Proper Video, From An ESP32

Back in the day a miniature television, probably on a wristwatch, was the stuff of science fiction. Now, it’s something which can be done with a commodity microcontroller, as [Atomic14] shows us with the ESP32-TV that plays both video and sound. Even with modern silicon it’s still somewhat pushing the envelope.

As he explains in the video below the break, not all formats are simple enough to be decoded on the fly by a microcontroller. But he finds an AVI file to be within its capabilities which can be created with a bit of ffmpeg wizardry. The board is a fairly standard ESP32 device with an I2C bus, and the video stream isn’t too fast for this meager interface. You’ll maybe recognize the Muppets clip, but it’s possible that the early-80s BBC comedy staple The Young Ones might have passed you by if you’re not British.

We think this code is likely to be of use in quite a few projects, and it would be great to see it further refined. Small video players for not a lot of money can never be a bad thing.

Previous ESP32 video projects which have appeared on these pages have been more likely to involve driving a display directly.

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Streaming Video From An ESP32

The ESP32, while first thought to be little more than a way of adding wireless capabilities to other microcontrollers, has quickly replaced many of them with its ability to be programmed as its own platform rather than simply an accessory. This also paved the way for accessories of its own, such as various sensors and even a camera. This guide goes over taking the input from the camera and streaming it out over the network to multiple browsers.

On the server side of things, the ESP32 and its attached camera are set up with MQTT, a lightweight communications protocol which uses a publish/subscribe model to send information. The ESP32 is configured to publish its images only, but not subscribe to any other nodes. On the client side, the browser runs a JavaScript program which is able to gather these images and stitch them together into a video.

This can be quite a bit of data to send out over the ESP32’s compact hardware, so there are some tips and tricks for getting more out of these little devices, including using an external antenna for better Wi-Fi signal, or omitting it entirely in favor of Ethernet. As far as getting a lot out of a tiny microcontroller, though, leveraging MQTT really helps the ESP32 go a long way. These chips have come along way since they were first introduced; they’re powerful enough to act as 8-bit gaming consoles too.

Thanks to [Surfskidude] for the tip!

Explore FFmpeg From The Comfort Of Your Browser

If you’re looking to manipulate video, FFmpeg is one of the most powerful tools out there. But with this power comes a considerable degree of complexity, and a learning curve that looks suspiciously like a brick wall. To try and make this incredible tool a bit less obtuse, [Sam Lavigne] has developed a web interface that lets you play around with FFmpeg’s vast collection of audio and video filters.

To try out a filter, you just need to select one from the window on the left and it will pop up in the central workspace. Here, the input, output, and any enabled filters will show up as boxes that can be virtually “wired” together. Selecting a filter will populate its options on the right hand side, with sliders and input boxes that allow you to play around with their parameters. When you want to see the final result, just click “Render Preview” and wait a bit.

If there was any downside, it seems like whatever box the site is running on the overhead of running in the browser doesn’t provide it a lot of horsepower. Even with the relatively low resolution of the demo videos available, the console output at the top of the page shows FFmpeg sometimes flirts with a processing speed measured in single-digit frames per second. Still, for a filter playground, it gets the job done. Perhaps the best part of the whole tool is that you can then copy your properly formatted command right out of the browser window and into your terminal so you can put it to work on your local files.

FFmpeg is one of those programs you should really be familiar with because it often proves useful in unexpected ways. The ability to manipulate audio and video with just a few keystrokes can really come in handy, and we’ve seen this open-source tool used for everything from compressing podcasts onto floppy disks to overlaying real-time environmental data onto a video stream.

DisplayPort: A Better Video Interface

Over the years, we’ve seen a good number of interfaces used for computer monitors, TVs, LCD panels and other all-things-display purposes. We’ve lived through VGA and the large variety of analog interfaces that preceded it, then DVI, HDMI, and at some point, we’ve started getting devices with DisplayPort support. So you might think it’s more of the same. However, I’d like to tell you that you probably should pay more attention to DisplayPort – it’s an interface powerful in a way that we haven’t seen before.

By [Belkin+Abisys], CC BY-SA 3.0
The DisplayPort (shortened as DP) interface was explicitly designed to be a successor to VGA and DVI, originating from the VESA group – an organization created by multiple computer-display-related players in technology space, which has previously brought us a number of smaller-scale computer display standards like EDID, DDC and the well-known VESA mount. Nevertheless, despite the smaller scale of previous standards, DisplayPort has since become a hit in computer display space for a number of reasons, and is more ubiquitous than you might realize.

You could put it this way: DisplayPort has all the capabilities of interfaces like HDMI, but implemented in a better way, without legacy cruft, and with a number of features that take advantage of the DisplayPort’s sturdier architecture. As a result of this, DisplayPort isn’t just in external monitors, but also laptop internal displays, USB-C port display support, docking stations, and Thunderbolt of all flavors. If you own a display-capable docking station for your laptop, be it classic style multi-pin dock or USB-C, DisplayPort is highly likely to be involved, and even your smartphone might just support DisplayPort over USB-C these days. Continue reading “DisplayPort: A Better Video Interface”

Enhance VR Immersion By Shoehorning An Ambilight Into A Headset

Everyone wants a wider field of view in their VR headsets, but that’s not an easy nut to crack. [Statonwest] shows there’s a way to get at least some of the immersion benefits with a bit of simple hardware thanks to the VR Ambilight.

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System Essentially Contradicting American Methods

Today, acronyms such as PAL and initialisms such as NTSC are used as a lazy shorthand for 625 and 525-line video signals, but back in the days of analogue TV broadcasting they were much more than that, indeed much more than simply colour encoding schemes. They became political statements of technological prowess as nations vied with each other to demonstrate that they could provide their citizens with something essentially home-grown. In France, there was the daddy of all televisual symbols of national pride, as their SECAM system was like nothing else. [Matt’s TV Barn] took a deep dive into video standards to find out about it with an impressive rack of test pattern generation equipment.

At its simplest, a video signal consists of the black-and-while, or luminance, information to make a monochrome picture, along with a set of line and frame sync pulses. It becomes a composite video signal with the addition of a colour subcarrier at a frequency carefully selected to fall between harmonics of the line frequency and modulated in some form with the colour, or chrominance, information. In this instance, PAL is a natural progression from NTSC, having a colour subcarrier that’s amplitude modulated and with some nifty tricks using a delay line to cancel out colour shifting due to phase errors.

SECAM has the same line and frame frequency as PAL, but its colour subcarrier is frequency modulated instead of amplitude modulated. It completely avoids the NTSC and PAL phase errors by not being susceptible to them, at the cost of a more complex decoder in which the previous line’s colour information must be stored in a delay line to complete the decoding process. Any video processing equipment must also, by necessity, be more complex, something that provided the genesis of the SCART audiovisual connector standard as manufacturers opted for RGB interconnects instead. It’s even more unexpected at the transmission end, for unlike PAL or NTSC, the colour subcarrier is never absent, and to make things more French, it inverted the video modulation found in competing standards.

The video below takes us deep into the system and is well worth a watch. Meanwhile, if you fancy a further wallow in Gallic technology, peer inside a Minitel terminal.

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Teardown Of An Aircraft Video Symbol Generator

[Adrian Smith] recently scored an avionics module taken from a British Aerospace 146 airliner and ripped it open for our viewing pleasure. This particular aircraft was designed in the early 1980s when the electronics used to feed the various displays in the cockpit were very different from modern designs. This particular box is called a ‘symbol generator’ and is used to generate the various real-time video feeds that are sent to the cockpit display units. Various instruments, for example, the weather radar, feed into it, and it then reformats the video if needed, mixing in any required additional display.

Top view of the symbol generator instrument rack

There are many gold-plated chips on these boards, which indicates these may be radiation-hardened versions of familiar devices, most of which are 54xx series logic. 54xx series logic is essentially the same functionally as the corresponding 74xx series, except for the much wider operating temperature range mandated by military and, by extension, commercial aviation needs. The main CPU board appears to be based around the Intel 8086, with some Zilog Z180 compatible processors used on the two video display controller boards. We noted the Zilog Z0853604, which is their counter/timer/GPIO chip. Obviously, there are many custom ASICs produced by Honeywell as well as other special order items that you’ll never find the datasheet for. Now there’s a challenge!

Finally, we note the standard 400 Hz avionics-standard power supply, which, as some may know, is the standard operating frequency for the AC power system used within modern aircraft systems. The higher frequency (compared to 50 or 60 Hz) means the magnetic components can be physically smaller and, therefore, lighter for a given power handling capability.

We see a lot of avionics teardowns, likely because they’re fascinating. Here’s some more British military gear, an interesting RF distance measuring box from the 1970s, and finally, some brave soul building their own avionics gear. What could possibly go wrong?

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