Rediffusion Television: Early Cable TV Delivered Like Telephone

Recently I spent an enjoyable weekend in Canterbury, staying in my friend’s flat with a superb view across the rooftops to the city’s mediaeval cathedral. Bleary-eyed and in search of a coffee on the Sunday morning, my attention was immediately drawn to one of her abode’s original built-in features. There on the wall in the corner of the room was a mysterious switch.

Housed on a standard-sized British electrical fascia was a 12-position rotary switch, marked with letters A through L. An unexpected thing to see in the 21st century and one probably unfamiliar to most people under about 40, I’d found something I’d not seen since my university days in the early 1990s: a Rediffusion selector switch.

If you have cable TV, there is probably a co-axial cable coming into your home. It is likely to carry a VHF signal, either a series of traditional analogue channels or a set of digital multiplexes. “Cable ready” analogue TVs had wideband VHF tuners to allow the channels to be viewed, and on encrypted systems there would have been a set-top box with its own analogue tuner and decoder circuitry.

Your digital cable TV set-top box will do a similar thing, giving you the channels you have subscribed to as it decodes the multiplex. At the dawn of television transmission though, none of this would have been possible. Co-axial cable was expensive and not particularly high quality, and transistorised wideband VHF tuners were still a very long way away. Engineers designing the earliest cable TV systems were left with the technology of the day derived from that of the telephone networks, and in Britain at least that manifested itself in the Rediffusion system whose relics I’d found.

Continue reading “Rediffusion Television: Early Cable TV Delivered Like Telephone”

Couch Potato Refined: Self-Rotating TV Uses Plywood Gears

When we first saw [Mikeasaurus’] project to rotate his TV 90 degrees in case he wanted to lay down and channel surf we were ready to be unimpressed. But it grew on us as we read about how he fabricated his own gearing system to make a car seat motor rotate the TV.

The gearing system is made from plywood and the design was from geargenerator.com, a freebie design tool we’ve covered before. You’d think you’d need a laser cutter, but in this case, the gear forms were printed out, glued on the plywood and then cut out manually. Each gear is made of several laminated together.

Continue reading “Couch Potato Refined: Self-Rotating TV Uses Plywood Gears”

The BBC Computer Literacy Project From The 1980s Is Yours To Browse

In the early 1980s there was growing public awareness that the microcomputer revolution would have a significant effect on everybody’s lives, and there was a brief period in which anything remotely connected with a computer attracted an air of glamour and sophistication. Broadcasters wanted to get in on the act, and produced glowing documentaries on the new technology, enthusiastically crystal-ball-gazing as they did so.

In the UK, the public service BBC broadcaster produced a brace of series’ over the decade probing all corners of the subject as part of the same Computer Literacy Project that gave us Acorn’s BBC Micro, and we are lucky enough that they’ve put them all online so that we can watch them (again, in some cases, if a Hackaday scribe can get away with revealing her age).

You can see famous shows such as the moment when the presenters experienced a live on-air hack while demonstrating an early online service, but most of it is a fascinating contemporary look at the computers we now enthuse over as retro devices. Will the MSX sweep all before it, for example? (It didn’t).

They seem very dated now with their 8-bit micros (if not just for the word “micro”), synth music, and cheesy graphics. But what does come across is the air of optimism, this was the future, and it was packaged not as a threat, but as a good place to be. Take a look, but make sure you have plenty of time. You may spend a while in front of the screen.

We’ve mentioned int he past another spin-off from the Computer Literacy Project, the Domesday Project.

Thanks [Darren Grant] for the tip.

 

Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right

When it has become so common for movies and television to hyper-sensationalize engineering, and to just plain get things wrong, here’s a breathe of fresh air. There’s a Sci-Fi show out right now that wove 3D printing into the story line in a way that is correct, unforced, and a fitting complement to that fictional world.

With the amount of original content Netflix is pumping out anymore, you may have missed the fact that they’ve recently released a reboot of the classic Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. Sorry LeBlanc fans, this new take on the space traveling Robinson family pretends the 1998 movie never happened, as have most people. It follows the family from their days on Earth until they get properly lost in space as the title would indicate, and is probably most notable for the exceptional art direction and special effects work that’s closer to Interstellar than the campy effects of yesteryear.

But fear not, Dear Reader. This is not a review of the show. To that end, I’ll come right out and say that Lost in Space is overall a rather mediocre show. It’s certainly gorgeous, but the story lines and dialog are like something out of a fan film. It’s overly drawn out, and in the end doesn’t progress the overarching story nearly as much as you’d expect. The robot is pretty sick, though.

No, this article is not about the show as a whole. It’s about one very specific element of the show that was so well done I’m still thinking about it a month later: its use of 3D printing. In Lost in Space, the 3D printer aboard the Jupiter 2 is almost a character itself. Nearly every member of the main cast has some kind of interaction with it, and it’s directly involved in several major plot developments during the season’s rather brisk ten episode run.

I’ve never seen a show or movie that not only featured 3D printing as such a major theme, but that also did it so well. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of 3D printing to date, but it’s also a plausible depiction of what 3D printing could look like in the relatively near future. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be exceptionally interested to hear if anyone can point out anything better.

Continue reading “Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right”

Computers Go Hollywood

Have you ever been watching a TV show or a movie and spotted a familiar computer? [James Carter] did and he created a website to help you identify which old computers appear in TV shows and movies. We came across this when researching another post about an old computer and wondered if it was any old movies. It wasn’t.

You can search by computer or by title. There are also ratings about how visible, realistic, and important the computer is for each item. The database only contains fictional works, not commercials or documentaries. The oldest entry we could find was 1950’s Destination Moon which starred a GE Differential Analyzer. Well, also John Archer, we suppose. We assume GE had a good agent as the same computer showed up in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) and When Worlds Collide (1951). You can see a clip of the computer’s appearance in Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, below.

Continue reading “Computers Go Hollywood”

RCA TV Gets New Life As Interactive Atltvhead

TVs are usually something you sit and passively watch. Not so for [Nate Damen’s] interactive, wearable TV head project, aka Atltvhead. If you’re walking around Atlanta, Georgia and you see him walking around with a TV where his head should be, introduce yourself! Or sign into Twitch chat and take control of what’s being displayed on the LEDs which he’s attached to the screen. Besides being wearable technology, it’s also meant to be an interactive art piece.

For this, his third version, the TV is a 1960’s RCA Victor Portable Television. You can see some of the TVs he found for previous versions on his hackaday.io page. They’re all truly vintage. He gutted this latest one and attached WS2812 LED strips in a serpentine pattern inside the screen. The LEDs are controlled by his code and the FastLED library running on an ESP8266. Power comes from four NiMH AA-format batteries, giving him 5 V, which he regulates down to 3.3 V. His phone serves as a WiFi hotspot.

[Nate] limits the commands so that only positive things can be displayed, a heart for example. Or you can tweak what’s being displayed by changing the brightness or make the LEDs twinkle. Judging by the crowds we see him attracting in the first video below, we’d say his project was a huge success. In the second video, Nate does a code walkthrough and talks about some of his design decisions.

Continue reading “RCA TV Gets New Life As Interactive Atltvhead”

Dungeons and Dragons TV Tabletop!

With little more than pen, paper, dice, and imagination, a group of friends can transport themselves to another plane for shenanigans involving dungeons and/or dragons. An avid fan of D&D and a budding woodworker, Imgurian [CapnJackHarkness] decided to build gaming table with an inlaid TV for their inaugural project.

The tabletop is a 4’x4′ sheet of plywood, reinforced from underneath and cut out to accommodate a support box for the TV. Each leg ended up being four pieces of 1’x4′ wood, laminated together with a channel cut into one for the table’s power cable. An outer ledge has dice trays — if they’re even needed in today’s world — ready for all those nat 20s, cupholders because nobody likes crying over spilled drinks, and electrical outlets to keep devices charged. Foam squares cover the tabletop which can be easily removed and washed if needed — but more on that in a second. [CapnJackHarkness] painted the table as the wood rebuffed many attempts at staining, but they’re happy with how it turned out.

Continue reading “Dungeons and Dragons TV Tabletop!”