Hacking an Express

Discussion in 'Lighting and Electrics' started by Rose03, Apr 19, 2019.

  1. Rose03

    Rose03 Member

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    I came upon an express and a spare processor as of late. Truly beautiful condition. I was wondering if anyone had ever tried to hack the desk or modify the software. Since I have two processor units I thought I'd use the worse of the two to have some fun with.
     
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  2. MNicolai

    MNicolai Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    I've seen an Ion running Express. Probably didn't do anything other than boot up to the Express software as a gag though.
     
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  3. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    I wonder if you saw an image of the Express boot software on a Magic Sheet. I saw that somewhere and it’s an easy thing to add to an MS if you have the image on a file.
     
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  4. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    Hack to do what ?
     
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  5. icewolf08

    icewolf08 CBMod CB Mods

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    I’m sure you could find a Linux district that would run on it. Can’t imagine it would be good for much. You could probably boot FreeDOS on it too. Again, after that, what?
     
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  6. FMEng

    FMEng Well-Known Member Fight Leukemia

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    Make an image of the hard drive before you start playing. That way, you can restore it back to proper condition.
     
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  7. SteveB

    SteveB Well-Known Member

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    No HD on an Express. OS was in memory, all show data went to the 3.5" floppy.
     
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  8. RickR

    RickR Well-Known Member

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    If I was wishing, replace the guts to make a remote programming wing for your favorite PC software.
     
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  9. Rose03

    Rose03 Member

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    I'd like to maybe make the channel faders operate as sub masters or something of that sort. Make the little desk more functional in this modern day.
     
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  10. Amiers

    Amiers Renting to Corporate One Fixture at a Time.

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    You don’t need to hack it to do that. Just hit patch and add dimmers to the channels assigned to the faders.

    Ex. Hit Patch > Dimmer > 3 + 5 + 7 + 9 + 30 thru 35 @ ( channel will pop up) 1 > Enter

    Now fader 1 will have everything plugged into said dimmers to go up with Channel Fader 1.
     
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  11. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    Start playing with jumpers under the hood, it does all kinds of stuff.... some can make the console better, some basically brick it.
     
  12. Rose03

    Rose03 Member

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    Is there a guide as to what does what?
     
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  13. Malabaristo

    Malabaristo Well-Known Member

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    Nope. This is super-secret-proprietary-information... that's also pretty useless in most cases these days. It's basically just a matter of setting what specific model of console you have (24/48, 48/96, 72/144, 125, or 250). If you figure out the super secret magic, then the only case where you actually benefit is if you happen to have a 125 and can figure out how to make it a 250 without breaking anything. That would give you a still very limited (by modern standards), but slightly higher channel count. If you have any other version, then you'd either be adding faders you don't physically have or disabling ones you do have.

    There's also really nothing practical you can do in terms of software unless you have the extremely specialized skillset required to read the completely unique operating system from the internal EEPROM and then reverse-engineer it. Even ignoring that massive hurdle, my understanding is that ETC stopped developing the Express software when they did because they had already squeezed every ounce of performance possible out of that hardware. There's not much more that could have been done without a big hardware redesign...

    ..which leads me to my actual suggestion: if you're looking for a project, think about starting with a hardware redesign. I've fixed Express consoles before, and the facepanel electronics are pretty simple. It's a bunch of analog multiplexing for the faders, and a pretty standard keyboard matrix (switches and diodes arranged in row/column format). It would be relatively easy to remove the processor assembly "brick" and replace it with something more modern... maybe based on Arduino or Raspberry Pi. You could theoretically put together something that would allow you to use it as a wing via OSC to control modern console software such as Nomad. It would still be a whole lot of work, but it would be a much better learning experience and way more practical than trying to reverse-engineer something that's been obsolete for longer than some (many?) of our younger CB members have been alive. You may even be able to sweet talk someone in phone support into sharing the schematics for the facepanel boards and save the work of following traces and figuring out which pin does what on the connection between the facepanel and the CPU "brick".

    Oh, and on the off chance you haven't figured this out already: if you happen to have a 24/48, then the bottom row of faders can act as submasters when you switch to single-scene mode.
     
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  14. tyler.martin

    tyler.martin Active Member

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    The Express ran on an 16mhz Intel i960 processor, which is a RISC based processor, and is very different from x86 instruction set. Meaning unless you have software specifically compiled for that processor and you've managed to burn it to the EEPROM, you aren't going to be able to do much. IIRC, ETC wrote the entire software package for the Express, from the Bootloader to the actual OS.

    Just looking at the Express schematics, the facepanel is essentially a keyboard that runs through a bunch of multiplexers and a few de-multiplexers so you should be able to get the facepanel connected to an Arduino or other MC and do something fun with it. Seems like everything on the facepanel is at 5v
     
  15. Jay Ashworth

    Jay Ashworth Well-Known Member

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    "Take the brick off the back and replace it with something that turns it into a big-ass wing."

    Yup; that was my plan. Like me some wing.
     
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