The VHS VCR has now passed from widespread use, and can thus be found as a ready supply of interesting parts for the curious hardware hacker. [Clewsy] has a novel use for a VCR head scanning drum, the part that is supposed to be tasked with reading information off of magnetic tape. Instead, it’s reading information from fingers as the knob for a USB volume control. Underneath the drum is an optical encoder disk which is read by an ATmega32U4 for USB interfacing with a host computer.
The helical-scan video recorder was a mechanically complex solution to the problem of recording a high-bandwidth video signal onto a tape that could be made slow-moving enough to be practical. By recording the video in diagonal stripes across the tape from a fast-moving spinning head they avoided the need for huge reels of tape, enabling hours of video to be fitted into a roughly book-size cassette.
While over time the mechanics of a VCR mechanism were simplified and cheapened to a great extent, the heads and drum were the one area that could not be compromised. Thus the VCR head was for a time the most high-precision mechanical device owned by most consumers, and the drums usually have exceptionally nice bearings. All of this makes one a particularly good choice for a volume knob or indeed any other large rotational control, so much so that we’re surprised it hasn’t become a more frequent occurrence. So scour the electronic junk, and you might just find the ultimate in free high quality control hardware.
Of course, this isn’t the only thing a VCR head drum can do. How about a centrifuge?
[Haris Andrianakis] likes his Logitech Z623 sound system. He likes it a lot. Which is why he was willing to hack in his own remote volume control rather than just get a new pair of speakers. But he certainly didn’t make things easy on himself. Rather than trying to tap into the electronics, he decided to take the long way around and motorize the volume knob.
The idea seemed simple enough. Just drill a hole through the PCB behind the knob’s potentiometer, attach some kind of extension to the axle, and turn it with a small servo. Modifying the PCB and potentiometer went well enough, but the trouble came when [Haris] actually tried to turn the thing.
Attaching the servo directly to the axle worked, but it made turning the knob by hand extremely difficult. His next idea was to add a small belt into the mix so there would be some slip in the system. But after designing a 3D printed servo mount and turning custom pulleys on the lathe, it ended up having too much slip, and the knob didn’t always move when the servo turned.
He then swapped out the servo for a small stepper motor. The motor was easy enough to spin when powered down, but didn’t have quite enough torque to turn the knob. He tried with a larger stepper motor that he salvaged from an old printer, but since he could only run it at half the recommended 24 VDC, it too had a tendency to skip steps.
After experimenting with some 3D printed reduction gears, [Haris] finally stumbled upon the 28BYJ-48. This small stepper with an integrated gearbox proved to be the perfect solution, as it had enough muscle to turn the knob while at the same time not restricting its movement when powered down. The rest of the project was relatively easy; with a DRV8825, an ESP8266, and an IR receiver, he’s able to spin the stepper with his TV’s remote. A simple web page running on the ESP8266 even allows him to control volume over the network with his smartphone. Based on similar projects we’ve seen, he could probably add support for HDMI CEC as well.
[Haris] says you shouldn’t follow his example, but we’re not so sure. He kept going when others would have given up, and the engineering and thought that went into each attempt is certainly commendable. Even if he hadn’t ultimately gotten this project working, we’d still say it was a valiant hack worthy of praise.
What’s the use of waiting around for something to break in order to hack into something else? As long as it’s just sitting around not being used, who cares? [OmniSaiRen] had a Behringer MIDI controller just taking up space. Instead of selling it, they decided to build it into something they would definitely use — a multi-volume controller with mute keys and other useful macros.
After gutting the case, [OmniSaiRen] gave it a couple coats of glossy white paint that looks really nice with the black keycaps and knobs. The plan was to use the original encoders, but [OmniSaiRen] replaced them with potentiometers when they couldn’t get the encoders working with the Arduino Nano. We are sad to report that Cherry Blues only made it to the build because they have all black housings and were also lying around taking up space, but maybe [OmniSaiRen] will grow to love them.
As wonderful as mechanical keyboards are, most of the pre-fab and group buy models out there have zero media controls. If you want rotary encoders and OLED screens to show what function layer you’re working in, you’ll probably have to build your own keyboard from the ground up.
Hackaday alum [Cameron Coward] got around this problem by building an electromechanical buddy for his keyboard that works as a volume control. Now that we don’t rely on them to make phone calls, rotary dials are a fun throwback to a time that seems simpler based on its robust and rudimentary technology. This one is from a lovely burnt orange Bell Trimline phone, which was peak rotary dial and one of the idea’s last gasps before tone dialing took over completely.
Operationally speaking, [Cameron] is reading in the dial’s pulses with an Arduino Nano and using a Python script to monitor the serial connection and translate the pulses to volume control. We like that this is isn’t a volume knob in the traditional sense — it’s a game of percentages. Dialing ‘2’ gives 20% volume across all programs, and ‘8’ raises it to 80% of maximum. Need to mute? Just dial ‘0’, and you’ll begin to understand why people wanted to move on from rotary dialing. It won’t take that long, but it’s not instant. Check out the demo after the break.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a rotary dial used to control volume, but that’s one of the minor selling points of this rotary cell phone.
For as long as we can remember, Windows has provided a mixer that breaks out the volume level of every applicable application into its own slider-controlled lane. But navigating to these controls is non-trivial, especially if you’re in a hurry to silence someone on team speak. You have to stop what you’re doing, click the speaker, go into the mixer, and then go find the appropriate slider. Windows won’t respect resizes between mixer visits, so you’ll almost always have some horizontal scrolling to do.
These are wired up to an Arduino Nano, which sends the serial data to a Python script on the PC that changes the volume values accordingly for whatever five programs are in the config file. Thanks to a little bit of Visual Basic, the Python script can run in the background.
[Aithorn]’s got everything you need to replicate this, so slide on over and grab the STL files and code. If you get to point where these sliders are too small, just build some bigger ones.
Chromecast devices have become popular in homes around the world in the last few years. They make it easy to cast audio or video from a smartphone or laptop, to a set of speakers or a display connected to the same network. [Akos] wanted to control the volume on these devices with a single, simple piece of equipment, rather than always reaching for a smartphone. Thus was built the CastVolumeKnob.
The project began by using Wireshark to capture data sent by the pychromecast library. Once [Akos] understood the messaging format, this was implemented in MicroPython on an ESP8266. A rotary encoder is used as a volume knob, and a Neopixel ring is used for visual feedback as to the device being controlled and the current volume level.
Further work was done to improve usability, with an ATtiny85 microcontroller being used to monitor the encoder for button presses before waking up the ESP8266, greatly reducing power consumption. The device is also rechargeable, thanks to an 18650 lithium polymer battery, and charger and boost converter boards. It’s all wrapped up in a sleek 3D printed case, with a translucent bezel for the LEDs and a swanky machined aluminium knob as the cherry on top.
It’s a homemade device that nonetheless would be stylish and unobtrusive in the living room environment. We imagine it proves very useful when important phone calls come in and it’s necessary to cut the stereo down to a more appropriate volume.
When [krich] switched keyboards he lost his volume control. So he decided to hack one together out of an Arduino, an old floppy disc case, and a Hover Labs Hover board (not the Back to the Future kind). You can see the result in the videos below.