Trashed Vector Game Console Revived With Vintage IBM Monitor

We’ve all had the heartbreak of ordering something online, only to have it arrive in less than mint condition. Such are the risks of plying the global marketplace, only more so for used gear, which seems to be a special target for the wrath of sadistic custom agents and package handlers all along the supply chain.

This cruel fate befell a vintage Vectrex game console ordered by [Senile Data Systems]; the case was cracked and the CRT was an imploded mass of shards. Disappointing, to say the least, but not fatal, as he was able to make a working console from the remains of the Vectrex and an old IBM monitor. The Google translation is a little rough, but from what we can gather, the Vectrex, a vector-graphics console from the early 80s with such hits as MineStorm, Star Castle, and Clean Sweep, was in decent shape apart from the CRT. So with an old IBM 5151 green phosphor monitor, complete with a burned-in menu bar, was recruited to stand in for the damaged components. The Vectrex guts, including the long-gone CRT’s deflection yoke assembly, were transplanted to the new case. A little room was made for the original game cartridges, a new controller was fashioned from a Nintendo candy tin, and pretty soon those classic games were streaking and smearing across the long-persistence phosphors. We have to admit the video below looks pretty trippy.

If arcade restorations are your thing, display replacements like this are probably part of the fun. Here’s a post about replacing an arcade display with a trash bin CRT TV, an important skill to have is this business.

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A Polar Coordinate CNC Plotter Even Descartes Could Love

Take apart a few old DVD drives, stitch them together with cable ties, add a pen and paper, and you’ve got a simple CNC plotter. They’re quick and easy projects that are fun, but they do tend to be a little on the “plug and chug” side. But a CNC plotter that uses polar coordinates? That takes a little more effort.

The vast majority of CNC projects, from simple two-axis plotters to big CNC routers, all tend to use Cartesian coordinate systems, where points on a plane are described by their distances from an origin point on two perpendicular axes. Everything is nice and square, measurements are straightforward, and the math is easy. [davidatfsg] decided to level up his CNC plotter a bit by choosing a polar coordinate system, with points described as a vector extending a certain distance from the origin at a specified angle. Most of the plotter is built from FischerTechnik parts, with a single linear axis intersecting the center point of a rotary drawing platform. Standard G-code is translated to polar coordinates by a Java applet before being sent to a custom Arduino controller to execute the moves. Check out the video below; it’s pretty mesmerizing to watch, and we can’t help but wonder how a polar 3D-printer would work out.

Have polar coordinates got you stumped? It can be a bit of an adjustment from Cartesian space for sure. It can be worth it, though, showing up in everything from cable plotters to POV fidget spinners and even to color space models.

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Extracting A Vector Font From A Vintage Plotter

There is a huge variety of hardware out there with a font of some form or other baked into the ROM. If it’s got a display it needs a font, and invariably that font is stored as a raster. Finding these fonts is trivial – dump the ROM, render it as a bitmap, and voilà – there’s your font. However, what if you’re trying to dump the font from a vintage Apple 410 Color Plotter? It’s stored in a vector format, and your job just got a whole lot harder.

The problem with a vector font is that the letters aren’t stored as individual images, but as a series of instructions that, when parsed correctly, draw the character. This has many benefits for generating characters in all manner of different sizes, but makes the font itself much harder to find in a ROM dump. You’re looking for both the instructions that generate the characters, as well as the code used to draw them, if you want a full representation of the font.

The project begins by looking at what’s known about the plotter. The first part of any such job is always knowing where to look, of course. It’s quickly determined that the font is definitely stored in the main ROM, and that there is no other special vector drawing chip or ROMs on board. The article then steps through the search process, beginning with plaintext searches of the binary dump, before progressing to a full disassembly of the plotter firmware. After testing out various assumptions and working methodically, the vector data is found and eventually converted into a modern TrueType font.

In the end, the project is successful, and it’s a great guide on how to approach similar projects. The key is to lay out everything you know at the start, and use that to guide your search step by step, testing and discarding assumptions until you hit paydirt. We’ve seen similar works before, like this project to dump the voice from an ancient Chrysler Electronic Voice Alert.

Vectrex, Finally In Color

The Vectrex is everybody’s favourite vector-based console from the early 1980s. Vector graphics really didn’t catch on in the videogame market, but the Vectrex has, nonetheless held on to a diehard contingent of fans that continue to tinker with the platform to this day. [Arcade Jason] just so happens to be leading the pack right now.

The Vectrex has always been a monochrome machine, capable of only displaying white lines on its vector monitor. Color was provided by plastic overlays that were stuck to the screen, however this was never considered a particularly mindblowing addition to the console. [Jason] decided he could do better, and dug deep into his collection of vector monitors.

With a 36″ color vector monitor to hand, the Vectrex was laid out on the bench, ready for hacking. The bus heading to one of the DACs was hijacked, and fed through a series of OR and AND logic to generate color signals, since the original Vectrex hardware had no way of doing so. This is then fed to the color monitor, with amazing results.

[Jason]’s setup is capable of generating 8 colors on the screen, and it’s almost by some weird coincidence that this really does make the classic Vectrex games pop in a way they never have before. It’s also a testament to a simpler time that it’s possible to hack this console’s video signals on a breadboard; modern hardware runs much too fast to get away with such hijinx.

It’s an epic hack that through experimentation and some serendipity, has turned out some exciting results. [Jason] is now in the process of taking this to the next level, experimenting with adding color intensity control and other features to the mix.

It’s not [Jason]’s first time around these parts, either – we saw his big-screen Vectrex just a month ago!

[Thanks to Morris for the tip!]

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Watch Video on a Oscilloscope with an ESP32

[bitluni] got a brand new scope, and he couldn’t be happier. No, really — check the video below; he’s really happy. And to celebrate, he turned his scope into a vector display using an ESP32.

Using a scope in X-Y mode is nothing new, of course. The technique is used to display everything from Lissajous patterns from an SDR to bouncing balls from an analog computer. Taken on as more of an exercise to learn how to use his new tool than a practical project, [bitluni]’s project starts by using two DACs on an ESP32 to create simple Lissajous patterns to learn about the scope’s controls. Next he built some code to display 3D point clouds, but learned that the native DAC code wasn’t up to the job. A little hacking improved the speed 27-fold, which was enough for great 3D images and live video from an I²S camera module. The latter was accomplished by grabbing frames from the camera and rendering them pixel by pixel, CRT style. The results are pretty clean, and there’s a lot to be learned about both using scopes as X-Y displays and tweaking the ESP32 for maximum performance.

Need more background on the ESP32? Start by checking out these ESP32 tutorials.


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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.