Generative animation hardware setup?
June 14, 2015 5:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm using Processing to create some animations that use simple rules to create complex and ever changing patterns. My fantasy is to have them displayed on the wall, each in its own frame-like hardware, like living paintings. What hardware should I use?

I would like them to be running in real time, not as recorded movies. I assume digital frames will only run movies, but not executables. I've tried using a Raspberry Pi but it did not have the processing power to run the animations smoothly. I don't want to have to dedicate a laptop to running each one.

The programs are basically Java and executables can be created for Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.
posted by zymoglyphic to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Windows tablets?
posted by irisclara at 6:10 PM on June 14, 2015

I have no idea how the GPU compares to the Pi, but the Intel Galileo is a similar tiny embeddable board. Also, I think the new Raspberry Pis are supposed to have improved graphics chips. Not sure if they can handle realtime generative video yet though.

Also, have you looked into using one laptop (or Mac mini) with multiple displays?
posted by univac at 6:26 PM on June 14, 2015

There are some alternatives to the Raspberry Pi that might work for you, depending on how close the performance you saw was to being acceptable. While the Raspberry Pi has a single core 700 MHz CPU, w / 512 MB RAM, the Raspberry Pi 2 has a quad core 900 MHz CPU, 1 GB RAM and the BeagleBone Black has a 1 GHZ dual core, 512 MB. Or maybe an ODROID-U3, which has a quad core 1.7 Ghz CPU. I know that in general, no one seems to like Java performance on the Raspberry Pis or BeagleBones.

Perhaps a cheap Android tablet?
posted by jjwiseman at 6:30 PM on June 14, 2015

The Intel Edison would probably a better (faster) choice than the Galileo. But it doesn't seem to be much different than the Raspberry Pi 2 or BeagleBone Black.
posted by jjwiseman at 6:32 PM on June 14, 2015

I don't want to have to dedicate a laptop to running each one.

What about a NUC? They come with a VESA mounting bracket, letting you fit them tidily to the back of just about any LCD monitor. More expensive than the little ARM devices but full PC-grade performance.
posted by flabdablet at 9:40 PM on June 14, 2015

Some NUCs are kind of noisy and power-hungry, though if money is no object, they can be made fanless. Cheaper than a fanless NUC is a Mac mini. As another option, perhaps, you could use an Air Display or AirParrot and a cheap, used iPad 2 as second and additional monitors to an existing Mac. Then use a cheap AppleTV + AirPlay to wirelessly and quietly feed whatever the iPad is showing to a flat panel display.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:37 PM on June 14, 2015

My first thought is to switch to Unity or UE4 - then you have access to android tablets of all sizes and prices.

I did a quick google about running java applications in android, many hits but didn't go too deep, so maybe that might work for you too!
posted by TrinsicWS at 10:39 PM on June 14, 2015

is performance better if you use JavaScript instead of Java?
posted by O9scar at 12:32 AM on June 15, 2015

The question is HOW BIG? What's the display medium? If you want wall sized, you're talking big bucks unless it's a projector (and those ain't cheap either). THEN there's the hardware.

Next question is how much computing power do you need? Are we talking simple like "Electric Sheep" (that old screensaver / graphics demo / sorta AI thing) display or something a bit more complicated?

If you can do it in Javascript, Chromebooks may do.

Or you can get one of those cheap Android TV boxes $50 or so and write your custom app (can't be that hard)

And as others said, Raspberry Pi or similar may be enough and often have HDMI ports to TV / Projectors.
posted by kschang at 2:17 AM on June 15, 2015

Drat - I can't seem to find them now, but there was some outfit 2-4 years ago that was selling a large 1920x1080 "picture frame", looked quite fancy, and it had a processor that ran Processing, and their business model was that one could purchase 'artwork' from their stable of artists (which included Jared Tarbell). I don't know if they are around anymore; I recall that they seemed to be unrealistically expensive. It'd be a shot in the dark, but if you could find their hardware being sold on Woot! or something, it might be just what you're looking for.

I love the concept of a digital picture frame that runs Processing, although it's always struck me that (I think) most homes don't run power up high enough on the walls and so its a hassle to get a power outlet wired 5 or 6 feet up the wall. A simple extension cord will often not look so great.
posted by doctor tough love at 5:43 AM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

doctor tough love: you're thinking of Framed. They have their own site for pre-orders now. Not cheap, but beautifully designed.

There was also Electric Objects.
posted by O9scar at 6:51 AM on June 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

So it sounds like you want to build (or modify) an enclosure for a flat screen to contain the minimum computer (Pi or Galileo (thanks univac)) that would drive a GPU card. It seems like you must be able to upload your processing (or similar) code to run directly on the cores of an NVidia card (or some such). That may be the first question. The second question is: can you drive a bus to accommodate one of those cards with one of those small, cheap CPUs? This is only important in making the installation self-contained. How high a priority that is is up to you.

I'd be curious about this type of architecture. If you want a semi-reliable research assistant PM me.

Edit: Oops, it looks like I'm a little behind the times. O9scar seems to have the goods!
posted by cleroy at 11:42 AM on June 15, 2015

Response by poster: I'm going to try the Windows tablet first. I've been in Mac/Unix land so long I've lost track of what's happening in the PC world. Also was not aware of all the Pi alternatives and the companies developing the high-end digital frames.

Thanks all!
posted by zymoglyphic at 10:51 AM on June 16, 2015

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