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Help identifying/using a LED message board
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Help identifying/using a LED message board

by thedeepfriedboot on Sun Dec 05, 2010 5:55 pm

Hello Everyone

Recently I got a used LED message board on ebay for ~$25 and I brought it into campus to our electronics club to see if we could get it working for use in projects. So far, its been a massive uphill battle to get information on this thing. All I got was the unit itself, no remote, no manuals, nothing else. To begin, it does power up, it does its test sequence, and display some message that just sits there. Now, I tried to Google the listed “manufacture” but found that all the real manufacture had been ground off and instead the stickers on the unit were put there by a “Spectrum Corporation”, a consulting company that seems to specialize in information management and display. Well, they would not respond to my emails asking for help so one of our members called them. What we got in turn was a very rude person who refused to give us any information on using the board since supposedly “giving out information on our products would put us out of business”…that left me just as confused as any of you might be. I explained to them that I just wanted a pinout/manual and any information on how to use it over serial but the person insisted that I buy the programming cable from them as well as their really expensive custom software package. The person and the calling member went in circles and we were unable to get any information including who made the sign. At that point we just hung up since this company was obviously going to be no help and did not understand that we were just trying to use the product as it was made to be used.

Anyway, moving on from that companies lack of support, I have been doing a lot of research on this unit and I have found out a few interesting things that may be helpful. First of all, the back of the unit mentions the need to use 1088-8624 or 1088-8625 programming cables. I found the pinout easily for these online as they seem to be standard cables used by other companies. These RJ-11 jacks give me RS-232 and RS-485 data connections and I now have the pinouts for those. Also, when the unit boots up, "EZ95", along with the serial number, flashes quickly on the screen which when I searched for, turns up some sort of LED sign comm protocol. The unit also has an IR window for a remote but I do not have a remote. This is where I am stuck though. There is a sticker on the front that says DTI which might be the original manufacture but I don’t know. Does anyone have any advice on using this thing? I want to eventually be able to have a computer write messages to it such as greeting people when they enter our hackerspace. I will hopefully soon have the RS232 cable built but I have no clue how to even communicate with this thing. Anyway, there is more information on this unit plus a link to my flickr album with pictures below. Any help would be appreciated including advice on how to talk to this thing over serial.

Thanks
From,
TheDeepFriedBoot

Model ?: Spectrum 500-1720-001
Voltage: 7VAC
Pics: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thedeepfri ... 536576054/
Image
Image
*To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)
*Ethernet (n): something used to catch the etherbunny
thedeepfriedboot
 
Posts: 24
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Location: Tucson, AZ

Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by stinkbutt on Sun Dec 05, 2010 6:22 pm

First thing I'd do is register the domain name http://spectrumcorporationsucks.com

You might try to salvage the original serial number. There are a couple of ways you might try that. First, you might try X-raying the thing. Bunnie just made a couple hundred bucks that way.

You also should try searching around for similar products. Obviously these douchebags aren't producing the thing themselves, instead they're taking an existing product and extorting money out of people who don't know how to use it. Perhaps the existing product is still being produced? The display is X LED's wide by Y LED's tall, it's dimensions are AxBxC, do a mouser/digikey/newark search. Maybe they're selling the thing still. Best part of that option, is that their support is likely to hold your hand, (not that you need your hand held, just saying they'd do it) and explain everything about their product that they can think of. In my experience those guys are closer to Macy's after Kris Kringle starts sending people to other stores than Macy's before.

[EDIT]That's a reference to Miracle on 34th Street.[/EDIT]
Red M&M, Blue M&M: They all wind up the same color

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Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by thedeepfriedboot on Sun Dec 05, 2010 6:52 pm

Ya, I am really not sure. I was going to build the interface cable and try to use some other manufactures control software. I have a theory that there is probably some industry standard control method for these things or perhaps common simple messaging commands are most manufactures stick with.

Now, on the back of the unit as can be seen in the pictures, there is a programmable memory chip that is removable. It is one of the ones with the UV erase window. If the unit is powered up without the chip, then the sign will not even power up, so the chip seems to be the main controller of the sign. Worst case, perhaps I could mail the chip to someone to pull the data off of it and decode how its working.

Anyway, does anyone here know another source of these signs that are really cheap and preferably made by someone more willing to provide help? We are really hoping to get this working given how much of a deal we got it for but I would like to have a backup plan. Also, if I got a serial connection working, what is a common command that most other documented signs would respond to? I want to open PuTTY and just try sending data to this thing to see what happens.


stinkbutt wrote:You also should try searching around for similar products. Obviously these douchebags aren't producing the thing themselves, instead they're taking an existing product and extorting money out of people who don't know how to use it.

Actually, thats exactly what they told us. Perhaps they dont want thier customers knowing how much the signs actually cost.
Image
*To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)
*Ethernet (n): something used to catch the etherbunny
thedeepfriedboot
 
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2009 1:02 am
Location: Tucson, AZ

Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by stinkbutt on Sun Dec 05, 2010 6:56 pm

One other thing you might try is to replicate some of the protocols used by the documented signs, even if they're not exactly the same as this one.

Aside from that, I'm kinda out of ideas. I'm sure someone else on this board has more experience reverse engineering than I do.
Red M&M, Blue M&M: They all wind up the same color

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Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by thedeepfriedboot on Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:18 pm

I am going to try a little social engineering with them. I am going to pose as some guy trying to test a broken sign for a friend and ask if there are some basic commands I can use to send a test message to the sign.
Image
*To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)
*Ethernet (n): something used to catch the etherbunny
thedeepfriedboot
 
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2009 1:02 am
Location: Tucson, AZ

Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by ImaginaryAxis on Sun Dec 05, 2010 7:33 pm

Try Daktronics. They are a fairly large company that does indoor and output LED/LCD displays. Some of them happen to be for call centers like Spectrum Corporation - which they seem to specialize in. So Spectrum is developing their own hardware or, perhaps, contracting out the LED display to a company like Daktronics.
I had a classmate that went to work for Daktronics after he graduated - we were in Dallas. Spectrum is also located in Texas, but that is merely a coincidence.

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Re: Help identifying/using a LED message board

by thedeepfriedboot on Mon Dec 06, 2010 1:26 pm

OK, better news. I found the exact same sign on ebay, but this time, its not by Spectrum! It looks like this sign is actually a AMS Alpha Model 215C, I think... I have contacted AMS and hopefully they will help me with getting the sign working. I did a little bit of research and it looks like I might need to get a new ROM chip for the back that puts it into a "Freewrite" mode or something along that lines in order to be able to freely send messages to the sign. Apparently many people pre-program the signs for specific tasks so instead of waiting for a full message, the sign can watch certian data coming in and then display it in and predetermined way, such as watching an oil temp number on RS-232 and display "Oil Temp: ##" where ## is the specific data point on the network.
Image
*To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. (Thomas Edison)
*Ethernet (n): something used to catch the etherbunny
thedeepfriedboot
 
Posts: 24
Joined: Wed Dec 02, 2009 1:02 am
Location: Tucson, AZ

Please be positive and constructive with your questions and comments.