Never underestimate the power of nostalgia. In an age when there are more megapixels stuffed in the sensor of a smartphone camera than the average computer display can even represent, why would jagged images from a 20-year-old grayscale camera with pixels numbering in the thousands still grab attention? Maybe what’s old is new again, and the coolness factor of novelty is something that can’t be quantified.
The surprise I had last Monday when I saw my Twitter notifications is maybe only second to the feeling I had when I was invited to become a Hackaday contributor. I’d made a very simple web app which mimics a Game Boy Camera using the camera from your phone or desktop, and it got picked up by people so much that I’m amazed my web host is still holding. Let’s look at why something seemingly so simple gained so much traction.
The technique is simple – get red, green, and blue filters, and take three photos – one using each filter. Then, combine the photos digitally to create the color image. This necessitates an amusingly complex process to transfer the photos from Game Boy to PC, of course.
There are some limitations – due to the speed of the Game Boy Camera, it works best with static scenes, as it takes several seconds to shoot. Also, due to the low resolution, it’s best to choose subjects with broad swathes of color. Despite this, [Matt] managed to take some great images with a colorful yet vintage digital charm. There’s other ways to achieve this, of course – like bringing the power of neural networks to bear on your low-res Game Boy images. Video after the break.
The Game Boy got its camera accessory back in 1998 when CCD-based cameras with poor resolution were just becoming widely available to the public. This camera can capture 128×112 pixel images in the four value grey scale for which the handheld is so loved.
Having taken part in eclipse mania ourselves we can tell you that unless you did some serious research and prep for photographing the thing, this makes as much sense as pulling out your smartphone did. We posit that it certainly produced a more pleasing result.
[jhx] says this is more a weird halo effect of the shot than it is a quality image of totality. At this resolution, the moon-covered Sun should be very few pixels in size, right? But fidelity is for photographers, this is for hackers. Getting the digital image off of the Game Boy camera involved using an Interact Mega Memory cartridge on a Game Boy Pocket to transfer it over, then using a USB 64M cartridge to copy from the Mega Memory and ultimately to a computer.
The Game Boy Camera is a 128×112 pixel sensor from 1998 that was probably the first digital camera in many, many homes. There’s not much you can do with it now, besides replicate old Neil Young album covers and attempting and failing to impress anyone born after the year 1995. Nevertheless, screwing around with old digital cameras is cool, so [Alex] strapped one fo these Game Boy Cameras to an old telescope.
For any astrophotography endeavor, the choice of telescope is important. For this little experiment, [Alex] used a 6” Fraunhofer telescope built in 1838 at the Old Observatory of Leiden. The Game Boy with Camera was attached to the scope using a universal cell phone adapter. Apparently the ‘universal’ in this universal cell phone adapter is accurate – the setup was easy and [Alex] quickly got an image of a clocktower on his Game Boy.
Turning to the heavens, [Alex] took a look at the most interesting objects you can see with a 6-inch telescope. Images of the moon turned out rather well, with beautiful 2-bit dithering along the terminator. Jupiter was a bright white spot in a sea of noise, but [Alex] could see four slightly brighter pixels orbiting where Stellarium predicted the Galilean moons would be.
Was this experiment a success? Between cloudy nights and a relatively small telescope, we’re saying yes. These are pretty impressive results for such a terrible digital camera.
Released in 1998, the Game Boy camera was perhaps the first digital camera many young hackers got their hands on. Around the time Sony Mavica cameras were shoving VGA resolution pictures onto floppy drives, the Game Boy camera was snapping 256×224 resolution pictures and displaying them on a 190×144 resolution display. The picture quality was terrible, but [Roland Meertens] recently had an idea. Why not use neural networks to turn these Game Boy Camera pictures into photorealistic images?
Neural networks, deep learning, machine learning, or whatever other buzzwords we’re using require training data. In this case, the training data would be a picture from a Game Boy Camera and a full-color, high-resolution image of the same scene. This dataset obviously does not exist so [Roland] took a few close up head shots of celebrities and reduced the color to four shades of gray.
For the deep machine artificial neural learning part of this experiment, [Roland] turned to a few papers on converting photographs to sketches and back again, real-time style transfer. After some work, this neural network turned the test data back into images reasonably similar to the original images. This is what you would expect from a trained neural network, but [Roland] also sent a few pics from the Game Boy Camera through this deep machine artificial learning minsky. These images turned out surprisingly well – a bit washed out, but nearly lomographic in character.
There’s something magical and nostalgic about extremely low resolution in this era of mega-megapixels on every cell phone. And the Game Boy’s big bulbous camera module just looks so cool. [Robson Couto] didn’t stop at simply using the camera — that’s been done before — but actually reversed the card’s protocol so that he could leave it entirely intact. As you can see from the banner image, it was a success.
[Robson] could read one bank of memory, but not any of the others. It turns out that the camera pack uses a clock signal that not many other cards use. It took [Robson] some serious work — a lot of it false starts and dead ends — to get this particular part working.
[Furrtek] is a person of odd pursuits, which mainly involve making old pieces of technology do strange things. That makes him a hero to us, and his latest project elevates this status: he built a device that turns the Nintendo Gameboy camera cartridge into a camcorder. His device replaces the Gameboy, capturing the images from the camera, displaying them on the screen and saving them to a micro SD card.
Before you throw out your cellphone or your 4K camcorder, bear in mind that the captured video is monochrome (with only 4 levels between white and black), at a resolution of 128 by 112 pixels and at about 14 frames per second. Sound is captured at 8192Hz, producing the same buzzy, grainy sound that the Gameboy is famous for. Although it isn’t particularly practical, [Furrtek]s build is extremely impressive, built around an NXP LPC1343 ARM Cortex-M3 MCU processor. This processor repeatedly requests an image from the camera, receives the image and then collects the images and sound together to form the video and save it to the micro SD card. As always, [Furrtek] has made all of the source code and other files available for anyone who wants to try it out.