32C3: Vector Video Games

There are a few classic video games that rely on vector graphics and special monitors. Asteroids is incomplete if you’re not playing it in its original arcade format. The same goes with Tempest, Lunar Lander, and the 1983 Star Wars arcade game. Emulation of these games is possible, even with MAME, but the display – like every display you can buy today – is still rasterized. The solution to this problem is to create a vector display output for MAME that works in conjunction with adapter boards and DACs connected to a monitor.

For this year’s Chaos Computer Congress, that’s exactly what [Trammell Hudson] and [Adelle Lin] did. They’ve created an open source vector gaming system that connects MAME to XY monitors and oscilloscopes.

The build uses a custom board equipped with a Teensy 3.1 microcontroller and a 12-bit DAC to convert XY coordinates sent by MAME to vectors that can be displayed on any XY monitor. This, of course, requires a patch to MAME, which the maintainers rejected as being an, “unacceptably hacky way to achieve the intended result.” It does achieve the intended result, though: allowing dozens of vector games playable on whatever monitor supports vector graphics.

So far, [Trammell] and [Adelle] have gotten their system working on Vectrex consoles, analog oscilloscopes set to XY mode, and vectorscopes that litter every broadcast station and surplus shop. Check out [Trammell] and [Adelle]’s talk, and if you want to build the V.st vector display driver, the board is available from OSHPark.

No Spectrum Analyser? No Problem!

In the Bad Old Days, a spectrum analyser was a big piece of expensive machinery that you’d have on your bench next to your oscilloscope. And while good ones still cost a ton of money, [rheslip] shows you how to turn your VISA-compatible scope into a decent spectrum analyser for the low, low price of nothing. Watch it in action in the video below the break.

pyvisa-shot0002_tnIf your scope is relatively recent, like this side of the late 1990s, it might support National Instrument’s VISA: virtual instrument software architecture. [rheslip]’s Rigol scope does, and he uses PyVisa, a Python wrapper for the NI-VISA libraries to download the raw samples from the ‘scope and then crunches the FFTs out on his laptop.

There are definitely drawbacks to this method. The sampling depth of the scope is eight bits, which limits his maximum signal-to-noise ratio, and the number-crunching and data transfer are slow, resulting in a 2 Hz refresh rate. But once the data has made it across to his laptop, [rheslip] can run the FFTs at whatever sample length he wants, resulting in very high frequency resolution.

Indeed, we’re thinking that there’s all sorts of custom filters and analysis that one could do with raw access to the oscilloscope’s data. Why haven’t we been doing this all along? Any of you out there have cool VISA tricks that you’d like to share?

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GNU Radio Drives Oscilloscope

These days we are spoiled with a lot of cheap test equipment. However, you can do a lot of measurements with nothing more than an oscilloscope. Add something like a signal generator and you can do even more. One classic technique for frequency measurement, for example, is using a scope to display a Lissajous pattern. [Franz Schaefer] has a video showing how to generate these useful curves with GNU Radio.

As we pointed out earlier, GNU Radio doesn’t have to be about radio–it is really just a Python-based signal processing laboratory. [Franz] uses GNU Radio Companion to create blocks which in turn create the patterns on an old analog scope.

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Flashed the wrong firmware? Swap out the LCD to match!

We always joke about the hardware guys saying that they’ll fix it in firmware, and vice-versa, but this is ridiculous. When [Igor] tried to update his oscilloscope and flashed the wrong firmware version in by mistake, he didn’t fix it in firmware. Instead, he upgraded the LCD display to match the firmware.

See, Siglent doesn’t make [Igor]’s DSO any more; they stopped using the 4:3 aspect ratio screens and replaced them with wider versions. Of course, this is an improvement for anyone buying a new scope, but not if you’ve got the small screen in yours and can’t see anything anymore. After playing around with flashing other company’s firmware (for a similar scope) and failing to get it done over the JTAG, he gave up on the firmware and started looking for a hardware solution.

It turns out that a few SMT resistors set the output screen resolution. After desoldering the appropriate resistors, [Igor] bought a new 7″ LCD screen online only to find out that it has a high-voltage backlight and that he’d need to build an inverter (and hide the noisy circuit inside his oscilloscope). Not daunted, he went digging through his junk box until he found a backlight panel of the right size from another display.

Yet more small soldering, and he had frankensteined a new backlight into place. Of course, the larger LCD won’t fit the case without some cutting, double-sided tape, and a healthy dose of black tape all around insulates the loose electricals. Et voilá!

We have to hand it to [Igor], he’s got moxie. It’s an ugly hack, but it’s a definite screen upgrade, and a lesser hacker would have stopped after flashing the wrong firmware and thrown the thing in the trash. We’d be proud to have that scope sitting on our desk; it’s a definite conversation starter, and a badge of courage to boot.

Phone Scope Build Uses Old Optical Drive

It is hardly news that you can use your smart phone as a really crummy oscilloscope. You can even use it as an audio frequency signal generator. There are also plenty of projects that allow you to buffer signals going in and out of your phone to make these apps more useful and protect your phone’s circuitry to some degree. What caught our eye with [loboat’s] phone oscilloscope project was its construction.

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VirtualBench Tear Down

What do you get when you cross a mixed-signal oscilloscope, a function generator, a multimeter, a power supply, and some programmable digital I/O in a box? Sounds like the set up to a very geeky joke, but it is actually National Instrument’s VirtualBench product. [Shahriar] has one and wanted to know what was inside, so he did a tear down.

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Visualizing RF Standing Waves

Standing waves are one of those topics that lots of people have a working knowledge of, but few seem to really grasp. A Ham radio operator will tell you all about the standing wave ratio (SWR) of his antenna, and he may even have a meter in the shack to measure it. He’ll know that a 1.1 to 1 SWR is a good thing, but 2 to 1 is not so good. Ask him to explain exactly what a standing wave is, though, and chances are good that hands will be waved. But [Allen], a Ham also known as [W2AEW], has just released an excellent video explaining standing waves by measuring signals along an open transmission line.

[Source: Wikipedia]
[Source: Wikipedia]
To really understand standing waves, you’ve got to remember two things. First, waves of any kind will tend to be at least partially reflected when they experience a change in the impedance of the transmission medium. The classic example is an open circuit or short at the end of an RF transmission line, which will perfectly reflect an incoming RF signal back to its source. Second, waves that travel in the same medium overlap each other and their peaks and troughs can be summed. If two waves peak together, they reinforce each other; if a peak and a trough line up, they cancel each other out.

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