The semester is wrapping up at Cornell, and that means it’s time for the final projects from [Bruce Land]’s lab. Every year we see some very cool projects, and this year is no exception. For their project, [Andre] and [Scott] implemented the audio processing unit (APU) of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). This is the classic chiptune sound that regaled a generation with 8-bit sounds that aren’t really eight bits, with the help of a 6502 CPU that isn’t really a 6502 CPU.
Unlike the contemporaneous MOS 6581 SID, which is basically an analog synthesizer on a chip, the APU in the NES is extraordinarily spartan. There are two pulse wave channels, a triangle wave channel, a random noise channel, and the very rarely used delta modulation channel (DMC) used to play very low quality audio samples. This is a re-implementation of the NES APU for a university lab; it is very understandable that [Andre] and [Scott] didn’t implement the rarely used DMC.
Everything about the circuitry of the NES is well documented, so [Andre] and [Scott] had a great wiki for their research. At the highest level, the APU runs on a 894kHz clock and controls three channels through dedicated registers. These outputs are fed through a mixer, which the guys scaled and combined into a 16-bit output played through a Wolfson WM8731 audio codec.
After implementing the NES APU, [Andre] and [Scott] added an SD card reader that can read the Nintendo Sound Format – the standard distribution format for NES chiptunes – and emulated a 6502 to control the registers. The result is a relatively simple device that plays NES chiptunes with amazing accuracy. The sound files on the project report sound like the real thing, but this is entirely emulated on modern hardware.
[Russell Kramer] made our day today. We’re tremendous fans of minimalism in electronics design, dirty noise hacks, and that old NES light gun. He’s posted up a project that combines all three to make a light-gun controlled, VGA video display that makes bleepy-bloopy noises to boot. Check out the video below!
To appreciate this hack, you really need to read through the project logs in detail. Start with the VGA signal creation, for instance. The easiest way to go these days is to throw a microcontroller at the problem. But because he’s done that to death, [Russell] takes a step back thirty years and generates the sync pulses periodically with a relaxation oscillator and a binary counter IC. The rest of the build follows this aesthetic choice: everything is op amps and CMOS logic. The rainbow effect, for instance, is created from the audio signal through a three-stage, 120-degree phase-shift oscillator sent to the R, G, and B channels. Kudos!
The high-level overview is that the light intensity and position hitting the gun’s sensor is converted into a voltage that drives an audio-frequency oscillator. This audio output is then piped back into the video generator. Watching the video, it’s obvious that pointing the gun at different parts of the screen changes the pitch, but playing a given pitch is nearly impossible on this thing with all the feedback going on. [Russell] added a bit of more control into the system — when the gun’s trigger is pulled, it registers full-brightness regardless of the video input — but even so, we’d be hard-pressed to play “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.
But that’s not the point. The point is awesome, light-gun-waving noisy madness set to a responsive colorful video background. And that’s been achieved in spades!
Like ridiculously large electromechanical devices? [Fran] took a tour of the Wanamaker Pipe Organ in Philly, the largest fully playable pipe organ in the world. The scale is tremendous – 28,000 pipes in 463 ranks spread out over five floors of a department store.
The Nintendo Entertainment System is well over thirty years old now, and still there are only about ten or so games that require the Nintendo Zapper, the light gun so primitive you can use a light bulb to beat Duck Hunt. Now there’s a new game: Super Russian Roulette. Yes, it’s Russian Roulette with the NES Zapper. It’s actually a very advanced game for the NES, using a lot of Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) for real audio in the game. Of course it’s also Russian Roulette with a gun that doesn’t look like a revolver, making this the perfect game to introduce young children to the wonders of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Video demo.
Tektronix has a new logo! It’s not as cool as the old CRT flying spaceman globe thingy logo, but at least it’s not awash with 90s era corporate industrial design motifs.
The new logo is finally a logo and not just a serif typeface with a red slash below it. In keeping with every new corporate branding in recent memory, the new typeface is a sans-serif with a few bits cut off here and there. Is it a good logo? I’m sure it tested well in focus groups. Sometimes art is more of a science than an art. A lot of people don’t get that.
Both of these mods are hacks in the purest sense of the word. The controller mod took a wireless keyboard’s sending circuit board and wedged it inside the NES controller. The original NES controller reads out the buttons into a shift register and sends that down a wire. That’s all gone. [ModPurist] just wired up each button to the sender PCB and figured out which keys they corresponded to on the PC by pressing the buttons. Simple.
The best part of his video about building the controller? After about a minute in, he forgets that he’s filming a technical how-to video and plays Pokemon for the remaining four minutes. That’s the sign of success.
Then there’s the NES hack itself. He stripped everything out, added a Raspberry Pi 2 and a fan, made it all work with the power switch and the original TV outs, and it’s done. Again, nothing more than needs doing, but nothing less. It looks just right plugged up to the CRT monitor (from a C64, no less), and there’s no doubt that being able to play wirelessly on an original NES controller is cool.
Disco Floor’s are passé. [dennis1a4] turned them upside down and built an awesome RGB LED ceiling display using some simple hardware and a lot of elbow grease. His main room ceiling was exactly 32 ft x 20 ft and using 2 sq. ft tiles, he figured he could make a nice grid using 160 WS2812B RGB LEDs. A Teensy mounted in the ceiling does all the heavy lifting, with two serial Bluetooth modules connected to it. These get connected to two Bluetooth enabled NES game controllers. Each of the NES controller is stuffed with an Arduino Pro Mini, a Bluetooth module, Li-Ion battery and a USB charge controller.
Bluetooth is in non-secure mode, allowing him to connect to the Teensy, and control the LEDs, from other devices besides the NES controllers. The Teensy is mounted at the centre of the ceiling to ensure a good Bluetooth link. Programming required a lot of thought and time but he did manage to include animations as well as popular games such as Snake and Tetris.
The hard part was wiring up all of the 160 LED pixels. Instead of mounting the 5050 SMD LED’s on PCBs, [dennis1a4] wired them all up “dead bug” style. Each pixel has one LED, a 100nF decoupling capacitor, and 91 ohm resistors in series with the Data In and Data Out pins – these apparently help prevent ‘ringing’ on the data bus. Check the video for his radical soldering method. Each SMD LED was clamped in a machine shop vice, and the other three parts with their leads preformed were soldered directly to the LED pins.
The other tedious task was planning and laying out the wiring harness. Sets of 10 LEDs were first wired up on the shop bench. He then tacked them up to the ceiling and soldered them to the 14 gauge main harness. The final part was to put up the suspended ceiling and close the 2 sq. ft. grids with opaque plastic.
[dennis1a4] did some trials to figure out the right distance between each LED and the panel to make sure they were illuminated fully without a lot of light bleeding in to adjacent panels. This allowed him to get away without using baffles between the tiles.
Check out the video to see a cool time-lapse of the whole build.
Bringing old things back to life holds a great sense of joy for most people. The never ending pursuit of recapturing our youth leads us down roads we’ve long forgotten. Along the way, we tend to bump into forgotten memories which jostle other forgotten memories which allows us to relive happy times we haven’t thought of in years, sometimes even decades. For some, the roar of a 351 small block sweeps them back to high school and the fast nights of cruising down main street with the FM radio cranked up as high as it would go. For those of us who were born in the 80’s and 90’s, video games can bring back such memories. Who among us can forget our first encounter with Link, the elegant theme music of Final Fantasy or up-up-down-down-left-right-left-right-b-a-select-start?
Advances in processor technology has allowed us to relive our favorite games via emulators – programs that emulate processors of older computers. The games are ‘dumped’ from the ROM chips (where they are stored) into files. These game files can then be loaded into the emulator program, which allows you to play the game as if you were playing it on the original system.
Technology is truly a beautiful thing. It allows us to move forward, allows us to do today that which was not possible yesterday. There are a few cases, however, where this paradigm does not hold true. One of these has to do with the Nintendo Entertainment System and its “Zapper” gun controller. The NES was the most popular game console of its time, and rightfully so. From the minds of Nintendo engineers, programmers and audio experts came some of the best video games ever made. Unfortunately, some of these great games cannot be played on your Raspberry Pi favorite emulator due to the incompatibility of the Zapper gun and modern digital monitors. None of us can forget the fun that Duckhunt brought. The game came as standard issue with all NES systems, so we’ve all played it. But its nostalgia is currently entombed by a technological quirk that has yet to be solved.
From one hacker to another – this can no longer be tolerated. First, we’re going to learn how the Zapper works and why it doesn’t work with digital displays. Then we’re going to fix it.
Anyone who has a Raspberry Pi and an old Nintendo has had the same thought. “Maybe I could shove the Pi in here?” This ran through [Adam’s] head, but instead of doing the same old Raspberry Pi build he decided to put a Nexus Player inside of this old video game console, with great success. Not only does it bring the power of a modern media player, it still works as an NES.
If you haven’t seen the Nexus Player yet, it’s Google’s venture into the low-cost home media center craze. It has some of the same features of the original Chromecast, but runs Android and is generally much more powerful. Knowing this, [Adam] realized it would surpass the capabilities of the Pi and would even be able to run NES emulators.
[Adam] went a little beyond a simple case mod. He used a custom PCB and an Arduino Pro Micro to interface the original controllers to the Nexus Player. 3D printed brackets make sure everything fits inside the NES case perfectly, rather than using zip ties and hot glue. He then details how to install all of the peripherals and how to set up the Player to run your favorite game ROMs. The end result is exceptionally professional, and brings to mind some other classic case mods we’ve seen before.