A Practical Look At Chokes For EMI Control

Radio frequency electronics can seem like a black art even to those who intentionally delve into the field. But woe betide the poor soul who only incidentally has to deal with it, such as when seeking to minimize electromagnetic interference. This primer on how RF chokes work to reduce EMI is a great way to get explain the theory from a practical, results-oriented standpoint.

As a hobby machinist and builder of machine tools, [James Clough] has come across plenty of cases where EMI has reared its ugly head. Variable frequency drives are one place where EMI can cause problems, and chokes on the motor phase outputs are generally prescribed. He used an expensive choke marketed as specific for VFD applications on one of his machines, but wondered if a cheap ferrite core would do the job just as well, and set to find out.

A sweep of some ferrite cores with a borrowed vector network analyzer proved unsatisfying, so [James] set up a simple experiment with a function generator and an oscilloscope. His demo shows how the impedance of a choke increases with the frequency of the test signal, which is exactly the behavior that you’d want in a VFD – pass the relatively low-frequency phase signals while blocking the high-frequency EMI. For good measure, he throws a capacitor in parallel to the choke and shows how much better a low-pass filter that makes.

We love demos like this that don’t just scratch an intellectual itch but also have a practical goal. [James] not only showed that (at least in some cases) a $13 ferrite can do the same job as a $130 VFD choke, but he showed how they work. It’s basic stuff, but it’s what you need to know to move on to more advanced RF filter designs.

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A Network Attached VFD Tube Clock

The elegance of Power over Ethernet (PoE) is that you can provide network connectivity and power over a single cable. Unfortunately not nearly enough hardware seems to support this capability, forcing intrepid hackers to take matters into their own hands. The latest in this line of single-cable creations is this beautiful Vacuum Fluorescent Display (VFD) clock from [Glen Akins].

Testing the VFD tube socket

One of the key advantages VFDs have over their Nixie predecessors is greatly reduced energy consumption, and after [Glen] ran the numbers, he saw that a display using six VFD tubes could easily be powered with standard PoE hardware. With this information, he started designing the PCB around the early 1990s era IV-12 tube, which has the advantage of being socketed so he could easily remove them later if necessary.

[Glen] first had to create a schematic and PCB footprint for the IV-12 tube that he could import into Eagle, which he was kind enough to share should anyone else be working with these particular tubes down the line. After a test of the newly designed socket was successful, he moved onto the rest of the electronics.

The clock is powered by a Microchip PIC18F67J60, which connects to the Ethernet network and pulls the current time down from NTP. After seeing so many clocks use an ESP to connect to the Internet over WiFi, there’s something refreshing about seeing a wired version. The tube segments are driven by a HV5812, also Microchip branded. Lastly, [Glen] used a number of DC/DC converters to generate the 1.5 V, 3.3 V, 5 V, and 25 V necessary to drive all the electronics and VFDs.

We absolutely love the simplicity of this clock, from its sleek aluminum enclosure to that single RJ45 jack on the back. But if you’re looking for something with a bit more flash, [Glen] also put together some PoE Christmas lights over the holidays which share a number of design elements with this project.

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A VFD Wall Thermometer

Want to build something using VFD tubes, but don’t need yet another clock project? In that case, this wall mounted temperature and humidity display created by [commanderkull] might be exactly what you’re looking for. With six IV-11 tubes, this display is a practical way to add some of that gorgeous blue-green glow to your home or office.

The USB powered display uses a XL6009 and an XL7015 to provide the 24 V and 1.8 V needed by the IV-11 tubes, respectively. Both of which can be disconnected with jumpers to shut down the tubes without powering off the entire device, a useful feature when programming and debugging the display’s ATmega328P microcontroller. Each tube is connected to the ATmega with an 74HC595 shift register and a UDN2981 driver. Temperature and humidity data is provided, perhaps unsurprisingly, by the exceptionally common DHT22 sensor.

If you are looking to build another clock with these style tubes, there’s certainly enough prior art out there to get you started. We’ve also seen faux VFDs that you could use for either project, just in case you aren’t looking to deal with the voltage requirements and relative rarity of the real thing.

Captivating Clock Tells Time With Tall Tubes

Time is probably our most important social construct. Our perception of passing time changes with everything we do, and when it comes down to it, time is all we really have. You can choose to use it wisely, or sit back and watch it go by. If you want to do both, build a clock like this one, and spectate in sleek, sophisticated style.

[ChristineNZ]’s mid-century-meets-steampunk clock uses eight ILC1-1/8Ls, which are quite possibly the largest VFD tubes ever produced (and still available as new-old stock). In addition to the time, it displays the date, relative humidity, and temperature in both Celsius and Fahrenheit. A delightful chime sounds every fifteen minutes to remind you that time’s a-wastin’.

The seconds slip by in HH/MM/SS format, each division separated by a tube dedicated to dancing the time away. The mesmerizing display is driven by an Arduino Mega and a MAX6921 VFD driver, and built into a mahogany frame. There isn’t a single PCB in sight except for the Mega — all the VFDs are mounted on wood and everything is wired point-to-point. Sweep past the break to see the progressive slideshow build video that ends with a demo of all the functions.

Those glowing blue-green displays aren’t limited to clocking time. They can replace LCDs, or be scrolling marquees.

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Mini-VFD Clock Floats The Display Above It All

As [sjm4306] says, “You can never have too many clocks based on obsolete display technologies.” We couldn’t agree more, and this single-tube VFD clock is one we haven’t seen before.

The vacuum-fluorescent display that [sjm4306] chose to base this clock on is the IV-21, an eight-digit seven-segment display on the smallish side. The tube is Russian surplus from the ’80s, as all such displays seem to be. The main PCB sports an ATMega328, a boost converter to provide the high voltage needed to run the VFD, a real-time clock, and the driver chip for the tube segments. The tube itself lives on a clever riser card that elevates the display above the main PCB and puts it at the proper angle for reading. [sjm4306] designed it to be modular; should you want to user a bigger VFD you need only make a new riser PCB. Figuring out the proper way to space the through-holes in Eagle proved elusive, but he hacked a solution using a spreadsheet to handle the trigonometry and spit out Cartesian coordinates for each hole. Pretty neat. The video below shows the clock assembly and a test.

We really like the look of this clock for some reason – perhaps it’s the quirky nature of the VFD, or the soft teal glow of the digits. We’ve featured plenty of clocks with odd displays before: VFDs large and small, faux-NIMO, de-encapsulated LED “filaments”, and lots and lots of Nixies.

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Scratch Built Media Player Channels 1980s Design

No, you aren’t looking at a 30 year old Teac graphic equalizer that somebody modified. The MWA-002 Network Music Player created by [GuzziGuy] is built entirely from new components, and easily ranks up there with some of the most gorgeous pieces of homebrew audio gear we’ve ever seen. Combining modular hardware with modern manufacturing techniques, this 1980s inspired build is a testament to how far we’ve come in terms of what’s possible for the dedicated hacker and maker.

The enclosure, though it looks all the world like a repurposed piece of vintage hardware, was built with the help of a CNC router. It’s constructed from pieces of solid oak, plywood, and veneered MDF that have all been meticulously routed out and cut. Even the front panel text was engraved with the CNC and then filled in with black paint to make the letters pop.

Internally, the MWA-002 is powered by a Raspberry Pi 3 running Mopidy to play both local tracks and streaming audio. Not satisfied with the Pi’s built-in capabilities, [GuzziGuy] is using a Behringer UCA202 to produce CD-quality audio, which is then fed into a TPA3116 amplifier. In turn, the output from the amplifier is terminated in a set of female jacks on the player. Just like the stereo equipment of yore, this player is designed to be connected to a larger audio system and doesn’t have any internal speakers.

The primary display is a 256×64 Futaba GP1212A02A FVD which has that era-appropriate glow while still delivering modern features. [GuzziGuy] says it was more difficult to interface with this I2C display than the LCDs he used in the past due to the lack of available libraries, but we think the final product is proof it was worth the effort. He bought both the VFD spectrum analyzer and LED VU meter as turn-key modules, but the center equalizer controls are completely custom; with dual MCP3008 ADCs to read the state of the sliders and the Linux Audio Developer’s Simple Plugin API (LADSPA) to tweak the Pi’s audio output accordingly.

We’re no strangers to beautiful pieces of audio gear here at Hackaday, but generally speaking, most projects involve modernizing or augmenting an existing device. While those projects are to be admired, the engineering that goes into creating something of this caliber from modular components and raw building materials is really an accomplishment on a whole different level.

Stylish Alarm Clock Rocks A VFD

There are a great many display technologies available if you wish to make a digital clock. Many hackers seem to have a penchant for the glowier fare from the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall. [ChristineNZ] is one such hacker, and managed to secure some proper Soviet kit for an alarm clock build.

The clock employs an IV-27M vacuum fluorescent display, manufactured in the now-defunct USSR. Featuring 13 seven-segment digits, it’s got that charming blue glow that you just don’t get with other technologies. A MAX6921AWI chip is used to drive the VFD, and an Arduino Mega is the brains of the operation. There’s also an HD44780-compliant LCD that can display further alphanumeric information, and a 4×4 keypad for controlling the device.

The best part of the build though is the enclosure. The VFD is encased in a glass tube, and supported at either end by 90-degree copper pipe couplers. These hold the VFD aloft, and also act as a conduit for the wires coming off each end of the tube. It’s all built on top of a wooden base that holds the rest of the electronics.

It’s an attractive build, and we love the floating look created by the glass tube construction. It’s not the first time we’ve seen old Russian VFDs, and we doubt it will be the last. Video after the break.

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