I thought I would post this sooner than later, as this is something I’m presently working on.
For those who might not be familiar, the Psion II was an early form of pocket organiser produced and sold by the British firm Psion. During its lifespan the organiser went through several versions. Beginning with the CM, a very basic unit with just 8kb of memory and ending with the top end LZ64, which has a 20 column 4 row display as well as whopping 64kb ram.
As part of an ongoing series of pocket computer reviews I’m writing, I have covered several models of the Psion II. Sadly the LZ64 suffers from a persistent and quite irritating whistle, which I believe comes from aging capacitor.
Today I removed all but two of the nine electrolytic caps inside my LZ in a bid to rid my unit of the blasted whistling. Here you will find some info on the capacitors I removed and their location on the PCB. If you own an LZ or LZ64, this information should be useful. As always the same rules apply, you repair your own gear at your own risk. If you set your shirt sleeve on fire, pour hot coffee on the cat or fall out with the postman, you can’t blame me! I’m simply providing this information as is. Hopefully it will result in a silent LZ, except for the for the odd beep and click of course!
After you’ve removed the screws and popped open your Organiser, you’ll find the motherboard screwed to the front half of the case. Laying the device face down, unscrew the top board which is held in place by a single screw (see fig1).
The main logic board is still connected to the keyboard via a ribbon cable just behind the pins for the ROM slots. This cable is pretty stiff and will take some gentle persuasion so as to bend the logic board up enough to remove the screws holding the keyboard PCB to the front case.
Once you have the boards removed turn them over so you can view the logical board the right way up. Remember to handle the two PCB’s with care, after all they are 30 years old and tend to be delicate.
You should now see something similar to fig.2. Note the already exposed pins below the cluster of caps, this is because one of the 25v 10uF capacitors has already been removed from the board.
Using an already warm soldering iron, I removed each cap, recording their values as I went along.
Of the seven radial electrolytic caps, the LZ has;
5x 25v 10uF
1x 50v 1.0uF
1x 6.3v 100uF
For now I’m leaving the two large axial caps in situ, as I want to try the LX with radial caps replaced but the axial caps remaining. If the whistling persists this might indicate which caps are the culprit.
Until the new caps arrive there isn’t much more I can do, so I shall leave you with this pretty diagram, which shows the values and orientation of each cap.
-Keep on geeking!
Whether you owned one or lusted after them on the shelves at Tandy or Dixons, during the late 80s and throughout the 90s, the personal assistant (or PDA) reigned supreme to anyone after a portable computer but not wanting spend the hefty price tag of much larger, more powerful laptops. Covering the history of these devices would cover more than a fair few articles alone and is a little beyond the scope of what we are going to do today.
Last year I was lent a Hewlett Packard 200LX by my friend Darren, who thought I might get a kick out of using this tiny DOS compatible palmtop. As it happens, he was right. Playing around with the 200LX has been interesting to say the least, even leading to the purchase of a Psion 3a for my own personal use.
The HP boasts a chiclet keyboard similar to those found on calculators and industrial equipment and features many of the same functions found on modern keyboards today, such as functions keys and a numerical keypad for quick data entry.
While using the HP, I have to admit I’ve held something of a love/hate relationship for the keyboard. In the beginning I struggled to type on it with any proficiency, often mashing the keys with my apparently podgy fingers. Only by the second week did things begin to change and suddenly I found myself typing with relative ease. I’d still occasionally catch the wrong key but overall I could turn out text at an acceptable pace. I wouldn’t say the 200LX is the best device for writing, blogging or any decent jaunt of typing for that matter. As a note taker it isn’t half bad, but to be honest there are better options available, but we’ll get in to that later.
The QWERTY keypad takes up roughly a third of the physical width of the device with a numerical pad occupying the remainder. What you’re left with feels awkward and slightly squashed to use. I can’t help thinking this might have been avoided had the designers simply used a full size keyboard, assigning the number pad down the right side, accessible via an FN key, a feature that was not unheard of in the late 80s and which is still used by laptop manufacturers today.
Setting aside my issues with the keyboard, the 200LX is actually a very capable portable PC or as it was known back then, IBM compatible. Written in gold above the screen is reads “Palmtop PC-2MB RAM”, that isn’t a gimmick or HP trying to use some fancy words to make the 200LX sound better than it is. The 200LX is as much a PC as any IBM XT, running DOS 5.0 on an 80186 compatible HP Hornet CPU. You can run a variety of DOS programs ranging from early DOS versions of Microsoft Word & Wordstar, extending even to a few old CGA games. Just don’t go expecting Wolfenstein or Doom, as I honestly struggled to get much more thank Zork to work for me. Sadly the display on the 200LX doesn’t lend itself well to fast moving graphics, ultimately suffering with motion sickness inducing screen blur. That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun with the tiny computer, just so long as you work towards the machines strengths and not its weaknesses.
It’s due to DOS support that the 200LX, as well as the 95LX and 100LX are still popular today. Should you happen to own industrial equipment such as a CNC machines that uses DOS specific software to input data. A HP Palmtop might offer a compact, inexpensive means of communicating with your machines without the need of a bulky desktop computer or laptop. In addition both the 100LX & 200LX are capable of reading from compact flash adapters through their PCMCIA ports, making it easy to transfer files to and from the device without need of the data cable.
The 200LX also comes equipped with an IR port, offering the latest in 90s wireless data transfer. By today’s standards the baud rate is lacklustre and you’ll be hard pressed to find much to interface it with. There were some compact infra red printers manufactured back in the day, which I believe will link up to the 200LX.
Overall the 200LX has some good points about it, which include
-Long Battery Life on 2xAA batteries
-Built in DOS 5.0
The 200LX comes packed with an impressive list of built-in applications;
- Appointment Book
- Application Manager
- HP Financial Calculator
- Lotus 1-2-3 release 2.4
- Memo Editor
- Pocket Quicken
- Phone Book
- World Time and Stopwatch
All of which does not include any software you can choose to load from compact flash. Aside from all the available DOS software you can run, there is also a library of HP specific titles to install. Once loaded in to the memory of the 200LX, there it will remain until such time as it is deleted or the device is reset. Access to a limitless DOS library obviously has its advantages, which makes the Palmtop such an appeal device.
Taking all that in to account you could be forgiven for overlooking some of the devices other failings. Were you looking to buy one today, the 200LX still retains a relatively high asking price as a bit of collectable retro kit, valued anywhere between £50-£140.
Personally I’d find it hard to justify paying more than £60 for one of these devices, as great as they are, there are better examples of pocket sized computing. In fact while I was writing this article I discovered they addressed my issues with the keyboard in a later model, doing pretty much what I had suggested. Other companies such as Atari, Amstrad, Psion, Sharp had devices which rivalled the HP Palmtop PC. While some were less compact than others, each took a stab at offering portable computer for users on the go. Only a few however offered you an IBM compatible computer that fit in your inside coat pocket, fewer still did it as well as HP had with the 95LX and later models.
Stay tuned for the next part of the article, when I take a look at another pocket portable, the Psion Series 3.
Keep on geeking
Wishing Everyone a Happy Halloween!
And of course so 8bit to get you in the mood!
Hello dear reader! Did you miss us?
BMV is back for another year and I have a lot of fun articles I’d like to cover and maybe we can fit in a few interviews this year from people active in the community. I’m sorry the blog has been a bit quiet but I was away busily tinkering, working on my Atari Lynx video conversion, making an AmigaPi 1200 and several more USB tank mice for friends who wouldn’t stop pestering me for one after seeing the one I’d built I’ve also been playing with a Powerbook 180 and discovering the pitfalls of LCD tunnelling which the entire 100 series seems to suffer from.
Blasting away from 2016 is my Picade build which I finished just before Christmas, now in 2017 I put the finishing touches to the cabinet with some retro electric 80s art. Keep your eyes peeled as I’ll be offering up free cabinet decal art for anyone looking to deck out their Picade in proper 80s style!
-This hack requires a dremmel with cutting and sanding attachments. Always wear goggles and ask an adult for help if your still in school. Please safety first, I take no responsibility for injury or loss of bladder control if you undertake this guide.
Not so long ago I posted an article on converting a broken Amiga Joystick into a working USB controller. In todays blog, I’m going to cover converting an old Amiga tank mouse in to a USB device. Before any of my fellow Amigans start shouting at me for desecrating a piece of retro tech, I’d like to state the mouse was pooched, the internal micro switches had clicked their last. Sure I could have repaired the switches, but I wanted an Amiga mouse for my AmigaPi and I doubt the world will miss one less yellow A500 mouse.
The first thing you’ll need is a broken mouse, please don’t bust up a working mouse, that’s just wrong and a waste of a good device. Next you’ll need to find a donor USB mouse, preferably something small, compact and simple in design. Essentially you’re looking for a budget mouse, the sort you might find in a 99p store. Below is a photo of the mouse I used, don’t worry if it has an internal LED, we can easily snip that out. Next we’ll need a beige USB cable, pick a length that suits your needs preferably something that will connect to the computer and leave enough room for the mouse to sit comfortable on your desk. If you’re still unsure, go for a 1m or 1.5m length cable as you can always trim it down to suit your needs.
We now have the essentials for making an Amiga USB mouse. Unfortunately I can’t walk you through the whole process, as it all hinges on the USB mouse you bought for the conversion. Initially you need to take both mice apart, and remove the electronics from the Amiga mouse. The only parts of the tank mouse you need are the main shell and the flexible plastic sheath around the mouse cord. The best way I’ve found to remove it, is by cutting along the under side with a sharp blade and pulling the cord out through the cut.
Let us turn our attention to the USB mouse, with the lid off you should have a good view of the PCB. The first thing you need to do is check the pinout of the cable because soon you’ll be removing it. To do this, you’ll need a multi-meter so you can perform a signal test on the each wire going from the connection point on the PCB to the pin inside the connector on the other end of the lead. I find it best to draw a simple diagram of the USB cable with the connector and the four pins laid out. I then jot down the corresponding colour wire for each pin.
Usually this is red, black, green, white, but not all cables are the same so been warned. Once you know the colours and where they go, you need to cut the cable leaving roughly 2” inches coming from the PCB as we’ll be using the remaining wires to patch in the new cable, matching red to red, black to black etc. However if you wish to you can completely remove the old cable by de-soldering it from the PCB and solder your new cable directly to the board. This makes for a neat and tidy finish, but it can prove a challenge depending on your soldering skills. So if in doubt, stick to my suggested route and leave some of the old wire in place. This way it will be easy to match up all those colour wires.
Assuming you are happy with the length of your new cable, trim back the outer sleeve and expose the four inner wires. You should have something like red, white, black and green, if your cable came from China you might find you have blue or even an orange in place of one of the standard colours. Not to worry, just check with your meter and make sure you know which pin the wire goes to. Hopefully if you’re really lucky it will match the wires on the mouse, otherwise you might end up with green as white or red as green. Again jot down the colours on your diagram, matching them up to the respective pins. Usually white and black are voltage, green and red are data. But never take anything for granted, always check!
Once you have the mouse rewired, hook it up to your computer and confirm its working. If nothing happens, check your pin out again.
The chances are your mouse came with a scroll wheel and depending on your skill level, you can either remove this with a hot air gun or use tin snips to remove the parts holding the wheel in place. Just be mindful that you don’t damage the traces on the underside of the PCB. A little wiggling is fine just try not to tear the components right off the board as that would be very bad. Assuming the scroll wheel is now removed, hook the mouse up to a computer and check that it’s still works. Hopefully it does, if not, check you haven’t broken and traces. I’ve make two Amiga mice so far and neither had an issue when the wheel was removed.
If you mouse came with a silly blue or red internal LED (note not the optical sensor!) You can snip it off, as the tank mouse doesn’t need lighting up internally. Your optic sensor does use a red led which is directed into a lens, don’t under any circumstances mess with it!
Here comes possibly the hardest part of the hack, inserting the new PCB into the tank mouse. Initially it won’t fit, for a start the optics will sit to high off the ground to be any good. So you’ll need a Dremmel to cut and sand the inside of the tank mouse, removing any lugs or protruding bits of plastic that are in the way. I’ve included a
photo to give you an idea of what it should look like, on both the mice I modded I had to superglue the cover ball cover in place. Depending on the donor mouse, the PCB might be too large for the inside of the Amiga mouse housing. If this happens you will need to trim the PCB with you Dremmel and a cutting disc. Regretfully I can’t walk you through this part as designs differ from one device to another. Usually trimming the board breaks the ground plane, you’ll need to do a little trace work with some wire to get things reconnected. Either way, you’ll have to get creative or find a friend to help you. Alternatively find yourself a donor mouse with a small PCB.
When your happy with the bottom half of the tank mouse, use a bit of blue tack and press the pcb down temporarily so that is sits inside the housing. Hook it up to your pc and take it for a test run. How does it perform? Is the cursor jumping about or shaking? If so, the optical sensor is probably sitting too high. First try pressing down the PCB with your thumb, does it improve? If it does, you might be able to get away with hot gluing the pcb while pressing it down with your thumb. Once the glue sets, the board will remain where it is. Otherwise use your dremmel to shave off a little more plastic before gluing the board in place.
Before you go gluing the board in place, we need to address the mouse buttons. You can do this one of two ways, either with a set of large micro switches or a pair of lever micro switches. The latter recreates the clicky sound of the tank mouse really well, but either will do the job just fine. Now returning to the PCB, you will need to remove the existing switches. As they will likely be too far back and not sit in the same place as the original Amiga buttons. You can either de-solder them or once again snip them off. I can’t stress the importance of being gentle at this point, if you damage the traces on the board at this stage you’ll have a hard time recovering the mess, so take it slow!
With the old switches removed, you can begin wiring in the new ones. Remember the new micro switches need to sit where the old amiga switches did inside the case. If you still have the original tank PCB, use it for comparison. If it helps, use a marker pen to drawn on the inside of the mouse case, so you have some guides to follow. Blue tack is your friend and will allow you to stick the switched down while you line them up with the mouse buttons. Once you have them lined up, you’ll need to wire them up to the new PCB. The wires will only need to be short and while it’s a little tricky to get everything sitting right, with a little time and patience it can be done, trust me I’ve done this twice.
With the new buttons wired up, you’ll need to test the mouse again by connecting it to a computer. If everything works, we’ll move on to the final stage, gluing all of the components in to place. It is up to you but I would strongly advise using a little blue tack to stick everything in place temporarily. Place the lid on the mouse and see if the mouse buttons work. Hopefully they should be clicking away inside the mouse and working just like the original. If things aren’t going exactly as planned, don’t worry because we used blue tack. Just pop open the mouse and adjust the switches a little until they are aligned with the plastic buttons build in to the upper lid. When you satisfied, remove the blue tack and use hot glue to fix everything in place. If you’ve only used a tiny bit of blue tack and don’t want to risk moving anything you can always glue the parts in place as they sit.
Finally with the buttons and PCB fixed in place, you need to put the flexible plastic piece back around the mouse cord. Simply peel it open using your thumbs and slide the cable inside. Because this collar piece is meant to keep the cable from pulling out of the mouse, you will need to use some glue to fix the cable from slipping up and down inside the collar. I did this by inserting some glue in the cut I’d made, not only does this hold the cable in place, but it also fixes the collar back together. Once the glue sets, it will stop you pulling the wires out from inside your mouse. Still, I’d recommend against holding the mouse by the cord.
All that is left to do now is to screw the mouse back together and take it for a spin. If you’ve been testing it a every step, nothing should have gone wrong. Hey presto you have a new Amiga USB mouse!
I really, really wish I’d found a page with that heading when I’d been trying to configure Alpine to work with Hotmail. A lot of us, myself included, don’t understand the inner workings of Alpine, which is no surprise as I gather it’s a pretty powerful email client.
Like many, I’m used to application being glossy and intuitive, all thanks to the colourful GUI OS’s we use today. The downside however, and bare in mind this is just my personal opinion. Is that all this eye candy is making us stupid and overly dependent on dumbed down interfaces that a 3 year old could follow.
Developers today work hard to make modern operating systems easy to use. So much so, that when we are faced with the bleak barren landscape of DOS or the Unix Terminal, the absence of pretty buttons has us running for the hills. I grow up in the 80s, Spectrum’s, C64s, DOS 6.22, I lived through all of that and was pretty good in using the lot, apart from the old BBC Micro. I always felt intimidated whenever I sat in front of a Model B at school. But somewhere along the way, I lost the ability to bend my head around a simple blocky, ASCII based program like Alpine. Worse still was after going online I found I wasn’t the only one. So after an evening with my thinking cap firmly on, here is how you get pop3 Hotmail working on Alpine.
When is an IMAP, not an IMAP, when its a POP!
So your struggling with Alpine and still cant retrieve your mail from hotmail yes? Well your possibly in luck, because below are the settings I used to get my mail via Microsofts POP3 servers. I’ll even walk you through what I did, so you can replicate it.
Things you need
-Linux Ubuntu or Xubuntu (will probably work on other destros)
-Liquid refreshment and snacks
First let us install Alpine, open up a Terminal and type;
“Sudo apt-get install alpine”
Once your computer has finished unpacking and installing the package, lets run it, in Terminal type;
You should see something similar to fig 1, continue to the config screen by pressing “S”, then press “L” for “Add a new collection”. You should see a page similar to the one in fig 2.
Enter the fields as follows
‘In the server address, replace BGates with your own email address. Unless you are BGates, in which case, hello! *waves* ahem!’
Once everything is entered, press Ctrl+X to save and exit the screen, then press ‘E’. You should now be back to the main menu, press ‘S’ and then ‘C’, you should see something like fig 3. This is the main configuration panel and we have a few things that still need entering.
Personal Name: B Gates
User Domain: hotmail.com
SMTP Server (for sending): smtp-mail.outlook.com:email@example.com
Inbox Path: pop-mail.outlook.com:firstname.lastname@example.org
Compare your screen with fig 3, the only fields I had to change were the ones I’ve listed above. Now scroll down the screen until you reach “Folder Preferences” and make sure “Enable Incoming Folders Collection” has a cross next to it. Now for all the changes to take effect, you must quit out of Alpine by pressing ‘E” and then ‘Q”. This will bring you back to the command
prompt. From here, type;
If all has gone according to plan, Alpine should now prompt you for a password, so that it can log on and retrieve your mail. Finally enter the “Message Inbox” by pressing “I”.
Voila! Your online and accessing your POP3 hotmail!
Can you believe it? The famous Lucasarts title, celebrated its 25th birthday!
Released on October 1990 for the Amiga, Atari ST and Macintosh to name a few. The game was a smash, with critics of the time praising its humor, game play and graphics. So popular was the title, that is spawned a sequel, Le’chucks Revenge. LucasArts released a remake of Monkey Island in 2009 for Windows, iOS, Xbox 360 and PS3. This ‘special edition’ featured new hand-drawn visuals, a remastered musical score, as well as voice work for characters and a tips system to aid struggling players. Developers included a function in the remake, allowing players to switch between the 2009 and original 1990 audiovisuals.
Ron Gilbert first conceived the idea for Monkey Island in 1988, his frustration with other adventure games of the day led to him making it impossible for the player to die while playing. Something that could happen to you without warning in Sierra’s point & click adventures. Ironic that the first ‘point&click’ I played on my A500+ was Space Quest. After playing through that game, I played Monkey Island with an unshakable certainty that I would eventually wind up killing Threepwood. So when he first fell off a cliff in the game, I stared at the TV with despair, then bewilderment. When a few moments later, he bounces back, saved from death by a rubber tree. The playful, parody of the Sierra “Game Over” screen is a nice touch and typical of the humor found in the Monkey Island series. To which Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman are responsible for. Together they wanted to develop a more accessible game compared to previous LucasArts titles, where amusement and exploration are key elements. Perhaps it is this approach that has made the franchise so popular, Monkey Island was innovative game for its day and is still enjoyable today through the 2009 remake. If you’ve never played the game before, I highly recommend buying a copy via Steam.
Monkey Island: Special Edition is currently available on Steam for £6.99
Monkey Island Steam link
Ever since I watched Alexander Armstrong watching a Sinclair pocket TV in Micromen, I have been unable to shake the idea of a pocket video player. I used to own a Casio pocket TV back in the 90s; I’d take it to school, on car journeys and sometimes hide under the duvet at night, hoping to catch a late night horror film. It was all a bit of fun really for me as a kid, catching Star Trek on my tiny Casio was something of a novelty. But as time went by, the little device got used less and less. The battery life was never anything amazing, lasting a couple of hours before going flat, but something about watching Micromen had me hooked on the idea and I couldn’t shake the need to take a crack at it…
Best Laid Plans
Originally my plan had been to buy a second hand Sinclair Pocket Television and hack it in to a portable video player. Perhaps even convert it to receive a digital signal along the way. I soon realised this was an unrealistic goal, as even the smallest Freeview receiver came in a box requiring an additional power supply. I’d be restricted to the size of the Sinclair’s tiny case, the electronics would never fit inside. Going back to the drawing board, it dawned on me that I still owned my old Casio TV-470. So I dug it out from its dusty corner and powered it up one final time. As analog was shut down quite some time ago, all i got was static.
So with a final farewell, I removed the back and took out the guts, casting them to the eternal dustbin in the sky. Next came the more complicated part, finding a suitable device that was not only small enough to go inside the empty case, but work with it’s existing buttons.
Simple & Effective
I knew early on that my best bet was to go with a cheap Mp4 player, the sort that can usually be bought off Ebay for next to nothing. I had two main requirements that needed to be met for the project to go ahead.
- Hardware buttons – So micro switches could be used behind the Casio’s plastic buttons, thus allowing the overall appearance of the device to remained unchanged. The channel buttons would act as ‘Forward’ and ‘Back’ navigation, ‘Select’ would act as a play / enter button and the power switch on the side would continue to work as it had before.
- Screen Size – The Casio was originally fitted with a 2.2” inch screen, and as I couldn’t find any players using a screen that size, I would need to compromise. If I used a screen to small or too large, I would face problems with it looking odd behind the Casio’s front fascia.
Tevion MP4 Player
Fitted with hardware push buttons, a 1.8″ colour LCD screen and an internal speaker, the Tevion seemed ideal from the job at hand. The player also had a switch to turn it on and off, this was great as it meant I could utilise the Casio’s existing power switch to turn the player on an off. With all these positive points, there has to be a down side and the Tevion did have one draw back, it had more buttons than the TV-470 case was fitted with. This meant I would have to alter the case to some how accommodate two extra buttons. Initially, I considered turning the contrast and volume dials on the side of the unit in to buttons. I’d do this simply by cutting them in half and gluing them on top of the micro switches I planned to use. Superficially they would still look like dials, only when you pressed them would it give the game away.
Sadly I realised this wouldn’t work as there simply wasn’t enough room in the Casio to house the buttons and the dials. In addition to that, I couldn’t figure out a durable means of gluing the half cut dials to the switches. An attempt with superglue almost ruined one of the micro switches after it leaked inside the housing of the switch and gummed it all up. In the end I had to accept that I couldn’t keep the tiny TV looking 100% original, the buttons had to be accessible for the device to work. This meant cutting out two holes where the dials had once been. I mounted the micro switches to a tiny piece of bread board that I had prepared and glued it behind the inside of the case, leaving both switches laying flush to the side of the Casio case. The method not only proved to be the most straight forward, but also didn’t turn out as bad as I’d expected. The overall look of the little telly remained pretty authentic looking.
Using another bread board, I aligned a set of three switches behind the front fascia of the case. This meant that the front buttons were pressed, they would trigger one of switches behind. I hooked up the three switches to the MP4 players controller board. Select went to select / enter on the player and channel up and down, now acted as reverse and forward. So if I needed to fast forward a video, I only needed to press the channel up button and the video would skip forward. The additional side buttons controlled the Play and Volume functions respectively.
Getting the power switch working proved another challenge, as the plastic switch was molded to work with the Casio’s original motherboard. I wanted to keep the switch authentic, so taking a chance, I cut the switch out of the original PCB. Extending a series of wires from the switch to the Tevion PCB, I was able to turn the board off using the original switch. Next came positioning it so that it worked correctly with the plastic switch on the outside of the case. This was something of a nightmare, especially when working with a hot glue gun. One of the key reasons I’d chosen this particular player was because it didn’t have a touch sensitive scroll wheel. I knew with relative confidence that I would be able to hack in to the hardware buttons or at least rewire them. In retrospect I might have been able to get away with using one with a scroll wheel, however many of those players also come with a rotating screens. Something which would simply not work in the little television.
Power I Need More Power!
Something I really should have thought about before undertaking this project was how I would project sound from the device. The headphone jack is all fine and good for personal headphones, but it’s a weak signal and not strong enough to power a loud speaker. The Tevion did come with an internal speaker but it was lousy and quiet. In fact the only way I was able to get anything to play through it at a decent volume to listen to, was by increasing the gain on my videos while I was converting them to AMV, then when I copied them over to the device, I was finally able to hear something out of the weak speaker. There was however a drawback, increasing the gain also increased the level of noise, resulting in some rather loud hissing in the background.
I considered using a piezo transducer, but even one rated at 1.25w was too much for the output from the Tevion. I needed something with much lower power demands and after finding a 0.35w speaker on Ebay, I sat back and waited patiently for it to arrive, hoping this would finally solve my problems. In the mean time while out shopping, I stumbled upon a small speaker in Poundland. It was designed specifically for hooking in to the headphone jack of a phone or CD player.
If this device could run off the meager output of a 3.5mm jack, then surely, I figured, it would run off the Tevion’s internal sound port just fine. After dismantling the unit, I found at it’s core was a 0.25w 29mm speaker wired directly to a 3.5mm jack. A pretty simply circuit, but hey, we like simple. A quick snip of wires and I had the speaker soldered in and hooked up to the Tevion’s PCB. Selecting a movie, I held my breath expecting it to either not work, or be very quiet. Because of how quiet everything had played up until this point, I had the volume set to 30, which in hindsight was probably a bad idea. The new speaker blasted out sound at a crazy level, which I didn’t even think the board was capable of. Huzzah! Finally I had my answer, a .25w speaker was what I needed to get the device to playback with acceptable sound. At 29mm the new speaker not only dwarfed the one that came with the Tevion but also the Casio’s original 20mm internal driver. As a compromise I installed the new speaker in to the now defunct battery compartment, using a piece of sponge to stop it from vibrating against the inside the case. This would be a temporary solution until I found something smaller. If I could find a suitably rated 20mm speaker, I could place it exactly where the Casio’s original speaker had been.
The quest to sort out the sound for this little television has certainly been an interesting one. I’d thought having found the Poundland .25w speaker everything was finally settled. Then while eating pizza and watching a movie at a friends, I found myself being handed something new to try. A .25w speaker that you can attach to pretty much any surface and turn it in to an active speaker.
The Tevion has some cool features, it’s a video player, portable radio, ebook reader, it also comes with some mini games. The only function I’m bothered about is the video playback. What can it play and how well can it play it? Having owned similar Chinese mp4 players in the past, I knew it would be unlikely that I would get the Tevion to play AVI’s or Mpeg4 videos. Most of these inexpensive players use MTV or AMV video formats. The AMV file format is something commonly seen on Chinese players and I’m not sure exactly why that its. Possibly because it requires the least processing power. More expensive brands such as Archos, Sony, Creative and Apple utilise more commonly found formats such as AVI, Mpeg. and MP4. AMV in itself is not a terrible bad format, it’s just rather old and rarely found on modern video converters. Which makes finding software that works in Windows 7, something of a challenge. Luckily there are one or two programs which will get the job done.
Videos converted in to AMV will never be anything amazing, playing back at 8 to 16 fps, the picture quality is comparable with that of a 140bp Youtube video. But when you realise this is being played back on a 1.8“ screen, is anyone really going to notice mpeg artifacts? In it’s original form the Casio TV was at the mercy of the weather, bad atmospherics, passing under a bridge or dropping in to a valley could all lead to poor picture quality. With that in mind, having the odd artifact or pixelation from a converted video really doesn’t seem that much of a big deal. AMV might not be as good as other video formats, but one thing which is does have in aces is small file size. A 60 minute video can take up as little room as 230mb, which really isn’t bad when I have 2GB of memory to play with.
This has been a cracking little project which I’ve really enjoyed working on. The tiny TV-470 is back in use and working as a perfectly good video player allowing me to watch old black and white movies, cartoons and what ever else I might fancy sticking on it. It’s also great to have when your laid up in bed feeling rough. Ok it will never replace a phone or a tablet, but it does mean I’m not draining the battery on those devices as much as I would. Plus there is something kinda fun about watching old movies back on the TV-470. Now if I can just figure out how the Tevion uses the headphones as an antenna, I might be able to reuse the original aerial for a real purpose.
Till next time, keep on geeking!
It’s not often that I see a decent retro gaming event here in my home town, but on the rare occasions that it does happen, you can be certain that I’ll try to attend come hell or high water. The 29th and 30th of June saw the Games Britannia host an event at the Sheffield Millennium Galleries.
I have to confess, it isn’t the first place I would think of holding a retro computer show, as the venue is better known for its art display. To the credit of the organizers, it worked well, albeit with one small drawback. I thought the layout was a little too widely spread, the two key areas of the event being located at either end of building. If you have problems walking, this might have caused a problem getting around to see everything.
The main function room held a selection of tables, offering everything from electronic kits, books and novelty items. Venturing further in to the room, I found several tables displaying computers and consoles from the 80s and 90s: Spectrum +3, Amiga CD32, Sega Dreamcast to name but a few. It was disappointing not to see such gaming classics such as Pong on show, but given the age of hardware, it is understandable why collectors would be reluctant to let 100 strangers play around with a 30 year old console from their collection. It was surprising to see the original Xbox amongst the consoles on display. Released in 2001, I still find it hard to consider this console retro, even though so many other gamers seem to do so.
The encounter was slightly painful, given the recent death of my own beloved Xbox and my failure to rescue it from the jaws of oblivion. However, this didn’t stop me from enjoying a game of Outrun. Having only ever played this game on Commodore 64 and at the arcade in the 80’s & 90’s, I had never played the XBox version of this classic. After 10 minutes, I was sold. This is a game that needs, nay, demands to be in my games collection. Not only did it still feel like the original, but also retained some of the arcade feel. As I carried on around the room, I noticed another line of tables set up with familiar consoles such as the SNES, Sega Master system and Atari Jaguar. I discovered this was part of the 2014 Classic Gaming Championships, hosted by Replay Events.
Entry was free, contestants pit their skills against other gamers, playing games such as Super Smash TV, Tetris, Paperboy, California games and Tempest 2000. Not one to turn down a challenge or the opportunity to play computer games, I entered myself in to the tournament. I knew my Achilles heel would prove to be Tetris and Paperboy, two games I have never been able to master. Each player was assigned an observer, who made sure no cheating or bug exploitation took place. My observer was probably around the same age as the SNES I was playing on, so it came to no surprise when he revealed little to no previous knowledge of the consoles I was playing on. In fact my score might very well have been better, were it not for the fact we discussed gaming throughout my turn. Mostly he asked me questions, while I tried to give answers as I played. What was the most popular game on the Mega Drive?
Questions like that have been known to start brawls, everyone has a favourite, some might say Sonic, Streets of Rage or Street Fighter II. He seemed surprised to discover Street Fighter had been released first on the Mega Drive and SNES, having believed it was a recent game, released for the PSone and then the PS3 Network. It’s things like this that makes me grateful for Replay putting on events. Educating the average gamer about the history of games and consoles.
By the time I had finished, my score for Paperboy, Tetris and California games really had me wondering if I’d even be on the scoreboard. So you can imagine my surprise to see my name up in third place overall. My score on Tempest 2000 (103616) certainly attributed to this placement. Having only ever played the arcade version, I found the remake for the Atari Jaguar to be a real solid offering. Even the infamous Jaguar controllers did not seem to hamper by game play. By the end of the day, my position had slipped to 12th place overall, but am I sad? No not really, I had great time, playing games and hopefully enlightening another mind to the fun that can still be had with retro games.
On a Walkabout
While on my way to check out the Pimoroni table, I stopped by Appytimes, who were showing off their latest title “Zombie Piranha”. The demo on show was specially made for the Games Britannia event in Sheffield. Speaking to their representative, I discovered the games had been heavily influenced by 16bit games from the 90s. Anyone who plays “Zombie Piranha” will see this almost from the beginning, as there are hints from several different games peeking out. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with James Pond and Ecco the Dolphin. The controls are simple, the difficulty is not too steep. All around well worth installing on your phone or tablet if your wanting a quick gaming session while waiting for the bus. At the time of writing, “Zombie Piranha” is still available for free download via Google Playstore.
By far the most interesting table at the event was that of Pimoroni, the Sheffield based company had come to the event with a bang. Showing off not just one but five working Picade units. Anyone who has been following my blog will know I have reviewed boards in the past in preparation for the up coming release of this awesome DIY arcade kit. Running PiMaMe, the model B RPi performs surprisingly well. In the time since I looked in to running Mame on the RPi, things have most certainly progressed. The Pi has gone from performance underdog to solid contender. So much that I plan to load PiMaMe on the BMV RPi to see what games will run and wont run.
Comprising of laser cut, powder coated MDF, customizable decals, original arcade hardware joystick & buttons, LCD screen and custom Arduino Leonardo. The Picade is the must have kit for anyone who has ever felt the urge to build their own arcade cabinet or put their Raspberry Pi to good use. However the Picade is not designed solely for the Raspberry Pi. Indeed, one only needs to look at the rear of the unit to find mounting holes for Odroid and mini ITX motherboards. Having only recently finished shipping units to their kickstarter backers, Pimoroni are now aiming their sights on selling the Picade commercially. Prices are still to be announced, but estimates place it around the £200 price range. Given everything that comes in the kit, BMV feels really buzzed about the future of the Picade.
Completed, the cabinets looks like baby versions of their full size cousins, right down to the clicky sound of the joystick and buttons. Forget using a USB joypad to play Pac-Man, the Picade offers a tactile arcade experience straight from the comfort of your living room. Designed with swappable graphics and mounting points for different boards. Pimoroni clearly foresee the needs of some customers to customise their units and apply their own unique mark. While I was using one, I also kept thinking what graphics I would use and if I could illuminate the banner above the screen. Seriously you can’t help yourself once you realise the dream of having your own arcade cabinet is less a dream and now more a reality.
Keep on geeking
I recently faced a rather depressing problem with my crystal edition Xbox. Having not used it for several weeks, I turned it on with the intention of watching a DVD. Only to discover the machine would not power on, the front power LED would illuminate for a few brief seconds and then go out. For all intense and purposes the Xbox appeared dead. Now I was left to unravel what had happened to cause the console to stop working. Several hours searching forums online and I discovered the original Xbox like it’s successor, suffered from design faults. Unlike the 360, the original Xbox does not suffer from the red ring of death, however the fault is just as bad.
Like any product, Microsoft produced the original Xbox in the most cost effect way available. One means of keeping the cost down is by using cheaper surface components. This is fine if your product is only intended to have a short operational life span. Introduced in 2001, the Xbox is now 13 years old, the first of what is now three generations of console to bare the name. Microsoft are more interested in the Xbox One and to a lesser degree the 360, leaving the original Xbox to the care of the retro gamer. Who must find ways to keep the console ticking when components begin fail. One of the most common failures is bad capacitors, which plagues all revisions of original Xbox motherboard included the last revisions, such as the crystal edition Xbox.
In part two of this article I will cover how to replace these bad components and hopefully bring my crystal Xbox back to life.