We can’t get enough of hacker-con badges. BSides Cape Town, held Last December, featured an IR-equipped badge that immersed attendees in a game while they chatted.
A group led by [Andrew MacPherson] and [Mike Davis] designed the badge around an ESP8266 and 128×64 OLED display, with eight buttons, an IR receiver and transmitter, five “level” LEDs, an RGB LED, and a 600 mAh LiPo that charged over USB.
RGB lighting in computer hardware, especially gaming-branded gear, is a divisive subject. Either you think it’s really cool and you want it in all your stuff, or you have good taste. (I kid, I kid.) But despite the rather flashy nature of LED-soaked “battlestation” gaming setups, there’s actually a surprising amount of utility to be found deep in all that rainbow-colored extravagance. Even if you aren’t a fan of the aesthetic, it’s worth considering the next time you’re assembling a gaming PC.
Here are a few of the useful things you can do with those flashy lights.
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer, but creating a lighting layout for specific games can help you remember the key bindings for various titles. It’s especially helpful if you often play different types of games, going from a WASD-heavy shooter to a hotkey-laden MOBA game to a custom-bound setup for a deep strategy or simulation game.
Using color groups for different kinds of actions is generally the best way to go here. Setups typically break colors into movement, basic attacks, special attacks, healing and other modifiers, and custom macros (see the title photo of this piece). More robust programs offer pre-made RGB themes for popular games, which can be downloaded and installed.
Display System Information
There are plenty of ways to show your system’s operating information, like current CPU temperature or fan speed. But…
The unique Spark headphone design uses LED to light the cords to help you be seen better at night.
Music. We take it with us everywhere. It’s in the house, the car, and in our ears as we walk, run, or bike. Music is the pulse that can drive our workouts or block out the everyday noise. They can create a state of distraction.
The question has always been, can you be immersed in music and not be putting yourself in danger? Can you hear that car coming or that emergency vehicle? And if it’s a case of saying, “I choose to have my music with me,” could there be a way to at least be more easily seen?
One company getting off the ground is trying to, literally, shed light on the subject.
Spark Headphones has developed a unique set of wired headphones that feeds LED light through the cords, and with it, provide additional visibility. The product, currently on Kickstarter, is phased to have backers receive product for donations by August and September.
“We created Spark Headphones in order to give individuals a way to express themselves while also providing an extra safety feature for them,” said a representative for Spark. “Runners and walkers who are listening to music while exercising are unable to hear their surroundings. As a motorcyclist, I noticed that it is hard to spot people running on the streets, especially at night. This is how I got the idea to incorporate flashing LED lights within the design of headphones.”
The headphones are charged via USB controller near the mini-jack. The controller is large enough to easily be held in hands wearing gloves, but not so large as to not be able to tuck into a pocket. Besides the charging, the controller sees a large button that allows you to toggle the lighting from solid, to pulse of your music, to lighting off. True to Spark’s claims, they light brightly in blue or purple depending on which color you choose, that is well seen at night. For daytime use, the lighting is not bright enough to see well enough for safety purposes….
Unlike one or two other brands I could mention, Sony’s TV division actually seems to be listening to consumers these days.
For instance, after getting widely criticized last year for including poor-contrast IPS panels in its TV range, this year Sony’s range is an IPS-free zone. Even better, someone at Sony seems to have noticed that many TV reviewers (myself included) have come to believe that LCD TVs that use direct LED lighting, where the lights are placed directly behind the screen, are better placed to deliver a good high dynamic range picture than TVs that use LEDs placed around the picture’s edges.
In fact, Sony’s new X900E range (known as the XE9005 range in the UK) goes further than just using a direct LED lighting system; it also offers local dimming, where 20 separate LED zones can output different light levels independently of each other, to suit the demands of the picture.
The Sony 65X900E.
Admittedly 20 is far from a ground-breaking number of dimming zones by today’s standards. But it’s better than nothing and, as we’ll see, it’s enough to help the 65-inch 65X900E we’re looking at here deliver a mostly very impressive picture.
As you’d expect these days, the 65X900E partners its direct-lighting with high dynamic range (HDR) capabilities and a native 4K resolution, while picture processing comes courtesy of Sony’s previously impressive X1 chipset.
This chipset is not as powerful as the X1 Extreme one found in Sony’s step-up X930E, Z9D and OLED A1E models; it doesn’t carry a dual database system for improved HD-to-4K upscaling, and can’t have Dolby Vision HDR support added via a future firmware update. It’s still, though, got more going on than most TV processing systems.
In particular, it drives the local dimming system; Sony’s Triluminos technology for delivering a wider and more subtle color range; and Sony’s Super Bit Mapping feature for tackling HDR color banding problems.
The Sony 65X900E.
As with all Sony’s mid-range and high-end TVs these days, the 65X900E’s smart features are delivered by Google’s Android TV platform. I’m no fan of Android TV for reasons detailed in this separate review of the platform. But it does run more stably and more quickly than it did when it first appeared, and it certainly carries a lot of content. Even if much of that content is pretty much pointless.
Fortunately Sony has sought to work round some of Android’s failings. You get full support for 4K HDR Amazon Video streaming as well as Netflix, while UK users will be pleased to find that Sony has drafted in the YouView platform to deliver the catch-up TV services for the main BBC, ITV, Channel Four and Channel 5 broadcasters.
Firing the 65X900E into action with the best picture source available, a selection of Ultra HD Blu-rays, I initially felt slightly disappointed by what I was seeing. Why? Because the 65X900E’s pictures look much less bright than those of Sony’s step-up 55X930E.
Test measurements reveal the 65X900E managing around 880 nits of light output on a 10% white HDR window, versus the 55X930E’s huge 1450 nits.
To be clear, 875 nits is not actually a bad effort for a 65-inch 4K HDR TV available for $2,300 (or £2,300). But anyone hoping that the X900E range might deliver essentially the same HDR-friendly brightness as the X930E range but from a direct lighting system needs to readjust their expectations.
Sony 65X900E stand detail.
Provided you’re willing to do that, though, the 65X900E is actually a pretty great TV for its money.
Pushing it hard with HDR shots containing bright objects against very dark backdrops, for instance, reveals both impressively deep black levels for LCD technology and, for the most part, fairly tame backlight clouding.
To be clear, faint backlight haloing can appear for a good few centimeters around the most extreme bright highlights (there are only 20 dimming zones, after all). Occasionally, too, this light blooming distractingly encroaches into the black bars you get above and below very wide aspect ratio images, and it also becomes far more pronounced…
The Dungeon Workshop is an Instagram account run by gamer and dungeon crafter Bob Richens. On it, Bob shows off such electrified and actuated dungeon creations as flickering wall torches, rising gates, fountains that pump real water (and then turn to blood), and a wizard whose crystal ball staff lights up when her cat-familiar gets nearby.
And then there’s his most recent project. Behold the Beholder, the iconic D&D monster that’s a giant floating head, all slavering teeth, evil cyclopean eyeball, and wriggling, Medusa-like eye stalks.
Bob brought his Beholder to life by installing a red 3 watt LED as the main eye and tiny surface-mount LEDs in the Beholder’s many eye stalks. We asked him to share some of the build details with us. Here’s what he sent.
(1) Reaper Miniatures “Eyebeast” model
(1) red, 3 watt LED for the main eye
various colored LEDs 0402-sized SMD
various resistor values, 0603-sized
various SMD capacitor values and sizes
thin, copper circuit board
magnet wire ~35 gauge
(2) CR2032 batteries
multiple MIC1557 timer chips
(1) micro on/off switch
(1) base to house all of the electronics
misc hardware (nuts, bolts, etc), glue, misc hand and power tools, paint and brushes
Using a ridiculously small drill bit and a Dremel tool, I drilled tiny holes through the eye stalks and down into the main body.
I also drilled a channel through one of the leg stalks and…
Computer mice have been around in one form or another for the better part of 50 years (or longer, based on your definition of invention), and for most of that time they’ve been paired with mouse pads. But modern optical and laser mice can track on just about any surface, unless you’re somehow using your computer on a sand bed. So do those nerdy-looking pads even serve a purpose anymore?
Yes, actually. A mouse pad isn’t technically necessary these days, but there are some obvious and serious benefits of using one, even if you’re not spending a lot of money on a fancy “gamer” model.
When Did Mouse Pads Start to Disappear?
Some computer users used to simply roll their ancient ball-driven mice along a desktop, presumably using their other hand to shove spears at woolly mammoths. But before the advent of optical mice, mouse pads served some very important functions: not only did they offer a smooth and predictable tracking area, they helped keep the tracking ball clean of dirt, skin oils, and other gunk.
Microsoft and Logitech later introduced consumer-grade optical mice, which ditched the physical roller mechanism for a tiny and low-powered optical sensor and LED combo, around the turn of the century. These offered more consistent tracking on almost any surface (as long as it wasn’t reflective or transparent, like glass) without the possibility of dirt and oil buildup on a conventional ball. A few years later, laser-equipped mice erased even those limitations, and now you can get an inexpensive mouse that will track on more or less any surface.
Consequently, mouse pads began to fall out of fashion. Since optical and laser mice don’t actually contact the surface that they’re tracking (except for the feet of the mouse, which isn’t part of the tracking mechanism), there’s no operational downside to using your desk, or your lap, or the spare…
If you’ve jumped on the Google Wifi train (or at least been considering it), then you know there are a lot of reasons to love Google’s mesh network setup. And as helpful as the indicator lights are to let you know everything is powered up and running smoothly, they can also be a distraction. Here’s how to turn them off.
That’s right, no need for electrical tape here—Google Wifi actually has a feature that lets you turn the lights off from the app. If you have multiple Wifi units in your home, you can control each one individually, which is a nice touch on Google’s part. That way, you can completely disable the light on the unit in sensitive areas like…
Blinky LED projects: we just can’t get enough of them. But anyone who’s stared a WS2812 straight in the face knows that the secret sauce that takes a good LED project and makes it great is the diffuser. Without a diffuser, colors don’t blend and LEDs are just tiny, blinding points of light. The ideal diffuser scrambles the photons around and spreads them out between LED and your eye, so that you can’t tell exactly where they originated.
We’re going to try to pay the diffuser its due, and hopefully you’ll get some inspiration for your next project from scrolling through what we found. But this is an “Ask Hacakday”, so here’s the question up front: what awesome LED diffusion tricks are we missing, what’s your favorite, and why?
Diffusive Materials, Blending Colors
Look closely enough at an RGB LED and you’ll see three individual LED chips, not surprisingly in red, green, and blue. We all know this, and yet it’s still surprising how badly blended the colors can be, even from an LED unit like the WS2812, where the three diodes are ridiculously tiny and less than a millimeter apart. Somehow, even at desk-distance, you still get the feeling that you’re looking at a red LED and a blue LED instead of a blended magenta light source.
One approach is to use a diffusive material that has a rough enough surface that it scatters the light that passes through it. Diffusive materials include something “traditional” like frosted glass or acrylic, as seen in [Mike Szczys]’s 1 Pixel Pacman demo video or this classy linear RGB clock. Something like 50% transparent acrylic seems to be just about right. You can get a similar effect by sanding or tumbling a clear LED.
Then there are “oddball” diffusers. A drop of hot glue works pretty well, because it’s rarely crystal clear. Stranger still is polyester pillow stuffing. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with re-melting candles and entombing LEDs in paraffin wax — around 1 cm depth yields very uniform colors. I’ve also seen holes drilled in wooden cases, filled with epoxy, and sanded down.
The main variables with diffusive materials is how transmissive the material is and how far away from the LED it’s located. Thicker, less transmissive materials tend to blur better but darken the LED more — sometimes a good thing. Locating the diffuser further away tends to mix colors better, but also blurs the points of light out, and can muddy up the image. Again, sometimes you want…
As a recurring feature, our team combs the Web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, April 24.
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