Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI

We all know what Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) is nowadays. It’s almost impossible to get away from it in any television show or movie. It’s gotten so good, that sometimes it can be difficult to tell the difference between the real world and the computer generated world when they are mixed together on-screen. Of course, it wasn’t always like this. This 1982 clip from BBC’s Tomorrow’s World shows what the wonders of CGI were capable of in a simpler time.

In the earliest days of CGI, digital computers weren’t even really a thing. [John Whitney] was an American animator and is widely considered to be the father of computer animation. In the 1940’s, he and his brother [James] started to experiment with what they called “abstract animation”. They pieced together old analog computers and servos to make their own devices that were capable of controlling the motion of lights and lit objects. While this process may be a far cry from the CGI of today, it is still animation performed by a computer. One of [Whitney’s] best known works is the opening title sequence to [Alfred Hitchcock’s] 1958 film, Vertigo.

Later, in 1973, Westworld become the very first feature film to feature CGI. The film was a science fiction western-thriller about amusement park robots that become evil. The studio wanted footage of the robot’s “computer vision” but they would need an expert to get the job done right. They ultimately hired [John Whitney’s] son, [John Whitney Jr] to lead the project. The process first required color separating each frame of the 70mm film because [John Jr] did not have a color scanner. He then used a computer to digitally modify each image to create what we would now recognize as a “pixelated” effect. The computer processing took approximately eight hours for every ten seconds of footage. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: The Early Days of CGI”

EVA: What’s on Telly for the Visually Impaired

[chewabledrapery] has certainly used his Raspberry Pi for good. His girlfriend’s grandfather is growing more visually impaired as time goes on. He likes to watch telly, but has trouble reading the on-screen information about the channel and programming. To that end, [chewabledrapery] has built an electronic voice assistant called EVA, who fetches the telly schedule from a web service and reads it aloud in her lovely voice that comes courtesy of Google Translate’s TTS function.

Under EVA’s hood is a Raspberry Pi. A USB hub powers the Pi and holds a small USB soundcard, a Wi-Fi dongle, and a USB daughterboard that the controller plugs into. The daughterboard is from a USB keyboard, which makes another appearance in the awesome controller. It’s made of a joystick and two arcade buttons that use the USB keyboard’s controller to interact with Python scripts.

[chewabledrapery]’s scripts make formatted requests to a web service called atlas, which returns JSON objects with the TV schedule and content descriptions. EVA then turns to Google Translate, speaking the formatted text through a small amplifier and salvaged PC speaker. In order to minimize the number of web calls, some of EVA’s frequent musings are stored locally. A full tour of EVA is after the break.

We love to see hacks that help people. Remember this RFID audio book reader?

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RGB Video Input Hack is a Master Hack for CRT Televisions

What’s shown on the screen above is about half-way through the process of hacking RGB video into a CRT television that’s not supposed to have it. The lettering is acting a bit like a layer mask, showing bits of the Super Mario Bros. start screen which is being injected from an original Famicom. [Michael J. Moffitt] figured out that he could patch his signals into the multiplexer which is responsible for overlaying the TV’s menu system. Obviously you can’t get your Mario on with this view, but the next step was as simple as finding the blanking pin and tying it 5V. Brilliant.

This particular hack is worthy of recognition. But read through [Michael’s] write up and it’s obvious that he knows the driver circuitry beyond the realm of normal curiosity. If you ever get stuck while trying to do something custom, we’d recommend pinging him with your questions (sorry [Michael] but with great knowledge comes great responsibility).

 

Retrotechtacular: Designing and Building RCA Televisions

waveformWhile it’s almost cliché to say they don’t make things like they used to, this week’s Retrotechtacular offers fairly conclusive proof that, at the very least, they used to put more time and effort into manufacturing consumer electronics. Gather your homemade wisecrackin’ robots and settle in front of this 1959 film entitled “The Reasons Why”, a rah-rah film created for new employees of the RCA Victor television division.

It may open with a jingle, but things quickly turn serious. Quality is no laughing matter for the men and women devoted to bringing you the best television set for your money. This type of unmatched excellence begins with tireless R&D into improving sound and picture quality. Every transformer is tested at five times the rated voltage, and every capacitor at two times the rating. Every switch undergoes a series of mechanical tests, including a pressured steam bath to ensure they will hold up even if you drag your set out to the porch some unbearably hot deep South August night.

hot august nights

Cabinet design is just as important—what’s the use in housing a chassis and kinescope that’ll last for 60 years in some cheap box? Woods from all over the world are carefully considered for their beauty and durability. A television set is, after all, the centerpiece of the American family room furniture group. These carefully selected woods are baked in a series of ovens to prove they’ll stand up to hours of continuous use.

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We Salute the Television Tube Flag

tvflag

From [Gijs] comes Beeldbuis Vlag Tijsdlijn, or television tube flag (Translated). We’re not up on our Dutch, but it appears that [Gijs] and friends have created a television tube which waves much like a flag in response to airflow from a fan.  The effect is pretty darn amazing, and that’s putting it mildly. To create this hack, [Gijs] built a modified Wobbulator. The Wobbulator is an early video synthesizer which used added steering coils to modify the operation of a standard TV tube. When excited, the coils would deflect the tube’s electron beam, causing some rather trippy images to appear on-screen. (Yes, here at Hackaday “trippy” is a scientific term).

[Gijs] wanted his screen to be “waved” by a fan, just like a flag would wave. To do this he used an anemometer made of ping-pong ball halves. The anemometer spins up a DC motor from a CD-ROM drive. In this application, the motor acts as a generator, creating a DC voltage. An ATmega328 running the Arduino code reads the voltage from the motor. If the anemometer is spinning, the Arduino then outputs a sinusoidal value. The Arduino’s output is amplified and applied to the coil on the CRT. A network of power resistors ensures the amplifier is correctly loaded. The results speak for themselves. In the video after the break, the tube flag is displaying a slide show of photographs of its construction. As an added hack, [Gijs] used an Arduino Leonardo as a USB keyboard. When the anemometer spins, the primary ATmega328 sends a signal to the Leonardo, which then emulates a push of the arrow keys on the host computer. This lets the tube flag advance its own images. Very cool work indeed!

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HDTV antenna of a different color

hdtv-antenna-of-a-different-color

We’ve seen our share of commercially available HDTV antennas that work really poorly. For at least four years now we’ve gone without cable television, using a coat hanger antenna we made ourselves to record over-the-air broadcasts. But it’s a pretty ugly beast — we’re lucky enough to have an attic in which it can be hidden. If you’re in need of free television and don’t want an eyesore of a an antenna try building this foil and cardboard version. Even it if doesn’t work at all you’re only out about ten bucks.

The expensive part is the matching transformer which converts screw terminals to a coaxial cable connection so that it may be connected to your HDTV. You’ll need a few nuts and bolts, but we assume you can beg, borrow, or steal the tin foil, cardboard, and glue that round out the parts list. Glue, measure, cut, fold, fasten, finished! You’ll be watching horrible summer TV in no time!

If it doesn’t perform as expected just reuse that connector and try your luck with a fractal antenna.

Modifying a CRT television for use as an arcade monitor

Finding himself in need of an arcade monitor [Eric Wright] turned to this ancient CRT television. The problem is that arcade monitors and televisions didn’t operate in the same way, differing in both resolution and refresh rate. [Eric] modified the television to work like an arcade monitor, but only with limited success. He’s hoping a few more alterations will lead him to a complete solution.

The image above shows him testing a Pac-Man machine on the altered Sharp television. Those familiar with the game will immediately notice that there is something wrong. We see most of the tracks upon which Pac-Man and the ghosts travel, but he maze itself is completely missing. To get to this point [Eric] consulted the television and arcade schematics to figure out how to connect the composite sync and three color channels directly to the arcade machine. This way the CRT timing is forced to conform to the game standard. The problem is that there is no way to adjust the drive and cutoff of the individual color channels. This is something [Eric] hopes to fix in the next iteration of his experiments.

If you already have a working arcade monitor but no gaming cabinet why not use a Raspberry Pi?

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