A small green circuit board with a tiny OLED display

An Oscilloscope Trigger For Vintage Video Processors

Working on retro computers is rarely straightforward, as [ukmaker] recently found out while designing a new display interface. Their oscilloscope was having trouble triggering on the video signal produced by older video circuitry, so they created the Video Trigger for Retrocomputers.

The Texas Instruments TMS9918 video display controller was used across a range of 1980s game consoles and home computers, from the well-known ColecoVision to Texas Instruments’ own TI-99/4. Substantial retro computing heritage notwithstanding, the video output from this chip was (for reasons unknown) not quite compatible with the Hantek DSO1502P oscilloscope. And without a better understanding of the video signal, it was difficult to use the chip with newer TFT displays, being designed for CRT televisions with more forgiving NTSC tolerances.

Maybe a different scope would have solved the problem, but [ukmaker] had a feeling that the ‘scope needed an external trigger signal. The Video Trigger project uses a LM1881 sync separator to tease out the horizontal and vertical sync signals from the vintage video chip, with the output piped into an ATmega 328P. Along with a smattering of discrete components, the ATmega aids the user in selecting which line to frame a trigger on, and the slope of the horizontal sync signal to align to. A tiny OLED display makes configuration easy.

If this has piqued your interest, [ukmaker] also has a great write-up over on GitHub with all the gory details. Maybe it will help you in your next vintage computing caper. Having the right tool can make all the difference, like this homebrew logic meter for hobby electronics troubleshooting. Or if you want to know more about the mystical properties of analog NTSC video, we’ve covered that, too.