Demystifying Camcorder CRT Viewfinders

Every smartphone (and most dumb phones) has a video camera built into it these days. Some of them are even capable of recording respectable HD video. So we’d bet that the decades old camcorder you’ve got kicking around isn’t getting any use at all anymore. [John] wants to encourage you to hack that hardware. He published a post showing just how easy it is to salvage and use a camcorder CRT.

The gist is that you simply need to hook up power and feed it video. The board that is attached to the CRT has its own voltage hardware to drive the tube. He demonstrates a 9V battery as a power supply, but also mentions that it should be pretty easy to power the thing from a USB port. As for video, all it takes is a composite signal. Of course you’ve got to determine the pinout for your particular CRT module. The method he chose was to use a continuity tester to find the path from a capacitor’s negative leg to the appropriate pin header. Next he used a bench supply to inject a current-limited low voltage until he saw response when probing the pins. Finding the composite-in is a similar trial and error process.

So what can you use this for? Why not make it the display for a simple video game?

Camcorder Viewfinder Converted To Diminutive Vector Display

We generally cast a skeptical eye at projects that claim some kind of superlative. If you go on about the “World’s Smallest” widget, the chances are pretty good that someone will point to a yet smaller version of the same thing. But in the case of what’s touted as “The world’s smallest vector monitor”, we’re willing to take that chance.

If you’ve seen any of [Arcade Jason]’s projects before, you’ll no doubt have noticed his abiding affection for vector displays. We’re OK with that; after all, many of the best machines from the Golden Age of arcade games such as Asteroids and Tempest were based on vector graphics. None so small as the current work, though, based as it is on the CRT from an old camcorder’s viewfinder. The tube appears to be about 3/4″ (19 mm) in diameter, and while it still had some of its original circuitry, the deflection coils had to be removed. In their place, [Jason] used a ferrite toroid with two windings, one for vertical and one for horizontal. Those were driven directly by a two-channel push-pull audio amplifier to make patterns on the screen. Skip to 15:30 in the video below to see the display playing [Jerobeam Fenderson]’s “Oscilloscope Music”.

As much as we’d love to see a tiny game of Battlezone played on the diminutive display, there’s only so much it can do. Maybe an analog version of this adorable digital oscilloscope would be possible?

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Thumbs Up For This CRT Handheld Gaming Console

Despite all the progress video game graphics have made, it is safe to say that we won’t see any decline in oldschool 8-bit games any time soon. For some it’s about nostalgia, for others it’s just a great and simple-enough first step into game development itself. For [gocivici] it was a bit of both when he built this camcorder style, one-button gaming console.

With a Raspberry Pi Zero running PICO-8 at its core, [gocivici] salvaged the viewfinder of an old camcorder for the display, and that way turned it into a whole other kind of handheld console. For full ergonomic handling, one single, thumb-operated push button serves as only control option. This of course makes it a bit challenging to re-use existing games that would require more input options, so he and some friends decided to just write a suitable game on their own with the hopes that others might follow.

Unfortunately we don’t see a lot of projects using these old camcorder viewfinders, and considering modern LCD and OLED options it’s not really that surprising, but there’s just something intriguing about these tiny CRTs. So in case you want to see more of them, have a look at this tiny Atari display, and the DIY night vision monocle from a few years back. And to keep your eyes safe and sound, [gocivici] got you covered as well.

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Curve Tracing On Spray Painted CRTs

A Lissajous curve is formed when two sine waves plotted on their respective X and Y axes. You can see one using an oscilloscope and a couple of signal generators, if you play with one of those ‘pendulums tracing in the sand’ toys, or if you really need something sciencey for your home decor you can trace them out with a disassembled CRT. That’s what [Emily] did with the LissaJukebox. It traces curves. No, it’s not a curve tracer, that’s another tool altogether

If you’re going to put squigglies on a CRT, you obviously need a CRT, and it needs to look good. There are a few options out there, from old oscilloscope tubes, the CRTs found in old VHS camcorders, to tiny electrostatic tubes that are slightly easier to drive. For this build, [Emily] chose an old, bog-standard, black and white television. But the screen is green, right? Yeah, but if you carefully mask off a CRT and buy some stained glass spray paint, a CRT can be any color you want. Except for purple, the purple stained glass spray paint didn’t work for some reason.

To generate the various functions, [Emily] used an XR2206 function generator, sold in kit form on Amazon, eBay, and various other online retailers for a pittance. One of these function generators controls the X axis, another the Y, and both of these generators are fed into a 15 Watt stereo amplifier board to run the deflection coils in the CRT. If you’re following along at home, yes, this is dangerous. Don’t touch the CRT or it will stop your heart. Those of us whose hearts are as black as coal are safe.

There were a few modifications needed to turn the XR2206 function generator ‘kit’ into something a bit more useful for this project. The through-hole pots were replaced with panel-mount pots, and the range/amplitude setting is now controlled with a rotary switch.

Is it useful? Well, actually, if you’re building a set for a TV show and you need something that looks ‘sciencey’, a LissaJukebox should be right up your alley. Other than that it looks pretty, and we now know there’s a spray paint that will turn your old, boring black and white CRT into a glorious amber phosphor. Can’t beat that.

Unique Flat-Screen Display Put To Use In CRT Game Boy

The cathode-ray tube ruled the display world from the earliest days of TV until only comparatively recently, when flat-screen technology began to take over. CRTs just kept getting bigger over that time until they reached a limit beyond which the tubes got just too bulky to be practical.

But there was action at the low end of the CRT market, too. Tiny CRTs popped up in all sorts of products, from camcorders to the famous Sony Watchman. One nifty CRT from this group, a flat(tish) tube from a video intercom system, ended up in [bitluni]’s lab, where he’s in the process of turning it into a retro Game Boy clone with a CRT display. The display, which once showed the video from a door-mounted camera, was a gift from a viewer. Date codes on the display show it’s a surprisingly recent device; were monochrome TFT displays that hard to come by in 2007? Regardless, it’s a neat design, with the electron gun shooting upward toward a curved phosphor screen. With a little Google-assisted reverse engineering, [Bitluni] was able to track done the video connections needed to use his retro game console, which uses an ESP32 that outputs composite video. He harvested the intercom speaker for game audio, added a temporary Nintendo gamepad, and soon he was playing Tetris in glorious monochrome on the flat screen.

The video below is only the first in a series where the prototype will be stuffed into one nice tidy package. It certainly still needs some tweaking, but it’s off to a great start. We can’t wait to see the finished product.

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A Look At The Smallest Magnetic Deflection CRT Ever Made

A high-resolution LCD or OLED screen is a commodity component that we can buy on a little breakout board and plug into our microcontrollers without spending more than a dollar or two. We can buy them in sizes ranging from sub-postage-stamp to desktop TV if our budgets stretch that far, and they are easy to drive in every sense of the word. It is not so long ago though that a high-resolution LCD, even a small one, was a seriously expensive component. In consumer electronic devices such as camcorders engineers went to great lengths to avoid those costs, and [12voltvids] recently took a look at one of them.

Inside the viewfinder of a miniaturized Sony camcorder is a CRT. It’s fairly mundane in the scheme of CRTs, in that it’s a monochrome device with no unexpected features. Except that is, for one thing. It’s tiny, with only a 0.5″ inch screen size. Everything else is the same as your vintage full-sized TV, it has an electron gun and a deflection and focusing coil pack, but the entire device has been miniaturized to the point at which the coil pack is larger than the screen it is driving. On the accompanying PCB are all the support circuits, including a tiny flyback transformer and a single IC –  a Rohm BA7149 electronic viewfinder driver that is as near as possible an entire CRT TV on a chip. That’s it, the whole device runs from a single 5 volt supply.

He doesn’t give the date of the camcorder, but given that it looks as though it uses 8mm cassette tapes and has a curved miniaturized design rather than the angular black exteriors that were fashionable earlier we’d guess it to be from some time around the year 2000. To give it some context, at the time one of the hottest pieces of consumer electronics would have been a Diamond Rio MP3 player, and if your desktop PC had the first of the AMD Athlon processors you probably considered it to be about the fastest you could hope to own. The surprise then is that Sony still considered it more economical even at that point to use the CRT and associated circuitry than a tiny LCD. Either way we’d agree with him that it’s a keeper, a fascinating curio for any electronics enthusiast. If we see an old camcorder going for not a lot, we’ll certainly give it a second look after this.

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Making Instagram With An Old CRT

If you’re not familiar with Instagram, it’s a mobile app that takes pictures, applies low-fi ‘lomographic’ digital filters, and shares them on the Internet. For reasons we can’t comprehend, Instagram has been wildly successful as of late and was recently purchased by Facebook for a Billion dollars. [Martin Ström] figured he could do something much cooler than applying digital filters to a cell phone picture, so he built InstaCRT, an app that turns your pictures into grainy CRT images and satiates the geek and hipster in everyone.

From [Martin]’s project page, InstaCRT uses a small black and white CRT from an old camcorder and a Canon 7D to apply real-world analog filters to all the uploaded pictures. Once the pictures are uploaded to the MacBook Pro server, they’re displayed on the CRT and a picture is taken with the 7D. Once an Android/iOS device sends a picture to the server, it’s displayed on the CRT, the 7D snaps a picture, and the resulting ‘filtered’ picture is sent back to the mobile device.

While we’re sure a few Hackaday commentors are going to ask ‘why’, it’s still a very cool build that is the first real world digital camera filter we’ve seen. You can check out the video demo of InstaCRT after the break.

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