Helios is a laser DAC, used for connecting laser show projectors to your computer. It is very low cost, yet fast and with high resolution. It is compatible with every laser projector with a standard ILDA port, and connects to any computer using USB.
$94 via Bitlasers.com
Helios is compatible a wide range of software, including free and cross-platform options:
- LaserShowGen (Windows, Mac, Linux, freemium)
- Lasershow Xpress (LSX) (Windows)
- Derivative TouchDesigner (Windows, Mac)
- Spaghetti Laser Show (Windows)
- HE-Laserscan (Windows, freemium)
- Maxwell (Windows, Mac)
- Lasercam (Windows)
- Modulaser (Windows, Mac)
- openFrameworks, via ofxLaser or ofxHelios (Mac, Linux, Windows*, free)
- Pure Data, via pd_helios (Mac, Linux*, Windows*, free)
- NEW: ILD Render (Windows)
Both the hardware and the software of the Helios is open source. With cross-platform libraries, including example code in C++ and Python (C# coming soon), it is easy to integrate the Helios into your own projects. There are also third party implementations, like laser-dac from Volst for node.js.
- Max sample rate: 65.5 kpps
- X/Y resolution: 12 bit (4095×4095)
- Color and intensity resolution: 8 bit (16 million colors, not including intensity)
- Max frame size: 4095 points
- Low noise and distortion
- 2 years warranty from purchase date
- Shutter signal control
- Custom naming of DACs, great for multi-projector configurations
- Open source hardware, firmware and SDK
- Includes an USB cable (NB: ILDA cable sold separately)
- Easy firmware updating over USB
- Platform portable: Uses libusb which supports Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, Web etc.
- Plug and play
- Connectivity: USB B female in, DB25 (ILDA) female out
- Drivers are OLSC compatible
- Aluminium enclosure
- Lead-free electronics
- Dimensions: 75 * 70 * 25 mm
- Power consumption: ~150mA (5V)
On Windows 8 or newer, drivers should automatically install when plugging the device in for the first time. No further action is needed, software should be able to detect and use the DAC right away. On older versions of Windows, you may need to manually install drivers for the DAC to work. To do so, follow these steps:
- Download and run Zadig: zadig.akeo.ie/.
- In the dropdown list, find “Helios Laser DAC”.
- Select WINUSB (should be default) as driver and click “Install Driver”
- You’re done, Helios should now be detectable and usable.
On Mac, like newer versions of Windows, you don’t need to install any drivers, the device should work right away if there is no existing kernel extension installed for the device.
To use the device without root privilege, you probably need to set up udev rules. See this page for more information: Linux udev rules setup documentation for Helios DAC.
Third party software integration
The GitHub repo contains libraries for integrating Helios support in your software. Navigate to the folder “sdk” to find the relevant code. You can choose to use the native Helios functions documented in HeliosDacAPI.h (Exported C-style functions) or HeliosDac.h (C++ class). .NET libraries are also coming soon. The Helios DAC is compatible with most operating systems, including Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, Raspberry Pi and more.
The driver depends on libusb. You can use the included binaries, or you can build your own. You can find the libusb source for that on their website, linked earlier in this paragraph.
There are also third party implementations, like laser-dac from Volst for node.js.
Hardware and firmware modification
The hardware and firmware source are also found in the GitHub repository linked above. The PCB is drawn in Kicad. The firmware is written and built with Atmel Studio for the ATSAM4S2B microcontroller. Note that the hardware is under a non-commercial license. This means that you are allowed to modify your own Helios or manufacture Helios DACs for your personal use, but you are not allowed to mass-produce and sell Helios DACs without permission.
New firmware can be uploaded to the device over USB. To do this, you must reset the “GPNVM1” bit in the flash memory, which will make the microcontroller boot to the SAM-BA bootloader. You can do this by sending a special interrupt packet to the DAC. You can then access the flash using Atmel’s SAM-BA software or BOSSA. There is an automatic tool for firmware updating, see the bottom of the User Guide section above.
If you have any questions, you can click the “Contact me” button in the corner of this site to e-mail me.
The DAC occasionally gets firmware updates to fix bugs and add features. You can also modify the custom firmware if you require custom features. Here’s how to flash the firmware:
- Download the firmware updating tool (only for Windows now, Mac/Linux coming): firmwareupdater_script.zip
- Unzip, plug in the DAC and run the file “flash.bat”.
- Follow the instructions on the screen (you will need to unplug and replug the device a couple of times).
Latest firmware: v5 released on 2017-03-20. Updating is recommended if you bought your device before this date.