A Simpsons TV For A Golden Age

While the pace of technology continues to advance at breakneck speed, certain things in the past are left behind largely subject to the whims of nostalgia. Televisions, for example, are lighter, cheaper, and bigger than they were in the early 90s, but they did have a certain design aesthetic that doesn’t exist anymore. Meanwhile, Simpsons episodes have been (arguably) on the decline since the golden age of the 90s, so [buba447] decided to combine these two facets of a nostalgic past into a custom TV that only plays these older Simpsons episodes.

Update: Now there’s a build guide.

The TV is 3D printed but takes design cues from CRT-based technology from decades past. It even has working knobs emblematic of that era as well. Inside the “television” is a Raspberry Pi which is hooked up to a small screen. The Pi powers up and automatically starts playing Simpsons episodes once it boots. There is a power button at the top of the TV which mutes the sound and also turns off the display. As an added touch, the display outputs in 640×480 resolution, which is also somewhat historically accurate, even if the TV itself is much smaller than its ancient relatives.

Of course, the TV only plays episodes from The Simpson’s first eleven seasons, which includes all of the episodes of The Simpson’s golden era (and a few extra) and omits those episodes from the modern era, which will please certain Simpsons fans as well. This actually isn’t the first time we’ve seen a 24 hour Simpsons device. This Pi-based build serves up Simpsons episodes nonstop as well, but sends them out over the airwaves instead.

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Black And White TV Was Hiding A Special Input Board

[John Floren] found a nice old black & white TV in a thrift store, and as so many of us would, he decided to take it home. He was surprised upon getting it there that it had, in addition to the VHF and UHF antenna inputs, a mysterious extra connector on the back. Naturally, he set about investigating.

On the rear was an obviously hacked-in F-type connector, paired with a toggle switch, both unlabelled. Running the output of an RF modulator to the connector didn’t net an image on the screen, even though the same method worked when hooked up to the antenna inputs. Undeterred, [John] dug deeper.

Inside, a little PCB bearing the mark “TVM.04” was inside, bearing a handful of components. The device turned out to be a Pickes and Trout TVM-04 adapter, designed in the 1970s for hooking a computer up to a television for use as a monitor. The adapter board allows the Hitachi TV to accept a composite video input. [John] was able to test the TV with a NES clone outputting composite video and voila, it worked! [John] then went further, adding an audio input and installing standard RCA jacks to make it easier to use the input with more modern electronics.

It’s a great example of how simply opening up some electronics and poking around can teach you something. Hacking on old-school TVs is a popular pastime around these parts, it seems. If you’ve been working on your own retro display hack, be sure to let us know.

End Of An Era: NTSC Finally Goes Dark In America

A significant event in the history of technology happened yesterday, and it passed so quietly that we almost missed it. The last few remaining NTSC transmitters in the USA finally came off air, marking the end of over seven decades of continuous 525-line American analogue TV broadcasts. We’ve previously reported on the output of these channels, largely the so-called “FrankenFM” stations left over after the 2009 digital switchover whose sound carrier lay at the bottom of the FM dial as radio stations, and noted their impending demise. We’ve even reported on some of the intricacies of the NTSC system, but we’ve never taken a look at what will replace these last few FrankenFM stations.

If you are an American you may have heard of ATSC 3.0, perhaps by its marketing name of NextGen TV. Just like the DVB-T2 standard found in other parts of the world, it’s an upgrade to digital TV standards to allow for more recent video compression technologies and higher definition broadcasts. It has an interesting backwards compatibility feature absent in previous ATSC versions; there is the option of narrowing the digital bandwidth from 6 MHz to 5.5 MHz, and transmitting an analogue FM subcarrier where the old NTSC sound carrier on the same channel would have sat. Thus the FrankenFM stations have the option of upgrading to ATSC 3.0 and transmitting a digital channel package alongside their existing FM radio station. It’s reported that this switchover is happening, with one example given in the Twitter thread linked above.

The inexorable march of technology has thus given better quality TV alongside the retention of the FrankenFMs. We have to admit to being sorry to see the passing of analogue TV, it was an intricate and fascinating system that provided a testbed for plenty of experimentation back in the day. Perhaps as we see it slip over the horizon it’s worth pondering whether its digital replacement will also become an anachronism in an age of on-demand streaming TV, after all it shouldn’t have escaped most people’s attention that in 2021 the good TV content no longer comes to your screen via an antenna socket. Meanwhile we’ll keep our CRTs running, just in case we ever want to relive a 1980s night in with a VHS tape of Back To The Future.

Header image: Mysid, Public domain.

TV Ambient Lighting Built For Awesome Performance

[AndrewMohawk] had seen all kinds of ambient lighting systems for TVs come and go over the years, and the one thing they all had in common was that they didn’t live up to his high standards. Armed with the tools of the hacker trade, he set about building an Ambilight-type system of his own that truly delivered the goods.

The development process was one full of roadblocks and dead ends, but [Andrew] persevered. After solving annoying problems with HDCP and HDMI splitters, he was finally able to get a Raspberry Pi to capture video going to his TV and use OpenCV to determine the colors of segments around the screen. From there, it was simple enough to send out data to a string of addressable RGB LEDs behind the TV to create the desired effect.

For all the hard work, [Andrew] was rewarded with an ambient lighting system that runs at a healthy 20fps and works with any HDMI video feed plugged into the TV. It even autoscales to work with video content shot in different aspect ratios so the ambient display always picks up the edge of the video content.

With 270 LEDs fitted, the result is an incredibly smooth and fluid ambient display we’d love to have at home. You can build one too, since [Andrew] shared all the code on Github. As an added bonus, he also gave the system an audio visualiser, and tested it out with some Streetlight Manifesto, the greatest third-wave ska band ever to roam the Earth. The Fourth Wave still eludes us, but we hold out hope.

We’ve seen plenty of hacks in this vein before; one of the most impressive hacked a smart TV into doing the video processing itself. Video after the break.

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TV Detector Vans Once Prowled The Streets Of England

The United Kingdom is somewhat unique in the world for requiring those households which view broadcast television to purchase a licence for the privilege. Initially coming into being with the Wireless Telegraphy Act in 1923, the licence was required for anyone receiving broadcast radio, before being expanded to cover television in 1946. The funds generated from this endeavour are used as the primary funding for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

A typical TV licence invoice. Separate licences for black and white and color sets still exist, with 6000 B&W licences issued in 2019.

Of course, it’s all well and good to require a licence, but without some manner of enforcement, the measure doesn’t have any teeth. Among other measures, the BBC have gone as far as employing special vans to hunt down illegally operating televisions and protect its precious income.

The Van Is Coming For You

To ensure a regular income, the BBC runs enforcement operations under the TV Licencing trade name, the entity which is responsible for administering the system. Records are kept of licences and their expiry dates, and investigations are made into households suspected of owning a television who have not paid the requisite fees. To encourage compliance, TV Licencing regularly sends sternly worded letters to those who have let their licence lapse or have not purchased one. In the event this fails, they may arrange a visit from enforcement officers. These officers aren’t empowered to forcibly enter homes, so in the event a homeowner declines to cooperate with an investigation, TV Licencing will apply for a search warrant. This may be on the basis of evidence such as a satellite dish or antenna spotted on the roof of a dwelling, or a remote spied on a couch cushion through a window.

Alternatively, a search warrant may be granted on the basis of evidence gleaned from a TV detector van. Outfitted with equipment to detect a TV set in use, the vans roam the streets of the United Kingdom, often dispatched to addresses with lapsed or absent TV licences. If the van detects that a set may be operating and receiving broadcast signals, TV Licencing can apply to the court for the requisite warrant to take the investigation further. The vans are almost solely used to support warrant applications; the detection van evidence is rarely if ever used in court to prosecute a licence evader. With a warrant in hand, officers will use direct evidence such as a television found plugged into an aerial to bring an evader to justice through the courts.

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Haunted TV Does Mirror Scares With Raspberry Pi

Hallowe’en may be over for another year, but that just means you’ve got more time to prepare your build for next time. [gocivici] has a fun twist on the classic mirror scare that might be just up your alley.

The build starts with an old black and white TV, hooked up to a Raspberry Pi 3. The Pi films the scene in front of the television through a camera secreted into the screen’s headphone jack, and displays it on screen. The camera feed is run through OpenCV, which runs face and eye detection algorithms to determine when a person is looking at the screen. Based on a basic timer script, when a viewer has looked long enough, a ghostly apparition is displayed, lurking behind the viewer. When the user looks over their shoulder, the apparition quickly disappears, as per the classical horror trope.

It’s a fun build that would make an excellent set piece for your next Hallowe’en party. For extra effect, be sure to secret it down a dark hallway with some IR LEDs illuminating the scene for the camera only. If you prefer something with a little more whimsy, consider these animated singing pumpkins instead. Video after the break.

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VR Technology Helps Bring A Galaxy Far, Far Away To Our TV

Virtual reality is usually an isolated individual experience very different from the shared group experience of a movie screen or even a living room TV. But those worlds of entertainment are more closely intertwined than most audiences are aware. Video game engines have been taking a growing role in film and television production behind the scenes, and now they’re stepping out in front of the camera in a big way for making The Mandalorian TV series.

Big in this case is a three-quarters cylindrical LED array 75 ft (23 m) in diameter and 20 ft (6 m) high. But the LEDs covering its walls and ceiling aren’t pointing outwards like some installation for Times Square. This setup, called the Volume, points inward to display background images for camera and crew working within. It’s an immersive LED backdrop and stage environment.

Incorporating projected imagery on stage is a technique going at least as far back as 1933’s King Kong, but it is very limited. Lighting and camera motion has to be very constrained in order to avoid breaking the fragile illusion. More recently, productions have favored green screens replaced with computer imagery in post production. It removed most camera motion and lighting constraints, but costs a lot of money and time. It is also more difficult for actors to perform their roles convincingly against big blank slabs of green. The Volume solves all of those problems by putting computer-generated imagery on set, rendered in real time via video game engine Unreal.

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