I found some time to solder some more of the group buy purchases which came in a couple months ago. So far I soldered one Renard64XC and 8 SSRNeons. They are similar to the SSRez, but with two neon lamps so you are made aware when 120VAC is present.
I was able to complete the Renard64XC in one evening in a couple of hours. Two nights later I was able to complete 8 of the SSRNeons in a few hours. I was able to test them briefly by using the Simple Renard Tester 8 channels at a time. I moved one SSR through each group as I tested dimming across all channels. There appear to be no problems with the Renard64XC, although I have yet to try a full sequence that will stress the current drawn and could find issues.
One of the things I’ve been least impressed with for the DIYC community is the “playback” mechanism of sequenced data. The existing software for sequencing and playback of sequenced data is all Windows software. As you may or may not know, I stay as far from Windows as possible. Even if it weren’t solely my Windows hatred, the fact that I need a standard computer, laptop or desktop capable of running Windows (and more?), dedicated to playing back my “show” for Christmas was a huge turn off for me.
There seems to be something called a Helix controller which can drive a show as a stand-alone, networkable device, but it seems very purpose-driven and expensive. I have a few Chumbies (I’m a hoarder, and I love the hardware) and when I first delved into the world of sequenced lights, I knew I wanted the Chumby to drive my show.
I paid $79.99 for a “Chumby One” from Costco.com. I have a couple Chumbies I acquired for less, but that was an easy to get deal as an example cost. The “Chumby One” has a 454MHz arm processor, built in wifi, 64Mb ram, a 2Gb root filesystem which I can easily modify, and a touch screen! It runs a standard linux kernel and root filesystem from Chumby. They have a great support forum and publish a complete toolchain for hackers such as myself.
The project is only in it’s infancy, but what I’ve done so far (in a nutshell) is parse the vixen sequence file format, send it out a serial port in the Renard protocol. Strange thing about that is that the hardest part was finding a library that had an easy-to-use base 64 decode I could use without having to implement it myself.
The code still needs MANY improvements (including, but not limited to):
* Support for more than 8 channels (I currently only send 8-byte packets to address 0x80) (see Renard protocol for more information)
* MP3 Playback of music (alsa?, but will that be available cross-platform?)
* Option parsing for things like filenames, serial ports, baud rate, etc.
* Support for Vixen profiles
* Implement timing based on the sequence file (I’m running a test sequence that has 50ms updates and at my 8-byte packet writes, I sleep for 50ms)
* Lots of general code cleanup
* Build system to support cross compilation on Linux/Mac/Other(beagle board?/c1/cc/c8)
* Add 100-byte pad bytes to output (per Renard vixen plugin)
* Support for more outputs besides Renard (DMX? olsen? grinch?)
Thanks to the DoItYourselfChristmas.com community for the tips, information, etc. Once I complete some of the things in the list above, I will publish my code will be on github and release it with the GPLv2 license.
Over at DIYC, there are a handful of people who run these buys. I call them gluttons. The pricing on components for the hardware drop dramatically with volume, so people volunteer their time to coordinate purchases for many members. They collect money, negotiate prices with vendors, sort, and ship the parts out.
Here is a table of this year’s purchases laid out to ensure all parts are received and begin assembly shortly.
This is enough controller for 176 channels. Two Renard 64XCs (and accompanying SSRezs) as well as 6 Renard SS8s.
The only thing left hardware-wise to purchase this year is a pile of extension cords, lamp cord, vampire plugs, enclosures, etc. No more room for electronics left in this year’s budget.
I was lucky enough to finish off my “SS” boards by purchasing two separate boards from DIYC members who are changing their displays next year. They were purchased through DIYC which meant the sellers sold them as hardware cost only. I paid the same as I would for a bare PCB and parts, no labor costs.
One is a Frank’s Renard SS24 v3.3 board which is very well built. The board has a grounding setup and all, so everything is using 3-prong cords and properly grounded. This board came in an enclosure and has some nifty labels I will be looking into for the units I’m building.
The other is a Renard SS24 HC board, which is also a Frank Kostyun design. It’s similar in look/layout to the Ren24SS v3.3 board, and similar functionality to the standard Renard ss24, although provides support for up to 6 amps per channel. This will come in handy when using incandescent lights, specifically my C7s around the roof-line of the house. This one still hasn’t arrived as the seller has real winters, unlike us in “sunny” California.
One of the plans I have for testing, sequencing, etc. will be to affix lights to the rafters in the garage that I can use when testing hardware/sequences/etc. I’m sure at some point I’ll have a horrible video of our messy garage blinking and flashing. Stay tuned!
Tuesday night I was able to get started on soldering the Renard boardsw are starting with. I have two 24 channel boards giving us 48 total channels for now. I hope to buy at least one 64 channel controller with a group purchase between now and Christmas 2011. For now, here are a couple of pictures of the start.
Since I’ve never soldered PCBs before, this was a new task. I already have a really nice soldering iron, but I bought a fine point tip, and some fine solder for this work. I actually found it much easier than I thought it would be. The fine tip, and accurate temperature control made it relatively easy. For now, I don’t have a PCB holder, so I would either put the board on my lap, my work bench, or clamp it with the alligator type clamps depending on where I was working on the board.
In about 3 hours I have all resistors, diodes, LEDs, caps, fuse holders, and IC sockets soldered to the board. I think all I have left are the triacs, RJ45, DB9 connectors, and the screw terminals. I should be able to complete those with another hour of work, then I can start tinkering with the software side of things. I will need to program the PIC microcontrollers, get some “tests” going with Vixen on a windows machine. Then I will start looking at the rs485 protocol and my own software to sequence/control the show. I don’t like the fact that vixen requires windows and hope I can easily “record” the output and convert to something I can plop into eeprom on an arduino or similar MCU.
For now, I’m just excited to actually have hardware ready to play with. I will probably get a little “test” setup in the garage so I can visually see lights blinking and flashing. I spend a lot of time reading, learning, etc. on DIYC where I heard this gem: “It’s not a hobby. It’s an obsession. It is only a hobby for 6 months.” We’ll see if we make it past the hobby stage, stay tuned!