Digital Picture Frame Turned Vectrex Overlay

For Hackaday readers which might not be so well versed in the world of home video gaming before the 1983 crash, the Vectrex was an interesting attempt at bringing vector graphics into player’s living rooms. Priced around $500 in today’s dollars, the machine was unique in that it included its own black and white CRT display rather than requiring the owner to plug it into their television. To spice things up a little bit, games would include a thin plastic overlay you could put over the screen to give the game faux colors. What can we say? It was the 1980’s.

Like many vintage gaming systems, the Vectrex still commands a devoted following of fans, some of which continue to find ways to hack and mod the system nearly 40 years after its release. One such fan is [Arcade Jason], who’s recently been fiddling with the idea of creating a modern take on the overlay concept using a hacked LCD display. While it’s still a bit rough around the edges, it does hold promise. He hopes somebody might even run with the idea and turn it into a marketable product for the Vectrex community.

[Jason] started by getting an old digital picture frame and tearing it down until he liberated the LCD panel. By carefully disassembling it, he was able to remove the backlight and was left with a transparent display. He then installed the panel over the display of the Vectrex, leaving the picture frame’s PCB and controls dangling off to the side. Extending the display’s ribbon cable should be easy enough for a more robust installation.

He then loaded the frame with random psychedelic pictures he found online, as well as some custom overlays which he quickly whipped up using colored blocks in an art program. In the video after the break, [Jason] shuffles through images on the frame using the buttons on the PCB while loading different demos to show the kind of visual effects that are possible.

While a neat concept, there are a couple of issues that need to be resolved before this could really be put into practice. For one, the LCD panel isn’t the proper size or aspect ratio to match the Vectrex display, so it doesn’t cover the whole CRT. It’s also rather difficult to select images to show on the LCD panel; an improved version might use something like the Raspberry Pi to load images on the panel while exposing a control interface on a secondary screen of some type.

This isn’t the first time [Jason] has experimented with the Vectrex, or even the first time he’s tried to add color to the classic system. We’re interested to see what he comes up with next.

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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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Single-Rotor Drone: a Thrust-Vectoring Monocopter

We’re not entirely sure what to call this one. It’s got the usual trappings of a drone, but with only a single rotor it clearly can’t be called by any of the standard multicopter names. Helicopter? Close, but not quite, since the rotor blades are fixed-pitch. We’ll just go with “monocopter” for now and sort out the details later for this ducted-fan, thrust-vectored UAV.

Whatever we choose to call it — builder [tesla500] dubbed it the simultaneously optimistic and fatalistic “Ikarus” — it’s really unique. The monocopter is built around a 90-mm electric ducted fan mounted vertically on a 3D-printed shroud. The shroud serves as a mounting point for the landing legs and for four servos that swivel vanes within the rotor wash. The vanes deflect the airstream and provide the thrust vectoring that gives this little machine its control.

Coming to the correct control method was not easy, though. Thanks mainly to the strong gyroscopic force exerted by the rotor, [tesla500] had a hard time getting the flight controller to cooperate. He built a gimballed test stand to work the problem through, and eventually rewrote LibrePilot to deal with the unique forces on the craft and tuned the PID loops accordingly. Check out the results in the video below.

Some attempts to reduce the number of rotors work better than others, of course, but this worked out great, and we’re looking forward to the promised improvements to come.

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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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