Archive for September, 2010

Farnell price differences

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

While shopping for components I noticed some (huge) price differences. Here’s an example;

Same company, just different countries. While to seems pretty much standard to rip off Europeans, these are not small differences, especially considering components are usually sold in large quantities.

Let’s say I want 50 connector; that’s £26,- (= €30,14) in the UK. In The Netherlands it totals to €79,-…. more than 2,5 times the UK price! What the hell…

Also checked a few other things, but those had more normal differences. Limited to connectors only it appears.

It’s like a black hole sucking up time instead of light <:)

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Dev boards

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Yee a new ‘toy’ has arrived. After waiting only 3 months to the day, a little carton box containing TI’s MSP430 Launchpad board finally found it’s way to my doorstep. It was cheap, comes with free tools and no shipping costs which is a huge pro if you just want to try a new product. No idea what to do with it yet, but I’m sure something fun can be made with it.

Also very nice are the extras. Apart from the nice box it comes in, it includes 2 controllers (2211 and the 2231 which has an USI and ADC), a 32.768 kHz crystal, headers and an USB cable. And to top it off there are 4 anti-slip pads beneath the PCB (it’s often in the small details). Kudos to TI!

Btw, this thing is actually sold below the actual cost of the parts. Just the 2 LQFP IC’s (a Serial-to-USB Converter and a 16-bit ULP MCU with 55kB Flash and 5120B RAM) are over $10 @1k units.

Speaking of dev boards, ST recently introduced a nice STM32 board. According to ST you can get one for under $10, but I haven’t seen those, not even at the distributors they link to. A more realistic value is €12,55 which boils down to $16,90 incl VAT at today’s exchange rate. Yes that’s right, 160% more than ST advertises with. Still not bad, but saying it’s under $10 is just a big lie.

Anyhow, I’m thinking of getting 1, mainly for quick testing. Right now the Futurlec board and some chips is all I’ve got, which is a bit of a pain when you quickly want to swap boards for some simple testing. Besides that I’m looking forward to giving that ST-link thing a try.

The downside is that ST throws up some barriers. You can only buy the board through big distributors, which for us Europeans means you’re screwed as a private person. These distributors won’t even talk to you unless you place a minimum order value which is way higher than the board alone. ST can learn a thing or two from TI when it comes to bringing their products to a wider audience.

Secondly the whole ST-link thing only comes with Windows software. However no surprise there given their complete lack of non-MS support previously. A bit of a downer, but no show stopper.

24 is no more

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

What ever happened to 24 (the TV series)? Years ago I watched the first two seasons with pleasure. Currently running is season 8, which I thought would be nice to watch. But geez how wrong can one be…

After having watched the first 5 episodes I’m giving up, it’s just unbearable. Very weak storyline, poorly acted, and just too retarded to enjoy. And how may BSG actors did they pick up… wtf!?

If you’re thinking of watching…. don’t!

Uhoh…

Friday, September 24th, 2010

What’s more, some of these hot spots have been linked to vast eruptions that have covered large areas with lava, Coffin said. These larger eruptions, in turn, are suspected of having something to do with some of the greatest mass extinctions in the history of life on Earth.

The team found eruption peaks at 10, 22, 30, 40, 49 and 60 million years ago. They also found a secondary series of eruptions at four, 15, 34, 45 and 65 million years ago. Analyzing those dates suggests a main eruption pulse period of approximately 10 million years, with a secondary period of about five million years.

Uh oh ;)

Source: Earth’s Pulse Felt at Hot Spots

Oil smeared Faces of Earth

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Tonight I watched a documentary called “Faces of Earth”. I love documentaries so I started watching with high hopes. Beautiful shots, but half way through the subject became more and more focused on how wonderful fossil fuels are. Something was off and they basically said how our great society needs fossil fuels. So I started searching who sponsored the program and guess what… here are the top 3 ‘supporters’:

  • American association of petroleum geologists foundation;
  • AGI foundation;
  • Exxon Mobil.

Well that explains a lot… That’s enough propaganda for this month… juk!

S/PDIF is here to stay

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

With playback working again it was time for another addition; digital out. After some soldering and enabling I2S on the decoder the setup was ready for test run. Hooked the monster up to an Onkyo receiver and voila.

First some details. Currently the VS1053B is configured to output a samplerate of 48 kHz (this is also the highest supported samplerate for all codecs). This goes directly into a CS8406 S/PDIF transmitter which is wired in hardware mode. A second option would be a 96 kHz I2S signal. Even though the decoder support 192 kHz it can only output it with MCLK divided by 2. The CS8406 only supports clock ratios down to 128 * Fs. For 192 kHz to work it must go down to 64 * Fs.

At the moment it only uses TOSLINK, but the final version will also have coaxial output. It’s just that I don’t have the required pulse transformer lying around.

Back to the receiver. It detects the output as a 44,1 kHz PCM signal. For a more isolated test I hooked up AKG K 701 headphones which is know for it reference like quality. And wow, what a thrill. This was simply the best sounding audio I’ve ever heard not coming from a real CD.

I could still hear some things I didn’t like (high tones), but at this time it’s unknown what the cause is. Could be the recording itself (need to compare with original CD), it could be samplerate conversion (48 kHz to 44,1 kHz), could be the setup (just think of how anal audiophiles can be about the smallest things ;)), etc. Just a matter of proper testing, listening and comparing.

Also one thing that’s bothering me is the interference the setup has on my cable TV signal (doesn’t affect HDMI). At the moment I’m just blaming all the breadboard wiring which probably acts like a small transmitter. The board is located almost directly below the inputs of the TV and since the cable signal already is very weak (some stations are half snow even without any other electronics close by), so it’s not directly a problem (not to mention the lack of programmes worth watching… but that’s another story ;))

Did you hear something?

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

The moment of truth has finally arrived; FLAC playback! After going through all the trouble of switching over to a Cortex-M3 controller and SDIO, this is a pretty gratifying moment :D

On the right you’re seeing SD card access reading 512 byte sectors (yellow) and the DREQ signal of the decoder requesting more data (blue). Playing is a 886kpbs FLAC file and just look at the space in between. That means there’s a lot of room for additional functionality.

Some quick notes about clocks;

  • SPI is running at 9 MHz
  • SDIO running at 7.2 MHz
  • Decoder running with recommended 3.5x multiplier and 1.0x addition

Well I’m off listening to some test tracks :)

HDCP master key confirmed

Friday, September 17th, 2010

The news was indeed as good as I hoped it to be, Intel confirmed today the key was real. What I want to know is where it came from. There are a couple of ways this could have been done. Apparently it only requires around 50 devices with unique keys to extract/calculate the master key. Given the sheer number of devices out there worldwide, this would be the most likely scenario.
Another option is someone at Intel is going to be sacked, but I think this is unlikely. Rumour has it only 2 people have access and you can bet this kind of information is in a vault and permanently monitored in the form of various access control systems, including ‘simple’ things such as a video camera. Don’t see this happening, unless someone was really pissed and fled the country before the key went public ;)
Or maybe they got (intentionally) hacked. No idea if the system is hooked up to a network though. If it is and the key was not stored securely it deserved to be ‘freed’. But again I think this is unlikely as I would expect a master key to be either in a HSM or stored on a smartcard that’s only inserted if new keys need to be derived (or maybe someone at Intel stole the smartcard, also a possibility).

Anyway, enough talk about where it came from. How can this be of service to those who want to get rid of HDCP encryption? Just capturing the HDMI stream would require a sweet setup. A quick calculation yields 149 MB/s (1920×1080 pixels x 24-bit x 24 fps). Note that HDMI v1.3 goes upto 16-bit per colour making the number even higher.
What about capturing frame by frame, bringing the required bandwidth down? Tricky, but probably very doable. Stream can be encrypted end decrypted later on when you have all the time in the world.
Or go the hardware route and plug a custom FPGA board holding the decryption key. A decent FPGA would be able to keep up with the stream a do some realtime decryption. Then all you’d have to worry about is what to do with the decrypted data.

EU flat panel tax shot down

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

The HDCP thing reminded me of another joyous fact (in case you missed it); WTO raps EU tariffs on technology goods.

Short excerpt:

A World Trade Organization panel gave broad backing on Monday to the United States, Japan and Taiwan in their complaint over controversial European duties on electronics products, and told Brussels to bring its trade measures into line with international rules.

The panel said the EU had imposed the duties on flat-panel displays, multifunction printers and television set-top boxes in violation of the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement.

About time…