Audio and video synthesizers have been around for decades, and are pretty much only limited by one’s willingness to spend money on them. That is, unless you can develop your own FPGA-supercharged synthesizer to really get a leg up on the consumer-grade components. Of course, as [Julian] found out in this four-year project, you tend to pay for it anyway in time spent working on your projects.
[Julian] has actually decided to stop working on the project and open-source it to anyone who wants to continue on. He has already finished the PCB layout on a gargantuan 8-layer print, done all of the routing and parts selection, and really only needed to finish testing it to complete the project. It’s powered by the Xilinx Zynq and is packed with features too: HDMI, DDR3 ram, USB, a handful of sensors, and an Arduino Uno-style header to make interfacing and programming a breeze.
While we’re sympathetic with setting aside a project that we’ve worked so hard on, with most of the work done on this one it should be pretty easy to pick up and adapt for anyone interested in carrying the torch. If you were hoping to wet your whistle with something with fewer PCB layers, though, we’ve seen some interesting (but slightly simpler) video synthesizers made out of other unique hardware as well.
One of the exciting trends in hardware availability is the inexorable move of FPGA boards and modules towards affordability. What was once an eye-watering price is now merely an expensive one, and no doubt in years to come will become a commodity. There’s still an affordability gap at the bottom of the market though, so spotting sub-$20 Xilinx Zynq boards on AliExpress that combine a Linux-capable ARM core and an FPGA on the same silicon is definitely something of great interest. A hackerspace community friend of mine ordered one, and yesterday it arrived in the usual anonymous package from China.
There’s a Catch, But It’s Only A Small One
There are two boards to be found for sale, one featuring the Zynq 7000 and the other the 7010, which the Xilinx product selector tells us both have the same ARM Cortex A9 cores and Artix-7 FPGA tech on board. The 7000 includes a single core with 23k logic cells, and there’s a dual-core with 28k on the 7010. It was the latter that my friend had ordered.
So there’s the good news, but there has to be a catch, right? True, but it’s not an insurmountable one. These aren’t new products, instead they’re the controller boards for an older generation of AntMiner cryptocurrency mining rigs. The components have 2017 date codes, so they’ve spent the last three years hooked up to a brace of ASIC or GPU boards in a mining data centre somewhere. The ever-changing pace of cryptocurrency tech means that they’re now redundant, and we’re the lucky beneficiaries via the surplus market.
Anyone who was at Supercon will no doubt remember the badges that dangled around everyone’s neck. Some were reasonable, while some were neck-straining monsters that added anything and everything to hack the badge into something cool. We saw everything from AI cameras to a fully autonomous vehicle being worn with pride.
Sadly, one that we missed was Gameslab, [Craig J. Bishop]’s FPGA-based portable game console. No, not that FPGA-based game console; in an example of great minds thinking alike, [Craig] had actually been toying with his own handheld console design for quite some time. And we have to say the results are stunning.
The FPGA at the heart of this is a Xilinx Zynq FPGA-ARM Cortex A9 combo SoC, normally a prohibitively expensive monster of a chip. When [Craig] found “refurbished” Zynq chips on eBay for less than 10% of the cost of new units, it was literally game-on for the build. The console required a six-layer PCB to support the big BGA chip and the hundreds of support components around it. There’s a 5″ TFT touchscreen with a video controller implemented in the FPGA, a stereo sound system, and all the buttons and thumbsticks you’d expect on a modern console.
For our money, the best part is the case, about which [Craig] has yet to share any details. But it looks like a machined aluminum plate with wide chamfers around each cutout that contrast nicely with the brushed surface. We’ll be looking forward to more details on that and on progress with Gameslab.
What happens when part of a radio transmitting service listened to by over half the country needs to be replaced? That was a recent challenge for the BBC’s Research and Development team last year, and if you’re from the UK — you wouldn’t have noticed a single thing.
[Justin Mitchell] is a principle engineer in R&D at BBC, and just this past year had to transition the audio coding system installed in 1983 to new hardware due to failing circuit boards and obsolete components. The encoding is used to get audio from a central source to broadcasting towers all over the country. The team had to design and build a replacement module that would essentially replace an entire server rack of ancient hardware — and make it plug-and-play. Easy, right? Continue reading “35 Million People Didn’t Notice When Zynq Took Over Their Radio”→