Welcome to the Slow Death of Satellite TV in America

During an earnings call on November 29th, CEO of AT&T Communications John Donovan effectively signed the death warrant for satellite television in the United States. Just three years after spending $67 billion purchasing the nations’s largest satellite TV provider, DirecTV, he made a comment which left little doubt about the telecom giant’s plan for the service’s roughly 20 million subscribers: “We’ve launched our last satellite.

The news might come as a surprise if you’re a DirecTV customer, but the writing has been on the wall for years. When the deal that brought DirectTV into the AT&T family was inked, they didn’t hide the fact that the actual satellite content delivery infrastructure was the least of their concerns. What they really wanted was the installed userbase of millions of subscribers, as well as the lucrative content deals that DirecTV had already made. The plan was always to ween DirecTV customers off of their satellite dishes, the only question was how long it would take and ultimately what technology they would end up using.

Now that John Donovan has made it clear their fleet of satellites won’t be getting refreshed going forward, the clock has officially started ticking. It won’t happen this year, or even the year after that. But eventually each one of the satellites currently beaming DirecTV’s content down to Earth will cease to function, and with each silent bird, satellite television (at least in the United States) will inch closer to becoming history.

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Retrotechtacular: Some Of The Last CRTs From The Factory Floor

It seems crazy having to explain what a piece of technology was like to someone who is barely fifteen years your junior, but yet we have reached that point when it comes to CRTs. There may still be remnants of CRT televisions and monitors left out in the wild, however, the chances that a kid preparing to enter high school has encountered one is slim. While there may be no substitute for the real thing, there is this raw video from [Glenn] who shared his tour of the Sony Trinitron assembly line in the early 2000s. Sony Trinitron Television

Sony Electronics’ cathode ray tube manufacturing facility was located alongside headquarters in Rancho Bernado, CA. The facility was shuttered in 2006 when Sony transitioned wholly onto digital displays like the flat-panel LCD line of Bravia televisions. [Glenn]’s video shows that the manufacturing process was almost entirely automated from end to end. A point that was made even more clear with the distinct lack of human beings in the video.

The Trinitron line of televisions first appeared in 1968. At a time where most manufacturer’s were offering black and white picture tubes, Sony’s Trinitron line was in color. That name carried through until the end when it was retired alongside tube televisions themselves. Sony’s focus on technological innovation (and proprietary media formats) made them a giant in the world of consumer electronics for over forty years in the United States, but in the transition to a digital world saw them seeding market share to their competitors.

A quick word of warning as the video below was shot directly on Sony’s factory floor so the machinery is quite loud. Viewers may want to reduce the volume prior to pressing play.

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Better Than Original Pong Using Arduino

Games like Pong are legendary, not only in the sense that they are classic hours fun but also that they have a great potential for makers in stretching their learning legs. In an attempt at recreating the original paddle games like Pong and Tennis etc, [Grant Searle] has gone into the depths of emulating the AY-2-8500 chip using an Arduino.

For the uninitiated, the AY-3-8500 chip was the original game silicon that powered Ball & Paddle that could be played on the domestic television. Running at 2 MHz, it presented a 500 ns pixel width and operated to a maximum of 12 Volts. The equivalent of the AY-3-8500 is the TMS1965NLA manufactured by Texas Instruments for those who would be interested.

[Grant Searle] does a brilliant job of going into the details of the original chip as well as the PAL and NTSC versions of the device. This analysis will come in handy should anyone choose to make a better version. He talks about the intricacies of redrawing the screen for the static elements as well as the ball that bounces around the screen. The author presents details on ball traversal, resolution, 2K memory limit and its workarounds.

Then there are details on the sound and the breadboard version of the prototype that makes the whole write-up worth one’s time. If you don’t fancy the analog paddles and would rather use a wireless modern-day touch, check out Playing Pong with Micro:bits

Thanks [Keith O] for the tip.

Philo Farnsworth, RCA, and the Battle for Television

The parenthood of any invention of consequence is almost never cut and dried. The natural tendency to want a simple story that’s easy to tell — Edison invented the light bulb, Bell invented the telephone — often belies the more complex tale: that most inventions have uncertain origins, and their back stories are often far more interesting as a result.

Inventing is a rough business. It is said that a patent is just a license to get sued, and it’s true that the determination of priority of invention often falls to the courts. Such battles often pit the little guy against a corporate behemoth, the latter with buckets of money to spend in making the former’s life miserable for months or years. The odds are rarely in the favor of the little guy, but in few cases was the deck so stacked against someone as it was for a young man barely out of high school, Philo Farnsworth, when he went up against one of the largest companies in the United States to settle a simple but critical question: who invented television?

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Playing Pong With Micro:bits!

Where would the world be today without Pong, perhaps a lot less fun? For people like [Linker3000] the game is an inspiration toward teaching the next generation of hackers to build and play their own version using Micro:bits as controllers!

Aiming for doing all manner of diligence, [Linker3000] says the code can simply be uploaded to an Arduino — foregoing throwing together a circuit of your own — if you want to jump right into things. For the workshop environment, this setup uses composite video outputs — but this shouldn’t be an issue as most TVs still retain these inputs.

Once built — or sketch uploaded — the Micro:bit paddles can be connected to the ATmega328p and played like an old-school controller, but [Linker3000] has enabled Bluetooth control of the paddles’ A and B buttons via the Bitty app. Additionally — if wires really aren’t your thing and Bluetooth is too new-school for such an old game — a second Micro:bit can control the wired paddle using their built-in radio, provided they’re configured accordingly.

On top of Pong, there are also squash and soccer game modes! Check out the demo after the break.

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Chasing the Electron Beam at 380,000 FPS

Analog TV is dead, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome. [Gavin and Dan], aka The Slow Mo Guys recently posted a video about television screens. Since they have some incredible high-speed cameras at their disposal, we get to see the screens being drawn, both on CRT and more modern LCD televisions.

Now we all know that CRTs draw one pixel at a time, drawing from left to right, top to bottom. You can capture this with a regular still camera at a high shutter speed. The light from a TV screen comes from a phosphor coating painted on the inside of the glass screen. Phosphor glows for some time after it is excited, but how long exactly? [Gavin and Dan’s] high framerate camera let them observe the phosphor staying illuminated for only about 6 lines before it started to fade away. You can see this effect at a relatively mundane 2500 FPS.

Cranking things up to 380,117 FPS, the highest speed ever recorded by the duo, we see even more amazing results. Even at this speed, quite a few “pixels” are drawn each frame. [Gavin] illustrates that by showing how Super Mario’s mustache is drawn in less than one frame of slow-mo footage. You would have to go several times faster to actually freeze the electron beam. We think it’s amazing that such high-speed analog electronics were invented and perfected decades ago.

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Retrotechtacular: 1950s Televisions Were Beasts

Television has been around for a long time, but what we point to and call a TV these days is a completely different object from what consumers first fell in love with. This video of RCA factory tours from the 1950s drives home how foreign the old designs are to modern eyes.

Right from the start the apparent chaos of the circuitry is mindboggling, with some components on circuit boards but many being wired point-to-point. The narrator even makes comments on the “new technique for making electrical connections” that uses a wire wrapping gun. The claim is that this is cleaner, faster, and neater than soldering. ([Bil Herd] might agree.) Not all of the methods are lost in today’s manufacturing though. The hand-stuffing and wave soldering of PCBs is still used on lower-cost goods, and frequently with power supplies (at least the ones where space isn’t at a premium).

It’s no surprise when talking about 60+ year-old-designs that these were tube televisions. But this goes beyond the Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) that generates the picture. They are using vacuum tubes, and a good portion of the video delves into the manufacture and testing of them. You’ll get a glimpse of this at 3:20, but what you really want to see is the automated testing machine at 4:30. Each tube travels along a specialized conveyor where the testing goes so far as to give a  few automated whacks from corks on the ends of actuators. As the tube gauntlet progresses, we see the “aging” process (around 6:00) when each tube is run at 3-4 times the rated filament voltages. Wild!

There’s a segment detailing the manufacture of the CRT tubes as well, although these color tubes don’t seem to be for the model of TV being followed during the rest of the films. At about 7:07 they call them “Color Kinescopes”, an early name for RCA’s CRT technology.

During the factory tours we get the overwhelming feeling that this manufacturing is more related to automotive than modern electronic. These were the days when televisions (and radios) were more like pieces of furniture, and seeing the hulking chassis transported by hanging conveyors is just one part of it. The enclosure plant is churning out legions of identical wooden consoles. This begins at 11:55 and the automation shown is very similar to what we’d expect to see today. It seems woodworking efficiency was already a solved problem in the ’50s.

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