Turn Your Old-school CRT Into A YouTube Media Player

Ever wish you could enjoy modern conveniences like YouTube in a retro world of CRTs and late 20th century graphics?

[Johannes Spreitzer] happened to find an old VIENNASTAR CRT (cathode-ray tube television) made by the Austrian brand Kapsh at a flea market. The CRT dates back to 1977 and uses just RF input, making it useless as a modern television set since most TV stations nowadays broadcast primarily in digital.

However, HDMI-to-RF transmitters do exist, making it possible to convert HDMI signals to RF or coaxial cable output to replace an antenna signal. What [Spreitzer] did next was to plug in a Chromcast and essentially convert the CRT into an old-school monitor. You can see some of the trippy graphics in the video below – the video samples shown fit the retro aesthetic, but I’m sure there’s video combinations that would seem pretty out of place.

HDMI-to-RF adapters are pretty easy to pick up at a hardware store, and they allow you to project videos onto specific channels on a CRT. Needless to say, they don’t work the other way around, although since there are still televisions that only pick up RF broadcasts, coaxial to HDMI adapters do exist.

39 thoughts on “Turn Your Old-school CRT Into A YouTube Media Player

      1. Same here, except an Xbox 360 on a 1990 Mitsubishi 27 inch that I refuse to let die, as it best fits all my classic gaming systems (and I can play duck hunt!), and it sounds great.

  1. Circa 1977, the proper way was to modify the tv set for video in,though I can’t remember how they handled the lack of power transformer in many portable sets.

    Don Lancaster certainly wrote about it, likely in magazines articles, but definitely in his TV Typewriter Cookbook.

    I’d just use an LCD monitor found in the garbage nowadays, smaller and less heat. But tyen I’m not nostalgic, and since I’m old enough to have lived through it once, have little interest in doing it again.

    For my OSI Superboard in 1981, I had a surplus open frame small monochrome monitor.

    Michael

    1. Yes, althoufgh the C64 was very cool for it’s time, I don’t miss the time of grainy PAL/CVBS over RF and the chrominance/luminance interference from that time. It had it’s day and I am glad we have better hardware now.

    2. When I was a kid in the early 90s I used to buy old TVs from about that era in garage sales. They would usually last 6 months to a year, then either die or I would find a better one.

      I was never quite satisfied with the video quality. I wanted better inputs. So, I took one of the TVs apart. I found that the tuner was it’s own discreet unit sealed in it’s own metal box. Well, actually 2 boxes, one VHF, one UHF but the VHF was obviously the master with the UHF one feeding into it. That made since since to tune UHF one would turn the VHF dial to a position marked UHF.

      Anyway.. the tuner connected to the mainboard of the TV by a skinny piece of coax with a plain old RCA phono jack just like a typical composite input. I had no way to actually measure the signal on that wire but I decided to just be brave and go for it. I unplugged that coax from the mainboard and plugged a jumper leading to my old Atari in it’s place.

      There was no smoke. No loud pop. Just a picture. A beautiful picture, way crisper than anything I ever could get using a modulator! I ran an extension cable from the tuner through the vent holes to outside the TV and another from the mainboard and connected them to an external input switch. I never used the RF modulator again!

      Of course I didn’t have any audio this way. There were a small number of soldered wires between the tuner and mainboard. I suppose those were power and audio. It probably wouldn’t have been too hard to find the audio wires, cut and splice those out to the switch too. I didn’t bother in part because I was avoiding any modifications more permanent than simply unplugging/plugging wires and also because I didn’t need it. I had a similarly hacked together stereo made from an old garage sale car audio amp, a home-made 12V power supply and far to many speakers. I always ran my audio through that.

  2. I am surprised any type of video RF transmitter exists at all I thought the FCC nixed all of that when analog died and TV’s got inputs besides RF.

    How did HaD miss national rescan day? I don’t use TV so it didn’t affect me. Did hundreds of TV stations have to change transmitter frequencies and antennae overnight? Certainly as interesting as the train track gauge change in history.

    1. > I am surprised any type of video RF transmitter exists at all I thought the FCC nixed all of that when analog died and TV’s got inputs besides RF.

      You do realize FCC governs a relatively small portion of the world, right? ;-)

    2. What? I’m pretty sure TV RF modulators are still perfectly legal and regulated under part 15 just the same as they always were.

      Of course the digital changeover means some day they will probably stop manufacturing tvs with analog tuners and certainly no new tv relies on an analog tuner as it’s sole means of input. In other words the FCC killed 90% of the market for RF modulators.

      I’m sure they are still perfectly legal if you just want to get a signal into your old TV.

  3. Technically a CRT is a “cathode ray tube” which is the display device that’s in an old TV set. So you’re not turning a “TV Tube” into a media player, but you’re converting either a receiver (which picks up modulated off the air or cable RF signals) or a monitor (which takes a composite standard definition video feed) into a device which will accept a digital signal supplied through a HDMI cable and display it on the CRT inside the cabinet.

    1. I have a Panasonic CRT Tv of recent make, it has component video input. Can anybody guide me if there exists HDMI To Component video inputs converter? where can i buy online ? I stay in Delhi, India

    1. I’ve probably got the bits hanging round, but it would be HDMI to VGA, VGA to composite, and composite to RF modulator. I think Startech do all of those, but not as cheaply as ordering off AliExpress or somewhere.

      It’s easier to find cheap android boxes with composite on a 3.5mm jack port and thrift store an old game modulator. I wired one to a LCD composite headrest monitor for shits and giggles the other week, but since that was about 320×240 native and the interface was designed for 720p it was really hard to read. In the past though, I found that some CRT TVs with composite or component managed to do surprisingly well at 800×600 or even 1024×768, some others were very muddy. It’s also the case with the old mono TVs, there were some that were very crisp and others not so much. The granularity of the phosphor had a lot to do with it.

  4. I can barley stand to watch lower resolution vids on a decent screen, I think watching vids on an ultra low res screen would be next to useless for the types of vids I watch. I am also not sure about the controls the chromecast has but I would also go stark raving nuts without the speedup control. I tend to run everything at 1.75 or 2X. That was youtubes innovation of the decade,

    1. For vids that are aready low resolution and maybe a bit blocky from an ancient codec being used, putting them on a lowres CRT screen makes them look nicer, it’s kinda like Anti Aliasing.

      I agree with you on the usefulness of the speedup control though. A lot of ppl talk wayyy tooo slllowww.. However you come across the odd person, who umms and errrs and strings sentence fragments in short gabbled blasts and they’re unintelligible on 1.25X even though there’s a lot of “dead air” time between fragments of speech.

  5. RPi composite video out to a TV’s composite in or via an RF modulator would be a pretty low stress way to do it. I really liked eevblog’s video though…. I might give it a go on some spare sets…

  6. Ok, yah, I know, “not a hack” is usually an inappropriate comment.

    But…

    Plugs device with HDMI output
    into device that is factory made with the intent of converting HDMI into an old-school analog television signal
    and plugs that into an old-school analog televison.

    It does seem like a classic case of using consumer devices exactly as intended. Ok, so it is a combination of new and old that few bother with but still… retro-hipster credits do not buy a hack!

    Now maybe if he pulled out the tuner modules, stuck a pi in there and used the two holes from the tuner knobs to expose some sort of two-knobbed Youtube navigation interface.. and of course also mounted a clean 5V supply in the tv for the Pi.

    The whole thing would be a self-contained Pi-TV and while (with that knobby interface) probably not practical it would be a hack!

    1. yea that’s kind of what I got out of it, person plugs computer into TV, total amazeballs but not cause its just using a box specifically made to plug computer into tv

      HAXORZ!

    2. yeah I’ve never been one to hop on the “not a hack” bandwagon, but this is literally using off the shelf parts for their intended purpose, which seems like an anti-hack from my point of view.

      should’ve used a 555

    3. It felt more like hackaday wrote a commercial for a non-hackaday audience (what percentage of HaD readers *doesn’t* know what CRT means??). I can’t say I recognize the author’s name from before the corporate takeover of HaD’s ownership but each of the recent articles I’ve read with Sharon’s name on them have been notably garbage like this… so disappointing.

    4. Feed the rf from the converter into a signal booster [ or two in series ] and you can make it wireless. It ususally lets youbtransmit about 10-15 feet. Perfect for one end of the house to the other or up to the attic.
      Personally I think the fcc should open analogue tv up to armature radio.

      1. Analog television already is a part of amateur radio. It happens on ham bands, not television broadcast bands but a simple frequency converter is enough to allow a plain old television to receive it.

        Actually, the most popular ham tv frequencies are in a section of the 70cm band that just so happens to overlap with the frequencies used by analog cable TV. You can receive those with just a tv and an old analog cable box!

        I forget exactly what the channel numbers are. Unfortunately it is in the lower part of the 70cm band that us hams near the canadian border are not allowed to use due to the canadians having other services on those frequencies. :-(

        — cue South Park song “Blame Canada” —

    1. The composite lines are supposed to come out on the edge connector for the cartridge, so I don’t know if you actually need to have the tuner to use composite input on the Game Gear. Though I’ve also heard that some later ones do not have composite, and the original Tuner doesn’t work with them either.

  7. I got to play with a “Schwarz-Weiss Kapsch” TV back in the day. Great TV for back in the 70’s. Nice idea of “re-living the past” with modern day equipment. Nicely done.

  8. Dr Moddenstein did this with a chromecast, hdmi to rca converter and then an RF modulator but then he hacked a motion sensor light to turn the TV on when the signal came on and ran it from his phone.

    I didn’t even know they made an HDMI to Coax converter.

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