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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Prusa Printer Gets An LCD-ectomy, Gains A VFD

What’s wrong with the OEM display on a Prusa I3 Mk3? Nothing at all. Then why replace the stock LCD with a vacuum fluorescent display? Because VFDs are much, much cooler than LCDs.

(Pedantic Editor’s Note: VFDs actually run a little warm.)

At least that’s the reasoning [Scott M. Baker] applied to his Prusa upgrade. We have to admit to a certain affection for all retro displays relying on the excitation of gasses. Nixies, Numitrons, and even the lowly neon pilot light all have a certain charm of their own, but by our reckoning the VFD leads the pack. [Scott] chose a high-quality Noritake 4×20 alphanumeric display module for his upgrade, thriftily watching eBay for bargains rather than buying from the big distributors. The module has a pinout that’s compatible with the OEM LCD, so replacing it is a snap. [Scott] simplified that further by buying a replacement Prusa control board with no display, to which he soldered the Noritake module. Back inside the bezel, the VFD is bright and crisp. We like the blue-green digits against the Prusa red-orange, but [Scott] has an orange filter on order for the VFD to make everything monochromatic. That’ll be a nice look too.

A completely none functional hack, to be sure, but sometimes aesthetics need attention too. And it’s possible that a display switch would help the colorblind use the UI better, like this oscilloscope mod aims to do.

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Fallout Inspired Display Is Ready For The Apocalypse

We’ve seen more projects based on books, TV shows, movies, and video games than we could ever hope to count. Hackers and makers derive inspiration from what they see around them, and it turns out there’s considerable overlap between the folks who sit in their labs building stuff all day and the ones who spend their free time playing games or watching movies. Big surprise, right? But among them, few can match the influence of the Fallout franchise.

As the latest entry in a long line of incredible Fallout-inspired builds, we present the Octoglow VFD by [Michał Słomkowski]. While this build isn’t trying to replicate anything directly from the games, it captures all the hallmarks that make up the game’s distinctive post-apocalyptic chic : antiquated vintage components, exposed internals, and above all, a dirty, industrial look. It’s supposed to look like somebody built the stuff out of parts they found in the trash, primarily because that’s exactly what they would’ve needed to do.

So what is it? Well, that’s a little hard to nail down. Frankly we’d say it’s a little more like art than anything, but it does have some useful functions. Currently it shows the time, date, weather information, and various RSS feeds on its dual vacuum fluorescent displays. There’s also a real-life Geiger-Müller counter onboard, because what says Fallout more than a little radiation?

The build itself is absolutely fascinating, and [Michał] leaves no stone unturned in his comprehensive write-up. Every module of the Octoglow has its own page on his site, and each one is bristling with hardware details, schematics, and firmware documentation. Reading along you’ll run into all sorts of interesting side notes: like how he reverse engineered a wireless temperature sensor with his sound card, or devised his own ten-pin bus to interconnect all the modules.

If the Octoglow doesn’t quite scratch that Vault-Tec itch, there’s plenty more where that came from. How about this replica of the wall terminals from Fallout 4, or this radiation monitor perfect for roaming the wastelands? Don’t forget to bring along this 3D printed Thirst Zapper for protection.

A Scratch Built VFD Clock With Inner Beauty

Vacuum fluorescent displays (VFDs) are one of those beautiful pieces of bygone technology that you just don’t see much of anymore. At one time they were a mainstay of consumer electronics, but today they’ve largely been replaced with cheaper and more energy efficient displays such as LEDs and LCDs. While they might be objectively better displays, we can’t help but feel a pang of regret seeing a modern kitchen bereft of that unmistakable pale green glow.

If his impressive VFD clock is any indication [Simón Berraud] feels the same way. Not only does the clock’s display instantly trigger waves of nostalgia, but the custom PCB has that mistakable look of consumer electronics circa 1985. If we didn’t know better, we’d think this thing fell through a time warp.

Well, if it wasn’t for the SMD ATmega328 on the flip side of the board, anyway. In addition to the MCU, the clock features four ULN2003AN Darlington transistor arrays to drive the VFD, and a M48T08 Real Time Clock to keep the whole thing ticking.

The careful observer might notice a distinct lack of buttons or switches on the clock, and wonder how this retro wonder is set. In a particularly radical hack, [Simón] sets the time with a hard coded variable in the source code; you just need to set it far enough into the future so that you have enough time to power it up at the appropriate moment.

[Simón] has put the Arduino-flavored source code for the ATmega328 as well as the schematics and board files in his GitHub repository for anyone else who might want to take a walk down memory lane. While you’re at it, you may want to look at these tips for getting unknown VFDs up and running, as well as this interesting explanation of how they can be used as amplifiers if you’re really looking for style points.

Faded Beauty DMM Gets An OLED Makeover

When a fine piece of lab instrumentation crosses your bench, you’ve got to do your best to put it to work. But even in the highest quality devices no component lasts forever, especially vacuum tubes. For some vintage instruments with vacuum fluorescent displays, that means putting up with less-than-perfect digits in order to get that sweet, sweet precision. Or not – you can always reverse engineer the thing and add a spanking new OLED display.

The Hewlett-Packard 34401A digital multimeter that fell into [qu1ck]’s lap was a beauty, but it had clearly seen better days. The display was full of spuriously illuminated dots and segments, making it hard to use the 6.5 digit DMM. After a futile bit of probing to see if a relatively easy driver fix would help, and with a replacement display being made of solid unobtanium, [qu1ck] settled in for the long process of reverse engineering the front panel protocol. As luck would have it, H-P used the SPI protocol to talk to the display, and it wasn’t long before [qu1ck] had a decent prototype working. The final version is much more polished, with a display sized to fit inside the original space occupied by the VFD. The original digits and annunciator icons are recreated, and he added a USB port and the bargraph display show in the clip below.

We think it looks fabulous, and both the firmware and hardware are on Github if you’d like to rescue a similar meter. You may want to check our guide to buying old test gear first, though, to get the most bang for your buck.

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Marquee Display Uses Six Dozen Surplus VFD Tubes To Great Effect

The quest to repurpose surplus parts into new and interesting displays never ends, it seems. And the bigger the display, the better, with extra points for using some really obscure part, like these surplus Russian vacuum-fluorescent tubes turned into a marquee display.

As [tonyp7] freely admits, this is a pet project that’s just for the fun of it, made possible by the flood of surplus parts on the market these days. The VFD tubes are IV-25s, Russian tubes that can be had by the fistful for a song from the usual sources. The seven small elements in the tube were intended to make bar graph displays like VU meters, but [tonyp7] ganged up twelve side by side to make 84-pixel displays. The custom driver board for each matrix needs three of the old SN75518 driver chips, in 40-pin DIPs no less. A 3D-printed bracket holds the tubes and the board for each module; it looks like a clock is the goal, with six modules ganged together. But the marquee display shown below is great too, and we look forward to seeing the finished project.

From faux-Nixies made with LEDs to flip-segment displays driven by relay logic to giant seven-segment LEDs that can be 3D-printed, we really like the trend to unique displays. What are you dreaming up?

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