With high-definition television becoming increasingly widespread, many people are tossing their old NTSC or PAL video equipment to the curb. But as makers, we can reclaim this old equipment for our own projects. Enter The Video Experimenter. This Arduino shield by Nootropic Design lets you program your Arduino microcontroller to manipulate and analyze NTSC or PAL video signals from a composite video source. You can also decode closed caption text, which is transmitted within the video image.
The Video Experimenter shield can be purchased fully assembled ($32.95) or as a kit ($24.95). The clearly written and photographed assembly instructions that are available online offer a detailed walkthrough so that even someone just learning to solder will be able to assemble it themselves. The assembly guide covers only how to solder it together, and unfortunately doesn’t offer any explanation for the purpose of each component on the circuit board. This is something I like to learn about when I’m assembling a board.
The shield has a composite video input and output. You can overlay simple graphics and text over the video signal that comes into the board, or you can switch off the overlay function entirely. The Video Experimenter shield uses the Arduino’s digital pins 2, 6, 7, 8, and optionally 9 in addition to analog pin 2, so you’ll have to keep that in mind if you plan on stacking this shield with any others. The shield’s hardware and software libraries are open source, so if you want to make your own variant on Nootropic’s design, you can as long as you keep the design open source.
Nootropic posted five example Arduino sketches, which show off the different features of the shield. After downloading and installing their enhanced TVout library, I had no problem loading the sketches onto my Arduino Duemilanove and playing around with them. The examples can look intimidating at first, but with my basic Arduino skills, I managed to make my own simple text overlay rather easily. Below you can see the project I whipped up in a few minutes.
If you’re looking to incorporate video into your next Arduino project, I strongly encourage you to try out the Video Experimenter shield. Even if you don’t have a specific purpose for it in mind, it’s sure to inspire creativity while you tinker around with it.
To test The Video Experimenter, I quickly created my own sketch based on some of the example code. There are some sync issues that need to be fixed, and I suspect it has to do with my camera’s very slight delay while processing video on the fly.