The VHS VCR has now passed from widespread use, and can thus be found as a ready supply of interesting parts for the curious hardware hacker. [Clewsy] has a novel use for a VCR head scanning drum, the part that is supposed to be tasked with reading information off of magnetic tape. Instead, it’s reading information from fingers as the knob for a USB volume control. Underneath the drum is an optical encoder disk which is read by an ATmega32U4 for USB interfacing with a host computer.
The helical-scan video recorder was a mechanically complex solution to the problem of recording a high-bandwidth video signal onto a tape that could be made slow-moving enough to be practical. By recording the video in diagonal stripes across the tape from a fast-moving spinning head they avoided the need for huge reels of tape, enabling hours of video to be fitted into a roughly book-size cassette.
While over time the mechanics of a VCR mechanism were simplified and cheapened to a great extent, the heads and drum were the one area that could not be compromised. Thus the VCR head was for a time the most high-precision mechanical device owned by most consumers, and the drums usually have exceptionally nice bearings. All of this makes one a particularly good choice for a volume knob or indeed any other large rotational control, so much so that we’re surprised it hasn’t become a more frequent occurrence. So scour the electronic junk, and you might just find the ultimate in free high quality control hardware.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing a VCR head drum can do. How about a centrifuge?