Playing NES Games On An Industrial EL Display

Modern consoles are fun, but there are certain charms to retro gear that keep hackers entertained to this day. The original NES is a particularly ripe ground for projects, being one of the most popular consoles of its era. [kevtris] is one such Nintendo hacker, and decided to get NES games running on an old-school electroluminescent display (Youtube video, embedded below).

The display in this project was originally used in an industrial pick-and-place machine.

Rather than work with an original NES, [kevtris] chose to instead work with the NT Mini, an FPGA-based clone of his own design. Having picked up an EL640.480-AA1 screen, formerly from a DEK 265LT pick-and-place machine, he hunted down a data sheet and got to work. With the document outlining the required video input specifications, it was a simple matter of whipping up some Verilog and an adapter cable to get things working.

Mario, Kirby and friends can now run around, looking resplendent in the 9 colors of the red/green EL display. [kevtris] notes that the screen performs well with fast motion, and estimates the refresh rate to be in the vicinity of 60Hz. For those of you playing along at home, such screens are available online, though they’re not exactly cheap.

We’ve seen [kevtris]’s work before, with his SNES chiptune player being particularly impressive. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Morris for the tip!]

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[Ben Krasnow] Makes A DSKY

There are hundreds if not thousands of artifacts from the Apollo program scattered around the globe, some twisted wrecks at the bottom of the ocean, others lovingly preserved and sitting in museums or in the hands of private collectors. All of what’s left is pretty much pure unobtainium, so if you want something Apollo-like, you’re probably going to have to make it yourself.

[Ben Krasnow] took up the challenge to make an electroluminescent Apollo-era DSKY display from scratch, with outstanding results. The DSKY, or “display and keyboard”, was the user interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer, the purpose-built digital navigation system that got a total of 24 men there and back again. [Ben] says it took a long time to recreate the display, and we can see why. He needed to master quite a few skills, including screen printing to get the glass-panel display working. The panel is a sandwich of phosphorescent paint, a dielectric, and conductive ink. The ink is silkscreened on the back to form the characters, all applied to indium tin oxide (ITO) conductive glass. A PCB with the same pattern of character segments lays behind that, driving each segment with 300 volts or so through a trio of HV507 high-voltage shift registers. It’s an impressive bit of engineering and gives off a decidedly not-homebrew vibe.

In the video below, [Ben] goes into detail about the trials he experienced on the way to this amazing endpoint, not least of which was frying chip after chip due to ineffective protection diodes in the shift registers. That’s an epic debugging story that’s worth the price of admission all by itself. It’s not the only DSKY in town, of course – [Fran Blanche] has been working on one for a while too – but there’s just something about that blue glow that we really like.

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Add-Ons Go Electroluminescent

It’s that time of the year again, and once more we’re faced with the latest innovations in Badgelife, the movement to explore the artistic merits of electronics and manufacturing. This is an electroluminescent printed circuit board, and it’s some of the finest work we’ve seen. It’s also a Shitty Add-On that glows blue.

The process for applying an electroluminescent coating to printed circuit boards is, surprisingly, something we’ve covered before. Late last year, [Ben Krasnow] delved deep into a DIY EL display. The process is expensive, but all the products come from a company called Lumilor. The first step in this process is applying a thin conductive coating on a substrate with an airbrush. Since the entire idea of printed circuit boards is to have a layer of conductive material etched into any shape you want, the simple circuit board is the idea experimental platform for playing with EL displays. Traditionally, EL displays were made entirely with a silk screen process, like [Fran]’s ongoing attempt to recreate the Apollo DSKY display.

The electronics for this badge are simply a Microchip MIC4832 EL Driver, which converts the 3.something volts from the add-on header into 100 or so Volts AC at hundreds of Hz. This is a single-chip solution to driving EL displays, and the only other parts you need are an inductor, diode, and a few caps and resistors. An ATtiny85 can be used to blink the circuits, or, alternatively, you could copy [Ben]’s work and build a character EL display.

The process of applying an electroluminescent coating to a PCB does require a spray gun or airbrush, and the chemicals are a bit expensive. This, though, is pushing the boundaries of what can be done with artistic PCBs. It’s new applications of technology, simply as wearable electronics. It’s the best example of the possibilities of the medium and some of the best work that’s come out of the Badgelife scene.

Ben Krasnow At Supercon: Making Alien Technology In Your Own Shop

Ben Krasnow has a vision of future electronics: instead of the present PCB-screwed-into-a-plastic-box construction, flexible circuits will be deposited straight onto the plastic body of the device itself, merging the physical object and its electronics. There is existing copper-on-plastic technology, but Ben’s got something novel that he presents in this talk that you could implement yourself. You might also want a display, or at least something to blink, so he’s also working on some electroluminescent technology to complement it. If you were wondering why Ben is so interested in silkscreening photopolymers right now, watching this talk will pull a lot of interesting threads together. Continue reading “Ben Krasnow At Supercon: Making Alien Technology In Your Own Shop”

Vintage Audio Gear Gets A Display Upgrade

The lengths the retrocomputing devotee must go to in order to breathe new life into old gear can border on the heroic. Tracing down long-discontinued parts, buying multiple copies of the same unit to act as organ donors for the one good machine, and when all else fails, improvising with current productions parts to get that vintage look and feel.

This LCD display backlighting fix for a vintage audio sampler falls into that last category, which was pulled off by [Inkoo Vintage Computer]. The unit in question is an Akai S1100 sampler, a classic from the late 1980s that had already been modified to replace the original floppy drive with a USB reader when the backlight on the LCD began to give out. Replacements for the original electroluminescent backlight are available, but [Inkoo] opted for a cheaper way out. An iPhone 6s 6 Plus backlight was an inexpensive option, if it could be made to fit. Luckily, [Inkoo] was able to trim the diffuser without causing any electrical issues. A boost converter was needed to run the backlight from the sampler’s 5 V DC rail, and interfacing the backlight’s flexible circuitry to the 80s-era copper wiring was a bit fussy, but the results were great. The sampler’s LCD is legible again, and looks just like it might have in the studio back when [Depeche Mode] and [Duran Duran] were using it to crank out hits.

As much as we like this repair, it doesn’t imply that EL is a dead technology. Far from it – [Ben Krasnow] is using it to create unique displays, and EL wire makes for some dazzling wearables. It doesn’t last forever, but while it does, it’s pretty neat stuff.

Cyberpunk Jacket Is The Garment Of Choice For The Streets Of 2019

Fans of science fiction and related genres have always been disappointed by real life. The future holds so much promise on paper, yet millions were disappointed upon reaching 2015 to find that hoverboard technology still eluded us. It’s not all bad, though – [abetusk] has developed a cyberpunk jacket so you can live out your grungy hacker fantasies in real life.

The effect is achieved with specially designed jacket patches. Nylon fabric is lasercut with artwork or lettering, and then placed over an electroluminescent panel. The fabric acts as a mask and is glued onto the EL panel, and the assembly is then attached to the back of the jacket with velcro.

It’s a build that focuses on more than just a cool visual effect. The attention to detail pays off in robustness and usability – wires are neatly fed through the lining of the jacket, and special strain relief devices are used to avoid wires breaking off the EL panels. The extra effort means this is a jacket that can withstand real-world use, rather than falling apart in the middle of a posed photo shoot.

Everything is well documented, from artwork creation to final assembly, so there’s no reason you can’t replicate this at home – and the final results are stunning. Our take is that electroluminescent technology is the way to go for retro and cyberpunk looks, but LEDs can be fun too – like in this high-powered Burning Man build.

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Applied Science Rolls An Electroluminescent Controller

After LEDs and TFTs and OLEDs and liquid crystals, there’s another display technology that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Electroluminescent displays have been around for ages, and there still aren’t a whole lot of applications for them. That might change soon, because Applied Science a.k.a. [Ben Krasnow] figured out an easy way to build EL displays on anything, and created a simple circuit that’s capable of driving video on a remarkable blue phosphor EL display.

For this build, [Ben] is using a specialty product from Lumilor consisting of a copper-ish conductive base layer, a clear dielectric, the ‘lumicolor’ phosphor, and a clear conductive top coat. All of these layers are applied with an airbrush, and the patterns are made with a desktop vinyl cutter.  This is an entire system designed to put electroluminescent displays on motorcycle gas tanks and to have doors that go like *this* and glow. That said, the system isn’t very dependent on the substrate, and [Ben] has had successful experiments in creating EL displays on plastic sheets, 3D printed parts, and even paper.

Compared to previous (and ongoing) efforts to create EL displays such as [Fran]’s recreation of the Apollo DSKY, the Lumilor system seems extraordinarily easy and clean. Current efforts as with [Fran]’s example are using a silkscreen process, which is a mess no matter how you look at it and can’t be applied to non-flat surfaces.

But EL displays are more than just putting a few layers of chemicals on a substrate — you need to drive these displays with high-frequency, high-voltage AC. For this, [Ben] designed a multi-channel electroluminescent driver based on the Adafruit Trinket M0, two LT3468 ICs to generate a high voltage, and either a an HV507 or HV513 to drive 8 or 64 channels.

With the ability to create EL displays and drive 64 channels, there really was only one thing to do: a 32×32 display. Even seeing a few lines scan across a 32×32 EL display is magical, but it’s got another trick up its sleeve: it also plays a low-resolution video of Never Gonna Give You Up.

This isn’t a video to be missed, check it out below.

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