New Motherboard Improves Old CRT Television

While browsing AliExpress from his digital basement, [Adrian Black] stumbled upon what seemed like a brand-new mainboard for a CRT television set. He decided to take a gamble and ordered one. It finally arrived, and was indeed a brand new product from 2023.

DIGITAL MAIN BOARD OF TV, Work ath [sic] HONGXUN products with the care and precision of a sculptor in each step, wonderful have no limits

CRT Mainboard Transplant in Progress

Dubious marketing descriptions like “High Definition Digital Color TV Driver Board” aside, this turned out to be a fairly well-designed analog TV board. [Adrian] pulls a 20-year-old Magnavox ( Philips ) color television set from storage and begins the transplant operation. One interesting observation is the Magnavox board has almost the same layout as the new board, except for the orientation of the sections. The new CRT neck board had a different connector than the Magnavox set, but was designed to accept multiple sized sockets. [Adrian] just removed the new socket and replaced it with one from the old set. The mechanical issues were a bit more complicated, but nothing that a Dremel tool and a bit of hot glue can’t fix. The 220 VAC power supply was eventually modified to accept 110 VAC, which also enabled him to reconnect the degaussing coil.

[Adrian] has collected some relevant documentation in this GitHub repository, including schematics. Why bother with this at all? Well, until now, he didn’t have any way to test / view PAL RF signals in his lab. He was gambling on the new mainboard having a PAL tuner. It does, but as an unadvertised bonus, it supports NTSC and SECAM as well — but still not “HD digital color TV”, as far as we know. If you want a multi-standard TV in your lab, this solution may be worth considering. It appears there is still a market somewhere for new CRT televisions. If you have any background on this, please let us know down below in the comments.

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Recreating The Golden Era Of Cable TV

Fewer and fewer people have cable TV subscriptions these days, due to a combination of poor business practices by cable companies and the availability of alternatives to cable such as various streaming platforms. But before the rise of the Internet that enabled these alternatives, there was a short period of time where there were higher-quality channels, not too many commercials, a possibly rose-tinted sense of wonder, and where MTV actually played music. [Irish Craic Party] created this vintage cable TV network to capture this era of television history.

The hardware for this build is a Raspberry Pi driving an LCD display recovered from an old iPad. There’s a custom TV tuner which handles changing the channels and interfaces with an Apple Remote. Audio is sent through old computer speakers, and the case is built from 3D printed parts and some leftover walnut plywood to give it an era-appropriate 80s or early 90s feel. We’ve seen other builds like this before, but where this one really sets itself apart is in the software that handles the (television) programming.

[Irish Craic Party] has gone to great lengths here to recreate the feel of cable TV from decades ago. It has recreations of real channels like HBO, Nickelodeon, and FX including station-appropriate bumpers and commercials. It’s also synchronized to the clock so shows start on the half- or quarter-hour. Cartoons play on Saturday morning, and Nickelodeon switches to Nick-at-Nite in the evenings. There are even channels that switch to playing Christmas movies at the appropriate times, complete with Christmas-themed commercials.

The build even hosts a preview channel, one of the more challenging parts of the build. It continually scrolls through the channels and shows what’s currently playing and what will be showing shortly, complete with a commercial block at the top. For those who were around in the 90s it’s almost a perfect recreation of the experience of watching TV back then. It can even switch to a video game input when tuned to channel 3. There’s almost too much to go into in a short write-up so be sure to check the video after the break.

Thanks to [PCrozier] for the tip!

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Recreating An Analog TV Test Pattern

While most countries have switched to digital broadcasting, and most broadcasts themselves have programming on 24/7 now, it’s hard to remember the ancient times of analog broadcasts that would eventually stop sometime late at night, displaying a test pattern instead of infomercials or reruns of an old sitcom. They were useful for various technical reasons including calibrating the analog signals. Some test patterns were simply camera feeds of physical cards, but if you wanted the most accurate and reliable test patterns you’d need a Philips pattern generator which created the pattern with hardware instead, and you can build your own now because the designs for these devices were recently open-sourced. Continue reading “Recreating An Analog TV Test Pattern”

RetroPie, Without The Pi

The smart television is an interesting idea in theory. Rather than having the cable or satellite company control all of the content, a small computer is included in the television itself to host and control various streaming clients and other services. Assuming you have control of the software running on the computer, and assuming it isn’t turned into a glorified targeted advertising machine, this can revolutionize the way televisions are used. It’s even possible to turn a standard television into a smart TV with various Android devices, and it turns out there’s a lot more you can do with these smart TV contraptions as well.

With most of these devices, a Linux environment is included running on top of an ARM platform. If that sounds similar to the Raspberry Pi, it turns out that a lot of these old Android TV sets are quite capable of doing almost everything that a Raspberry Pi can do, with the major exception of GPIO. That’s exactly what [Timax] is doing here, but he notes that one of the major hurdles is the vast variety of hardware configurations found on these devices. Essentially you’d have to order one and hope that you can find all the drivers and software to get into a usable Linux environment. But if you get lucky, these devices can be more powerful than a Pi and also be found for a much lower price.

He’s using one of these to run RetroPie, which actually turned out to be much easier than installing a more general-purpose Linux distribution and then running various emulation software piecemeal. It will take some configuration tinkering get everything working properly but with [Timax] providing this documentation it should be a lot easier to find compatible hardware and choose working software from the get-go. He also made some improvements on his hardware to improve cooling, but for older emulation this might not be strictly necessary. As he notes in his video, it’s a great way of making use of a piece of electronics which might otherwise be simply thrown out.

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A Free TV With A Catch: New Normal Or Inevitable Hardware Bonanza?

The dystopian corporate dominated future may have taken a step closer, as a startup called Telly promises a free 55 inch 4K TV with a catch — a second screen beneath the main one that displays adverts. The viewers definitely aren’t the customers but the product, and will no doubt have every possible piece of data that can be harvested from them sold to the highest bidder. There’s even a microphone and camera pointed at the viewer, to complete the 1984 experience. In a sense it’s nothing new, as certain TV manufacturers have been trying to slip adverts into the interfaces on their paid-for smart TVs for years.

Oddly we’re not convinced though, that the eventual outcome of this will be as sinister as readers might expect. Indeed if the past is anything to go by, it could even herald an eventual bonanza of 4K screens for hardware hackers. To explain why, we have to travel back to the late 1990s, when free hardware for adverts startups were last tried. Back then there were a spate of companies using the same model of free or super-cheap hardware, and without exception they ran into the fundamental problem that people who rely on a free product in exchange for adverts aren’t generally high value consumers who can bring in the revenue to support buying a ton of consumer electronics. The “free” hardware from several of these startups then found its way onto the surplus market — or in the case of CueCat barcode scanners, directly into the hands of hardware hackers, and was repurposed for use in the way our community knows best.

So yes. Telly represents all that’s wrong for the privacy of viewers about the current media landscape. But who knows, it might just spawn a hacking scene all of its own. As a final note we think that they’ll have an interesting time protecting their brand name if they ever enter the British market, where “telly” has been slang for television ever since the technology entered the mainstream.

RCA’s Clear Plastic TV Wowed Crowds In 1939

In the United States in 1939, television sets still had a long way to go before they pretty much sold themselves. Efforts to do just that are what led to RCA’s Lucite Phantom Telereceiver, which aimed to show people a new way to receive broadcast media.

Created for the 1939 World’s Fair, the TRK-12 Lucite Phantom Telereceiver introduced people to the concept of television. Production models were housed in contemporary wood cabinets, but the clear acrylic (itself also a relatively new thing) units allowed curious potential customers to gaze within, and see what was inside these devices.

One interesting feature is the vertically-mounted cathode ray tube, which reflects off a mirror in the top cover of the cabinet for viewing. This meant that much of the bulk of the TRK-12 could be vertical instead of horizontal. Important, because the TRK-12 was just over a meter tall and weighed 91 kilograms (or just over 200 lbs.)

Clearly a luxury item, the TRK-12 sold for $600 which was an eye-watering sum for the time. But it was a glimpse of the future, and as usual, the future is made available a few ticks early to those who can afford the cost.

Want to see one in person? You might be in luck, because an original resides at the MZTV Museum of Television in Toronto, Canada.

Reverse Engineering “The Seven Words (and More) You Can’t Say On TV”

For as visionary as he was, [George Carlin] vastly underestimated the situation with his classic “Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV” bit. At least judging by [Ben Eater]’s reverse engineering of the “TVGuardian Foul Language Filter” device, it seems like the actual number is at least 20 times that.

To begin at the beginning, a couple of weeks ago [Alec] over at everyone’s favorite nerd hangout Technology Connections did a video on the TVGuardian, a device that attempted to clean up the language of live TV and recorded programming. Go watch that video for the details, but for a brief summary, TVGuardian worked by scanning the closed caption text for naughty words and phrases, muted the audio when something suggestive was found in a lookup table, and inserted a closed caption substitute for the offensive content. In his video, [Alec] pined for a way to look at the list of verboten words, and [Ben] accepted the challenge.

The naughty word list ended up living on a 93LC86 serial EEPROM, which [Ben] removed from his TVGuardian for further exploration. Rather than just plug it into a programmer and dumping the contents, he decided to roll his own decoder with an Arduino, because that’s more fun. And can we just point out our ongoing amazement that [Ben] is able to make watching someone else code interesting?

The resulting NSFW word list is titillating, of course, and the video would be plenty satisfying if that’s where it ended. But [Ben] went further and figured out how the list is organized, how the dirty-to-clean substitutions are made, and even how certain words are whitelisted. That last bit resulted in the revelation that Hollywood legend [Dick Van Dyke] gets a special whitelisting, lest his name becomes sanitized to a hilarious [Jerk Van Gay].

Hats off to [Alec] for inspiring [Ben]’s fascinating reverse engineering effort here.

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