VHS-Decode Project Could Help Archival Efforts

Archiving data from old storage media can be a highly complex process. It can be as simple as putting a disk in an old drive and reading out the contents. These days, though, the state of the art is more complex, with advanced techniques helping to recover the most data possible. The VHS-Decode project is an effort to improve the archiving of old analog video tapes.

The project is a fork of the LaserDisc-focused ld-decode, started by [Chad Page] back in 2013, which readers may recall was used for the Domesday Duplicator — a device aimed to recover data from the BBC’s ancient Domesday LaserDiscs. VHS-Decode is designed to capture the raw RF signals straight out of a tape head, which are the most direct representation of the signals on the physical media. From there, these signals can be processed in various ways to best recover the original audio and video tracks. It’s much the same technique as is used by floppy disk recovery tools like the FluxEngine.

Despite the VHS name, the code currently works with several tape formats. VHS, S-VHS and U-Matic are supported in PAL and NTSC formats, while Betamax, Video8 and High8 tape capture remains a work in progress. Using the code requires a video tape player with test points or traces that make signals from the head accessible. Capturing those signals is achieved via a Domesday Duplicator hardware device, or alternatively a Conexant CX2388x analog-to-digital converter, often found in many old PCI TV tuner cards. Various techniques can then be used to turn the captured signals into watchable video files.

We love a good archival project, and VHS-Decode is clearly a useful tool when it comes to salvaging old video tapes. Continue reading “VHS-Decode Project Could Help Archival Efforts”

Featured image of Aladdin's Castle Arcade

Retrotechtacular: Raw Video From Inside A 1980s Arcade

It was just this year that Sega left the arcade business for good. A company synonymous with coin-op games for over a half century completely walked away from selling experiences you can only get on location. No more Outrun or Virtua Fighter machines, because arcades these days tend to resemble The House of the Dead. Arcades still exist to a degree, it’s just that headlines like that serve only as a reminder of an era gone by. Which is what makes raw footage like the video [Jon] posted of an Aladdin’s Castle arcade from the 1980s so compelling.

scan of Aladdin's Castle Arcade pamphlet ad
Aladdin’s Castle ad brochure circa 1983. Credit: John Andersen

The raw VHS footage starts with a sweep around the location’s pinball machines and arcade cabinets. There’s an extended shot of a rare TX-1 tri-monitor sitdown cabinet. The racing game was the first of its kind to feature force feedback in the steering wheel, so it’s no wonder it received the focus. The arcade’s lighting tech was also a point of pride as it allowed for programmable lighting cues. A far cry from the flickering fluorescent tubes no doubt in use elsewhere. Eventually the employee filming takes us to the back room where it the owner has made it abundantly clear that they are not a fan of Mondays, judging by the amount of Garfield merchandise.

Bally’s Aladdin’s Castle was a chain of arcades and had nearly 400 locations across the US at its height in the mid 1980s (at least according to their brochure seen above). Those neon red letters were a mainstay of American shopping malls throughout the decade. Namco, the Pac-Man people, acquired Aladdin’s Castle in 1993 and the brand faded away soon after. Although there is a lone location in Quincy, IL that is still open for business today.

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3D Printing With VHS Tape Filament

If you have a pile of old VHS tapes collecting dust in your attic or basement that you know you’ll never watch again, either because all of those movies are available on DVD or a streaming service, or because you haven’t had a working VCR since 2003, there might be a way of putting them to good use in another way. With the miles of tape available in just a few cassettes, [brtv-z] shows us how to use that tape as filament for a 3D printer.

The first step of the build is to actually create the filament. He uses a purpose-built homemade press to spin several tapes into one filament similar to how cotton or flax is spun into yarn. From there the filament is simply fed into the 3D printer and put to work. The tape filament needs to be heated higher than a standard 3D printer filament so he prints at a much slower rate, but the resulting product is indistinguishable from a normal print except for the color. It has some other interesting properties as well, such as retaining its magnetism from the magnetic tape, and being a little more brittle than PET plastic although it seems to be a little stronger.

While the VHS filament might not be a replacement for all plastic 3D prints, it’s still a great use for something that would likely otherwise head straight to the landfill. There are some other uses for this magnetic tape as well, like if you wanted to build a DIY particle accelerator.

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Vlogging With Vintage 1980s Equipment

[Dan Mace] decided to try vlogging 1980s style. To do this, he built Pram Cam — a one-man mobile video recording setup using vintage gear. [Dan] is a YouTuber from Cape Town, South Africa. His goal for this project was to motivate people to get out there and make videos. Smartphones, action cams, and modern video equipment all have made it incredibly easy to create content.

[Dan] reminds us of this by grabbing a vintage 1984 video camera – a Grundig vs150 VHS recorder. He couples the camera with a sturdy video tripod, blimp microphone, CRT TV as a monitor, and everything else needed for a period-accurate recording setup.

In a build sequence even the A-Team would appreciate, [Dan] tears down a rusty old three wheel pram, or baby carriage for the Americans out there. He then mounts the video setup to the pram frame using duct tape, zip ties, and a few odd pieces of wood. The result is a proper hacked off-road rolling video studio.

He then uses Pram Cam to film some of the great scenery in Cape Town — beaches, rocky cliffs, and even a helicopter ride. To say the pram was a bit more cumbersome than a cell phone would be the understatement of the year.

The video quality from the camera looks quite a bit worse than we would expect. Some of this may be due to Dan’s digitizing system though the chances are it’s from the camera itself. The Grundig captured video using a Saticon, which was Hitachi’s version of the video camera tube. That’s right, this is a tube based camera – no CMOS sensor, nor CCD. Tubes might not have Jello effect, but they do have all the blooming, motion blur, and other problems one might expect from a 34-year-old device.

What becomes of the Pram Cam? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out. Dan’s message is clear though: get out there and film something. Of course this is Hackaday, so if we’ll add that you should build something — then film it!

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Retrotechtacular: Home Video Recording

The news has been full of reports that the last company manufacturing consumer VCRs will cease making them this year. I think most of us are surprised that the event is only happening now. After all, these days, video recording is likely to be on a hard drive, a USB stick, or on a server somewhere. Even recording to DVDs seems a bit quaint these days.

VCR-03Back before there were web sites, people had to get information from magazines like Popular Electronics, Radio Electronics, and a few others. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, it was common to see these magazines predict that this would be the year of the home video recording system. For example, in 1971, [Lou Garner] wrote: “…they [Sony] hope will put home videotape playing in the same living room as conventional high-fidelity sound systems.” You should know that the video cassette he was talking about was 8 inches wide by 5 inches deep (a big larger than a VHS tape) and contained 3/4 inch magnetic tape (VHS used 1/2 inch tape). The 32-pound player had a retail price of about $350 (about $2,000 in today’s dollars; remember gas was $0.36 a gallon and eggs were $0.53 a dozen). It would be several years before VHS and Betamax would duke it out for home supremacy.

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Hackaday Links: January 5, 2012

Now make it life size

Here’s a scale model of the classic Playstation game Wipeout. It uses quantum levitation, superconductors, liquid nitrogen, and incredibly detailed models of the cars in Wipeout. They’re able control the speed and direction of the cars electronically. Somebody get on making one of these I can drive. Never mind, it’s totally fake, but here’s a choo-choo that does the same thing. Thanks for the link, [Ben].

Found a use for eight copies of Deep Impact

Where do you keep all your wire? [Paul] keeps his inside VHS tapes. It’s one of the most efficient ways of storing wire we’ve seen, just don’t touch those VHS copies of the original Star Wars trilogy.

There’s MAME machines for pinball?

MAME arcade machines are old hat, but we’ve never seen something to emulate pinball. The build uses two LCD monitors, a small computer and PinMAME. There’s videos in the build log; tell us if we’re stupid for wanting to build one. Thanks go to [Adrian] for sending this one in.

LEGO binary to decimal conversion

[Carl] is doing a few experiments to see if it’s possible to build a calculating machine out of LEGO. He managed to convert four bits of binary into decimal. We’ve seen a LEGO Antikythera mechanism but nothing on the order of an Analytical Engine or some Diamond Age rod logic. Keep it up, [Carl].

Lubs and Dubs that aren’t for dubstep

The folks at Toymaker Television posted a neat demo of heart rhythms emulated with a microprocessor. It cycles through normal sinus rhythm, atrial fibrillation, atrial flutter, and everything else that can go wrong with your heart. We know some nurses that would have loved this in school.

Using Videotape Tape As A Controller

Behold the Bodystick, an instrument built and demonstrated by [Erich Lesovsky]. It’s a bit like a string bass but instead of strings there is a strip of VHS tape. Apparently not all VHS tape will work, but if you have the right kind you can run voltage through it and then change the resistance with a touch of your finger. It seems that the hand not touching the tape needs to be touching a conductive pad, completing the circuit. The resulting resistance changes the oscillator values on a CD40106 CMOS chip. This project is a bit out there (just like [Erich’s] Mega-Tape-O-Phone), and in keeping with its peculiarity is the demo video after the break. Enjoy!

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