ESP32 Clock Pushes Outrun Graphics Over Composite

We’ve covered plenty of clocks powered by the ESP32, but this one from [Marcio Teixeira] is really something special. Rather than driving a traditional physical display, the microcontroller is instead generating a composite video signal of an animated digital clock. This could be fed into whatever device you wish, but given the 80’s synthwave style it’s pumping out, you’ll probably want to find a suitably retro CRT to do it justice.

Specifically this is a variant of the “Dali” clock, where each digit seems to melt and morph into its successor. Though his version doesn’t necessarily share code with all the previous iterations, [Marcio] does credit the developers who have pulled off similar visual tricks going all the way back to 1979. Given the vintage of this particular animation, the neon skyline and infinite scrolling grid certainly feel like a perfect fit.

Want to add a little vaporwave vibe to your own workbench? Assuming you’ve already got a 80s style CRT, all you need is an ESP32 and two wires stuck into the composite video port. One goes to ground, and the other goes to the chip’s analog pin. Once everything is powered up, you’ll be able to configure the clock with a web-based interface. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

In the documentation, [Marcio] calls out a few open source projects which were instrumental to getting his clock off the ground. The pioneering work [bitluni] did to get video out of the ESP32 is something of a given, but he also sends a hat tip to [rossumur] for his collection of 8-bit game console emulators written for the microcontroller. Projects like this are a fantastic example of what’s possible when a community works together to truly push the envelope.

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Black And White TV Was Hiding A Special Input Board

[John Floren] found a nice old black & white TV in a thrift store, and as so many of us would, he decided to take it home. He was surprised upon getting it there that it had, in addition to the VHF and UHF antenna inputs, a mysterious extra connector on the back. Naturally, he set about investigating.

On the rear was an obviously hacked-in F-type connector, paired with a toggle switch, both unlabelled. Running the output of an RF modulator to the connector didn’t net an image on the screen, even though the same method worked when hooked up to the antenna inputs. Undeterred, [John] dug deeper.

Inside, a little PCB bearing the mark “TVM.04” was inside, bearing a handful of components. The device turned out to be a Pickes and Trout TVM-04 adapter, designed in the 1970s for hooking a computer up to a television for use as a monitor. The adapter board allows the Hitachi TV to accept a composite video input. [John] was able to test the TV with a NES clone outputting composite video and voila, it worked! [John] then went further, adding an audio input and installing standard RCA jacks to make it easier to use the input with more modern electronics.

It’s a great example of how simply opening up some electronics and poking around can teach you something. Hacking on old-school TVs is a popular pastime around these parts, it seems. If you’ve been working on your own retro display hack, be sure to let us know.

RAM Fiddling Turns VGA Converter Into Video Synth

If you’re interested in circuit bent video but not sure where to start, the excellent guide [LoFi Future] has come up with for modifying the cheap and readily available GBS-8100 VGA to composite converter would be a great first step. While we wouldn’t call it an easy modification, the circuit documentation and demonstration video below go a long way to making it as accessible as possible to new players.

Some soldering will be required…

While other video converters have all-in-one chipsets that are much harder to work with, [LoFi Future] explains that the separate EM636165TS DRAM chip on the GBS-8100 provides an ideal spot to tap in and wreak some technicolor havoc. By mapping out the pins and studying how the video output is corrupted by grounding them out or connecting them to each other, he’s been able to come up with fairly repeatable “recipes” for different effects.

In the most basic form, once you’ve soldered the pins of the DRAM chip up to the plug board interface, you’d technically be done. But [LoFi Future] takes it a step further and pairs the GBS-8100 with a separate composite to VGA converter. This provides some additional effects in the form of feedback loops and hue adjustment, but more practically, allows the device to handle composite on both the input and output. It’s a lot of hardware to cram into the enclosure, but thanks to little touches like the printed panel graphics, the final product does looks very professional.

Aside from the occasional modified NES Zapper, most of the circuit bent hardware we see is of the audio variety. But with projects like this one and the MIDI controlled SNES we covered last year as inspiration, we might see a balancing of the scales. Continue reading “RAM Fiddling Turns VGA Converter Into Video Synth”

Retro ISA Card Means Old, Slow Computers No Longer Need Old, Heavy Monitors

One thing about vintage computers is that they depend greatly on whether or not one can plug a compatible monitor into them. That’s what’s behind [Tube Time]’s Graphics Gremlin, a modern-design retro ISA video card that uses an FPGA to act just like a vintage MDA or CGA video card on the input end, but provides a VGA port for more modern display output options. (Actually, there is also an RGBI connector and a composite video out, but the VGA is probably the most broadly useful.)

Handy silkscreen labels make everything crystal clear. Click to enlarge.

Why bother making a new device to emulate an old ISA video card when actual vintage video cards are still plentiful? Because availability of the old cards isn’t the bottleneck. The trouble is that MDA or CGA monitors just aren’t as easy to come across as they once were, and irreplaceable vintage monitors that do still exist risk getting smashed during shipping. Luckily, VGA monitors (or at least converters that accept VGA input) are far more plentiful.

The board’s design files and assembly notes are all on the project’s GitHub repository along with plenty of thoughtful detail about both assembly and troubleshooting, and the Verilog code has its own document. The Graphics Gremlin is still under development, but you can also watch for the latest on [Tube Time]’s Twitter feed.

Thanks to [NoxiousPluK] for the tip!

Escape To An Alternate Reality Anywhere With Port-A-Vid

There was a time when only the most expensive televisions could boast crystal clear pixels on a wall-mountable thin screen. What used to be novelty from “High Definition Flat Screen Televisions are now just “TV” available everywhere. So as a change of pace from our modern pixel perfection, [Emily Velasco] built the Port-A-Vid as a relic from another timeline.

The centerpiece of any aesthetically focused video project is obviously the screen, and a CRT would be the first choice for a retro theme. Unfortunately, small CRTs have recently become scarce, and a real glass picture tube would not fit within the available space anyhow. Instead, we’re actually looking at a modern LCD sitting behind a big lens to give it an old school appearance.

The lens, harvested from a rear-projection TV, was chosen because it was a good size to replace the dial of a vacuum gauge. This project enclosure started life as a Snap-On Tools MT425 but had become just another piece of broken equipment at a salvage yard. The bottom section, formerly a storage bin for hoses and adapters, is now home to the battery and electronics. All original markings on the hinged storage lid were removed and converted to the Port-A-Vid control panel.

A single press of the big green button triggers a video to play, randomly chosen from a collection of content [Emily] curated to fit with the aesthetic. We may get a clip from an old educational film, or something shot with a composite video camera. If any computer graphics pop up, they will be primitive vector graphics. This is not the place to seek ultra high definition content.

As a final nod to common artifacts of electronics history, [Emily] wrote an user’s manual for the Port-A-Vid. Naturally it’s not a downloadable PDF, but a stack of paper stapled together. Each page written in the style of electronics manuals of yore, treated with the rough look of multiple generation photocopy rumpled with use.

If you have to ask “Why?” it is doubtful any explanation would suffice. This is a trait shared with many other eclectic projects from [Emily]. But if you are delighted by fantastical projects hailing from an imaginary past, [Emily] has also built an ASCII art cartridge for old parallel port printers.

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Arduino Music Box Turns Stuffed Animal Into TV Personality

Childlike imagination is a wonderful thing. The ability to give life to inanimate objects and to pretend how they’re living their own life is precious, and not for nothing a successful story line in many movies. With the harsh facts or adulthood and reality coming for all of us eventually, it’s nice to see when some people never fully lose that as they get older. Even better when two find each other in life, like [er13k] and his girlfriend, who enjoy to joke about all the mischief their giant dog-shaped plush toy [Tobias] might secretly get into in their absence. The good thing about growing up on the other hand is the advanced technical opportunities at one’s disposal, which gave the imagined personality an actual face, and have it live inside an old CRT screen.

The initial idea was to just build a little music box as a gift, which beeps out [er13k]’s girlfriend’s favorite song with an Arduino on a speaker he salvaged from an old radio. But as things tend to go when you’re on a roll, he decided to make the gift even more personal. The result is still that music box, built in a 3D-printed case with a little piano that lights up the notes it plays, but in addition the Arduino now also displays a cartoon version of [Tobias] through composite video on an old TV. You can see for yourself in the video after the break how he goes through the day gifting flowers and drawings, and ponders about work and alternative career plans — adult problems are clearly universal.

Sure, the music box sound is a bit one-dimensional, but it’s nevertheless a highly thoughtful gift idea that triumphs with a peak personalization factor. If [er13k] ever wants to change the sound though, maybe there’s some inspiration in this drum machine we’ve seen just a few weeks ago, or this pocket sampler.

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Run Your Favorite 8-bit Games On An ESP32

Here at Hackaday HQ we’re no strangers to vintage game emulation. New versions of old consoles and arcade cabinets frequently make excellent fodder for clever hacks to cram as much functionality as possible into tiny modern microcontrollers. We’ve covered [rossumur]’s hacks before, but the ESP_8-bit is a milestone in comprehensive capability. This time, he’s topped himself.

There isn’t much the ESP 8-bit won’t do. It can emulate three popular consoles, complete with ROM selection menus (with menu bloops). Don’t worry about building a controller, just connect any old (HID compliant) Bluetooth Classic keyboard or WiiMote you have at hand. Or if that doesn’t do it, a selection of IR devices ranging from joysticks from the Atari Flashback 4 to Apple TV remotes are compatible. Connect analog audio and composite video and the device is ready to go.

The system provides this impressive capability with an absolute minimum of components. Often a schematic is too complex to fit into a short post, but we’ll reproduce this one here to give you a sense for what we’re talking about. Come back when you’ve refreshed your Art of Electronics and have a complete understanding of the hardware at work. We never cease to be amazed at the amount of capability available in modern “hobbyist” components. With such a short BOM this thing can be put together by anyone with an ESP-32-anything.

There’s one more hack worth noting; the clever way [rossumur] gets full color NTSC composite video from a very busy microcontroller. They note that NTSC can be finicky and requires an extremely stable high speed reference clock as a foundation. [rossumur] discovered that the ESP-32 includes a PLL designed for audio work (the “APLL”) which conveniently supports fractional components, allowing it to be trimmed to within an inch of the desired frequency. The full description is included in the GitHub page for the project and includes detailed background of various efforts to get color NTSC video (including the names of a couple hackers you might recognize from these pages).

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