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

crt-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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Chromebook hack controls your television

chromebook_remote_control1

[Michael Kohn] only accomplished about half of what he set out to, but we still think his TV channel switcher from a Chromebook turned out nicely. When starting the project he wanted to include a grid of listing so that he could choose a specific program, but decided that scraping the data was too much work for this go-round.

The Chromebook doesn’t include an IR transmitter so he built one using an MSP430 chip. He had previously built a little transmitter around an AVR chip and was surprised to find that the internal oscillator on that was quite a bit more accurate than on the MSP430. Timing is everything with the Manchester encoded signals used for IR remote controls so he used his oscilloscope to tune the DCO as accurately as possible.

The app shown on the screen was written in Javascript. Google published some example code on using RS232 with the computer; [Michael] used this resource to provide communications between the computer and the microcontroller.

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Automatic volume control puts the kibosh on loud TV commercials

automatic-tv-volume-control

If you’re having a hard time tuning out those loud commercials why not let your electronics project do it for you? This is an Arduino-based setup which adjusts television volume when it goes above a certain threshold. It uses a microphone, rather than a direct audio signal, so you can set it based on what is actually heard in the room.

The control scheme uses the IR LED and IR receiver seen on the breadboarded circuit above. The receiver lets you teach your volume up and down buttons from your remote control to the system. The one failing we see in the design is that the volume level is hard-coded, requiring you to flash new code to make adjustments (perhaps an enterprising reader could add a potentiometer for making easy adjustments?).

We can’t help but be reminded of the setup which reads the closed caption info to mute topics you’ve added to a blacklist.

Scavenged tube television makes a nice fish tank

aquarium-from-junked-television-set

[McCaulsey] found an old TV waiting for garbage pick-up on the side of the curb. He brought it home and gave it a new life as an aquarium.

His technique is a little rough, but the finished look is exactly what he was going for. He picked up the cheapest aquarium set he could find at the pet store. It just happens to have a curved front to it which helps to recreate the look of the original CRT. After removing most of the electrical components he went to work on the plastic fins that were used to mount them. Having somehow misplaced his Dremel tool the work was done with a drill and a 1/4″ paddle bit.

Once the demolition was over he started the rebuild by placing a backer in the tank. This is an underwater image that will save him from having to look at the inside of the TV case through the water. A piece of Styrofoam was used as a base to properly frame the front of the tank. The only thing we can’t tell from the build album is how he will manage to feed the fish without taking everything apart again.

[via Reddit]

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