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Found 6 results

  1. By sheer coincidence, on Tuesday's episode of ZeroPage Homebew, James posted a poll asking if people used a video mod or stock RF to output video from their 2600s. Overwhelmingly, people answered RF. So the timing of this blog post is pretty good, since I've been working on this particular entry for well over a week. RF tends to have a bad rap with the Atari 2600. It's the standard connection between your console and TV, and was designed for a time when the only input that TVs had was for an antenna (either a pair of terminal screws, or an F-type coaxial cable connector). The reason RF gets a bad rap is twofold: 1) It's fuzzy 2) It's noisy. Now, there's not much we can do about the fuzziness. The reason for that is because of how RF works. The 2600 creates video as luminance (brightness) and chrominance (color) signals. It then takes those signals, and mushes them together into a single composite video signal, and then modulates that with the audio signal onto a radio wave that the TV tuners of the day would see as a channel and demodulate it back into video and audio. So because it's mushing the luma and chroma together, everything gets a bit soft and indistinct. That's just the way RF is. The signal is carrying a lot of stuff that has to be separated back out at the other end. To get a sharper picture means modifying the 2600 so you're taking video and audio directly from the output of the TIA (Television Interface Adapter) chip, before they get to the RF modulator, and then outputting them directly using either a composite (luma and chroma merged) or S-Video (separate luma and chroma) signal, with audio sent separately. To go beyond S-Video requires a special mod that can transcode luma and chroma into either RGB (separate red, green and blue signals) or component video (which is... confusing ). Both further separate the components of the video signal, maintaining the best possible color definition. But modding a console has drawbacks. First, you have to have some ability to solder small electronics. There are no fully plug-and-play mods available. If you don't know how to solder, that means either learning, or finding someone else to do it for you. Second, you're altering your original console, which some people simply don't want to do. Either because of the risk of damaging it, or just because they want to keep it original (although mods can usually be removed). So if you don't want to mod your console, but want the best RF picture you can get, then it's time to clean up the noise. The noise happens because since the 2600 uses radio frequencies to transmit picture and sound, and that signal is susceptible to interference. This can come from just about anything: nearby lights, microwave ovens, hair dryers, fans, electrical cords, air conditioning, power supplies and other electronic devices, and it manifests itself as static on the screen. There's some metal shielding in the 2600 to help reduce this, but most of the noise comes from the connection between your console and the TV set. And this is what we can address. The first thing to consider is where you plug your 2600's signal into your TV. If your TV has an F-type connector and a tuner that can still tune in the (now defunct) analog channels, you can just plug into that. But if you have a cheap TV with a poor tuner in it, that can negatively affect your picture. A bigger problem is if you're using a monitor that has no tuner, and only a composite input. Then you need an external tuner. One option is to plug the 2600 into the F-type connector on an old VCR, tune it to channel 2 or 3, then plug the VCR into into your monitor. But the output you get depends on the quality of the built-in tuner and the video circuitry, and a lot of VCRs were, well, junk. Plus, they're bigger than they need to be, especially if you aren't playing VHS tapes in them anymore. All you really need then is the tuner, or more to the point, an RF demodulator. And you want to get a good one, since that's the thing that's going to separate out that RF signal, and pipe the video and audio to your display. So let's start with that. What I use is a dedicated Sony tuner (TM-1041U), that was designed for use with their professional video monitors in broadcast applications. Fortunately, with the death of analog broadcast TV, these things are all over eBay, and they're usually dirt-cheap. Right now, there are some available for less than $15. Some variants have mono audio only, which is fine since the 2600 is mono anyway, as are many older CRT monitors. I bought a stereo model, so the audio gets sent to both channels in my home theater system. (The audio is still mono, it's just coming out of both speakers.) The demodulator in this is excellent. For one thing, it wasn't a consumer piece of electronics. This was built by Sony for professional use. It was designed to take RF signals and demodulate them back into high quality composite video and audio. It doesn't play tapes, or record shows, or do anything else. It's significantly smaller than a VCR, and it looks cooler too. That said, it doesn't do S-Video. Sorry. If you really want S-Video, your best bet is installing a mod. If you want to get S-Video without a mod, you'll still need a demodulator and then a composite to S-Video converter. But unless you can find one on eBay, decent ones are almost $300. Even then, trying to convert composite to S-Video is like trying to un-mix chocolate milk. You could probably do it, but it's not going to be worth the effort or expense, and neither the milk nor the chocolate are going to come out of it very well. So, with a good demodulator in hand, let's see about improving the noise problem. For all of the examples below, I shot all of the pictures off of a Sony PVM-14M2U monitor, calibrated with a color bar generator (click on any picture for a large version). If you're going to do any work on improving your 2600's picture, the first thing you need to do is calibrate your TV or monitor to color bars. This is simple enough to do with a DVD player and a calibration disc. The 2600 was developed according to NTSC video standards, and if you don't get your display correct first, then anything you do to the 2600 really isn't going to reflect what it should look like. (The same applies to PAL 2600's, but with more lines, and weirder colors. ) All RF signals went into the TM-1014U tuner, then into the monitor's composite video input. The same four-switch 2600 was used for all RF tests. The S-video signals were from a different four-switch 2600, and the signal went straight into the S-Video input on the monitor. First, let's look at how all 2600s were originally connected: the switchbox. This horrible little tin disaster connected to the antenna leads on the back of your TV, and allowed you to switch between your antenna and your 2600. For those with an F-type connector on their TV, you had to add one of these adapters, and attach the switchbox's screws to it: The other side would plug into the back of your TV (or cable box, if you were an early adopter): The problem with switchboxes, besides being susceptible to RF interference, was the switch contacts would get dirtier and dirtier, resulting in an increasingly noisy signal. Here are three pictures from the exact same system. This is using the original Atari RF cable and a switchbox. Here's how it looked, right after installing it for the first time in years: That's Chopper Command, in case you were wondering. I should point out, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this 2600. After giving the switch a good cleaning with contact cleaner, and working the switch back and forth a number of times, I could get a pretty clean signal: But the slightest bump of the switchbox, and I'd get this: And these were the best pictures I could get with the switchbox. Clearly, the switchbox has to go. The simplest replacement is an RCA to F-type adapter: This bypasses everything inside the switchbox, and lets you plug the RF cable straight into your TV. But what do you do if you still need a switchbox? Maybe your 2600 is still sharing an RF input with something else on your TV? Well, get a switch that isn't noisy. A high isolation A/B switch is the way to go. I have one from the late, lamented Radio Shack. But there are others out there. An important thing to remember though - you're increasing the number of cables when using an A/B switch. You have to plug your 2600 into the switch, then run another cable from the switch to your TV. Each cable increases the potential for that noise we want to get rid of. The cables basically act as antennae, picking up whatever stray RF interference happens to be floating around. So let's deal with the main cause of RF noise: the RF cable. Atari's original cable is thin, long, and poorly shielded. It's basically a magnet for interference. Here are three pictures using Atari's RF cable, without a switchbox: Look familiar? A little grainy? (The camera captures static that you don't always see in person, because it's happening so fast. Try taking a picture of your own TV, and see what you get!) Here's another look: See all of the extra noise? So what's the difference between those pictures and the previous set? Well, nothing! It's still the same 2600, the same stock Atari RF cable, and the same monitor. In fact, each of the photos in the second set was taken within a few seconds of the ones in the first set. The only difference is that for the second set, I've moved the RF cable about six inches closer to the 2600's power cord. That brings up a very important tip: keep the power cord under control! I've found that I can reduce RF noise a lot, just by bundling the excess power cord together, wrapping a Velcro™ tie around it, and moving it until the picture noise diminishes. A related tip is that if I bundle up the excess RF cable, it tends to pick up less interference. If you grab the bundled RF cable in your hand, you'll usually see the onscreen noise drop even more dramatically. At that point, your body is basically canceling out the interfering radio signals. (Or something like that.) But holding the cable in one hand isn't really conducive to playing videogames. Maybe you could have someone else hold the cable for you while you marathon your way to that Laser Blast patch. What we really need though, is an RF cable that's better shielded. When I test RF systems, I use a broadcast-grade video cable (the purple one in the photos) with excellent shielding. But having leftover broadcast cable sitting around isn't a practical solution for most people . So I thought I'd look for an off-the-shelf solution. First, I tried out a Cable Matters quad-shielded RF cable (this came in a three-pack, but you can find similar, single cables). This is decent quality but still affordable. The shielding looks like this: Now, that looks like a lot of shielding, but look at the braided part. There are gaps in it. There are more gaps than braid. You can look up the cable specs online, and find out more information about it. For this cable, it says that it has 95% coverage in total. Two braided shields, plus two foil. It also says the cable is "swept to 3.0 GHz". So what does that mean? Well, it's a spec that says how high of a signal frequency the cable should be able to carry. The higher the spec, generally the higher quality the cable. The Atari uses either VHF channel 2 or 3, which at 50-60 MHz is way, way below that. So this should be fine, right? Let's take a look! Now, those do look better than the stock RF cable. But let's move the cable back to where we had problems before: It's still picking up interference. Not as noticeable as before. But as a budget option, this would be fine, and it's definitely going to improve your RF picture. But we can do better. Remember that broadcast-grade cable I used? It's made by Clark Wire and Cable. Here's the shielding it uses: This has two layers of braided shielding each rated at 98% coverage. But again, I only have this because of a few leftover cables from work. To make new ones, you'd have to order the cable by the foot, buy some connectors, and stripping and crimping tools. Can we get something similar, without having to go to the hassle and expense of making our own cables? Well, this wouldn't be much of a blog post if we couldn't! (I'm sure not going to make them for you.) Fortunately, you can pay someone else to make them, and order them from Amazon. Blue Jeans Cable uses Belden 1694A, with really nice Canare connectors. The shielding isn't quite as robust as the Clark cable, but it it has a layer of foil shielding and a 95% coverage braided shield. So it's braided shield alone is effectively the same as all of the shielding in the Cable Matters cable. It's also rated for 6GHz. Effectively, this means the cable should be of higher quality than the Cable Matters one and be able to reject more interference. Here are the three cables side-by-side. The original Atari cable on the left, the Cable Matters one in the middle, and the Blue Jeans one (using Belden cable) on the right. Now, the Blue Jeans cable is expensive. No question about that. But the build quality is exceptional. Even though the cable is about the same diameter as the Cable Matters one, the Belden cable is less stiff (as a point of comparison, the Clark cable I have is so stiff that it's difficult to work with - it's really meant for permanent installations). The Canare connectors on the Blue Jeans cable are actually a joy to use. Most F-type connectors are a pain to tighten or loosen because the part that turns is usually too small to grip comfortably. But the Canare is easy to grip and turns as smooth as butter. So, it's a nice cable that doesn't skin my knuckles when I install it. But what does it look like? Very clean! Every bit as good as the Clark cable. But how does it do at rejecting interference? Well, it's still there. If you have bad RF interference, it's going to show up on your screen regardless of the cable. The goal here is to minimize the noise, and maximize the signal quality. A better cable does equal a better picture. There's less signal loss, and more shielding against interference. But there's always going to be an environmental component. Some of it you can control. Some of it you may not be able to. But you have to at least start with a good cable. Now, replacing a stock RF cable in a 2600 requires opening it up. Fortunately, it's just a few screws to remove, and the RF cable is simply plugged in, either near or directly into a small metal box (the RF modulator). To install the new cable requires an adapter. A new RF cable will have an F-type screw-on connector. The Atari cable used an RCA plug. The problem is, depending on the model, the space inside the 2600 can be very limited. In this four-switch, the cable has to bend at a 90° just above where it plugs in, and then exit out the back of the console. There's no way that the new RF cable will fit there, especially with an adapter on it. It's too tall. But as they say, two wrongs don't make a right, but three lefts do. Or something. So I came up with this: Two right-angle RCA adapters, and an F-type to RCA adapter. This setup adapts the F-type connector to RCA, and then routes it where it needs to go. Before reassembling the 2600, I'll use electrical tape to wrap all of the connectors together. The final RCA adapter that plugs into the 2600 has to have its center post filed down (at right), or it bottoms out before fully making contact. Note the pin on the Atari connector to the left. To see if I can simplify this setup, I've ordered a right angle F-type to RCA adapter. But it hasn't gotten here yet. I'll post an update in the comments if it works. Now, even with a really good cable, RF isn't going to be 100% noise-free. This is still RF and still susceptible to interference. But a high quality cable can make the picture more stable and much cleaner. This is the best RF can probably look on a 2600. It's certainly a lot better than the stock Atari RF cable. And this will work on an Atari 7800, too. Or any console that used a weedy little RF cable to connect to a TV. If you want a truly noiseless picture on your 2600, then you'll need to install a video mod (in this case, a CyberTech S-Video mod, in a four-switch 2600): As a direct point of comparison, here's a color test binary using the Belden/Blue Jeans RF cable: And the same, using S-Video: If you can get RF working without noise though, you won't really mind not having S-Video. As long as you don't think about it too much. Unfortunately, the CyberTech mod is no longer available. But at some point, I'll be installing an Ultimate Atari Video mod, and we'll see how that compares.
  2. Yeah. Let's see you get that song outta your head. It's apparently been stuck in mine since 1977, since I remembered it verbatim while writing this blog entry. Note for note. Over and over. What I'd forgotten until looking up the commercial is that it was basically an angle grinder for your face. Anyway, I thought I'd briefly go over the repairs I did for John Champeau's other console, and also cover some tips about how I cleaned it up. Everyone has their own tricks for cleaning a console, and these are mine. Hope you find them useful! This particular console is a four-switch Woody, and has a CyberTech S-Video mod in it. The issue with this console, is that when a cartridge (any cartridge) is plugged into it, the console behaves as if nothing's there. It powers up, but doesn't "see" the cartridge. As with the other modded consoles I've recently repaired (James' and mine), the first thing to do was remove the mod, and see if the console itself worked. It didn't. As an aside, John says both of his consoles perished after lightning hit his house. For what it's worth, I'd highly recommend getting a Tripp-Lite Ultra surge suppressor. I've been using these at work for years in our Mac labs for computers, monitors, peripherals, video projectors, AV systems and printers, and I use them at home as well, and have never lost a piece of equipment to a power surge (and we've had historically bad power at work). A couple of the surge suppressors have sacrificed themselves in the line of duty, but that's what they're supposed to do. Make the investment. (Admittedly, they haven't been hit by lightning... but you've gotta start somewhere.) So, I went through John's console, installed a console5 recap/refresh kit, and tested all of its chips in another 2600. Both the TIA and RIOT were toast. So I replaced those, and... still nothing. At this point, there's either a bad trace somewhere, or some other component that's cooked on the board that would require more troubleshooting than I presently have the time (or equipment) to do. Fortunately, I had a backup plan: McCallister had sent me a couple of dead donor 2600s. One, a six-switch, is going to become the home for my working spare six-switch boards. The other, a Vader, is going to be repurposed for an appropriately sinister project that doesn't require the original guts to work at all. So, with John's permission, that became the new board for his console. It still has his original console's brain in it though, as the 6507 was fine. (Someday I'll take a poke at fixing John's original board. It never hurts to have a working spare.) I had to move the joystick ports from John's board to the Vader board, since one of those ports had a broken pin, and both ports were slightly melted on the underside (where a plastic clip is supposed to anchor each port to the board). I have no idea how they got that hot, unless this was put into a reflow oven at some point, with the plastic parts still installed. After that, and installing a console5 kit and a few chip swaps later, the dead Vader board from McCallister was brought to life. One of the donor chips came from yet another four-switch board that someone had sent to me years ago for my (now catastrophically out-of-date) Video Mods Comparison page. So this system was cobbled together out of (at least) three 2600s. The S-Video mod tested out just fine, but the original wiring was sketchy. The audio and S-Video cables were soldered directly to it, and the wires were very thin and had been twisted up into a knot. So I went through and redid all of the wiring using my usual favorite wire and Molex connectors. This makes any future repair work on the 2600 easier to access. I routed the wires through the RF cable guides in the case. These didn't fit as snugly as they had in my console (plus, I'm shipping this) so I wrapped a little electrical tape around them, and threw a couple of zip ties on there for good measure: I had to make two minor modifications to the main board. The Vader is a different revision than John's 2600, and the crystal clock (the gray chiclet thing) was in the way of the CyberTech board. So I desoldered it, added some extensions to the leads, re-soldered it and just folded it out of the way. (In case you're wondering about the lack of RF shielding, the mod is too tall for the shielding to fit. It didn't arrive with it, so it's going back without it. But since we're not using RF, we're okay.) The other issue was that the pins on the CyberTech mod just wouldn't fit into the new TIA socket. They're just way too thick, and to force them in there felt like I was going to crack the circuit board. I'd run into this with my own console, and had fixed it by replacing the standoffs. For John's console though, I simply inserted a pushpin into each socket, one at a time, gently spreading the contacts. I did this a few times, until I got to the point where the mod's pins fit snugly into the socket, without forcing them. (I tested continuity, to make sure everything still made solid contact.) I replaced the AV old cables with new ones, the same type I used on my 2600. They end up only about 2 feet long, so John will need to use barrel connectors to hook them up, but I checked with him and he said this was okay. The alternatives were long, unwieldy cables hanging out of the 2600, or drilling holes in the case for AV jacks. With the system all tested and working, it was time to give it a good cleaning. Any console almost 40 years old is going to be kind-of gungy, and while the exterior wasn't bad, the rescued board from the dead Vader needed some work. Here's what I used: First up, the switches. Now, cleaning the switch contacts is easy. Just get some good contact cleaner spray, and give them a quick hit, and work the switches back and forth a little. Cleaning the aluminum posts on the main switches... that's something different. They were gross. Have you looked at yours close-up? May not want to. I use Flitz for this. It's a metal polish I've been using since back in my trumpet-playing days in high school. And if something can clean up a high school band instrument, it can clean anything. I just apply it sparingly to a shop towel (the blue paper kind), and start polishing. The key is to keep moving to clean spots on the towel, until the black gunk doesn't come off anymore. This is what the towel looked like from just these four switches. And this is only one side of the towel. The other side is equally dirty. And afterwards? Almost like-new! For cleaning the case, I used the glass cleaner, shop towels and Q-tips. Lots of Q-tips. If you can't fit a Q-tip into a tight space, just flatten out an end with some (clean) pliers, like so: I don't use Armor All though. It leaves a slimy mess on the plastic. I'd rather have the plastic clean than artificially shiny. Now, onto that tip I promised last time. I cleaned up James' console before sending it back, but spaced-out and completely neglected to clean the cartridge slot. Probably because it was working. Previously, I would use a flattened-out Q-tip and some isopropyl alcohol (or contact cleaner) to clean a cartridge slot. But Q-tips never fit properly, often shredded, and just wasn't a great option. Then Fred discovered that a console James had borrowed had all manner of debris from prior cleanings. That sounded not-good. Bits of fuzz and fluff could get stuck in the contacts, making the connections worse. So I thought, "What could I use to clean a cartridge slot, that didn't leave fuzz and debris behind?" And no... NEVER use sandpaper on metal contacts. Shouldn't have to tell you that. So I looked around my work table, and discovered the answer - sitting right there in front of me! By sheer coincidence (again!) I had come up with this cleaning method before James talked about the 1UPcard cleaning cart on his show the other week. The 1UPcard cart looks to be a standard Atari shell, with a pad of some sort where the circuit board would normally be. You add some cleaning fluid (99% isopropyl alcohol), insert and remove the cart a few times, and it cleans the contacts in the slot. For $19.95. My solution? Cardboard. Thin pieces of cardboard. Like you'd find on the back of a small notepad: Find some cardboard just a little thinner than an Activision circuit board (which tend to be thin themselves), and cut it so its a little narrower, and a couple of inches long (which is... some number of centimeters... just wing it). This will let the cardboard make full contact in the cart slot, without forcing the contacts apart (or catching on them). Cutting it narrower means you won't catch it on a corner of the slot (you just need to make sure to clean the whole slot by working over the whole width of it). Just give the cardboard a good soaking with some isopropyl alcohol. If you can't find the 99% stuff, 91% is fine (avoid the 70% stuff, because the other 30% of that is water). You can alternatively use contact cleaner. (And no... I didn't chip the corner off of John's console. This is the dead sixer from McCallister. It had some shipping issues.) Just hold open the cart slot with a couple of small screwdrivers (or coffee-stirrers, or whatever), and insert/remove the saturated cardboard a few times. Does it work? Well, this is from one cleaning of that six-switch: Gungy, indeed! The best part? If the end gets dirty or frayed... snip it off! Now you have a fresh cleaning pad! This also works for the 7800. You just have to also cut a narrow strip to do the two sides: I cleaned John's consoles and all of mine using this method, and it worked great. I was kind of surprised how dirty the cardboard came back, when I know I've cleaned some of those consoles before, and not all that long ago. One console in particular was really problematic playing Activision carts before being cleaned. Afterwards? No problem. Even my Pitfall! cart works, which has been historically sketchy. (Be sure to clean the contacts on your carts, too. A Q-tip and alcohol or contact cleaner works fine for that. Again, NO SANDPAPER. Were you raised in a barn or something? I shouldn't have to keep reminding you.) Anyway, here's John's S-Video console, all spiffed up, tested, and ready to ship back.
  3. In my previous entry about improving RF on a 2600, I mentioned that I wanted to try two additional changes: A different, more flexible RF cable A different F-type to RCA adapter So, I made those changes! And now I'm blogging about them! Exclamation points!! (I figured a new blog entry would be better than trying to squeeze all of this into the other entry's comments.) For the cable, I went with another cable from Blue Jeans Cables, this one using Belden 1505A coax. The 1505A (in the middle) is a lot more flexible than the previous Belden cable I got from them (on the right), and is also more flexible than the cheap Cable Matters ones I got from Amazon. The original Atari RF cable is on the left: So, how does it work? Well, the picture quality is every bit as good as the previous, heavier cable: That said, you still need to keep it away from sources of RF interference. In this case, the 2600's AC adapter: So I'm definitely going with the 1505A cables from this point on. For my 7800, I'll be ordering one just a couple of feet long, because that console sits right above the Sony tuner I plug it into. For the new adapter, originally I used an F-type to RCA adapter, plus two right-angle RCA adapters. This was necessary to route the cable where I needed to plug it in: The new adapter (on the left, from Max-Gain Systems) is an F-type to RCA right-angle adapter. So this replaces two of the previous adapters: You can find similar adapters on Amazon, but I went with this one because the center post is already shortened. So if you have a 2600 where you can plug this in directly, you don't need to file down the post. (Different revisions of the 2600 used different RF modulators, and the locations of the RCA jacks varied.) With the previous adapters, the RF cable couldn't bend before hitting the back of the 2600's case: But with the new adapter, it gains that crucial extra space: If you'd read my previous couple of blog entries, you'd know that I've been running all of these RF tests in a 2600 "Vader" that John Champeau sent to me to repair (along with another console). The original problem with this console was that the joystick control always moved right. Always. Whether there was a joystick plugged in or not. So I desoldered and socketed in a replacement RIOT chip, and that solved that issue. I also installed a refresh/cap kit from Console5. (BTW, if you're wondering where the caps should go, mojoatomic posted instructions here.) With the console working again, I figured I'd work at improving its RF output, and get a couple of blog entries out of it in the process. To install the new RF cable, I had to modify the 2600's case very slightly. I had to enlarge the hole for the original RF cable by a couple of millimeters. Just enough for the connector to fit through. To make the connector fit through, I had to slide the strain-relief boot down the cable: Fit the connector through the case: Then squeeze the boot through: The cable exits through the main hole. To make it fit through the original RF cable's notch (next to the hole), I would've had to file the notch out a lot more, and I didn't want to risk breaking the plastic. With the cable through, I attached the two adapters, wrapping electrical tape around the RCA connectors, so they wouldn't come apart: Then I positioned the circuit board, and plugged the cable in (I checked the angle before taping the RCA connectors): Then, I brought the two halves of the case together. You can see how little space there is above the adapters: In fact, they touch the top part of the case. But there is enough room for them! And with that, and a bit of a clean-up, the Vader was all ready to be packed up and shipped off! Well... almost. After getting it back together, I thought I should go through and test everything. I knew that joysticks worked, but I wanted to make sure everything else worked - paddles, an AtariVox, etc. So I plugged in some paddles, and... nothing. I tried them on TestCart, Warlords, Medieval Mayhem... nothing. I pulled the RIOT and tested it in another 2600. Everything worked fine there. So I desoldered and socketed in a new TIA. And that fixed the problem. (BTW, if you do much in the way of console repair, I can't recommend getting a proper desoldering gun highly enough. I used to own a cheap little Radio Shack one, and while it worked, the Hakko one I have now is much faster, much safer, and does a much better job.) And with that, the console is finally back together, fully tested and working, and ready to go. Next time, I'll tell you a little bit about the other console John sent me, what had to be fixed on it, and the best cleaning tip you've ever heard in your entire life!* *Note: May not be applicable, depending on how many cleaning tips you've actually heard about in your entire life.
  4. Welcome to part 2 of my 2600 repair blog thing! Didn't have to wait very long for that, did ya'? Part 1 was just getting a little bit too long, so I decided to break this up into two parts. Or maybe three. Probably three. I haven't written that far yet. In Part 1, when I wrote that I wanted my 2600 fixed permanently, there was still one thing that had been bugging me for years... My 2600 has been taken apart and put back together so many times, several of the screw holes are stripped. Two of them are so bad, the screws don't even pretend to bite - they just fall right back out. Two of them in the top of the plastic case... And two are in the aluminum shield. So now, it's time to fix finally fix that too. With these: If you read about James' console repair, you'd recognize the J-B Weld. It's super-strong, steel-reinforced epoxy, and I used it to patch a hole in his 2600's case. But paste wax?? Yep! I was thinking about how to use J-B Weld to fix the stripped holes. I figured I could put some epoxy in there, let it cure, then carefully re-tap the threads. But I wondered if it would actually work, and what that sort of stress would do to the plastic. So I did some searching, and found someone on YouTube who had come up with a better method: fill the holes in with epoxy, coat the screws with a release agent, and let the epoxy set around the screws while they were installed. Then simply back the screws out after the epoxy cures, leaving threaded holes behind! And the paste wax? That was the release agent that worked the best (which is more oily than waxy). Now, it's one thing to do this on a big chunk of aluminum like he did. But would it work with much smaller screws, and not just on aluminum, but brittle 40-year-old plastic? As they say on Project Farm, let's find out! Here are the stripped screw holes. One just behind the fake wood grain panel: And one between two of the switches. Not just stripped, but split open! In the metal, there was one on the corner: And one along the edge, which is used to attach the lower half of the case to the 2600's internals. So this one is kind of important! With James' console I used quick-setting epoxy. But for this, I used the slow-setting version. I didn't want this setting up before I could get the screws in. So I mixed up some epoxy, and filled up the holes: Next, I coated the screws with the paste wax (and believe me, they were greasy!): Then, I simply reinstalled the screws until they bottomed-out: And waited 24 hours for it to cure. The worst case scenario at this point would be if the screws wouldn't come back out. I wasn't going to try and force the ones in the plastic to come out, since they could just break more plastic around them, causing more damage. I figured with the metal I could probably get some vice grips on the screws and give them what-for if needed. But if nothing budged, I'd simply cut the screw heads off with a Dremel. Those holes weren't holding screws anyway, so my console wouldn't have been any worse off than it had been before. First up, I tried removing the ones in the metal. It took a little bit of effort (and a screwdriver with a really good Philips bit), but they backed out of the holes, leaving threads behind! But would it work with the plastic? Or would the torque I had to apply be too much, and crack the plastic? Well, no! Actually, the screws in the plastic backed out almost effortlessly! Again, leaving nice, threaded holes: I couldn't figure out why the screws in the plastic came out easier, until I realized that the screws in the metal have self-drilling tips on them. Basically, it's a groove that allows a screw to drive itself into materials without needing to drill a hole. So some epoxy had filled those grooves, and had to be broken loose before the screws would turn. The screws in the plastic don't have that groove, so there was no resistance when removing them. You can see the groove on the short screw, below. (The longer screw with the blunt tip also has a groove, but it's facing away.) Anyway, the fix worked, and the screw holes are now repaired! Now, how durable they're going to be is another matter. But I'm not going to torque down the screws in those holes very much, and I'm going to be very careful while installing them. If they last long enough to hold the console together for now, I'll call that a win. If in some future disassembly the threads break again, well, I now know how to fix them. Well, this seems long enough for Part 2. Also, I'm about 2/3 of the way through the photos I took, so I think I'll wrap this up in Part 3. Coming... now!
  5. So, I've been blogging again (in case you haven't noticed). I'd stopped blogging months ago due to the blog software here being a complete, hopeless mess. (This isn't a dig at AtariAge, but rather at InVision who makes the software, and absolutely ruined it during a previous "upgrade". The worst offense being the removal of categories, completely destroying anyone's ability to organize or find content.) What started my renewed interest in blogging was when James (of ZeroPage Homebrew) took me up on my offer to try repairing his RGB-modded Atari 2600 that he uses on his livestream. It wasn't so much the repair that got me thinking about blogging, but documenting the process and writing it all up. I found that I missed writing stuff. Or more to the point, reading peoples' responses to writing stuff. On the rare occasion that happens. You can read the whole repair story in the ZeroPage Homebrew Club here on AtariAge: https://atariage.com/forums/topic/307533-atari-rgb-light-sixer-repair/ Here are the different chapters, if you want to read it a piece at a time: Chapter 1: Unboxing Chapter 2: Tracing the problem Chapter 3: Back to RF basics Chapter 4: Testing the old mod Chapter 5: Repairing some crispy wires Chapter 6: Assembling the new mod Chapter 7: Cabling for the Framemeister Chapter 8: Testing flash carts Chapter 9: Wiring up the new mod, and initial testing Chapter 10: More Framemeister cable fun Chapter 11: Reinstalling the mod Chapter 12: Reassembling and routing wires Chapter 13: Patching the case, installing Molex connectors Chapter 14: Final assembly Truly a gripping saga. At the end of that saga, I decided to repair my own 2600. Again. But first, a little recap of its history prior to that point... I bought my 2600 from Sears as a factory refurbished unit, on August 10, 1981 for $139.99. I still have the receipt: I saved a whole $8 by buying a refurb! Score! Within a couple of years though, the console stopped working, so my dad drove me out to Martha Lake Electronics (north of Seattle) to have it repaired. I'm not sure what they replaced - I think it may have been a capacitor. Anyway, my console worked just fine after that, until it was eventually supplanted in 1987 by my Atari 7800 and put away. The 7800 was likewise put away a few years later when I moved and didn't have the space to bring my games with me. (I did buy a Lynx in September 1991 though. And yes, I still have the receipt for that, too. ) Anyway, I finally started getting back into the 2600 in 2002 when I discovered AtariAge and homebrew games. Upon unpacking my games and system (which had been shipped to me by my parents), I discovered that the springs in the Select and Reset switches were shot, so I ordered and installed a new set of switches from B & C ComputerVisions. In November 2003 I installed a CyberTech S-Video mod, adding it to my Atari 2600 Video Mods Comparison Project (long since out-of-date). In early 2008, my 2600 up and died while I was testing the 2007 AtariAge Holiday Cart (Stella's Stocking). That turned out to be the hex buffer. So I bought a new one, and socketed the new chip for easier future replacement. Then, in 2011, it up and died again. But this time it wasn't the hex buffer. I tried swapping chips with a spare console (a "Vader") given to me by a friend, but to no avail. So the Vader became my daily driver. Unfortunately, it didn't have an S-Video mod, and one of the pins had broken on mine, so I was stuck with noisy RF output. In 2015 I bought a set of populated donor boards from Best Electronics. I had hoped to use them to fix my original console, but I still couldn't make it work. So the donor boards went into my Sears shell, and that became my console for awhile. It wasn't without problems though - since whenever I pressed the fire button, the picture brightness changed. But at least it worked. In 2017 I was determined to fix my console once-and-for-all. I installed a re-cap kit and new voltage regulator, and after some more chip-swapping, finally managed to get it working again. I also managed to fix my S-Video mod. Although it turns out, that fix wouldn't be as good as I thought. But it wasn't fully working. It developed an issue where the console would only work if an AtariVox was plugged into the right joystick port. But it was working enough to use. In 2018, I restored its original chrome-capped switches (because they look super-cool), but the other issue persisted. It wasn't really a problem, except that I could never plug anything into the right joystick port except an AtariVox. No joystick, paddles, keypad, driving controller - nothing. This became a problem when Robotron went into development in early 2020, and I could only test it with dual joysticks on my RF Vader, or my RF 7800. This just wouldn't do. So that brings us to July 2020, where after fixing James' console, I decided to fix mine. Finally. Permanently. So I replaced the RIOT and hex buffer, and removed and reinstalled the mod (to test the console with stock RF out). I also used a Molotow chrome pen to restore the trim around the bezel. And finally, my original 2600 was back! For about a week. Then it died again. So that brings us up to the present. It's been my intention since July to fix my 2600. Again. Permanently. Again. (I should point out by "permanently" I don't mean actually expect it to keep working "forever", but rather that everything gets fully fixed, and nothing is lingering. So "completely" is probably more accurate, although I'm certainly hoping for some longevity.) Since restarting my blog recently, I thought this would be a good time to do the repair, and document it here. Coming sort-of full circle on what got me back to blogging in the first place. But there's another reason, too. Game reviews. (Edit: It's been so long, I actually forgot to write that as Homebreviews. You'd think that would've been almost automatic by now.) I still have a stack of homebrews sitting here to review. And another stack that hasn't been shipped to me yet. And another stack on the verge of being released. I have a lot of reviews to catch up on. And I won't review games on anything but real hardware. And I don't want to review games on anything but my own, original, S-Video modded console. So it needed fixing. And here then, is that story. The problem, is that my 2600 either outputs this (which is supposed to be Pac-Man): Or this (still Pac-Man): Audio, however, works. So is this the TIA? The hex buffer again? The S-Video mod? Well, only one way to find out! Time to tear it open! The S-Video mod is under the metal shield. Thin wires (single-strand wires from an old Cat 5 cable) come out a hole in the top, and go over to a small circuit board I used to test S-Video mods with. It has an S-Video jack and two audio jacks, with a small terminal block to easily connect and test different mods. From there, I plug in an S-Video + audio cable and run it out the back of the console. Originally, the wires were soldered directly to an S-Video + audio cable, but it made disassembly a chore. So having something I could plug and unplug made it somewhat easier to work on. The downside? A 12-foot long cable hanging out the back of my 2600, which I have to unplug from my AV receiver every time I want to move the 2600. I didn't want to install jacks on the back of the 2600 since drilling holes is, well, permanent. Another downside is that running the wires through the top of the shield means that I can't really open the 2600 up, without either disconnecting all of the wires from the board, or leaving it connected and it getting in my way. Here's a closer look at the hookup board. And here it is opened up. See the problem with the board hanging on there? The wires go through the shield, so everything is connected together. The other downside is that while the single-strand wire is incredibly easy to work with, it's not durable. Bend it a few too many times, and snap! At the base of the green wire is a capacitor that's soldered to the mod board, and is also in danger of its leads snapping off (it's happened before). So I decided as part of this endeavor, I was going to rewire the S-Video mod, fixing all of these issues. Mmmmmm... fresh solder! First though, I had to figure out the problem. I removed the S-Video mod, and reinstalled the TIA, just to see if the 2600 was working. Success! Pac-Man booted up and played just fine. So the 2600 itself was healthy. The problem was with the mod. Examining the mod board revealed the problem. Look at the space between the board in the middle, and the socket (which I'd installed as a spacer) below it. It's not even! The lower right corner kept popping back out. Pulling the lower socket off revealed why. A little excess solder on the pins on the underside of the mod was preventing the pins from fully seating into the socket. You could make them seat temporarily, but they'd pop back out. (Note: the blue resistor network isn't the culprit. I had cut a relief into the socket to clear that during the original install). A few quick hits with the desoldering gun later, and the mod snapped back together, fully seating the pins into the socket. Much better! I'm not going to bore you (too much) with the details of rewiring everything. A lot of this was effectively covered in the repair of James' console. But here's the mod, reinstalled, with fresh, new wires. They've been taped flat to go around the front edge of the board (not through the shield). The capacitor is now inline, so the leads aren't under stress. Plus they're protected with some heat-shrink tubing now, too. And finally, with the TIA back in its rightful place. And I only accidentally bent one pin the wrong way putting it back, too! So, with the mod back together. Time to work on the rest of the wires. As mentioned earlier, I wanted to get rid of the ungainly 12-foot cable that I had to drag around behind my 2600. This would now be left plugged into my AV receiver. On the 2600 side of things, I'd use short cables, about a foot long, hanging out the back. These are the sacrificial cables I'd be using, shown below. The audio cable would be from Monoprice (I really like the RCA connectors they use in their Designed For Mobile line), and the S-Video cables are from Clark Wire and Cable. (These were custom made, lossless cables for an S-Video router I had in my office, that has since been retired.) To connect the console's cables to the main AV cable, I'd simply use barrel connectors. First though, testing! Having the old mod test board around (as well as another terminal block to bridge the cables) let me do end-to-end continuity testing. Next, it was time to hook up the cables to a monitor (note the barreled connections next to the monitor), and see if everything actually worked. Presto! My 2600 was finally, fully fixed! Well, almost... Stay tuned for Part 2!
  6. And now... the conclusion of my 2600 repair blog thing! Or rather, the conclusion of this particular 2600's repair. Oooo... foreshadowing! If you're looking for Part 1 or Part 2, well, there are links to them around here somewhere. With the holes repaired, it was finally time to put everything back together. As with James' console, I wrapped the wires around the front of the board, and underneath it. Flat-taping them together, and using a little unshrunk heat-shrink tubing to keep things neat. I then attached the base, loosely putting all of the screws in, before tightening anything down. I did this so that I could be sure the screws in the repaired holes were going to all line up perfectly, without having to drive a screw in from an angle. The wires neatly fit through a pre-existing gap in the shield cover: Next, I crimped pins onto the wires coming from the mod: And inserted all of the pins into one half of a Molex connector: Then I crimped sockets onto the audio and S-Video cable (I added some heat shrink tubing to help with color coding): And pressed those into the other half of the Molex connector. In hindsight, I should've stripped the wires further back, because I barely had enough space to maneuver the pins into the connector. Next time. When I installed the old S-Video cable, I had to slightly enlarged the factory hole that the RF cable had been fed through: By complete accident, the Molex connector fit through it without needing any further modifications. I attached the bottom of the case to the 2600's guts, and the screw seated into the newly repaired hole very solidly and reassuringly! With that, I only had to plug the Molex connector together to finish the wiring. The Molex connector allows much easier future disassembly of the console. Hopefully, having gone to all of this work, I'll never actually need to use it. Once connected, I fed the S-Video and audio cables through the wire guides inside the 2600 (where the RF cable had originally been). They fit just snug, without pinching. A perfect fit! So at this point, I could fully test the rebuilt system. I plugged in Pac-Man and... there was no color! What happened?!? Of course, it took about a second to realize that the TV Type switch was set to Black and White. Duhr. Pac-Man loaded and played fine! Well, as much as it ever did. Oddly enough, using Pac-Man for my test cartridge has actually given me a little kinder view of it in hindsight. It's not really a bad game. It is a bad port of Pac-Man. But taken on its own, it's not awful. Certainly not like Karate (or as I prefer to call it, "Dancing Diaper Stickmen"). And with that, final assembly and testing! My Harmony cart works. My AtariVox works. My 2600 works without my AtariVox. It is, finally, after all these years, fully sorted. After this, I moved it back into my living room, and hooked it back up to my AV receiver and TV. It's nice to have that repair done! But that doesn't mean I'm done repairing...
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