We’ve seen a lot of arcade machine builds here on Hackaday. Seriously, a lot. Even more so since the Raspberry Pi took over the world and made it so you didn’t have to cannibalize an old laptop to build one anymore. It’s one of those projects with huge appeal: either you’re somebody who’s built their own arcade, or you’re somebody who wishes they had. But even after seeing all these builds, we occasionally come across a specimen that deserves special recognition.
[Al Linke] recently wrote in to tell us about his arcade build, which we think you’ll agree is worth a closer look. The core build is actually a modification of a previously published design, but what makes this one unique is the addition of a programmable LED matrix in the top that actually shows the logo and artwork for whatever game you’re currently playing. This display really helps sell the overall look, and instantly makes the experience that much more authentic. Sure you don’t need the marquee of your home arcade machine to show era-appropriate artwork…but we know you want it to.
So how does one interface their Raspberry Pi with this beautiful 64×32 LED marquee display? Well it just so happens that [Al] is in the business of making cool LED displays, and even has a couple successful Kickstarter campaigns under his belt to prove it. He’s developed a board that lets you easily connect up to low-cost HUB75 LED panels such as the one used in the arcade. It’s been a few years since we’ve last seen a project that tackled these specific LED displays, and it’s encouraging to see how far things have come since then.
Even if you’re somehow not in love with the LED marquee, this build really does stand on its own as a fantastic example of a desktop arcade machine. [Al] went to great length to document his build, including putting together several videos during different phases of construction. If you’re curious about the start of the art for home arcade builds, this project would be a pretty good one to use as a barometer.
As [tonyp7] freely admits, this is a pet project that’s just for the fun of it, made possible by the flood of surplus parts on the market these days. The VFD tubes are IV-25s, Russian tubes that can be had by the fistful for a song from the usual sources. The seven small elements in the tube were intended to make bar graph displays like VU meters, but [tonyp7] ganged up twelve side by side to make 84-pixel displays. The custom driver board for each matrix needs three of the old SN75518 driver chips, in 40-pin DIPs no less. A 3D-printed bracket holds the tubes and the board for each module; it looks like a clock is the goal, with six modules ganged together. But the marquee display shown below is great too, and we look forward to seeing the finished project.
Scrolling LED signs were pretty keen back in the day, and now they’re pretty easy to come by on the cheap. Getting a signboard configured for IoT duty can be tricky, but as [kripthor] shows us, it’s not that bad as long as security isn’t your top concern and you can tweak a serial interface.
[kripthor] chanced upon an Amplus AM03127 signboard that hails from the days when tri-color LEDs were the big thing. The unit came with a defunct remote thanks to leaking batteries, but a built-in serial interface offered a way to connect. Unfortunately, the RS-232 standard on the signboard wants both positive and negative voltages with respect to ground to represent the 1s and 0s, and that wouldn’t work with the ESP8266 [kripthor] was targeting. The ubiquitous MAX-232 transceiver was enlisted to convert logic levels to RS-232 signals and a small buck converter was added to power the ESP. A little scripting and the signboard is online and ready for use and abuse by the interwebz — [kripthor] says he’ll regret this, but we’re pleased with the way the first remote access turned out. Feel free to check out the live video feed and see what the current message is.
Personally, we don’t have much use for a signboard, but getting RS-232 devices working in the Arduino ecosystem is definitely a trick we’ll keep in mind. If asynchronous serial protocols aren’t your strong suit, you might want to check out this guide to what can go wrong by our own [Elliot Williams].
[Sprite_TM] is was sent an old LED Marquee by an anonymous fan of his hacking projects. The display isn’t full color, but it’s large — 224 by 48 pixels — and he figured he could render some okay images with the bi-color diodes. In the end, he replaced the controller and turned it into a video player.
The original system work well enough, but the 100 MHz 486 industrial style PC that drove the display seems a little comical these days. After giving it a spin and testing out how it drives the display [Sprite] hooked up an FTDI chip and managed to get it playing video from his computer. Above you can see part of the opening sequence of The Simpsons.
Now that he had learned its secrets he set out to give it an embedded controller. His first attempt was with a Carambola board which he’s worked with before. That proved to be a little slow for all the pixel data he was pushing so he upgraded to a Raspberry Pi and never looked back. You can see the demo video after the jump.
[Michael] built his own LED marquee using individual diodes. Despite his choice to forego the 8×8 or 5×7 modules we often see in these projects, his decision to spin a dedicated PCB saved him a lot of trouble during assembly. Sure, he still had to solder 180 leads on the 9×18 grid of lights, but at least he didn’t have to deal with wiring up the complex display layout.
The chip driving the display is an ATtiny24. You can see that it’s an SMD package and spans one row of the through hole LED footprint. There are way too few pins to drive a multiplexed display of this size. Instead of adding a separate driver IC he decided to design the display to use Charlieplexing. We didn’t see a schematic for the project, but judging from the board images all of the I/O pins are used by either the display itself, or the serial connection provided by that right angle pin header.
[Jared] is a computer technician so he has no problem getting his hands on broken motherboards. It looks like he tends to save the more interesting colors and has finally found a use for the waste. He built this wall art which also acts as an LED marquee.
He came up with the size and shape — 18″ by 48″ — because it meshes well with a sheet of MDF. The outline allows for a grid made up of 2″ square pixels arranged seven high and twenty-one wide. The top and bottom rows will serve as a frame for the lights, which still leaves the five pixels necessary to display characters. From there he started wiring up the LED array, which is shown in the testing phase in the clip after the break. Each pixel is cordoned off by a frame of basswood which [Jared] fabricated on the table saw. The project is finished up by cutting the motherboards down to size and mounting them with threaded rod and nuts. The board chunks are not transparent but they’re smaller than the grid so the LEDs will make the edges glow.
This rear-window LED marquee will help let the driver behind you know when you’re planing to change lanes or make a turn. But it also includes the ability to send a message like “Back Off!”. [Robert Dunn] was inspired to undertake the project after seeing the one we featured back in October. We’d say his has a better chance of being street legal since it uses all red LEDs.
The marquee is a matrix of 480 LEDs, all hand soldered to form the nearly transparent 48×10 grid shown above. This is important to preserve visibility out the back window of his truck. It makes us wonder about the feasibility of using SMD instead of through hole components. That would certainly make it even less visible when not illuminated, but the assembly process would be much more difficult. That’s because the 5mm LED packages fit nicely in the grid of holes he drilled in some plywood which served as the jig during soldering. The presence of leads also made the soldering process manageable.
Power to an Arduino board is provided from the cigarette lighter adapter. A set of six shift registers drive the columns while the rows are controlled by a 4017 decade counter and some transistors. Check out the blinker test video after the break to get a look at what this can do while on the road.