Mac Plus Becomes A Vector Display

The vintage Macintosh all-in-one computers were a design icon, as well as being highly useful machines in the 80s and 90s. In the decades since, they’ve been used for everything from web servers to aquariums, but that’s not all. [Arcade Jason] decided to grab an old Macintosh Plus and turn it into a vector display.

The hack starts with the opening of a Macintosh, which naturally requires a long screwdriver with the right tip. Setting the stage for things to come, this is achieved by soldering together a couple of existing tools to get the reach he needs. [Jason] then proceeds to install a brightness control for the main electron gun, as well as deflection drivers and a spot killing circuit. Everything is done with the intention of the hack being reversible, as [Jason] didn’t wish to sacrifice a good Macintosh Plus just for the sake of having some fun.

For those unfamiliar with vector cathode-ray displays and the manner in which they are driven, [Arcade Jason] does a great job explaining the basics. A set of magnetic coils is used to alter the trajectory of an electron fired at the screen. If you aim those electrons in ordered lines from left-to-right, top-to-bottom you’ve created a raster display. If you instead guide the electrons to follow the shapes you want to appear on the screen you’ve created a vector display.

We can’t help but feel this would be a hilarious way to troll at a demoscene meetup. We’ve seen [Jason]’s vector work before, too — like this impressive color Asteroids hack.

Arcade Asteroids, Now In Colour

Asteroids is one of the classic games of the early arcade era. Launched in 1979 by Atari, it relied upon using an XY vector monitor to deliver crisp graphics for its space-based gameplay. One of the limitations of the original arcade games was that the game was only rendered in a single colour, white. Over 30 years later, [Arcade Jason] decided to see what it would take to build a color Asteroids machine.

The ROM hack also modified the shapes of several in-game objects.

The hack relies on the fact that the original game used a four-bit resistor ladder DAC to draw vectors in different intensity levels. Through some ingeniously simple hardware, this DAC is repurposed to denote different colours instead. It’s laced together with a 74LS08 AND gate chip, along with a handful of resistors and diodes. Three bits are used for red, green, and blue, respectively, with the fourth used as a “white boost” signal to allow the differentiation of colours like red and pink, or dark and light blue. It’s then all wired into an RGB vector monitor for final display. After that, it’s just a matter of a simple ROM hack to set the colors of various on screen objects.

Vector monitors are notoriously hard to film well, but it’s clear that in person the output is rather impressive. Making color versions of old retro games is actually a hobby of [Arcade Jason]’s – we’ve featured his color Vectrex before. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: December 3, 2017

Remember the Psion? Back when PDAs were a thing, the Psion was the best you could get. It was, effectively, a palm-top computer with a real qwerty keyboard. It didn’t have Bluetooth, it couldn’t browse the web, and it didn’t have WiFi, but this was an AA-powered productivity machine that could fit in your pocket. Now there’s a new palmtop from Psion engineers. The Gemini PDA is basically a smartphone with a real keyboard that runs Ubuntu. It’s also has a smaller battery than other devices with this form factor, meaning the TSA thinks it’s a smartphone. This thing is going to be cool.

TechShop, Inc. has reached an agreement to sell the company to TechShop 2.0, LLC. New ownership seeks to re-open, continue running makerspaces. Details coming soon.

Arcade monitors are cool, and vector monitors are even cooler. [Arcade Jason] created a gigantic 36″ vector monitor. It’s thirty-six inches of Gravitar, in all its vector glory.

A few links posts ago, I pointed out someone was selling really awesome, really cheap LED panels on eBay. I got my ten panels, and [Ian Hanschen] bought sixty or some other absurd amount. Now, these panels are going for $300 for a 10-pack instead of $50. Sorry about that. Nevertheless, the reverse engineering adventure is still ongoing, and eventually, someone is going to play Mario on these things.

The ESP32 is finding its way into all sorts of consumer electronics. Check this thing out. It’s an ESP32, four buttons, and a circular display. If you want to make your own Nest thermostat, or anything else that needs an awesome circular display, there you go.

Speaking of circular displays, are there any non-CRT displays that come with a polar coordinate system? Every circular LCD or OLED I’ve ever seen uses a Cartesian system, which doesn’t really make sense when you can’t see 30% of the pixels.

Hold the phone, this is far too clever. [Eduardo] needed to flash an ESP-12 module before soldering it onto a PCB. The usual way of doing this is with an absurd pogo pin jig. You know what’s cheaper than pogo pins? Safety pins. Clever overwhelming.

Finally – A Big-Screen Vectrex

The Vectrex is in no way the most popular console of all time, but it is one of the more unique. Eschewing typical raster-based rendering, it instead relies on a vector-based display. Since the average home television of the era would be completely unable to display such signals, the Vectrex had its screen built in. This got [Arcade Jason] wondering – would it be possible to hook the Vectrex up to a bigger screen?

First, a suitable monitor had to be found. The 19V2000 turned out to be a good candidate – much larger at 19 inches, and found in a variety of arcade cabinets from years past. From there, the project became a matter of identifying the signal outputs of the Vectrex. [Arcade Jason] took the liberty of modifying the levels of the signals on the Vectrex board itself, and then fixing the now-overscanned image on the original screen by adjusting the onboard trimpots. With the Vectrex’s X and Y signals now boosted somewhat, they were wired up to the inputs of the larger arcade screen. For the Z signal, things got even hackier – a Walmart “Computer Amplifier”, typically used for speakers, was instead pressed in to service to amplify the signal.

There are plenty of wires running all over the carpet in this video, but the fact is, it works brilliantly. Future plans involve upgrading to an even larger 23 inch monitor, and possibly even experiments with color vector displays. It just goes to show that the Vectrex, even today, maintains a die-hard following.

Perhaps you’d like to try this, but need to fix your original Vectrex screen first? Never fear – that’s possible, too.


Light Replaces Electrons For Giant Vector-Graphics Asteroids Game

For all its simplicity, the arcade classic Asteroids was engaging in the extreme, with the ping of the laser, the rumble of the rocket, the crash of crumbling space rocks, and that crazy warble when the damn flying saucers made an appearance. Atari estimates that the game has earned operators in excess of $500 million since it was released in 1979. That’s two billion quarters, and we’ll guess a fair percentage of those coins came from the pockets of Hackaday’s readers and staff alike.

One iconic part of Asteroids was the vector display. Each item on the field was drawn as a unit by the CRT’s electron beam dancing across the phosphor rather than raster-scanned like TV was at the time. The simple graphics were actually pretty hard to create, and with that in mind, [standupmaths] decided to take a close look at the vector display of Asteroids and try to recreate it using a laser.

To be fair, [Seb Lee-Delisle] does all the heavy lifting here, with [standupmaths] providing context on the history and mathematics of the original vector display. [Seb] is a digital artist by trade, and has at the ready a 4-watt RGB laser projector for light shows and displays. Using the laser as a replacement for the CRT’s electron beam, [Seb] was able to code a reasonably playable vector-graphic version of Asteroids on a large projections screen. Even the audio is faithful to the original. The real treat comes when the laser is slowed and a little smoke added to show us how each item is traced out in order.

All [Seb]’s code is posted on GitHub, so if you have a laser projector handy, by all means go for it. Or just whip up a custom vector display for your own tabletop version of Asteroids.

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Raindrops On An Oscilloscope

Something very beautiful appeared in our feed this evening, something that has to be shared. [Duncan Malashock] has created an animation of raindrops creating ripples. Very pretty, you might say, but where’s the hack? The answer is, he’s done it as a piece of vector display work on an oscilloscope.

He’s using [Trammell Hudson’s] Teensy-powered vector graphics board. We’ve featured this board before, but then it was playing vector games rather than today’s piece of artwork. The ‘scope in question is slightly unusual, a Leader LBO-51, a device optimized for vector work rather than the general purpose ‘scopes we might be used to. The artwork is written using Processing, and all the code is available in a GitHub repository.

So sit back and enjoy the artwork unfolding in the video. We look forward to more work featuring this hardware.

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32C3: Vector Video Games

There are a few classic video games that rely on vector graphics and special monitors. Asteroids is incomplete if you’re not playing it in its original arcade format. The same goes with Tempest, Lunar Lander, and the 1983 Star Wars arcade game. Emulation of these games is possible, even with MAME, but the display – like every display you can buy today – is still rasterized. The solution to this problem is to create a vector display output for MAME that works in conjunction with adapter boards and DACs connected to a monitor.

For this year’s Chaos Computer Congress, that’s exactly what [Trammell Hudson] and [Adelle Lin] did. They’ve created an open source vector gaming system that connects MAME to XY monitors and oscilloscopes.

The build uses a custom board equipped with a Teensy 3.1 microcontroller and a 12-bit DAC to convert XY coordinates sent by MAME to vectors that can be displayed on any XY monitor. This, of course, requires a patch to MAME, which the maintainers rejected as being an, “unacceptably hacky way to achieve the intended result.” It does achieve the intended result, though: allowing dozens of vector games playable on whatever monitor supports vector graphics.

So far, [Trammell] and [Adelle] have gotten their system working on Vectrex consoles, analog oscilloscopes set to XY mode, and vectorscopes that litter every broadcast station and surplus shop. Check out [Trammell] and [Adelle]’s talk, and if you want to build the vector display driver, the board is available from OSHPark.