Video Beats: Music Visualizer

Introduction: Video Beats: Music Visualizer

Video Beats is a hardware based music visualizer - it generates a visualization based on the music you feed it and displays it on any standard TV set.  Here's a little demo (skip to 27 seconds to see the visualization);

The principle of using an analog signal to change a video display can be used for all kinds of projects, too - I'll give you some ideas on how to customize it in this instructable.

What You'll Need;

I built Video Beats because I saw a similar project in Make Magazine and thought I could improve on the concept.  It was also a fun exercise in converting analog signals into digital values.  Continue to the next step and I'll answer a few questions, then I'll show you how to make your own!

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Step 1: FAQ

How's it Work?
Video Beats uses a Propeller QuickStart board and a Quick Proto to sample line-level audio (like from your MP3 player) and generate video graphics.  As the audio input changes, new graphics are generated to match the audio.  Video is output in composite, a.k.a., the yellow RCA jack.

Seven visualizations are built-in, they will change automatically, or you can switch them manually by using the buttons on the QuickStart.  You can also customize the visualizations to change colors or shapes. 

How long do the batteries last?
A really long time, I'd estimate about 30 hours on 3x AA batteries.  You could also power it with a USB cell phone charger or a regular Wall-wart style power adapter.

Looks great, can I use it to do <<Something_else>>?
Of course!  Everything is open source, you can download the sourcecode and modify to your heart's content, I'll give you some ideas on customizing and re-using the code in this instructable, too.

Step 2: Make It: Assembly

To make Video Beats, here's your shopping list; First, start by assembling the Quick Proto, assembly instructions are here.  A few small changes to the assembly are required to make our visualizer;

  1. Bridge C2 - this will allow us to use the Audio RCA jack as an input.
  2. Jumper R8, as shown in the photo, to go to a 100k resistor.  The other end of that resistor will go to P24.
  3. Connect P24 to P25 through the second 100k resistor.

Here's a video walkthrough of the assembly;

Step 3: Understanding the Circuit

There are two parts to the circuit we've built;

Reading the Audio Signal

The audio signal comes in analog, we use a 'Sigma Delta' circuit to convert that to digital values;

What is Sigma-Delta?

Computers live in a binary world - there are only two values, Vdd and ground.  Unfortunately, signals like audio have values between Vdd and ground that we want to read.  Sigma-Delta is the most common technique for reading analog values. 

We'll program one pin (D on the schematic below) on the QuickStart to do something very simple: whenever it senses Vdd, connect a second pin (/Q on the schematic) to ground.  Whenever it senses ground, connect the second pin to Vdd. 

What happens if we connect /Q back into D?  This is what we get;

If there's no analog input connected, /Q will flip on every clock cycle (%50 duty cycle);
  • On the first clock, D will sense ground and connect /Q to Vdd
  • /Q charges the capacitor.
  • Once the capacitor is charged up to Vdd, D flips /Q to ground
  • Which discharges the capacitor,
  • And so on.
By counting how frequently /Q flips, we can determine the input voltage.  Imagine the analog input is .6 * Vdd;
  • On the first clock, D will sense ground, connecting /Q to Vdd
  • /Q charges the capacitor, but because the analog input has already brought the capacitor to .6 * Vdd, it doesn't take as long to charge it.
  • Once the capacitor is charged up, D flips /Q to ground
  • Discharging the capacitor
  • And so on.
When the analog input is .6 * Vdd, /Q doesn't have to spend as much time charging the capacitor, it's duty cycle is less than 50%.  In fact, it's only on 40% of the time. 

Most ADC's use Sigma-Delta, whether it's built into the pins, or is external, like on the QuickStart, there's an even more detailed article on Wikipedia on how sigma delta works, but hopefully my brief explanation will get your started.  It takes just a little bit of code to do Sigma-Delta, and it's already in our code.

Video Output

Video output on the QuickStart takes 3 resistors, and the circuit is already built in to the Quick Proto board.  Here's the circuit, it converts the digital signal the QuickStart generates into an analog signal your TV can understand.

Step 4: Firmware

Download and install the Propeller Tool (Mac / Windows / Linux Instructions) and download the firmware (here) and unzip to a new directory on your desktop.  Plug your QuickStart board into your computer and open 'pixelmusic_demoboardconverted_v5' in The Propeller Tool.  Hit F8 (or Run -> Compile Current -> View Info) and info dialog will pop up.  Hit the button labelled 'Load EEPROM' and your QuickStart will be loaded with the Video Beats program.

There are 4 objects in the program;

Is the main logic of the program, it takes the analog values from the audio and uses them to determine the graphical patterns that are displayed on the TV

This object is the standard TV driver for the QuickStart, it generates an NTSC baseband signal.  We get it to run by calling it in our main object with the line; tv.start(@tv_status)

While TV.spin creates our NTSC signal, Graphics.spin includes methods that make it easy to manipulate text and graphics on the screen.  our main object uses graphics.spin by first starting it; gr.start .  Then using the various methods it provides;
  • gr.clear (Clear the screen)
  • gr.plot(x.y) (plot a point on the screen)
  • gr.line(x.y) (draw a line from the current cursor position to the point given)
Touch Buttons.spin
This object makes it easy to read the buttons on the QuickStart.  We start it with buttons.start(rate), where rate is how often we want to update the button state.  Every time we call buttons.state, it will return eight bits - each bit is the state one button.  So, if no buttons are being pressed, Buttons.state will return %0000_0000.  If button 8 is being pressed, Buttons.state will return %0000_0001, and so on.

Step 5: Customizations

Customize your Video Beats to do whatever you want!

1 - Change the visualizations
Towards the top of the program, you'll find the color definitions;

You can change these values to change the colors that are displayed in the visualizations.  You can also change the visualization patterns in the bottom of the sourcecode.

2 - Put the visualizations on something else
Take a look at our Touchscreen tutorial, you can easily port the visualizer to a touchscreen.  Or you can take the video output and put it on a video display - the Family Sohn took an earlier version of the visualizer and put it in a music video;

Whatever you decide to use it for, have fun with your Video Beats!

Step 6: Next Steps

Now that you've got a running Visualizer, where do you go from here?

Using Video Output

You can generate all kinds of video, making your own games, displaying data and text, or doing animations.  You can use the touchbuttons as inputs, or add your own controller - here's a demo of X-Racer, a cool game you can run on your QuickStart;

Reading Analog Input

Our simple circuit can read any analog input from 0-3.3V with high accuracy and speed.  We can read an analog sensor, a microphone input, or a potentiometer.  You could generate different visualizations based on the level of ambient light or the data from an accelerometer.  You could also take the input from an audio source, manipulate it, and pump it out to an amplifier.  There are a lot of possibilities! 

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10 Discussions


1 year ago

Please tell me the source code is still available!!! Where can I find it?


Reply 1 year ago

I've been looking for this maker's work online and found out that he's no longer building and his site is gone.The last traces of his work seem to end in 2012... Even the wayback machine doesn't have his source code anymore.
I'm looking for the Super GrooveAxe: Mini Drum Machine code, but I guess I'll be modifying something else to work. I'll be using a Sparkfun microcontroller and starting from we'll see. Good Luck to you!


4 years ago on Step 2

I really liek this idea! Can you do the same thing but with smoke instead of a screen?


8 years ago on Introduction

wow this incredibly good timing!
recently acquired some small crt tvs..came on here looking for some good music visualisation stuff to do with them (for a party in 3 weeks) and you posted this how-to 11 days ago!

Looks ideal.. never tinkered with micro-controllers before and this looks like a simple enough place to start + a pretty smart effect :). Im gonna order these bits and split the signal between a few tvs...

>>1 question about the sensors you touch to change the pattern. Am i right in thinking i would be able to connect a push button (novelty size arcade style.. housed and a fixed to a wall) to allow drunk people to safely toy with it? If not toggle through, then perhaps individual buttons for each pattern?

thanks for this spot on tutorial!

Thanks for the info, I will have to look into those...
Congrats on making Hack-a-Day with this project...


Neat project! I've seen the Propeller Quick Start Boards at Radio Shack, and I've wonder if they are worthwhile... this project alone makes me interested.
Though I wonder if one could possible port the software/programing over into Processing/C for us on the Arduino MCU platform, as Arduino's are more popular
(and I already have one....) Otherwise great project, and definitely added to my favorites.

Gadget Gangster
Gadget Gangster

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Thanks! Glad you like it. I have a lot of fun with the Prop and I've done many projects with it.

Can't be done on Arduino without a shield - it's not fast enough for NTSC color timing and there isn't enough memory for a screen buffer. But the QuickStart is cheap online - only $25!


Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

Hmm... I was hoping I could incorporate my Arduino (or a raw ATmega328 MCU) into a project I am working on... I am trying to re-work an old portable B&W TV into a Steampunk inspired display... it currently has RCA video and audio (mono) inputs, but I was hoping I could use the ATmega to push different stuff to the TV over the RCA video input..... I have already gone the lo-fi route of inputing audio into the video signal.. but as it's a small screen and only B&W it's not as neat as if done on a larger set.
I haven't yet checked out sending the various parts of a YPbPr analog component video... (
One can get some interesting effects with the various connections... I won't go into detail as it's tricky to explain...

Gadget Gangster
Gadget Gangster

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

You can get it to work over a raw ATmega - look up the uzebox for an example. For the Prop, video is easy, I did an instructable here to show anyone how.  I also did a video fireplace instructable that you might find useful.