Modifying a SLR tripod for the HTC EVO 3D

Introduction:

I’ve always had a thing for 3D pictures and movies hence my recent acquisition of a HTC EVO 3D. It’s the US Sprint version hence only works on Wifi in this coutry due to the lack of a LTE network. But since I simply want to use it as a 3D camera it was what I’d call a bargain on ebay for about £60 including a decent size memory card. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a steady hand so I started to investigate what sort of tripods would be available for this sort of device. Not surprisingly HTC didn’t have anything on offer and the best I could find was a “one size fits all” type ultra low budget mini tripod on Amazon. Apart from the fact that it was simply too tiny for what I was trying to do (the 3D pictures get a lot harder to see if taken very close up to the target) it’s mechanism also simply did extend far enough to accommodate the EVO 3D in it’s Otterbox Communter case. I also had a spare SLR tripod gathering dusts in a corner which was missing the adapter plate that is attached to the SLR camera and then snaps into the tripods top mounting platform. So I set out to spend a sunny afternoon modifying both :)

 

1. The mini tripod:

The vertical lever arm has a spring in it and after taking the whole thing apart I found that it would actually extend a lot further but the spring was not allowing it to. Old spring out, slightly longer spring in and the result now holds the EVO 3D firmly in place. I was a bit afraid the arm might be blocking one of the cameras but it doesn’t. To make it easier to insert the EVO 3D I also drilled a little hole and put in a tiny nail as a retention mechanism to ensure the arm doesn’t slide back the whole way. Yes, I admit it: The nail has been laying on my work bench for a month or so and I was trying to find use for it in a project  to avoid having to throw it away… ;)

 

2. The SLR tripod:

This had two known problems. Firstly the screw mechanism which allows to tilt the mounting platform is simply not well done. It has teeth hence doesn’t allow a lot of precision and usually ends up in a position I don’t want and I then try and compensate by extending/shortening one of the legs. I still haven’t got a full solution for this (probably means removing the teeth) but I have fitted a downwards facing screw which at least keeps the platform in a stable horizontal position. Second problem was that I simply do not have the adapter which fits into the mounting platform neither would I have been able to get one to mount the EVO 3D. The top part of the mini tripod which includes the clamp mechanism luckily unscrews from it’s lower leg part so I only had to find a screw with the right size thread and fix that to the mounting platform.

EVO 3D tripod 1

EVO 3D tripod 2

EVO 3D tripod 3

EVO 3D tripod 4

 

3. What’s it like to use:

The result is far more stable than I initially expected, has proven very workable during the first test session and I’m very happy with it :) This is one of the 3D pictures taken with the above setup, more can be found in my profile over at phereo:

http://phereo.com/PeterHaban/album/4fc22d853785011371000008/

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Raspberry Pi Project 1 (2D/3D Pictures) – XBMC media streamer

Introduction:

The friendly postman left me a “you weren’t home” card yesterday so I got curious since I didn’t expect any deliveries. Farnell had given me a delivery slot for next week (28/05/2012 onwards) but a quick look into my profile confirmed that they had already sent it :) Followed by the usual 24hr wait and a somewhat restless night I finally managed to collect my first Raspberry Pi from my local main post office (at the other side of town, obviously) and documented the following “in car un-boxing” with a very happy tweet+picture :) Since I’ve been blessed with mandatory attendance at a XML training course although I have just passed a far more complex postgrad module on the matter of structured and unstructured data I had luckily already had time to prepare a repository of RasPi boot images and associated “stuff”. The following is a quick description of my first attempts to get some use out of the little board and at the end a couple of thoughts on further projects.

Raspberry Pi

1. To stream or not to stream:

Personally I don’t think that’s a real question hence the fact that during the refurb of our semi I decided to pull a bunch of AV cables as thick as my arm through the crawl space underneath the floor boards from the media center (<- she would call it the front room…) to the cupboard underneath the stairs. Said cupboard now also houses the main fan-out points for the down stairs ethernet and DVB-T wall sockets. I had a basic Intel quad core based machine in there for quite some time to basically stream video content off the central raid server and experiment with ripped HD content (<- motivated by the fact that I do own HD-DVDs and a USB HD-DVD/BluRay writer but no stand alone home cinema HD-DVD player). I think there aren’t many “stream my stuff” apps that I haven’t tried over the years and where I’m too lazy to mess with Ubuntu+VLC XBMC has proven to be a nice couche potato type front end. Since the old streaming PC was finally retired a few months ago in preparation of this setup I set out to get it to work on the RasPi. Mainly to avoid having to hook up the quad core portable to watch the last and final episode of Desperate Housewives…

 

2. XBMC vs Raspbmc:

Initially I thought about simply messing with the original Raspberry Pi Debian image (http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads) to see how hard it would be to get XBMC into that but thanks to my postgrad modules I now routinely write spec and google for about half an hour before I embark on any new project. As usual this saved me about an hours worth of compiling for ARM and god knows what simply due to this website and the links on it with the two current main projects for XBMC based RasPi images: http://www.raspberrypi.org/downloads . The contenders were quickly identified as OpenELEC (http://openelec.tv/news/item/241-openelec-meets-raspberry-pi-part-1) and Raspbmc (http://www.raspbmc.com/).

I’ve tried both and as much as I like the idea behind OpenELEC it’s simply not quite there yet, mainly due to the fact that it feels a lot slower which is obviously the main problem on such a power poor board. Although the current Raspbmc image (http://download.raspbmc.com/downloads/bin/ramdistribution/installer-testing.img.gz) is classified as Beta it’s already very usable, boots and reacts fast and dealt well with the plugins I threw at it. Personally I’d put this down to the fact that the developer behind Raspbmc is the same guy that brought XBMC and 1080p decoding to the 1st gen Apple so he knows how to deal with underpowered platforms.

 

3. Raspbmc – ready, steady, boot:

Personally I got tempted to play around with the non-HDMI screen sockets but they don’t seem to be implemented yet due to missing drivers so the little thing went up against a 50″ plasma. I haven’t bothered yet to try and connect the 3.5 mm jack headphone socket to the Yamaha 6.1 Amp and I’m not sure how well Raspbmc deals with above HDMI-stereo or real 5.1 output via the 3.5mm jack at the moment but since the audio chips seems very boring standard stuff I’d assume it should simply work or require minimal work at best which I’m sure will be finished until the final image goes out.

AV wise I’ve set this up as HDMI only to the plasma with video as 1080p/60hz and stereo audio through the same HDMI cable to the TV.

I’ve seen various posts of people who tried XBMC on their RasPi with very poor results due to very slow SD-cards so I got something reasonable fast in form of a 8GB SanDisk Ultra (SDHC, 4, 15MB/s) which seems sufficient to give the little board enough I/O umpf. Building bigger lists of files can take a second or two and the same goes for listing available options in some of the plugins which scrape data off the interweb but keeping in mind the underlying system and the fact that Raspbmc is still Beta this is not only usable but actually quite impressive. The current RasPi only has a 10/100 NIC which makes sense as the chip in front of the NIC simply wouldn’t handle more (especially on the upstream side) so I’m hoping that the next version comes with a decent gigabit NIC which should be beneficial once the board is meant to crunch HD content or scrape tons of data off some website/service.

 

4. Raspbmc – plugins (UK):

Installing the plugins is simply down to copying the extracted files into a folder on the RasPi boot SD-card or installing the usual repositories. I’ve only tried TV ones so far which work very well. iPlayer for TV and radio works straight away after copying the plugin over, even BBCHD works stutter free! The 4oD still has this annoying bug and I’vd forgotten how to fix it but the 5oD one works without the need to turn on the brain and rewrite the messy perl script that comes with these two. TVcatchup also installs but even in low resolution the video stutters which I think is down to the codec it uses. From what I gather the RasPi doesn’t deal to well with MPEG2 but I haven’t really looked into the spec details of the GPU yet. I’d assume all this is fixable as soon as more people have the boards and feed back bugs.

 

5. Raspbmc – smb streaming:

No real surprises here, streaming from an Ubuntu based Samba share is simple to setup and works without flaws. I’ve tried xvid and high resolution h2.64 files and all play without stuttering which I still find amazing for a board this size :) I’ll do more tests to find out where the limits of the GPU are and which codecs it digests best but I’d assume that it should deal with all the files people usually watch and it should at least match if not even exceed capabilities of functionality built into most recent TVs/BluRay players. It surely outperforms my one year old plasma and BluRay player in regards to capabilities as a media player.

 

6. What next:

As usual, lots of ideas in my head :) Apart from the fact that I want to establish what the board is actually capable of with Raspbmc in regards to max video/audio rates I’d also like to test more of the XBMC plugins and hopefully I’ll get lovefilm to work on this so I won’t be sent to the mail box again ;) In regards to non media streaming projects I’m planning to try and talk to all sorts of ICs and Arduino shields once I’ve figured out what the pins do  and soldered a few dirty adapter boards. I remember this Gert-board thing and Lady Ada had a RasPi proto board in one of her blog posts but I’m not sure if either are actually on sale yet. I think the first think I’m going to try to talk to will be I2C sensors and an XBee Series 2 modules simply because I’ve got some kicking about but if I get enough spare time I want to replace the back-end of my current wireless sensor network with a RasPi. It simply needs to suck up data frames from the XBee and then store them in an internal MySQL database. Since it’s got an ethernet port it could obviously serve flot graphs on the data through Apache like my current Mini-ITX back-end but this should be a lot more portable and energy efficient. Last but not least, if said graphs and more stats/details on the sensor nodes could appear on a touch screen mounted to the back of the RasPi I would have a full MySQL storage an graphical reporting backend running off 5V and possibly even off a mid sized solar panel hence off grid :) Oh, and I still need a decent case…

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DIP adapters to convert less DIY friendly packages (SOP, SOIC, TSSOP, MSOP, SSOP, SOT, LCC, LGA)

Introduction:

Since a couple of manufacturers have kindly agreed to provide me with free samples of their ICs I’ve obviously had to look for adapters to convert the rather DIY unfriendly packages to a more Arduino friendly footprint so I can use them for my prototypes. I’ll continue to share further results as I go along testing the ICs once I’ve got them soldered to the adapters. I got all of these from eBay, all from sellers in the far east. They all convert to DIP and prices range from about 40p to £2 each depending on size and complexity. Several of them cover more than one package at once, either by adding more solder pads on the same side or as a “flip solution” with pads for one target package per PCB side. Overall quality seems very good so I’d expect good results if I can manage to keep my hand steady enough during soldering the smaller packages ;) Cutting the pictures for this post to size is also a good reason to finally take the plunge and deal with the new Gimp 2.8…

This is what I’ve got so far:

SOP28 TSSOP28 SSOP28 To DIP28

 

SOP8 SOIC8 TSSOP8 MSOP8 To DIP8

 

SOT23 SOT25 LCC-10 To DIP8

 

SOIC14 LGA14 To DIP-14

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