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RedScreen - Night vision software for OSX

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#1 psonice

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 07:23 AM

I've just finished writing my red screen software. It's available here:

http://www.interealt...n/RedScreen.dmg

It sets the video card so that only red can be displayed - i.e. the green/blue colours are totally disabled if you set it to fully red. It should work with ALL applications, including fullscreen apps like stellarium.

It's pretty simple. Just open the application (drag it to your Applications folder if you want to use it in future), click Activate to turn on red screen.

There's controls for the red tinting, software dimming, and backlight.

The backlight control might possibly be a bit dodgy: there was a bug that set the screen to black on Macbook Pros - I'm pretty sure this is fixed, but haven't got a macbook to test it on. Please let me know if that still happens!

WARNING: with this application, you can set your screen so dark that you can't see anything anymore. If that happens, press CMD (the key with the square with curly corners) and Q to quit the application.

It's impossible to take a screenshot unfortunately (screenshots just show normal colour), but I'll take a photo or two later :)

Oh, if anyone wants to do a proper icon let me know :)

#2 psonice

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 09:39 AM

Forgot to mention minimum requirements. It needs 10.5 (leopard), apart from that it should support PPC and intel, and it'll use 64bit if you have it (not that there's any benefit, but hey :))

#3 Aaron Worley

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 01:04 PM

I just downloaded it, it works great! I'll use this next time I'm out observing.

#4 psonice

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Posted 01 November 2009 - 03:12 PM

Cool, let me know how it works out in the field. Couple of questions if you don't mind:

1. What mac are you using?
2. How dark does it go using the backlight?

#5 psonice

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Posted 04 November 2009 - 07:58 PM

Version 1.1 is now available from the same place:

http://www.interealt...n/RedScreen.dmg

It's now compatible with 10.4 (Tiger), has a few bugfixes, and includes options for overriding the screensaver.

Let me know of any issues or suggestions!

#6 psonice

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:35 AM

...and 1.1.1, use the link above. More fixes + improvements, plus a shiny new icon.

#7 psonice

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 11:36 AM

Comparison photos, redscreen on/off:

Posted Image

Posted Image

Not the best of photos unfortunately, or the most scientific of tests.. but this is pretty much the difference when I run it on a new (LED screen) macbook pro. It's very dark in the second photo, but OSX is still useable. Nobody would complain about this at a dark site event :) Photos were taken with my iphone, so auto exposure / whitebalance unfortunately.

The first picture is general OSX, with slightly above average screen brightness (basically what it was already set to).

The second is with redscreen on, backlight set to minimum, redness set to full, and dimming turned up perhaps half way (yes, it can go a lot darker still). The lights on the keyboard are the backlit keys - I'll add a control for this at some point, but they're pretty dark on minimum brightness and VERY useful in the dark I think.

#8 bicparker

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 12:08 PM

Just a suggestion, and this would give some credibility to your efforts...

Field test this! And field test it over several different nights (don't wait for a star party... that is a bad place to test and experiment ;) ).

I think a good test for this would be to take it to a couple of dark observing sites that are in regular use and get some (say 3 or more) experienced visual observers (not imagers) to look at it later in the evening (say around midnight) and then get their opinion as to how well it works. I have found that most of my red light tests at home aren't sufficient because I can't get that effect of 2 hour dark adapted eyes at a dark site. This would be a good acid test.

Another way to test (that should be done in addition to, not instead of) is to get a laptop with a red plexiglass screen on it and dimmed down to what would be considered acceptable and make some side by side comparisons, both subjectively (with experienced visual observers) and with a light meter at a benchmark distance. Again, do this around midnight. This is similar to a method we used to benchmark acceptable light levels at Texas Star Party.

I don't mean to sound like a skeptic about all of this (I appreciate and respect the effort you have put into this problem). But I think if you can establish some measurable or well founded benchmarks, it could go a long way to establishing this as an alternative method, at least for folks with MacBooks.

This has been an increasing problem at star parties, especially the larger ones, simply because modern laptop displays are brighter and they (out of the box) cannot be dimmed sufficiently low enough to not be an adverse light and still be usable. And even then, the so-called "night vision" mode utilized in most application on these computers has been inconsistent, with things like system dialogs popping up in full color mode (with lots of white). The only practical solution has been to use dark red filtering overlays.

I hope your solution can pass these tests. It could be an acceptable solution if it can and would have the weight of outside opinions and measures.

P.S. Now I can certainly try this on my MacBook... Can you write a similar solution for Windows???

#9 Paula E

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 01:53 PM

There is really no reason an LED backlit display can't be made to be extremely dim (particularly if the panel controls LED brightness via PWM - it can be any brightness they want then). That probably isn't the case on CCFL backlit displays.

BTW, I'm unsurprised that this worked on the macbook - you may have noticed that they charge more. There is a reason for this - they tend to use higher quality components. (No flames intended - they DO charge for this stuff.)

On the PC, it's possible to control the brightness in several ways:
1. You can directly manipulate the DDC /EDID. (Actually you could to this on the mac too). You can tell the monitor to dim itself - you just don't have control over the range. The details of accessing the DDC are somewhat intertwined with the video card, however.
2. There are IOCTLS (in XP) and a WDDM interface (Vista / Win7) for monitor brightness control.

#10 psonice

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 03:10 PM

Just a suggestion, and this would give some credibility to your efforts...

Field test this! And field test it over several different nights (don't wait for a star party... that is a bad place to test and experiment ;) ).

I think a good test for this would be to take it to a couple of dark observing sites that are in regular use and get some (say 3 or more) experienced visual observers (not imagers) to look at it later in the evening (say around midnight) and then get their opinion as to how well it works. I have found that most of my red light tests at home aren't sufficient because I can't get that effect of 2 hour dark adapted eyes at a dark site. This would be a good acid test.


Yeah, excellent suggestion. I'd do that, if it weren't for a couple of issues.. mainly, that I'm a 2 hour drive from a decent dark site, and I'm in england and even if I went there it would be cloudy ;)

I agree though - as soon as it's possible, I'll be field testing this (and my imaging application, which I wrote this for). In the mean time, the best I can do is test it in a dark room (I tend to work really late at night, so that's not such an issue). And hope other people give me some feedback on what's right / wrong with it too :)

Another way to test (that should be done in addition to, not instead of) is to get a laptop with a red plexiglass screen on it and dimmed down to what would be considered acceptable and make some side by side comparisons, both subjectively (with experienced visual observers) and with a light meter at a benchmark distance. Again, do this around midnight. This is similar to a method we used to benchmark acceptable light levels at Texas Star Party.


I'll see if I can get hold of some plexiglass and a light meter. I can say though, at least with the LED screen, it's more than dark enough. In my tests above, I was in a pitch black room and could barely see well enough to use the computer. There's minimal light leakage. If plexiglass performs better, it'll be too dark to use ;)

With a traditional backlight, it might be worse. My own laptop (this one is one I borrowed at work) is an old powerbook, so that will be a good test.

I don't mean to sound like a skeptic about all of this (I appreciate and respect the effort you have put into this problem). But I think if you can establish some measurable or well founded benchmarks, it could go a long way to establishing this as an alternative method, at least for folks with MacBooks.


Yeah, I appreciate your point here, and I'll see what I can do.

This has been an increasing problem at star parties, especially the larger ones, simply because modern laptop displays are brighter and they (out of the box) cannot be dimmed sufficiently low enough to not be an adverse light and still be usable. And even then, the so-called "night vision" mode utilized in most application on these computers has been inconsistent, with things like system dialogs popping up in full color mode (with lots of white). The only practical solution has been to use dark red filtering overlays.


Most applications with a 'night mode' only make the application red. I agree, this isn't anywhere near good enough. In my application, I don't do that - I tell the video card to effectively turn off green + blue, so it's impossible to get something like a popup in normal colour.

The exception is applications that restore the video card settings. The only thing that does that I've seen so far is the screensaver - and I can turn that red, after a brief flicker of white. I've included controls to disable / replace the screensaver to get rid of that issue. Perhaps more will turn up, we'll see :)

I hope your solution can pass these tests. It could be an acceptable solution if it can and would have the weight of outside opinions and measures.

P.S. Now I can certainly try this on my MacBook... Can you write a similar solution for Windows???


Yeah, I think this solution will likely be better than plexiglass - I've heard from one person who tried it instead of a red film that they liked the "lack of bright light the film let through". But that depends on getting it just right, with no exceptions.

Windows... no, sorry, I wouldn't no where to start. If anyone else wants to try, I can tell them how I did it though (it should be possible on windows too).

#11 psonice

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 03:25 PM

There is really no reason an LED backlit display can't be made to be extremely dim (particularly if the panel controls LED brightness via PWM - it can be any brightness they want then). That probably isn't the case on CCFL backlit displays.

BTW, I'm unsurprised that this worked on the macbook - you may have noticed that they charge more. There is a reason for this - they tend to use higher quality components. (No flames intended - they DO charge for this stuff.)


It's not quite that simple.. or that complex either :) On the macs I've tried, the laptops have all gone very dark (LED or CCFL). On the desktops, they don't go very dark at all (LED or CCFL). I think it's just a case of what the firmware is set to allow. Perhaps it's possible to control the hardware directly for a better range even?

What I can say though is that there's way less backlight leakage with LED, and that makes quite a difference.

You're right, they do charge more - compare a mac with a similarly specced PC and they're actually pretty cheap really, but most PCs aren't so well specced so they look expensive :)

On the PC, it's possible to control the brightness in several ways:
1. You can directly manipulate the DDC /EDID. (Actually you could to this on the mac too). You can tell the monitor to dim itself - you just don't have control over the range. The details of accessing the DDC are somewhat intertwined with the video card, however.
2. There are IOCTLS (in XP) and a WDDM interface (Vista / Win7) for monitor brightness control.


Yeah, there's a brightness control in CoreGraphics in OSX that sets the backlight. I'm doing some extra darkening too though to push it a lot further.

The video card has a look-up table for the display, which is where you set gamma and colour profiles and so on. When you change the display gamma or any of the video card's colour settings, it just sets this table, and since everything that goes through the video card is run through this stage anyway, if you modify it you can control the display in various ways with zero performance impact. I'm turning the gamma down on the blue/green channels to achieve the red filter, and turning all channels down to make things darker.

Since a lot of games have a gamma setting, I'm sure there must be a control for this in windows somewhere. It's called the display transfer table on OSX, or sometimes the gamma settings.. if these controls exist in windows it should be pretty easy to write the same software for windows. If it doesn't exist already..?

#12 Paula E

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 04:07 PM

It's not quite that simple.. or that complex either :) On the macs I've tried, the laptops have all gone very dark (LED or CCFL). On the desktops, they don't go very dark at all (LED or CCFL). I think it's just a case of what the firmware is set to allow. Perhaps it's possible to control the hardware directly for a better range even?


I tried it on my Dell 3007 WFP monitor with an app I found that directly writes directly to the monitor via DDC. It could only dim the monitor by about 50%. I don't think the monitor will permit you to go lower than this. (And DDC is writing directly to the monitor - telling it to dim. If the monitor won't do it, then it just won't.) To what extent this is possible and allowed by the panel is going to vary from panel to panel.

What I can say though is that there's way less backlight leakage with LED, and that makes quite a difference.


Yes, I would expect that. That's one of the things I'd noticed with my monitor in my observatory. I can actually make it quite dim, and I can control the gamma on my video card, killing blue and green entirely. The light leaked from the sides of the monitor is really bright still. Red plexiglass fixes this. :p (The monitor in question is a pretty old lcd panel, which is why it sits out of doors in my observatory...)

You're right, they do charge more - compare a mac with a similarly specced PC and they're actually pretty cheap really, but most PCs aren't so well specced so they look expensive :)


Price / performance is always a trade-off.

Since a lot of games have a gamma setting, I'm sure there must be a control for this in windows somewhere. It's called the display transfer table on OSX, or sometimes the gamma settings.. if these controls exist in windows it should be pretty easy to write the same software for windows. If it doesn't exist already..?


I'll see if I can look up the APIs for this. I am sure this is possible in windows.

One advantage to your solution is that it will be very nice for devices with touch screens. Red plexiglass is no solution for such devices!

#13 psonice

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 08:29 PM

I tried it on my Dell 3007 WFP monitor with an app I found that directly writes directly to the monitor via DDC. It could only dim the monitor by about 50%. I don't think the monitor will permit you to go lower than this. (And DDC is writing directly to the monitor - telling it to dim. If the monitor won't do it, then it just won't.) To what extent this is possible and allowed by the panel is going to vary from panel to panel.


Yeah, I get about the same 50% on my imac. I don't think that's suitable for dark site use.. even with everything cranked up, the whole screen is a glowing grey. I don't get any leakage from the edges though, only from the screen itself - I guess it depends on how well the screen bezel fits, I've seen lots of screens with a big glowing gap around the edges.

The laptops though go MUCH darker than this screen. Both my powerbook and the macbook pro I've tried will actually turn the backlight off completely on the lowest setting, and with the light on minimum it's probably at 10% brightness or something. Maybe somebody at apple writes screen firmware in the day, and does astronomy at night? :)

It's really laptops that are going to get used out in the field, so if the mac laptops have sufficient range, I'm happy. For PC, it could be a real nightmare.. you'll get the full range. Everything from super-dark screens to netbooks that leak more light than they shine through the screen and have a brightness range that goes from "too bright" to "record breaking" ;) It's going to be down to people on site to manage it still, no matter how good the software is.

DCC: Is that used in laptops too, or only for external displays? Some of the controls I've played around with have been through the PMU rather than the display stuff, I'm setting backlight brightness through a core graphics API, but I suspect the same controls are available more directly somewhere. Then it depends on where and how the permitted range is set I guess..

I'll see if I can look up the APIs for this. I am sure this is possible in windows.

One advantage to your solution is that it will be very nice for devices with touch screens. Red plexiglass is no solution for such devices!


Good luck with it! Do check if there's already software doing the job though. There's very similar software on the mac like dark adapted and nocturne. Neither are exactly perfect (they both fail with the screensaver for example), but to be honest I'd have just used nocturne if I didn't want these features built into my imaging application :)

Speaking of which, there's an important thing to note about this technique: you lose all green + blue colours. If you're imaging, and trying to capture a faint blue object, you're not going to see it on the screen because there's no red. Ideally you convert to greyscale, then apply the gamma trick, but that's both tricky and expensive to do for the whole screen.

#14 imjeffp

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Posted 05 November 2009 - 09:46 PM

Sounds very useful. Does it do anything that Shades doesn't?

#15 psonice

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Posted 06 November 2009 - 02:42 AM

Not a huge amount.. it controls backlight brightness which shades doesn't, and it can stop the screensaver / prevent sleep, but that's about it.

I'd say shades/nocturne/etc. tend to do a lot more, but my app just focuses on making the screen red and dark as cleanly as possible. It doesn't need installing, consumes minimal resources etc.

It was interesting testing all the apps actually - the worst one I tried was dark adapted, which is the only one that charges! Shades was the best in terms of getting the job done reliably (it's the only one that caught the screensaver), but it's the most fiddly to set up. Actually, none of them (mine included) really cover everything :)

#16 psonice

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Posted 16 November 2009 - 06:14 AM

I've added a new feature that converts the screen to greyscale before applying the red filter. That means that blue / green areas of the screen are now converted to red so they're visible (previously they would turn black). I had a comment that blue constellation lines were disappearing in CDC, so this version should improve that a lot.

http://www.interealt...n/RedScreen.dmg

#17 BGreenstone

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Posted 22 November 2009 - 10:11 PM

Great app! thanks for making it available.

#18 Paulo Gor

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Posted 26 November 2009 - 06:10 AM

Fantastic app, Thanks :)

#19 Spangled_Skies

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 01:05 AM

Nice app psonice! Thanks for making available.

#20 psonice

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Posted 10 February 2010 - 08:56 AM

Thanks for the feedback - I do read it, and it is appreciated :)

#21 psonice

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Posted 25 February 2010 - 04:38 AM

Finally got around to 'marketing' it a bit. It's now got a proper home on my website, but more importantly it's available via apple.com: http://www.apple.com.../redscreen.html

#22 psonice

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Posted 28 February 2010 - 05:17 PM

The marketing seems to have paid off.. it's now #3 in the home/learning section most popular chart. Google earth is #4.. :O

#23 psonice

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Posted 05 March 2010 - 12:15 PM

Beta version of 2.0 available here: http://www.interealt...dScreenBeta.zip

Please try it out and let me know if there's any issues ("works fine" would be helpful too :)). There shouldn't be many issues with it I think.

There's quite a lot new in it. A welcome screen with a couple of presets, save/restore settings, menu icon (so you can close the window completely and access it again from an icon near the clock), inverted colour mode (works great with some apps), and auto update.

I'll probably push out a 2.01 update sometime soon, to test out the auto update system. I'll post again here when that happens.

#24 Darron Spohn

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Posted 08 March 2010 - 05:12 AM

I just downloaded the beta version to my MacBook Pro. With any luck I'll have a chance to test it this weekend at our club's observing site.

#25 psonice

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Posted 10 March 2010 - 06:01 AM

Anyone manage to try it out?


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