Bringing Back The CRT TV Experience In Software

Cathode-Retro is a collection of shaders and sample C++ code for reliving the glorious days when graphics were composite video signals displayed on a CRT screen. How? By faking it in software and providing more configuration options than any authentic setup ever had.

Love it or don’t, there’s nothing quite like it.

Not satisfied with creating CRT-style color images with optional scanlines and TV picture controls like tint and saturation, Cathode-Retro can emulate more nuanced elements as well.

The tool includes the ability to imitate things like the slight distortion of a period-correct curved screen, the subtle effects of different methods CRT displays used to actually work (such as shadow mask vs aperture grille), and even taking into account the slight distortion of light refracting imperfectly through the glass face of the CRT. There’s even options for adding noise and ghosting, which may spark some artistic ideas.

If all you need is software to recreate an old-school CRT terminal, we have you covered. But if your needs are a bit more low-level, Cathode-Retro might be what you’re missing.

Fifteen Flat CRTs And A Bunch Of Magnets Make For Interactive Fun

If you were a curious child growing up when TVs were universally equipped with cathode ray tubes, chances are good that you discovered the effect a magnet can have on a beam of electrons. Watching the picture on the family TV warp and twist like a funhouse mirror was good clean fun, or at least it was right up to the point where you permanently damaged a color CRT by warping the shadow mask with a particularly powerful speaker magnet — ask us how we know.

To bring this experience to a generation who may never have seen a CRT display in their lives, [Niklas Roy] developed “Deflektron”, an interactive display for a science museum in Switzerland. The CRTs that [Niklas] chose for the exhibit were the flat-ish monochrome tubes that were used in video doorbell systems in the late 2000s, like the one [Bitluni] used for his CRT Game Boy. After locating fifteen of these things — probably the biggest hack here — they were stripped out of their cases and mounted into custom modules. The modules were then mounted into a console that looks a little like an 80s synthesizer.

In use, each monitor displays video from a camera mounted to the module. Users then get to use a selection of tethered neodymium magnets to warp and distort their faces on the screen. [Niklas] put a lot of thought into both the interactivity of the exhibit, plus the practical realities of a public installation, which will likely take quite a beating. He’s no stranger to such public displays, of course — you might remember his interactive public fountain, or this cyborg baby in a window.

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Retrotechtacular: A DIY Television For Very Early Adopters

By our very nature, hackers tend to get on the bandwagon of new technology pretty quickly. When something gee-whiz comes along, it’s folks like us who try it out, even if that means climbing steep learning curves or putting together odd bits of technology rather than waiting for the slicker products that will come out if the new thing takes off. But building your own television receiver in 1933 was probably pushing the envelope for even the earliest of adopters.

“Cathode Ray Television,” reprinted by the Antique Valve Museum in all its Web 1.0 glory, originally appeared in the May 27, 1933 edition of Popular Wireless magazine, and was authored by one K D Rogers of that august publication’s Research Department. They apparently took things quite seriously over there at the time, at least judging by the white lab coats and smoking materials; nothing said serious research in the 1930s quite like a pipe. The flowery language and endless superlatives that abound in the text are a giveaway, too; it’s hard to read without affecting a mental British accent, or at least your best attempt at a Transatlantic accent.

In any event, the article does a good job showing just what was involved in building a “vision radio receiver” and its supporting circuitry back in the day. K D Rogers goes into great detail explaining how an “oscillograph” CRT can be employed to display moving pictures, and how his proposed electronic system is vastly superior to the mechanical scanning systems that were being toyed with at the time. The build itself, vacuum tube-based though it was, went through the same sort of breadboarding process we still use today, progressing to a finished product in a nice wood cabinet, the plans for which are included.

It must have been quite a thrill for electronics experimenters back then to be working on something like television at a time when radio was only just getting to full market penetration. It’s a bit of a puzzle what these tinkerers would have tuned into with their DIY sets, though — the airwaves weren’t exactly overflowing with TV broadcasts in 1933. But still, someone had to go first, and so we tip our hats to the early adopters who figured things out for the rest of us.

Thanks to [BT] for the tip.

 

CRT cyberdeck

Old Portable TV Becomes Unique CRT Cyberdeck

Remember the “suitcase” form-factor for PCs? In the time before latops, these luggable machines were just the thing for the on-the-go executive. OK, maybe not really — but the ability to have PC, monitor, and peripherals in a single package had real appeal, and a lot of that rationale is behind the cyberdeck phenomenon. So when we saw this retro portable TV turned into a cyberdeck, it really caught our eye.

Ironically, the portable black-and-white TV that [Lucas Dul] chose as the basis for his cyberdeck hails from about the same period in time that luggable PCs were having their brief time in the sun. Scored from eBay, the Magnavox TV/radio combo had seen better days, and required a bit of surgery to repair what might have been drop damage. With the CRT restored and the video and audio paths located, the TV got a Raspberry Pi, a small touchpad, and a couple of concealed USB connectors. The Pi’s composite output drives the CRT, with about the results you’d expect. The keyboard appears to be just about the right size to serve as a cover, but [Lucas] said that’s a future project.

Still, with the TV’s original handle acting as a stand, this cyberdeck gives off a real Compaq or IBM portable PC vibe. We’ve seen a few luggable-lookalike cyberdecks before, but none that dared use a CRT monitor. It may be a far cry from HDMI, but we really appreciate that [Lucas] chose this way rather than slapping in an LCD.

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Tiny TV Celebrates The Forgotten Tech Of CRTs

For those of us who grew up before the Internet, the center of pretty much every house was the TV. It was the shrine before which we all worshipped, gathering together at the appointed times to receive the shared wisdom of mass entertainment. In retrospect, it really wasn’t that much. But it’s what we had.

Content aside, one thing all these glowing boxes had in common was that which did the glowing — the cathode ray tube (CRT). Celebrating the marvel of engineering that the CRT represents is the idea behind [Matt Evan]’s tiny desktop TV. The design centers around a 1.5″ CRT that once served as a viewfinder on a 1980s-vintage Sony camcorder. [Matt] salvaged the tube and the two PCB assemblies that drive it, mounting everything in a custom-built acrylic case, the better to show off the bulky but beautiful tube.

The viewfinder originally used a mirror to make the optical path more compact; this forced [Matt] to adapt the circuit to un-reverse the image for direct viewing. Rather than receiving analog signals off the air as we did in the old days — and we liked it that way! — the mini monitor gets its video from a Raspberry Pi, which is set to play clips of TV shows from [Matt]’s youth. Rendered in glorious black and white and nearly needing a magnifying glass to see, it almost recaptures the very earliest days of television broadcasting, when TVs all had screens that looked more like oscilloscope CRTs.

This project is a nice homage to a dying technology, and [Matt] says it has spurred more than one conversation from people you grew up knowing only LCD displays. That’s not to say CRTs are totally dead — if you want to build your own old-school TV, there’s a kit for that.

Sinclair Pocket TV Teardown

A pocket-sized TV is not a big deal today. But in 1983, cramming a CRT into your pocket was quite a feat. Clive Sinclair’s TV80 or FTV1 did it with a very unique CRT and [Dubious Engineering] has a teardown video to show us how it was done.

A conventional CRT has an electron gun behind the screen which is why monitors that use them are typically pretty thick. The TV80’s tube has the electron gun to the side to save space. It also uses a fresnel lens to enlarge the tiny image.

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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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