Pixblasters Video LED Controller

by Pixblasters

Combine LED strips to create a huge display that acts as a regular video monitor.

Crowdfunding Page History

This page is an archive of the original crowdfunding campaign for this project. It may not be up-to-date with the latest updates and product availability. Return to the current project page.

$17,985 raised

of $8,500 goal

211% Funded! Order Below

Pledge Now

$10

Support Us!

Thanks for helping us bring Pixblasters to life!


$219

Pixblasters Go

Start building your dream LED display with your own Pixblasters MS1 LED controller.


$408

Pixblasters Duo

Dream bigger and explore video expansion capabilities of two Pixblasters MS1 LED controllers.


$999

Pixblasters MicroSign

Quickly evaluate Pixblasters enabled digital signage with the complete and assembled 120x16 LED screen that works out of the box. The package include the LED strips, MS1 LED controller, Raspberry Pi Zero, power supply, and the Array-S board in the Plexiglas case.


$60

Pixblasters Array-S

These Array-S boards enable releasable connections with the Pixblasters MS1 LED controller and easy building of the LED matrix. It distributes the video control signals and the power sourced from an external +5 VDC power supply. Each board includes holes for easy wall mounting. Two boards included for a total of 32 LED strips connections.

Details

Recent Updates


As Featured In

Hackster News

"... drive up to 16,384 LEDs at 60 fps without any programming or soldering."

MickMake

"This is an FPGA based RGB LED controller that is capable of controlling up to 16,384 WS2812 based RGB LEDs at 60 FPS. Wow. Not only that, but you can daisy chain multiple controllers which, (they claim), can control up to hundreds of thousands of LEDs."

diarioelectronicohoy

"Con capacidad para llegar a controlar gigantescas extensiones de luces que pueden cubrir toda la fachada de un edificio, este controlador de displays LED de vídeo ha sido también pensado para un fácil uso."

CNXSoft - Embedded Systems News

"The Pixblaster MS1 controller can be attached to any laptop or computer with HDMI output (think Raspberry Pi SBC) and control 16,384 LEDs without any programming, physical modifications or soldering."

Geeky Gadgets

"The controller allows you to combine LED strips to create a huge display that acts as a regular video monitor, offering a wealth of applications."

Pixblasters MS1 is part of the Microchip Get Launched 2019 design competition!

Easily Create Professional LED Video Displays

Due to their high cost and complexity, huge, shiny, beautiful video displays with thousands of LEDs have always been out of reach of enthusiasts and small business owners. Pixblasters MS1 changes all of that.

Pixblasters MS1 enables DIY enthusiasts and signage professionals, even those with minimal technical skills, to turn a bunch of addressable RGB LED strips into immense video LED displays. This FPGA-based LED controller enables new levels of professional-grade digital signage that cannot be attained by standard LED modules. The LED strips can be curved and glued to different surfaces to form giant yet economically viable video installations that can span entire buildings.

Pixblasters demo. Display made using LED strips glued to aluminum plates.

Key Features

  • Easy to use with any computer, any OS:
    Pixblasters connects to any computer as an ordinary external monitor, with no programming needed. You can use it with Raspberry Pi, PC, media boxes, phones, etc. Simply plug in the monitor cable and the controller will smoothly drive the LEDs at the maximum frame-rate of 60 fps.
  • Straightforward display content and management:
    Anything that shows in the selected part of monitor image shows on the LEDs as well. No need for special software for anti-aliasing or fonts. Use any digital signage software and add layered screen divisions, text, animations, video, RSS... LEDs work at their maximum speed and are perfectly synchronized, no matter the number of LEDs and chained MS1 controllers, or the display size.
  • Display size and resolution:
    A single MS1 can control 4.7/17.7 m² (~ 50.6/190.5 ft²) while daisy-chained MS1s can control an LED display of hundreds of square meters using thirty to sixty LED strips. Daisy-chained controllers that drive a total of 16,384 LEDs can support HD LED displays.
  • Remote controllable and customizable:
    Control it remotely from anywhere in the world through the network interfaces of the driving computer. Don't worry about the LED display’s architecture. Users with special display applications (such as big, real-time timetables and scoreboards) can develop custom software for a computer monitor.
  • Open source FPGA demo:
    Use the hardware platform for experimenting with, and learning about, driving RGB LEDs. Note: the open source FPGA demo design supports a subset of the fully-featured Pixblasters MS1 LED controller.

Display Video from Any Computer

The Pixblasters MS1 video LED controller connects to any computer and any operating system (as an ordinary monitor) to display the user-selected portion of the monitor image on up to 16,384 LEDs at 60 frames per second (FPS). Multiple daisy-chained Pixblasters MS1 controllers can drive high-resolution LED displays built of hundreds of thousands of perfectly synchronized LEDs that can display any visual content with absolutely no programming required. The controller puts no burden on the driving computer, which is free to run digital signage players, media players, and other video software at full speed. The LED displays controlled by the Pixblasters MS1 can be remotely managed by the digital signage software of your choice from anywhere in the world.

Flexible Enough for DIYers, Powerful Enough for Professionals

The Pixblasters Video LED Controller is flexible enough to fulfill DIYer and developers dreams and at the same time, to enable established professionals to take their signage business to the next, maybe a nationwide or a global level.

With the Pixblasters controller, it is finally possible to make professionally looking LED displays with addressable LED strips, without any of usual constraints on the size, graphics and video content, display management, storage capacity, or other limitation common to the competing LED controllers.

For DIY Makers

The Pixblasters video LED controller enables you to tackle any LED signage project in a cost-effective and flexible way - with no programming, no soldering, and with no more than a simple screwdriver.

The possibilities are endless; here are just a few we thought of to get you started:

  • Build a scoreboard for your school gym
  • For musicians - incorporate a bold light feature into your stage set
  • Holiday home decorations - elevate and customize!
  • Artistic light installations or exhibitions
  • Entrepreneur showing off a new idea or project

For Signage Professionals

Small signage shops that makes non-illuminated signs can expand their portfolio and offerings by incorporating the Pixblasters controller into their existing production workflow. Adding video LEDs can take any sign to the next level and make it more memorable.

Pixblasters can also be implemented (with small changes) within housings of existing illuminated signs. The installed video signs can be remotely controlled, so companies have more control over what kind of digital content they're displaying to their customers, and can make any changes needed quickly. Using the special LED strip's features to deploy very large and very cost-effective display installations will upgrade and improve your professional signage.

For Developers

The Pixblasters MS1 Video LED Controller is easy to use and enables simple hardware and software-agnostic developments, but that doesn't mean that it's only for hobbyists. It also comes with an open-source demo FPGA design and board schematics to enable further experimentation with RGB LEDs. The open-source FPGA Demo Design supports a subset of the functions available within the Pixblasters MS1 controller.

Board Layout

Labelled board
A. Master video inH. Microcontroller port
B. Slave video inI. Slave control out
C. Slave control inJ. Slave video out
D. LED digital outK. USB serial port
E. LED line driver (2x)L. Microcontroller
F. Xilinx FPGAM. Power switch
G. JTAG conn.N. Power in - screw terminals

Pixblasters demo. Display made using LED strips glued to aluminum plates.

Features

  • Xilinx® Spartan®-6 XC6LX9-3 FPGA chip
  • On-board Microchip PIC18F26J50 microcontroller:
    • The microcontroller connects to the PC, runs the configuration software, and permanently stores the configuration data. It also enables simple firmware updates with any new features.
  • Output resolutions (H x V): 512 x 32 (native), 256 x 64, 128 x 128, 180 x 96, etc.
  • Board dimensions: 95 x 100 mm
  • LED details:
    • 32 LED digital outputs: up to max. 512 LEDs per output
    • Maximum WS2812B/SK6812 LED display frame rate: 60 fps
    • Currently supported LED types: WS2811, WS2812, WS2812B, SK6812
    • Supports RGB666 (256K colors) color format
    • Maximum driving capacity of the single MS1 controller is 16,384 RGB LEDs
    • 5 VDC 24 mA digital outputs compatible with the most popular RGB LED types
  • Connectivity:
    • HDMI video input allows for easy connection from the computer - it also works with adapter cables should your computer have a DVI® output
    • Push-in strip power and signal connectors enable easy wiring without soldering
    • Validated with different computers and different OS's: Raspberry Pi Linux, Microsoft® Windows® PC, media boxes, phones and tablets…
    • On-board EDID flash enables automatic connection to any computer and any OS
  • Power:
    • Protected 5 VDC power supply input
    • The LED power supplies need to be wired separately to fulfill the power and current requirements of giant LED displays
  • Display controls:
    • Cropping image window
    • Display formatting
    • LED timing parameters
    • Supports different video resolutions (max. 720p - 1280 x 720 at 60 fps)
    • Integrated video input cropping and mirroring
    • Multiple lines per output mode
    • LED gamma correction
  • Daisy-chain multiple controllers:
    • Each MS1 board can work either as the Master or the Slave video controller
    • Daisy-chained controllers can drive more than 200,000 perfectly synchronized LEDs differently arranged in HD LED displays
    • The high-speed video link between MS1 boards assures max. fps and synchronicity
    • Low-speed control link interface
    • Video and control links use common UTP cables (Ethernet)
    • On-board DIP switches allow for an easy selection of the Master, Slave and six other FPGA configurations, including user-defined FPGA configurations
    • A single digital output has the ability drive multiple output video horizontal lines
    • Configuration is fully customizable through a menu on the PC connected via the USB serial cable

Array-S Board Specifications

This board enables releasable connections with the Pixblasters MS1 LED controller and easy building of the LED matrix. It distributes the video control signals and the power sourced from an external +5 VDC power supply. The board includes holes for easy wall mounting. Each controller supports up to two Array-S Boards for a total of 32 strips per controller. Note: The Array-S board set is helpful but not necessary for using the Pixblasters MS1 LED controller.

Comparisons

Pixblasters MS1ezPixelPixelPusherH803TVTeensy 3.6
Make Pixblasters MakerLogic Heroic Robots iPixel PJRC
Cost per unitUSD $219 USD $120USD $270USD $29.25
Need add. HW [1]No YesYesYesYes
Add. HW boards0 132 [2]3
Cost per system [1]USD $219 USD $480USD $470 [2]USD $160
SW LicenseN.A. OpenOpenClosedOpen
Board LicenseOpen OpenClosedClosedOpen
FPGA LicensePartly Open OpenN.A.ClosedN.A.
LED Capacity
Directly driven16,384 9,2163,8408,192 [2]4,416
LED Drive Outputs32 3280 [2]8
Automatic Multi-Line per OutputYes NoNoYesNo
Max. System LEDs> 200,000 [3] Extendable [5]Extendable [4][5]>400,000Extendable [4][5]
Max. const fps[6]60 60< 60< 60< 30
Constant max. fpsYes YesNoNo
Connectivity
Video InputDVI [7] Local FlashEthernetDVI/HDMIUSB
Firmware upgradeUSB/UART USB/UART SPIUSBN.A.USB
LED strip connectionsPush-in connectors Soldering padsStrip connectorsScrew connectorsSoldering pads
Integrated expansion ports [8]Video through RJ45 N.A.N.A.EthernetN.A.
Expansion complexityLow HighHighLowHigh
Content Management
Duplicate monitor functionYes NoNoYesNo
Extend monitor functionYes NoNoYesNo
Any video content [8]Yes NoNoYesNo
Decrease driving comp. performanceNo N.A.YesNoYes
Require programming skillsNo YesYesNoYes
Digital Signage Software [9]Yes NoNoYesNo
Supports any OSYes YesNoYesNo
  • [1]: Additional hardware boards required to equal LED driving capabilities of a single Pixblasters MS1 controller. It relates to the number of LEDs, not to the refresh rate that can be lowered with the increase of the LEDs number, and the ability to display any graphics and video content. The system cost is estimated based on a price and number of the additional hardware. Soldering material, wiring, work, etc. are not calculated.
  • [2]: H803TV Master LED controller cannot directly drive LEDs. By the proprietary Ethernet-based links, it connects to the number of H801RC Slave LED controllers that drive up to 8 LED strips (8,192 LEDs). There are other similar controllers, like the Kirron DiPiAD that works as a LED master controller, and in a similar way, connects to proprietary LED video walls.
  • [3]: Conservative estimate because LED screens of such size have only been simulated by the Pixblasters team.
  • [4]: Microcontroller-based systems with no hardware FPGA support. They use special software libraries to partition and format the image for the display, and run into significant performance deficits (lower frame rate) when handling a large number of LEDs.
  • [5]: Inherent mechanism for expansion not implemented, but the expansion is possible through custom developed hardware and software. Maximum driving capabilities and performances limited, but not known. Probably not suitable for more than e.g., 50,000 or fewer LEDs with decreased fps.
  • [6]: Above a certain number of driven LEDs, the non-FPGA LED controllers cannot keep the continuous frame rate that starts to decrease.
  • [7]: Uses the DVI video protocol that assures compatibility with the HDMI and DisplayPort video systems.
  • [8]: Plays any video format (AVI, FLV, MP4, WMV...) and uses digital signage software without a special custom software support.
  • [9]: All systems offer some expandability. However, only the Pixblasters and the iPixel systems provide easy expansion with no need for external hardware, such as USB and Ethernet hubs, and the special software support to support a video image’s partitioning, distribution, and synchronization.

Pixblasters demo. Display made using LED strips glued to aluminum plates.

Easy Video Content Management

Pixblasters makes it easy to manage your video content. Instead of browsing the Internet in search of code snippets for specific LED patterns or odd software libraries that require guru-level software skills to format into an LED display image, Pixblasters users just need to plug in the monitor cable to display any graphics and video with no limitations. Stills and animations, AVI, FLV, WMV, MP4, etc. - what you see on the computer monitor connected to the selected computer is what you get on the Pixblasters MS1 controller-driven LED display with absolutely no coding required!

Example Digital Signage Software from MediaSignage Inc (aka DigitalSignage.com)".

Pixblasters users can generate the LED display content in many different ways. For example, one can use the Windows Media Player animated visualizations to play music synchronized with video effects, or the Raspberry Pi Omxplayer video player to play MP4 video clips on the LED display. Those with special display applications (such as big real-time timetables and scoreboards) can develop custom software like graphics for a computer monitor.

Use any Digital Signage Software

The Pixblasters MS1 controller works with virtually any digital signage software, which allows users to operate and manage display content on the same level as high-end professional LED displays. This makes the generation of display content very easy. Either open source or fully commercial, digital signage software lets users quickly define scheduled playlists, combine video and graphics, incorporate news feeds and social networking posts, etc. Additionally, users can define the operating hours of a remote display, check what is currently playing, change the stored signage campaign on a single remote displays, or update multiple connected displays. Quality software enables the preview function and local campaign checkup prior to downloading to the video LED installation.

Open Source Demo FPGA

To enable and encourage developer experiments with the FPGA design and with different RGB LEDs, the Pixblasters team is providing an open source FPGA demo project and PCB schematics. The FPGA demo, which supports a subset of the MS1 controller’s features, is prepared for the Xilinx 14.7 ISE Design Suite and available from the Pixblasters GitHub: https://github.com/PixiGreen/Pixblasters-MicroDemo. The open-source FPGA demo features*:

  • Different input video resolutions (max. 720p - 1280x720@60)
  • 16 LED strips controller - 8192 RGB WS2812 LEDs
  • Max. 512 LEDs per line
  • Supports 60 fps vertical refresh
  • RGB888 pixel format - 16M full colors
  • The LEDs max. display resolution is 512 x 16 (H x V)
  • The controller crops the input video and shows the selected cropping window
  • The top left corner of the LED video output is set by TOP_LEFT_X & TOP_LEFT_Y
  • The length of the LED display line is set by LINE_LENGTH (max 512)
  • Supports all MS1 video content management features
  • FPGA bitstream configurations is stored in the on-board flash memory
  • No need for special Xilinx platform cables

* Pixblasters MS1 board's daisy-chaining, on-board micro, and some other advanced features are not supported in this demo

DISCLAIMER: The original configuration of the on-board Microchip PIC18F26J50 microcontroller MUST NOT be changed under any circumstances and any change will permanently cease the operation of the Pixblasters firmware. The PCB board and all user-defined FPGA designs will continue to work with no limitations!

Pixblasters demo. Display made using LED strips glued to aluminum plates.

Shipping & Fulfillment

All Pixblasters boards will be shipped to our backers using Crowd Supply's fulfillment services. Once manufacturing is completed, we'll make a bulk shipment to Crowd Supply and from there, the packages will be shipped out to our individual backers. For more information, you can refer to this useful guide to ordering, paying, and shipping.

Manufacturing Plan

We will begin the manufacturing run of 100 units after the crowdfunding campaign succeeds. For this first batch, we will use the services of a reliable turn-key manufacturer based in the European Union, which we have used before on many occasions. Prior to shipment, each manufactured board’s firmware will be flashed and tested by the Pixblasters team.

Risks and Milestones

We have done our best to minimize the potential risks which are associated with every hardware project. The demonstrated beta prototypes were used intensively for testing and debugging of all system features. Prior to the current prototype, we designed an alpha prototype installation built with an off-the-shelf FPGA board and a custom-designed add-on board for LED driving. Therefore we do not expect any PCB bugs and the risks for that are extremely low.

The Pixblasters MS1 controller includes an easy-to-use upgrade mechanism that enables system upgrades and unexpected FPGA design bug fixes through firmware updates.

Other potential risks include troubles at the factory side, components shortages, and shipment and custom delays. During the PCB design we have selected mature electronic components that can be procured from reputable suppliers, so we do not expect to encounter troubles in the components supply. We also selected a well-proven, reliable, and (relatively) local factory for manufacturing. In case of any issues during the production run, we can personally reach the factory in less than two hours to help overcome problems.

The Pixblasters project will not succeed without the help from our dear backers (that's you!), and to show our gratitude for the received support, we will do our best to try to ship even before the claimed milestones.

To stay up to date with the ongoing processes, please make sure to register for our regular project updates.

History

The idea for this project was accidentally born in a random conversation about an independently shared DIY dream. Twenty years ago, both of us were dreaming about building a large video LED screen. At that time it was a difficult undertaking and out of reach to the vast majority of DIY makers.

While red and green LEDs were relatively reasonably priced, the blue LEDs were extremely expensive and locally available for roughly $6/pc. This meant that the LED material bill alone for a relatively small 100 x 50 (H x V) display was around $40,000! That doesn't even include the LED driver chips, power supply, video engine, etc.

As LED technology has advanced, it has been accepted and incorporated into a wide range of applications. The rise of low-cost and reliable single-board computers like the Raspberry Pi combined with our advanced knowledge of FPGA technologies to create this project.

Today we are able to produce a 100 x 50 LED screen that costs more than 100 times less!


Credits

Pixblasters

We are a dedicated two-man team of FPGA electronics experts with 20+ years’ experience, with the goal of enabling everyone to build and operate immense and responsive high-resolution video LED displays.


Goran Fiolic

Gordan Galic


L-Tek

Recommended

Contract Manufacturer

Subscribe to the Crowd Supply newsletter, highlighting the latest creators and projects: