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After waiting for an eternity for the computer retailer to get its act together, my Wacom Intuos3 has finally arrived! This is a beautiful piece of equipment:

intuos3_9x12.jpg

The Dell 1503fp that I stripped before (see previous posts) had been sitting in the corner collecting dust and now it was time to fire it up again to see if it would work with the new tablet. As I mentioned before the 1503fp was working with the Wacom Intuos2 6×8 with a little bit of jittering but since this tablet is smaller than the screen area for the project to be usable I really needed 9×12 tablet since I am using a 15″ display.

I placed the new Wacom still in the case under the stripped monitor and after checking that there was nothing touching or shorting any part of the monitor circuits, I plugged everything in, and IT WORKS!! Even better than the smaller Intuos2, there seems to be no jitter!

Next step was to strip the new Wacom and place the LCD directly onto the sensor and calculate how much room I have to play with when deciding on a protective glass or acrylic layer for the LCD.

There are some screws on the back of the Wacom and a single plastic tab which needs to be pressed before the back will work free a little then I had to carefully peel off the metallic ground tape that was stuck to the back cover and then I could move the back cover away, the USB lead still goes through it so it can not yet be completely removed.

wacom_back_cover
wacom_inside_back_cover

With the back cover out of the way I started pulling at the actual sensor but it is stuck with a seriously strong double-sided tape. This tape it just too strong I think, I was bending the circuit board and it still wouldn’t budge, I would probably break the board or maybe damage the components if I kept bending it. So first I pulled back the circuit board a little bit until I could see the FFC cables which connect the sensor board to the touch strip which is a new feature of the Intuos3 tablet. I open the ZIF socket and pulled the tiny FFC cable out of the socket using a pair of tweezers. I couldn’t do the same for the other side because the ZIF socket is out of reach.

I grabbed the ever handy Utility Knife and extended the blade to maximum, then as I pushed the circuit board away from the plastic casing, I slid the blade of the knife in and carefully cut the foam-double-sided tape. And then the other side but this time being even more careful because the FFC was still connected to it’s socket on this side.

wacom_front_cover

That was the most painful part of the whole process, finally everything came apart.

wacom_sensor

Testing the LCD with the stripped Wacom showed a little bit of interference on the LCD. So I put the LCD back into its plastic cage which increases the thickness but it is very convenient because it holds all the guts of the LCD together and also compensates for the tapering of the backlight slab. I tested the unit again this time with a thick stack of paper on top of it. I kept removing paper until the pen started to be read by the sensor again. The thickness of the paper was 10mm so if I use a 2mm piece of glass to protect the LCD from pressure and straches, I still have 8mm of space before the pen stops being read.

The intuos3 tablets have a number of customizable buttons and 1 touchstrip on each side. The first problem is that the row column drivers get in the way of these buttons a little bit, the solution for me was to turn the table sensor 180 degrees and then use the drivers to flip the orientation. This works very well and helps put the row column drivers away from most of the Wacom logic.

The next problem is with the buttons, after placing the LCD on top of the Wacom and building an enclosure around it, plastic buttons will not reach the circuit board and whats more these plastic buttons seems to be partly build into the Wacom case which would mean that I would have to damage the Wacom case to get them. It might be better if I could find different button to replace the Wacom ones.

Now that I have proof of concept, I have started to think about building the enclosure.

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Firstly a little bit about the Dell 1503fp before we get into the stripped version.
Operating side-by-side with the Samsung 152T, this monitor is not very bright and the colours look muddy, the Samsung picture looked sharper, more contrasty and vivid. But if this means that I will have an operational unit then I will be happy with animating on that and using a second monitor for colours and things.

The stripping was very straight forward and much easier than the Samsung, most things came apart by undoing screws, only got to clicked-in things when I got to the metal cage protecting the LCD unit. I didn’t take any photos because this monitor has been stripped and documented by many other people.

The LCD panel in this monitor is a HannStar HSD150MX12, the date of manufacture of the monitor is 06/2002. The panel has one CCFL and the backlight slab is tappered just like Robcat’s, in fact I think that these are the exact same monitors just re badged. Which means that I have to be very careful with the row column drivers because two people have ended up with dead monitors because of the row/column drivers breaking away from the LCD unit. Comparing these connectors to the ones that I saw in the Samsung, the Dell ones look a bit cheaply made, so I will try to be as gentle as I can with them.

The controller to column driver cable is a normal ribbon type cable with enough room for me to be able to put the controller underneath a 9×12 tablet and the backlight cable is just long enough to reach around the other side.

There is a FFC connecting the column drivers to the row drivers. This is a 20pin 0.5 pitch FFC which is thankfully the same as what I used for the Samsung so I am happy that I didnt have to order another FFC kit.

The monitor has VGA and DVI inputs, although I don’t notice as much difference in the VGA to DVI picture quality as I did with the Samsung 152T. It has an external 12V power supply rated at 3Amps.

Trying Bhraaz’s Opening Gambit, which is placing the turned off LCD on the tablet to see if the tablet could read the pen through the unit, resulted in a fail. There is a piece of metal shielding at the back of the LCD unit which stops the pen from being read so you need to strip further and remove the cage and protective plastic casing to remove this shield.

Ok so it is completely stripped now and sitting on top of the UC-Logic PF1209, I turn on the monitor and straight away the computer starts receiving random click! :( I tried various things like removing the CCFL but the random clicking stays. Very disappointed by this result, so after fiddling around a bit more I decided that I would try putting my Wacom 6×8 (still in it’s case) under the LCD to see if that work.

After wrestling with Win XP to uninstall other tablet drivers and then reinstalling the new ones, I turned the unit on, no random clicking, no cursor flying to one side of the screen! I draw on the LCD and it shows up on the monitor just as I drew it, no crazy wiggles or bird droppings! I couldn’t believe it! It was working! :D

If I touch the pen on the screen and old it there, there is a tiny bit of a jitter but when I am drawing at speed I don’t notice it and the lines are almost the same as how I drew them (with a tiny bit of snaking), what’s more there is no shielding or earthing at all in this test, just put one thing on top of the other. I tried the test with drawing white on black and no noticeable difference.

I’m very happy about this, I just hope I will get the same result with a larger Wacom.

So here is my conclusion:

    1. Wacom technology is different to the other tablets, so if you get a non Wacom tablet with the same monitor as Drew’s chances are that it wont work. This has caused a lot of confusion because we have been trying to reproduce Drew’s results using non-Wacom tablets and different LCDs. So you can’t just grab any tablet and put it under any LCD to get a Cintiq.
    1. Drew has magically found a monitor which seems to run at the right frequency so that there is minimum interference with the Wacom tablets. I tried the Samsung 152T with the Wacom and that WAS intefering, so was Wei’s. There is something about the Dell 1503fp and other monitors which are the same but re badged (robcat’s IBM) that doesn’t stuff up the Wacoms.
    1. If you have a non Wacom tablet there are probably LCDs out there which wont interfere with the tablet but we haven’t found any yet. The easiest thing would be to open up a XPC-1700B and have a look, that has a UC-Logic module in it. Not so easy would be to keep buying LCDs and trying them one by one.

Now I have to wait for the 9×12 Wacom to do more tests.

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Alright I tested as much as I could with the Samsung 152T and now I am going to try something else, so I put the Samsung back together. Here is the result of UNstripping:

unstrip

It is harder to put the thing back together than stripping it! Specially because I had extended the controller cable and wrapped all this aluminum and electrical tape around it so it wouldn’t fit any more. I had to get rid of all the alu wrapping so that the cable was thin enough to close the case. Phew…. I am glad that is back together and there were a couple of times when I thought I had stuffed the monitor, I plugged it in to check and was getting nothing. I was convinced that I had finally killed the poor bugger but then I realized that the computer had gone asleep so that’s why there was no display! :)

Ok so now I start with “Samtiq II, the return of the jitters” or maybe “Samtiq II, the jitterminator” :)
I have decided to go with the monitor that Drew has used for his build the Dell 1503fp. Here it is:

_DSC7342

Unfortunately as soon as I bought it these messages started appearing on Bongofish about jitter problems with the 1503fp! Lucky aren’t I? Anyway the strip will begin soon. I just hope that the FFC is a 20pin 0.5pitch so I can use my extension from the Samsung.

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Recently I purchased a UC-Logic graphics tablet and while giving feedback about the product to the company representative, I brought up the issue of tablet resolution. This is often measured in lpi or Lines Per Inch with some tablets going as high as 5000 lpi. My concern with the UC-Logic tablet was that it had a quoted lpi of 2000 while the Wacom range quote figures as high as 5080 lpi.

The response that I received from UC-Logic was that some companies use the lpi figure as a marketing trick, by using the maximum reachable lpi instead of the normal operating one. On the box of the UC-Logic tablet the resolution is quoted as 2000 lpi and I have now been informed that this is the resolution at normal operation but a maximum resolution of 4000 lpi can be reached. I am still not sure how this resolution is changed or under what conditions.

The representative explained to me that resolutions higher than 1000 lpi don’t mean anything in real life applications. For example at a resolution of 2000 lpi, each inch has 2000 lines and the width of each line should be 0.0127 mm (1 inch = 25.4 mm, 25.4/2000=0.0127). The pen tip diameter is about 0.5mm and has covered more than 39 lines already, that means if the lpi is over 1000 then it will be sufficient for all practical uses.

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After carrying out a lot of tests on the Samtiq and finding problems with the jittering I started to shield various parts of the unit to see if that remedied the problem. Here is the extension cable which runs from the controller to the column drivers on the LCD. I have wrapped aluminum foil around the cable and in this shot I am part way through wrapping it with electric tape:

shielded_controller_cable

Here is a close up:

shielded_controller_cable_closeup

It was a bit tricky to shield the row and column drivers so I decided to wrap aluminum foil around the tablet instead. This is ok in my case because the tablet reading height is 25mm and I can leave the tablet in its case.

tablet_foil_wrap

Once I had covered all the non-active area of the tablet, I wrapped a layer of tracing paper over the top to insulate the LCD from the aluminum foil:

tablet_tracing_paper_wrap

With these tests I decided to use the DVI input of the monitor and I think that helps, I dont have any jittering problems at all. The tablet seems to work great except when the pen is lifted off the surface to a height close to its reading limit. In this situation the tablet will sometimes register false clicks, they seem to occur close to the middle of the screen but not the same spots all the time. This is very annoying and seriously affects usability, I did a lot of tests without much success, here are some of my findings:

    1. lower refresh rates seem to help, but not a huge difference. Min tried was 60Hz
    1. shielding and moving the controller/inverter did not seem to make any difference
    1. unplugging both backlights tubes didnt make much difference
    1. shielding the row/ column drivers don’t seem to make much difference
    1. grounding the shields on the tablet, controller cable didn’t make much difference

    1. wrapping foil around the pen except the tip, disables the pen! :)
    1. filling the background in photoshop with black made the inteference worse!

This last point indicates that it is actually the liquid crystal unit which is intefering with my tablet (wacoms may be different). To display black the LCD has to supply power to a bunch of pixels so that they stop light passing through, this voltage is interfering with the tablet.

I am very close with this project but yet so far…. everything is working except when the pen is lifted. I am wondering if UC-Logic uses a special pen for their tablet modules which is not as prone to the inteference from the LCD. Or maybe they specify to the developers what LCDs are suitable for use with their modules. I would love to get some more info about this.
In the meantime I might have to keep sliding my hand across the LCD. :)

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I have had a little bit of time to do some tests and there have been some interesting things happening but I need time to do more tests to double check things.

First of all this tablet has a pen reading height of 25 mm above the tablet case. The sensor doesn’t sit as deeply into the case as the Wacom but still that is an impressive reading.

Now the bad news is that the tablet gets a bad case of jitters when the operating LCD is placed on top of it. It starts randomly doing right and left click and other funky stuff. First I thought it must be the inverter so I tried various positions, having the controller/inverter boards on a different plane did seem to help but in this configuration I still get jittering and random clicking/moving. So I started unplugging things to see what was causing the problem:

– disconnecting back lights had no effect
– disconnecting inverter board from main controller had no effect
– putting the controller about a meter away from the LCD/Tablet had no effect
– Rotating the row column drivers perpendicular didn’t have very significant effect but could look into this some more
– unifying the grounds on the controller -> inverter -> column drivers -> row drivers didn’t have any effect
– some shielding material with plastic backing came with the monitor, I tried putting this between the tablet and the column drivers, no effect
– removing the whole backlight slab/unit and letting the LCD sit on the sensor(with paper in between for insulation) made it worse!

It seems the actual LCD is interfering with my tablet and not the backlight unit (or maybe that interferes as well but not as much). So I put the sensor back in its case and that actually helped a bit. All this time I was worried about things getting too thick but actually having the LCD too close to the sensor seems to cause some problems. Please note that these results are only for my tablet and my LCD, I think Wacoms use a different technology so I don’t think we can uniformly apply rules between different tablets or even LCDs.

After this I thought maybe increasing the distance between the LCD and sensor might help even more but it wasn’t to be… it helps a little but I still get the random clicking problem.

So now I am trying different monitor frequencies, resolutions, colour depths, so far without success. I have tried 60, 70, 72 and 75Hz, I will get the specs for this monitor so see what the range is and test them all.

A tip for other people doing tests, it’s handy to have a second monitor connected and have the stripped LCD sitting on the tablet, then you can move and disconnect things and still assess the result by drawing and seeing the result on the second monitor.

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After a long wait the UC-Logic 1209 has arrived:

uc_logic_1209_tablet

The first impressions of the tablet are that it is well made, not as nicely manufactured as the Wacom tablet but it is not super cheaply made either. The pen uses batteries inside it which I thought might make the pen feel strange but it actually makes the pen feel substantial and good to use. The tablet comes with Adobe Elements and trial versions of Photoshop and Painter plus the drivers and this is where the trouble starts.

The tablet is advertised as Mac compatible but the Mac drivers supplied with the tablet are too old and would not work on OS X 10.4.8. So I searched on the net and found some newer drivers but unfortunately these don’t work 100% either. In Photoshop the tablet works and there is pressure sensitivity but randomly the system stops responding and the CPU usage goes to 100% for 2 or 3 secs before the system catches up and the lines are drawn in Photoshop. This is very disappointing. :(

To make sure the tablet actually works I tried it on a PC running Win XP. Again the drivers supplied in the box were too old and did weird things to the system but installing the new drivers from the net fixed that problem and the tablet works fine in Windows.

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After stripping the monitor as discussed in the last DIY Cintiq post, I ordered the FFC extension cable from DIY-Beamer and it arrived yesterday which was pretty quick considering DIY-Beamer is in Austria and I am in Australia. :)

I was a bit worried that I may have counted the tiny pins on the FFC incorrectly but it was ok, here are some photos of the FFC extension cable:

Samtiq_FFC_ext3
Samtiq_FFC_ext2

I tested the stripped monitor with its original cable to make sure it still worked after all my fiddling around, and it was fine. I plugged in the new FFC extension and turned the monitor on.

Nothing.

I had marked the cable to make sure that I put it in the right way so I unplugged everything and double checked and then went to put the cable into the ZIF socket on the circuit board again when the tiny door of the ZIF socket flipped out. Arghhh…. they are called Zero Insertion Force because you need Zero force to break them! The problem is that the FFC extension cable has a plastic backing so that it is easier to insert, unfortunately this makes the cable a bit too thick and puts pressure on the ZIF door, hence the door popping out, it is not completely broken but it is a bit damaged.

So I started very gently separating the FFC from it’s backing material using a very sharp scalpel. This went ok and now the cable fits very easily in the ZIF connector and with the door closed I get a good connection and monitor works with the new FFC extension put in.

Next problem involved a lot more time and patience. The cable connecting the controller board to the column driver circuit board was a very short bit of ribbon cable with two coils around it and some more shielding and lots of grounding. I need to extend the cable so that the LCD controller can sit behind the shielding for the wacom board hence minimizing interference.

So off I went to the local Dick Smith store for some cables, the rainbow ribbon cable seemed to be the closest thing to what I was looking for so I spent a couple of bucks on that and got started on soldering each one of the 40 odd tiny connectors. Here is a work in progress photo of the controller extension cable:

Samtiq_ext_cable1

And the finished version:

Samtiq_ext_cable2
Samtiq_ext_cable3

There is no shielding around my extension cable and I have a feeling this is going to haunt me later on, but we’ll see how it goes, I can add it later if there is a need.

After testing the cable pins a couple of times with a logic meter, I connected everything up to see if it worked. Again nothing happened after the first attempt but turning off and fiddling with the FFC connector fixed the problem. Here are some shots of the test:

Samtiq_ext_cable_test_topview
Samtiq_ext_cable_test_caption

I’m now waiting for the tablet to arrive so I can do some testing for interference.