Why Sony’s Trinitron Tubes Were the Best

If you’re old enough to remember Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) Televisions, you probably remember that Sony sold the top products. Their Trinitron tubes always made the best TVs and Computer Monitors. [Alec Watson] dives into the history of the Sony Trinitron tube.

Sony Color TVs didn’t start with Trinitron — for several years, Sony sold Chromatron tubes. Chromatron tubes used individually charged wires placed just behind the phosphor screen. The tubes worked, but they were expensive and didn’t offer any advantage over common shadow mask tubes. It was clear the company had to innovate, and thanks to some creative engineering, the Trinitron was born.

Closeup of a Trinitron tube shows unbroken vertical stripes which led to a brighter picture.

All color TV’s shoot three electron guns at a phosphor screen. Typical color TVs use a shadow mask — a metal sheet with tiny holes cut out. The holes ensure that the electron guns hit only the red, green and blue dots of phosphor. Trinitrons use vertical bars of single phosphor color and a picket fence like aperture grille. The aperture grill blocks less of the electron beam than a shadow mask, which results in a much brighter image. Trinitrons also use a single electron gun, with three separate cathodes.

[Alec] is doing some amazing work describing early TV systems and retro consumer electronics over on his YouTube channel, Technology Connections. We’ve added him to our Must watch subscription list.

Interested in retro CRTs? Check out Dan’s article on cleaning up the fogged plastic safety screen on the front of many CRTs.

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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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Xerox Alto CRTs Needed a Tiny Lightbulb to Function

In the real world, components don’t work like we imagine they do. Wires have resistance, resistors have inductance, and capacitors have resistance. However, some designers like to take advantage of those imperfections, something our old friend [Ken Shirriff] noted when he was restoring the CRT of a Xerox Alto.

[Ken] tried to connect a Xerox monitor to the Alto and — since it was almost as old as the Alto — he wasn’t surprised that it didn’t work. What did surprise him, though, is that when he turned the monitor off, a perfect picture appeared for just a split second as the unit powered off. What could that mean?

Keep in mind this is a CRT device. So a perfect picture means you have vertical and horizontal sweep all at the right frequency. It also means you have high voltage and drive on the electron guns. If you are too young to remember all that, [Ken] covers the details in his post.

He found that the CRT grid voltage wasn’t present during operation. The voltage derived from the high voltage supply but, mysteriously, the high voltage was fine. There was a small lightbulb in the grid voltage circuit. A 28V device about like a flashlight bulb. It measured open and that turned out to be due to a broken lead. Repairing the broken lead to the bulb put the monitor back in operation.

On paper, a light bulb lights up when you put current through it. In real life, it is a bit more complicated. An incandescent filament starts off as almost a dead short and draws a lot of current for a very brief time. As the current flows, the filament gets hot and the resistance goes up. That reduces the current draw. This effect — known as inrush current — is the scourge of designers trying to turn on light bulbs with transistors or other electronic switches.

However, the unknown Xerox power supply designer used that effect as a current limiter. The short 600V pulses would hardly notice the light bulb but if too much current or time elapsed, the resistance of the bulb would rise preventing too much current from flowing for too long. With the bulb open, the negative brightness grid provided an impassible barrier to the electrons. Apparently, the brightness grid lost power a bit earlier than the rest of the circuit and with it out of the way — or perhaps, partially out of the way — the picture was fine until the rest of the circuit also lost power.

We looked at [Ken’s] efforts on this machine earlier this year. Light bulbs, by the way, aren’t the only thing that changes resistance in response to some stimulus. You might enjoy the 1972 commercial from Xerox touting the Alto’s ability to do advanced tasks like e-mail and printing.

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CRT Cataract Surgery

Back in the good old days, people got their information by staring into particle accelerators that could implode at any moment, and we liked it that way, by gum! To protect against disaster, CRT monitors were equipped with a safety screen laminated to the front of the tube. Decades of use often resulted in degradation of the glue used to hold the safety glass on, leading to the dread disease of “CRT cataracts.”

Luckily for aficionados of vintage terminals, [John Sutley] has come up with a cure for CRT cataracts. The video below shows the straightforward but still somewhat fussy process from start to finish. You’ll want to follow [John]’s advice on discharging the high-voltage flyback section of any stored charge; we speak from painful experience on this. With the CRT removed from the case, removing the safety screen is as simple as melting the glue with a hot air gun and applying gentle leverage with a putty knife. We’d think a plastic tool would be less likely to scratch the glass, but [John] managed to get them apart without incident. Acetone and elbow grease cleaned off the old glue, and the restored CRT looks great when reassembled.

With its cataracts cured, [John] says his next step is to restore the wonky keyboard on his Lear Siegler ADM-3A terminal. Perhaps he should look over this VT220 keyboard repair for ideas.

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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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Vintage Portable TV Turned Retro Gaming System

When [FinnAndersen] found an old TV set by the side of the road, he did what any self-respecting DIY/gaming enthusiast would do: He took it apart and installed a Raspberry Pi 3 running RetroPie in it in order to play retro games on a retro TV!

[Finn] took the CRT out of the TV before realizing that it actually worked. It was already too late, so [Finn] ordered a 12″ LCD screen to put in its place. He liked the idea of the curved screen the CRT had, though, so he molded a piece of acrylic around the CRT and, after some cutting and grinding, had it fitting in the screen’s space.

[Finn] also liked the idea of the TV still being able to view a television signal, so he bought a TV tuner card. After a couple of mods to it, he could control the card with the TV’s original channel changer. He used an Arduino to read the status of the rotary encoders the original TV used. After some trial and error, [Finn] was able to read the channel positions and the Arduino would send a signal to the channel up and down buttons on the tuner card in order to change the channel.

Next up was audio. [Finn] found a nicer speaker than came with the TV, so he swapped them and added an amplifier. The original volume knob is still used to control the volume. A USB Hub is hidden in the side of the TV at the bottom, to allow controllers to connect and finally, a power supply converts the mains voltage to 12V DC which runs both the Raspberry Pi and the TV Tuner.

[FinnAndersen] has built a great RetroPie cabinet reusing a great looking vintage TV. It’s unfortunate that he removed the CRT before figuring out that he could use it, but the replacement looks pretty darn good! And the added advantage? It’s portable, sort of. At least, without the CRT inside, it’s much lighter than it was. Here‘s another retro console inside an old TV, and this article is about connecting a Raspberry Pi to every display you can get your hands on.

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