DVI Mixer

I’ve wanted a simple, compact VGA mixer for as long as I’ve had a laptop. Something I could fit in the same case as the laptop, and something that wouldn’t render my precise computer imagery through the lens of a 1950’s television: a single pixel line should not end up blurred and flickery when projected on a screen. My need is for live video performance, but anybody who has had to put a powerpoint presentation through their laptop’s tv-out socket or seen the chaos caused by swapping cables in and out of computers in front of an audience should have an idea of just how useful such a thing could be.

With the commercial world still clinging to PAL and NTSC in 2009, may I present the *spark d-fuser project: a video processor and controller capable of handling all the resolutions a VJ might need, processed in 4:4:4 RGB VGA/DVI, that will fit in a 12” laptop case and still have space in there for its natural partner, the Matrox TripleHead2Go. And it won’t break the bank: £750 or so.

This has been possible due to an affordable video processor being released that has the technical capabilities - finally - although out of the box it has no considerations for live, hands-on use. I have put a load of those considerations into a controller you plug into the unit, the idea being you can arrive at the gig, switch to the appropriate video setting, watch your two computers pick up the new output resolution, and then relax knowing you can crossfade between them, and have a fade to black control downstream of your laptop’s output, on a solid signal to the projectors that won’t flicker as the inputs get replugged or computers reboot.

My work on D-Fuse’s new live performance Particle was predicated on having such a box: a laptop sprinkled with custom code was the only way to meet the creative brief, but connecting a single laptop direct to projectors for gigs that can stretch to audiences in the thousands simply wasn’t an option, and while the software based setup allows generation of the complete composition and so the whole show, we still wanted two setups to switch between, tag teaming to develop and pace the performance. So I developed the prototype in July 2009, it had its first public outing at London’s Electrovision event, and we have used it for all the Particle performances since then. Its real, it works.

What takes this beyond a personal project is that as of autumn 2009 I am organising a limited production run of the controllers along in tandem with a officially developed firmware revision for the video processor. I’ve had a lot of enquiries, and anecdotally the pent-up demand in the VJ world is there. The aim is to take that, and be able to facilitate not only a nice bit of crossfader hardware, but use it to get the manufacturer tweak the video processor to serves our needs better. So at the bottom of this page is a sign-up form, and here are the rest of the details.

  • The *spark d-fuser brief

A controller with DJ style crossfader, ‘Fade to Black’ knob, and video format selector (see below).
A video processor with two DVI-I inputs and a single DVI-I output, capable of the video formats following. The output is locked to its own timebase, ensuring solid output regardless of inputs. The input’s EDID switches to the current video format so your laptop should automatically change to the current resolution. See the full-sized poster attached at the bottom of this page for how I envision it being used, which can be in concert with a Matrox TripleHead2Go to drive multiple screens.

640x480 | 50/60Hz |
1024x768 | 50/60Hz |
1600x600 | 50/60Hz | Timed as per Matrox TripleHead2Go, Dual 800x600
2048x768 | 50/60Hz | Timed as per Matrox TripleHead2Go, Dual 1024x768
1920x480 | 50/60Hz | Timed as per Matrox TripleHead2Go, Triple 640x480
1920x1080 | 50/60Hz | ie. 1080P

For the D-Fuse performance Particle, we use the prototype combined with a Matrox TripleHead2Go Digital Edition, wired with DVI cables from Laptop to Processor to TripleHead2Go, and then use DVI-VGA dongles on the TripleHead’s output to feed VGA to the projectors. Note it doesn’t have to be all DVI, the processor will happily process VGA instead, just get yourself some adapters.

  • The community angle

By aggregating our orders we can get something more refined than what is possible to any of us individually. Currently, there are a number of footnotes in the setup of the controller and processor. This is where the firmware revision comes in: the video processor as available to any of us presently works but there are a number of issues in terms of setup. They are resolvable, but it boils down to this: the larger bulk order that can be placed for the video processor, the more the manufacturer is willing to tweak the device. And beyond the “can the number of EDID slots be increased to handle six resolutions in both 50&60hz” kind of issues, I’m hoping we can get a bit more creative: ‘add’ as well as ‘over’ blend modes, for instance.

  • My role

To be clear, I am approaching this as a community based project to get this out there, rather than becoming a consumer electronics company myself. I see the opportunity to join the dots between a community with pent up demand for such a device, a manufacturer of a product that would not sell to this community otherwise, and some small scale manufacturing and development to make it all happen.

  • You want one yesterday

There is one remaining thing: testers. My prototype works for me, but that is a sample of one, and I know how the processor’s on-screen menu works. If you need one right here now, are willing to buy the parts upfront, and are not afraid of a soldering iron, get in touch.

  • Where we are now
  1. July’09 > D-Fuse and *spark have a prototype controller and video processor. Crossfade and Fade to Black work. Fader response time, video format and EDID control need some tweaking; the processor’s OSD is still needed.
  2. September’09 > I have spoken with the video processor manufacturer about enhancing the model’s firmware.
  3. October’09 > This page published, expression of interest form published.
  4. March’10 > Shawn Bonkowski helping with hardware.
  5. May’10 > Anton Marini aka Vade testing processor with pooled VJ kit from all over NYC
  6. June’10 > Prototype in form of final unit working. PCB layout still not complete.
  7. June’10 > Presentation, reveal of the latest prototype, and hands-on demo at Visual Berlin festival. See embedded video, or in HD at vimeo

Updates as they happen are in the diary with the dvi mixer tag.

  • A final note

This is a personal project page about something I’ve made. I would like to be a catalyst to make some of the ideas on this page happen. I would like to put buyers in contact with sellers. Any contract and/or responsibility will be between them. I expressly disclaim all warranties of any kind. Nothing herein shall be deemed to create any partnership, agency or contract of any kind. I am not a shop, that poster is a bit of fun. You get the idea.

  • And now you’ve read through to the bottom, here’s where to sign-up

*spark d-fuser expression of interest form