A Pair Of CRTs Drive This Virtual Reality Headset

With the benefit of decades of advances in miniaturization, looking back at the devices of yore can be entertaining. Take camcorders; did we really walk around with these massive devices resting on our shoulders just to record the family trip to Disneyworld? We did, but even if those days are long gone, the hardware remains for the picking in closets and at thrift stores.

Those camcorders can be turned into cool things such as this CRT-based virtual reality headset. [Andy West] removed the viewfinders from a pair of defunct Panasonic camcorders from slightly after the “Reggievision” era, leaving their housings and optics as intact as possible. He reverse-engineered the connections and hooked up the composite video inputs to HDMI-to-composite converters, which connect to the dual HDMI ports on a Raspberry Pi 4. An LM303DLHC accelerometer provides head tracking, and everything is mounted to a bodged headset designed to use a phone for VR. The final build is surprisingly neat for the number of thick cables and large components used, and it bears a passing resemblance to one of those targeting helmets attack helicopter pilots use.

The software is an amalgam of whatever works – Three.js for browser-based 3D animation, some off-the-shelf drivers for the accelerometers, and Python and shell scripts to glue it all together. The video below shows the build and a demo; we don’t get the benefit of seeing what [Andy] is seeing in glorious monochrome SD, but he seems suitably impressed. As are we.

We’ve seen an uptick in projects using CRT viewfinders lately, including this tiny vector display. Time to scour those thrift stores before all the old camcorders are snapped up.

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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.

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The Pre-CRT Oscilloscope

Oscilloscopes are especially magical because they translate the abstract world of electronics into something you can visualize. These days, a scope is likely to use an LCD or another kind of flat electronic display, but the gold standard for many years was the ubiquitous CRT (cathode ray tube). Historically, though, CRTs were not very common in the early days of electronics and radio. What we think of as a CRT didn’t really show up until 1931, although if you could draw a high vacuum and provide 30 kV, there were tubes as early as 1919. But there was a lot of electronics work done well before that, so how did early scientists visualize electric current? You might think the answer is “they didn’t,” but that’s not true. We are spoiled today with high-resolution electronic displays, but our grandfathers were clever and used what they had to visualize electronics.

Keep in mind, you couldn’t even get an electronic amplifier until the early 1900s (something we’ve talked about before). The earliest way to get a visual idea of what was happening in a circuit was purely a manual process. You would make measurements and draw your readings on a piece of graph paper.

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Stromberg Carlson Charactron Tube

Flat panel TVs have spoiled us. It used to be that a big display took up a lot of room on your desk or living room because of the depth of the CRT’s electron gun. We wonder what the designers of the charactron would think if they could see our big flat screens today. Never heard of a charactron? Check out [uniservo’s] video of one of these old character display tubes.

You might think the device is just a simple small CRT. However, it is much stranger than that. Inside the tube was a stencil that contained all the characters the device could display. A deflection coil would move an electron beam to light up a particular character. Then another coil would deflect the patterned electron beam to the desired space on the screen. In some cases, the entire set of stencils would get the beam and the first deflection coil would pick which character made it through an aperture. Either way, the tube was not just a display, but a character generator.

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The Nixie Tube Killer That Never Was

With the wealth of Nixie projects out there, there are points at which Hackaday is at risk of becoming Nixieaday. Nixie clocks, Nixie calculators, Nixie weather stations, and Nixie power meters have all graced our pages. And with good reason – Nixie tubes have a great retro look, and the skills needed to build a driver are a cut above calculating the right value for a series resistor for an LED display.

But not everyone loved Nixies back in the day, and some manufacturers did their best to unseat the venerable cold cathode tubes. [Fran Blanche] came across one of these contenders, a tiny cathode ray tube called the Nimo, and after a long hiatus in storage, she decided to put the tube to the test. After detailing some of the history of the Nimo and its somewhat puzzling marketing — its manufacturer, IEE, was already making displays to compete with Nixies, and seven-segment LEDs were on the rise at the time — [Fran] goes into the dangerous details of driving the display. With multiple supply voltages required, including a whopping 1,700 V DC for the anode, the Nimo was anything but trivial to integrate into products, which probably goes a long way to explaining why it never really caught on.

If you happen to have one of these little bits of solid unobtanium, [Fran]’s video below will go a long way to bringing back its ghostly green glow. You might say that [Fran] has a thing for oddball technologies of the late 60s — after all, she’s recreating the Apollo DSKY electroluminescent display, and she recently helped a model Sputnik regain its voice.

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The Modern Retrocomputer: An Arduino Driven 6845 CRT Controller

[MmmmFloorPie] revived an old project to create the retro mashup of a 6845 CRT controller and a modern Arduino Uno. When it comes to chips, the Motorola 6845 is the great granddaddy of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) interfaces. It was used in the IBM Monochrome display adapter, the Hercules graphics controller, CGA, Apple II terminal cards, and a host of other microcomputer and terminal systems.

Way back in 1989, [MmmmFloorPie] was a senior in college. His capstone project was a 68000 based computer which could record and playback audio, as well as display waveforms on a CRT. The CRT in question was ordered from a classified add in Popular Science magazine. It was a bare tube, so the heavy cardboard box it shipped in was repurposed as a case.

Fast forward to today, and  [MmmmFloorPie] wanted to power up his old project. The 68000 board was dead, and he wasn’t up to debugging the hundreds of point to point soldered connections. The CRT interface was a separate board including the 6845 and 32 KByte of RAM. It would only take a bit of hacking to bring that up. But what would replace the microprocessor?

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High Vacuum With Mercury And Glassware

If you want to build your own vacuum tubes, whether amplifying, Nixie or cathode-ray, you’re going to need a vacuum. It’s in the name, after all. For a few thousand bucks, you can probably pick up a used turbo-molecular pump. But how did they make high vacuums back in the day? How did Edison evacuate his light bulbs?

Strangely enough, you could do worse than turn to YouTube for the answer: [Cody] demonstrates building a Sprengel vacuum pump (video embedded below). As tipster [BrightBlueJim] wrote us, this project has everything: high vacuum, home-made torch glassware, and large quantities of toxic heavy metals. (Somehow [Jim] missed out on the high-voltage from the static electricity generated by sliding mercury down glass tubes for days on end.)

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