Demystifying NTSC Color And Progressive Scan


Black and white NTSC is simple – it can, and was, done with vacuum tubes for a long, long time. Color is just weird, though. It runs at 29.976 frames per second, uses different phases of the carrier for different colors, and generally takes a while to wrap your head around. [Sagar] is doing a series on the intricacies of NTSC, and the latest post deals with color and progressive scanning versus interlacing, or as it is better known, how classic game consoles and home computers generate video.

The test bed for [Sagar]’s video experimentations is a circuit containing an ATMega16, a 4-bit shift register, and a 14.31818 MHz clock. This clock is much faster than the 3.579545 MHz clock in an NTSC carrier frequency – exactly four times as fast – allowing the shift register to output four different phases of the carrier frequency a 0°, 90°. 180°, and 270°. Playing with some of the pins on the ATMega in the circuit results in a palette being generated on any old TV.

NTSC requires interlaced scanning, or sending an entire screen of even lines, then an entire screen of odd lines, at around 60 fields per second. The Nintendos and Segas of yesteryear didn’t bother with this, instead opting to send half the vertical resolution at double the frame rate. This is known as a progressive scan. [Sagar] found that this resulted in some image artifacts when displayed on a modern LCD, and moving back to an interlaced mode fixed the problem. All the code and files are up on the gits. If you’re feeling adventurous, this is exactly how projects like the Uzebox have created homebrew game consoles using little more than the ATMega found in [Sagar]’s build.

A Simple Commodore 64 Cart Dumper


While [Rob] was digging around in his garage one day, he ran across an old Commodore 64 cartridge. With no ROM to be found online, he started wondering what was stored in this ancient device. Taking a peek at the bits stored in this cartridge would require dumping the entire thing to a modern computer, and armed with an Arduino, he created a simple cart dumper, capable of reading standard 8k cartridges without issue.

The expansion port for the C64 has a lot of pins corresponding to the control logic inside these old computers, but the only ones [Rob] were really interested in were the eight data lines and the sixteen address lines. With a little bit of code, [Rob] got an Arduino Mega to step through all the address pins and read the corresponding data at that location in memory. This data is then sent over USB to a C app that dumps everything in HEX and text.

While the ROM for just about every C64 game can be found online, [Rob] was unlucky enough to find one that wasn’t. It doesn’t really matter, though, as we don’t know if [Rob] has the 1541 disk drive that makes this cart useful. Still, it’s a good reminder of how useful an Arduino can be when used as an electronic swiss army knife.

C64 Emulator For The Arduino Due


Almost a year ago, [miker00lz] started a thread on the Arduino forums telling everyone about a 6502 emulator and BASIC interpreter he wrote for an Arduino Uno. The chip inside the Uno isn’t a powerhouse by any means, and with only 2KB of RAM it’s far less capable than just about any computer from the 70s. Arduino works on a lot of different chips, though, and after a few months, [Jan] turned an Arduino Due into a Commodore 64 emulator.

[Jan]’s code isn’t limited to the DUE, and can be used with any chip with enough memory. If you’re feeling fancy, you can connect a TFT display for all the vintage goodness of PETSCII graphics, all while running a faster BASIC than the very stripped down EHBASIC.

Because the emulator is using software to talk to the outside world, it should be possible to use this project to interface with the cooler chips found in Commodore machines – SIDs for one, but also the cartridge port for some vintage Ethernet goodness. It’s not even limited to Commodore machines, either: the POKEY chips found in Atari 8-bit micros are seriously underutilized in the chiptune and demoscene, and having modern hardware to play with these chips couldn’t hurt in the slightest.

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C64 MIDI and Flash Cart

KerberosThe SID chip inside the Commodore 64 and 128 is arguably still the gold standard for chip tunes, and the C64 itself still a decent computer for MIDI sequencing. [Frank Buss] realized most of the MIDI cartridges for the Commodore computers are either out of production or severely limited, so he set out to create his own.

Unlike the few Commodore MIDI cartridges that are available, [Frank]’s Kerberos has MIDI In, Out, and Thru, controlled by the 6850 ACIA chip, just like the old 80s interfaces. This allows the Kerberos to interface with the old Sequential Circuits, Passport, and Datel software. He’s offering the Kerberos cart up on a crowdfunding site, so if you’d like to grab your own, have at it.

Because the Kerberos is also a Flash cart, it also ships with some of this software; [Frank] got permission from Steinberg to install their Pro 16 software with the Kerberos.  SID Wizard is also pre-loaded on the cart, along with a few other fabulous trackers and sequencers. Of course, there’s no requirement for the Flash portion of the cart to only host MIDI and synth software. You can always upload a few games to the cart over a MIDI interface. Video of the Kerberos below.

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An Emulated Commodore 64 Operating System for the Raspberry Pi



It’s no secret that Commodore users love their old machines with the Commodore C64 being chief among them with 27 Million units sold worldwide. Speaking as a former Commodore Business Machines (CBM) engineer the real surprise for us is the ongoing interest and devotion to an era typified by lumbering 8 bit machines and a color palette consisting of 16 colors. Come to think about it, that’s the description of Minecraft!

Jump forward to today and it’s a generation later. We find that the number of working units is diminishing as age and the laws of entropy and physics take their toll.

Enter the Commodore Pi, an emulated Commodore 64 operating system for the Raspberry Pi. The goals of the project include an HDMI and composite compatible video output, SID based sound, Sprites and other notable Commodore features. They also plan to have hooks for more modern technology to include Ethernet, GPIO and expansion RAM.

A video demo of the emulator can be found below. If you’re just warming up to the Commodore world, you’ll definitely want to know the real story behind the C128.

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Making a Commodore 64 portable


This is [Wpqrek’s] Commodore 64 modified to go on the road with him. The elderly machine has a special place in his heart as it was what he learned to code on. He performed a series of hacks which house everything necessary to use the machine inside the original case.

Obviously the hack that has the most effect when it comes to portability was swapping a display for the small LCD mounted above the number keys. This was a pretty simple process because the screen, originally intended for a rear view camera in a vehicle, already had a composite video input. To emulate the floppy disc drive he’s using an SD card via an sd2iec board which he laid out himself. Rounding up the alterations is a stereo SID. The second channel uses the pre-amp circuit cut from a second C64. This audio hardware will let him do cool things like playing some classic Zeppelin.

You can get a video tour of these alterations after the break.

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Playing Led Zeppelin on a C64

In the C64 demoscene there are a ton of awesome software hacks that push the Commodore 64, the 1MHz 6510-based computer from 1982, to its limits. Most of these C64 demos are very much limited by the hardware inside the C64, but the demoscene is always coming up with new ways of pushing the envelope. [No Quarter] just sent in one of these software hacks that propel the capabilities of the C64 into the realm of absurdity by playing full length songs directly from the floppy drive.

Playing a song on the C64 begins with an Amiga and a Perfect Sound digitizer to convert the digital audio file into a 4-bit sample. Once this sample is transferred over to the C64 where it was manually timed so streaming it off a 1581 disk drive would result in the song playing at the correct pitch. It’s an amazing work of optimization; the audio data is streamed off the disk just as fast as it’s played from memory, an amazing data throughput rate for the ‘ol C64

After the break you can see [No Quarter] playing Led Zeppelin, Bon Jovi, Shania Twain, and Extreme. A very, very cool project and with the addition of a C64 hard drive makes it possible to have a media player for the C64.
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