About this series
The machine vision industry is constantly advancing with new buses, new interconnect standards and new software standards. However, many applications do not require cutting edge technology or require “tried and true” standards. Some applications are simply recycling older technology, following the “why throw it out if it still works?” motto. With this in mind, BitFlow has introduced the Neon-DIF. We have taken our robust Neon platform and replaced the camera link front end with a 32-bit differential interface. In some ways, this board is the best of both worlds – it melds the latest PCIe speed and features with older, but very robust, differential data devices.
Simplify your industrial, medical, or semiconductor imaging application with BitFlow’s Neon-DIF, the easiest to use and most reliable differential frame grabber available anywhere. The Neon-DIF captures images at speeds up to the camera’s highest frame/data rate, with precision image acquisition suitable for the most demanding applications.
The Neon-DIF is designed for the OEM customer looking for the performance of the PCI Express bus, a differential interface, and one of the lowest price points in the industry. The target markets are applications where the current frame grabber is no longer available but the camera and application are still important. Another niche that this product fills is differential applications where the PC needs upgrading, but the frame grabber has a PCI interface. Motherboards with PCI slots are getting harder and harder to find. Finally, customers who want to port their application to 64-bit Windows are finding that their differential frame grabbers are not supported on newer operating systems. The Neon-DIF can handle all of these situations.
The Neon-DIF is not just for legacy situations, however. There are still a tremendous number of devices that output differential data that may not even be cameras. The Neon-DIF can acquire from just about anything and efficiently DMA the data into host memory.
Adding the Neon-DIF to your application is simple with our SDK, which supports both 32-bit and 64-bit operating systems. The SDK provides high level APIs for sophisticated buffer management and low-level direct access to the board for speedy custom control.
An Upgrade Path
BitFlow is committed to long term support of its customer’s applications. We still ship the Road Runner family that we first released in 1997! The problem, however, with some of these older applications is that the pace of PC progress is fast. Motherboards have changed dramatically and operating systems continue to advance and leave older technology behind. But BitFlow has not forgotten its customers, which is why we have released the Neon-DIF. We are dedicated to supporting all of our customers, old and new. The Neon-DIF provides an upgrade path for customers using these older differential systems. We kept the connector the same, so you can use old cables. We kept the API the same (recompile is required), so you can use older code. We have tried to make the experience of moving from 1997 technology to today’s technology as painless as possible.
Although the industry has long since moved past differential frame grabbers, we at BitFlow understand that some of our customers simply cannot switch to the newer standards (whether it be due to logistics or project constraints). BitFlow is committed to supporting its customers over the long haul, and the Neon-DIF is a testament to that.
For well over 10 years, BitFlow’s camera interface products have been built around our revolutionary FlowThru architecture. Comprised of a user-programmable Video Pipeline, a flexible Camera Control Unit, efficient high-speed video FIFOs, and a highly-optimized scatter/gather DMA engine, the FlowThru architecture allows the Neon-DIF to control, acquire, reformat, and transfer video data directly into the user’s application at camera speeds with zero latency or CPU usage. Our FlowThru architecture has been continuously optimized and enhanced to support a wide variety of imaging applications such as document/package processing, semiconductor, continuous web inspection, sequence capture, and motion analysis. It can easily be adapted to the specific needs of your application.
The Neon-DIF is supported by the BitFlow Software Development Kit (SDK), which is available for both 32-bit and 64-bit Windows platforms. The SDK is board family generic and will work with all of BitFlow’s frame grabbers (making future migrations to other families trivial). The kit provides drivers, DLLs, and configuration utilities for people interested in using third party software. For customers interested in developing their own applications the SDK provides header files, libraries, and huge amounts of example code. The SDK provides a wide range of Application Programming Interfaces (API), from low-level direct hardware access to high-level automatic buffer management (ring or sequence). Every line of code has been engineered for reliability under the toughest industrial conditions. At the same time, a priority has been put on ease of use and short development times. With the BitFlow SDK, you’ll have the Neon-DIF integrated with your application in no time.
PCI Express Interface
The Neon-DIF uses a x4 PCI Express bus interface. The PCI Express bus offers huge increases in DMA performance over the PCI bus. However, what is less well known is that the PCI Express bus is always peer to peer. This means the Neon-DIF does not share the bus with any other devices. In most motherboard architectures, it will talk directly to the PCI chipset that is on the memory bus. This direct connection equates to higher sustained DMA bandwidths regardless of system load. Most motherboards also support concurrent full DMA speed on all of their PCI Express slots. The board will work in any slot that it fits in. This means not only x16, x8 and x4 slots, but also, as is becoming the trend, x1 slots that use x4 (or larger) connectors. The performance will be degraded in an x1 slot, but the board will work fine in applications that don’t require maximum data rate.
Camera Control and I/O
Supported by a GUI camera file editing utility (CamEd), the Neon-DIF can acquire fixed or variable size images and features a programmable ROI (Region Of Interest) sub-windowing capability. The board provides a full set of camera control signals (CC1, CC2, CC3, CC4) and sync inputs (LVAL, FVAL, PCLK, trigger, and encoder) for total camera and acquisition control. These signals are completely independent, although there are provisions for driving all cameras from a signal set up encoder/trigger signals. There is also a large number of programmable general purpose outputs and inputs that are not tied to the camera’s timing. The Neon-DIF board, as with our past interface products, supports not only simple triggering modes but also complicated, application-specific triggering and control interactions with your hardware environment.