked onto a huge breadboard using logic chips and an EEPROM. Adding vision to a prosthetic hand makes a lot of sense when you start to dig into possibilities of this Hackaday Prize entry. And Elliot gets nostalgic about Counter-Strike, the game that is a hack of Half-Life, grew to eclipse a lot of other shooters, and is now 20 years old.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (52 MB)

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Pushing Pixels To A Display With VGA Without A PC

[Ben Eater] is back with the second part of his video series on building a simple video card that can output 200×600 pixels to a display with nothing but a VGA connection, a handful of 74-logic chips and a 10 MHz crystal. In this installment we see how he uses nothing but an EEPROM and a handful of resistors to get an image onto the screen.

The interesting part is in how the image data is encoded into the EEPROM, since it has to be addressable by the same timing circuit as what is being used for the horizontal and vertical timing. By selecting the relevant inputs that’d make a valid address, and by doubling the size of each pixel a few times, a 100 x 75 pixel image can be encoded into the EEPROM and directly addressed using this timing circuit.

The output from the EEPROM itself not fed directly into the monitor, as the VGA interface expects a 0 V to 0.7 V signal on each RGB pin, indicating the brightness. To get more than three colors out of this setup, [Ben] builds up a simple 2-bit DAC that allows for two bits per channel, meaning four brightness levels per color channel or 64 colors effectively.

See the video after the link for the full details. While pretty close to perfect, a small issue remains at the end in the forms of black vertical lines. These are caused by a timing issue in the circuit, with comments on the YouTube video suggesting various other potential fixes. Have you breadboarded your own version yet to debug this issue before [Ben]’s next video comes out?
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ESP32 Gets Advance Windowed Apps Using This VGA GUI Library

We featured [Fabrizio Di Vittorio]’s FabGL library for the ESP32 back in April of this year. This library allows VGA output using a simple resistor based DAC (3 resistors for 8 colors; 6 resistors for 64 colors), and includes functions for PS/2 mouse and keyboard input, a graphics library, and many of the miscellaneous functions you might need to develop games on the ESP32. Now, a GUI interface library has been added to ease application development.

The GUI, of course, runs on the VGA output. The library includes what you’d expect from a minimal windowing GUI, like keyboard and mouse support, windows with the usual minimize/maximize/close controls, and modal and message dialog boxes. For input controls, there are labels, text boxes, buttons, radio buttons, checkboxes, normal and editable combo boxes, and listboxes — you know, pretty much everything you need to develop a modern GUI application. All the code is open-source (GPL 3.0) and in the GitHub repo.

While the original FabGL had a game-development orientation, the addition of this new GUI functionality opens up a new range of applications. If you want to find out more about using the FabGL library, you can check out our previous coverage of the mostly game-oriented functions.

You can get a look at the new GUI functions in action in the video, after the break.

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