Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ambx notes and plans

Mostly some links here for ideas on alternative transducers.

This is funny, "The light bulbs in my house are constantly burning out. This didn't happen before I installed my tactile array. What can I do?"


  • Look at the API and what it offers, although with all the driver problems this might be a waste of time. Ideally we'd want to make our own drivers, possibly even our own replacement hardware. (qDot already has a similar system already built)
  • Look into how the game provides hooks into the drivers and make a sample app that acts like a real ambx and outputs what the game is expecting. (Which light, what color, intensity, saturation, rumble (on/off/or intensity), fan speed, etc) This will give a lot of insight into how much effort game developers are putting into actually supporting this hardware. (If I had to guess, very few man hours)
  • Emulate the device entirely in software, mostly done by first part of 2nd bullet.
  • Support MAX/MSP, Wiring libs, for DIY artists etc.
  • (long term) Eliminate the commercial platform altogether, for non-gamer croud mostly. on your own hardware. Somehow, the freetrack guys got away with this, I don't know the legalites. http://www.free-track.net/english/ (since if the commercial platform fails, so does everything else.) DIY, open source hardware for everyone. Possibly make wrapper to allow homebrew hardware to use old AmbX game features

Thats all for now. Time to bring this thing down stairs onto the bench and spend an hour trying to get the !@# drivers to work so I can make some pinouts.

PS, for those having problems with the drivers, visit the ambx forums. You'll find lots of people just like you and just as pissed off. If they JUST released the separate components as EXE files, we'd be a lot better off. The updater thing seems to jack everything up.

Here is a dump of what the updater did for me, just now. Replace .dat with .exe and you can get the file. The dat contains xml that is a description of what 'it' is.

http://www.ambx.com/updates/update.xml < look inside of here for the exe urls for latest stuff

http://www.ambx.com/updates/NativeSoftwareInformation.xml < no idea, updater requested it but got 404

contents of update 4/28/09:

Update status (ie what version you have) is stored in:


If you delete the GUID's in there, the updater will at least get them again and reinstall them for you. But try to install the things manually, it seems to work better. If you are fast, you can catch what the updater downloaded in your TEMP directory, but i just gave you all the urls, so downloading them shouldn't be too hard. :) Remember for the latest drivers, peep on that update.xml

Saturday, April 25, 2009

PCB creation i'bles

This is pretty much exactly how I've traditionally etched boards, except I have a nice tank and bubbler system.
How-To: Etch a single sided PCB
No silkscreen, I normally spray with conformal coating. (which means when its coated, no more soldering) If I don't spray it, it eventually turns green, but thats ok.

Recently a guy posted a much better way on Instructables, I'm going to have to learn this. Stencils and solder paste is the way to go for sure.. And he has silkscreens which make it look totally pro. Now I have to finally get around to hacking that 10 dollar toaster oven in the basement into a reflow oven.


Friday, April 24, 2009


So I consume a lot of info daily as most of you, and I'd like to do trackbacks. Blogger seems to have this 'Add Enclosure Link', but is that to imply that one post may be a trackback, and there cannot be a post of trackbacks. I am probably defeating the whole purpose. I don't want to make a ton of tiny worthless posts for one link each.

As templates go, this one.. while customized to be dark and easy on the eyes (or not? say so), and fitting my personal preferences of monospace etc, the extra margins and such are in much need of love. The newspaper like column blog format is not my thing, I mean, in a newspaper there are other columns side by side, not blank wasted pixels. I suppose I'm going to really annoy folks while I learn the ins and outs of this. Maybe people with their netbooks and 800 width screens :D And the CSS is using percent font widths, which I'll get around to changing so things don't look so silly hopefully.

IE8. Still no inline spellchecking on form data, big wtf microsoft. Props for IE web developer though, better than Firefox addins. And there's 3rd party Fiddler when you really need to see whats going on with headers and modding postdata, browser independent.


A list apart, in defense of eye candy
Awesome infoporn (really just sub to infosthetics already!):
very small array, feltronish and sick
ted talk on vis for big data

James Burke stuff (a hero):
Connections series)
The Day the Universe Changed series
clip, clip

still trying to get used to the blogging format, after 2000 edits.

Monday, April 20, 2009

AmbX Uncasing

Inside the AmbX starter kit. Includes 2 satellite units and main wall washer. The insides are not too spectacular, although the board seems nicely made and isn't version nerfed. All capabilities of this washer control unit are present in the much more expensive kit that includes the sound system, silly fans and rumble keyboard wrest. I have my own audio system shared with my home theater so I wasn't interested in the speakers. If you opt for that system, the contents are 2 sat speakers for left and right which have RGB light domes on them, 1 subwoofer unit, 2 fans for left and right, and the same wall washer unit pictured here.

Inside of the unit, it appears there is great possibility for modification. The controller appears to be an 8051 MCU with integrated USB host. (datasheet) Also note the populated JTAG port!

I picked up this kit for around 50 dollars. The larger kit was just not interesting to me. First of all, the fans are just that, fans. (I took one apart in an evauation unit) The rumble pad is just a complete joke, it's either a hard block that's higher than your keyboard and uncomfortable or it's an earthquake/noise machine. I tested the full unit with Farcry2, an AmbX enhanced game and wasn't too impressed. I figure if I want the fans enough, I'll just make some, the pinout is straightforward into a PS2 looking connector. The fans blew when you sprinted in the game, or in my opinion, made up for the game sucking as much as it did. As I mentioned, the board does not look gimped or unpopulated in any way that would prevent anyone from hooking anything up to the extra outputs that are unused, including homemade fans. Rumble outputs with real home theater chair transducers anyone?

The software is the bad news, generally the drivers stink. I use Vista64 at work and I don't know if it was the driver version or what, but the AmbX driver/host application was using a whole core of a Core2Duo to flash its little lights while playing FarCry2. (Note these were OLD drivers) I haven't tested it too much here at home since I just got it, where I use Vista32. The first thing I did was dissect it. But the application and drivers are half baked for sure, after about a day of working with them. An app which was supposed to randomly cycle through mood settings as you used the computer conveniently disappeared after an update, and manually invoking (its exe) it hasn't work since I got it set up. (Although it did work on my eval at work) Even worse, Philips doesn't seem to want to have anything to do with this AmbX spinoff of its very nice AmbiLight tech. They sold the AmbX division to some VC company, where I bet it will be ground into soggy marketing mush to get as many units out the door before the whole thing folds. But here's where our communities prosper… The reason I bought this junk was because I believe in this technology, in its immersion qualities, and it has undeniable aesthetic effect for many settings. I have no hope for better drivers, much more game support, etc. But if it can average colors from desired quadants of the final framebuffer rendering a game, it should work in any instance. Its devices and GPIO can be made to do anything. It's drivers can be RE'd and proper ones made for general use or specific applications. I should mention with stock drivers, it does seem to function OK with Windows Media Center, so theoretically if you could not afford a nice Philips with AmbiLight, you can emulate it with this.

Following are some galleries of the software and disassembly, with pics of main chips. Have fun.

UPDATE: The CPU usage problems have been fixed with later driver revisions, but the software is still rather shoddy. The pics of the SW below are from the latest version. 64 bit drivers exist too, in case you were wondering. Also fixed mispelling of Philips, now they can have it easier when the subpoena comes claiming DMCA abuse. :)

Screen Captures
AmbX Disassembly