Walking down my street one day I found this very charming, bright orange vintage TV in a dumpster from some old person cleaning out their house. It caught my eye and I couldn’t let it go to waste, so I took it home and gave it a new life as a window into the past with everyone’s favourite retro games. Key features include:
- Raspberry Pi 3 running the great RetroPie image
- New 12" LCD display with curved acrylic cover to replicate shape of old CRT
- Can emulate everything up to and including N64/PS1/Dreamcast
- Built-in wireless XBOX controller receiver for multiplayer parties!
- Digital TV tuner inside to watch actual television, using the original knob for channel switching and a micro-controller to track its movement
- Uses original power and volume knob
First, showing off the finished product:
How I Made It
Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures before I started gutting the system. I actually thought it didn’t work at all because I didn’t know how to switch it on properly — turns out you need to PULL the power knob. The original CRT screen might have worked, and it would have been cool to use that, but it would have probably been difficult to interface a video signal with it since the TV had no inputs at all, just the built-in TV antenna. So I took all the old stuff out and now it needs a new screen. Note for anyone attempting something similar, CRTs can be dangerous and need to be handled with care.
I found a 12inch screen on eBay which takes a whole bunch of different inputs, and tested it out with my previous Raspberry Pi project, the hand-held retro game emulator. Thankfully after lots of cutting and grinding of the TV’s enclosure, the screen managed to fit perfectly!
In order to make it look more authentic, I wanted to have a curved screen cover like the original CRT. I came up with the idea of moulding some clear acrylic/perspex sheet over the front of the old CRT screen to take on its curved shape. Getting this to work properly was probably the hardest part of the project. I heated the sheet up in an oven and also used a heat gun to get it malleable.
After many attempts I finally got it an acceptable state. I still had to spend a lot of time grinding and sanding away the screen frame for it to fit nicely, as well as trim the acrylic. I almost cut and sanded it down too far and needed to put in those little bits of black plastic in the corners to fill gaps. You can see the holes I drilled in the front below the screen for the LCD control buttons.
I thought it would be pretty cool if normal television still worked on the unit, and even try have the original channel selection knob functional. So I bought a digital TV tuner/set top box, and wired up relays to the channel selection and power buttons on it so they can be triggered automatically by a micro-controller (Arduino). Here you can see the 3 big black relays (with transistors to provide enough power to activate them) hooked up to the small tactile switches on the board. There is also a wire coming from the status LED so the Arduino can tell whether the tuner is on or in standby.
Next I hooked up the Arduino clone with tentacles reading the current state of the channel selection knob. The original channel selection worked with a complicated arrangement of 3 rotary encoders that altered the analogue signal coming from the antenna by switching circuits, filtering, changing resistance/inductance or whatever. I hacked it up a bit and found an arrangement that let me use 9 signals to uniquely identify each of the 13 knob positions. When a channel number changes, I can tell whether it was an increase or decrease, and send a button-press signal to the appropriate channel +/- button on the digital tuner.
Here’s the new speaker (which I also found thrown out on a street somewhere) wired up to the audio amplifier. I probably would have just used the original speaker if I didn’t come across this one, but it’s much better quality. The original volume control knob is used to change volume of the amplifier.
At the back of the TV we have the original power cord, with a USB port above. There is also a USB hub under the TV with 4 ports facing out the side (hard to see normally). Also note the sneaky Xbox controller received glued up behind those holes at the bottom (with the pair button accessible).
I just so happened to tune in at an iconic moment while testing the digital TV tuner using the TV’s original antenna… I later ran into TV signal signal/interference problems of some kind when having all the components in there and closed up. Not sure if it’s interference from other components or what… I’ll need to play around with it some more and hopefully get it working reliably.
After connecting and installing all the components, here’s what it looks like on the inside in just about its final state:
On the bottom is the power supply which converts from mains AC to 12V/5A DC. The screen, TV tuner and amplifier all run directly from the 12V. There is a power distribution board with 2 step-down converters to 5V to power the Raspberry Pi, USB hub and Arduino. The Raspberry Pi has a fan which automatically activates when the CPU gets hot. The screen is connected to the Raspberry Pi through HDMI and the TV tuner through composite video. I maintained the audio jack out the left side, to enable headphones or external sound system. Audio comes from the screen’s headphone output, so automatically switches depending on the active input to the screen.
All the software and game emulation magic is made possible by the great RetroPie image. It’s pretty easy to up and running ‘out of the box’, but also invites endless hours of customization and tweaking of hardware and emulator configuration for performance, controller mapping, skins and themes, and curating your game library.
Here I am showing it off to family with some multiplayer Mario Kart. The screen input and other settings can be set with the discreet buttons on the front. P.S: Spot Jasper the lizard flaunting his Easter bling
It partners nicely with my hand-held portable retro game emulator, for gaming at home or on the move. Now I just need to find the time to use them…Thanks for reading!
P.S. I originally did this write-up on imgur but figured that wasn’t the ideal format to present it, so wanted to revive it here!