Compensating CRT Deflection Coils

Projects 16 Comments

Things look really weird when you use an uncompensated deflection coil with a vector graphics display. This is because the coil looks like an inductive load to the driver amplifier, and the parasitic capacitance makes it ring. Ringing and overshoot create the strange-looking display, basically extending every line past its destination.

One way to compensate for that is to add a series RC snubber in parallel with each deflection coil. You can perform some calculations to figure out the values of the resistor and capacitor but they won’t get you very close to the answer. There are just too many parasitics to model. It’s much faster just to build a RC substitution box and tweak the values until you get the result you want.

Electrostatic CRT Driver Design

Projects 45 Comments

Update 23-December-2014: Richard at LabGuy’s World has wiring diagrams for the RCA 913 and the 3JP7, and other neat stuff.

Update 23-June-2014: Please see the CRT Board BOM Updates page for important changes.

Update 3-June-2014: Added OSH Park links so you can order PCBs easily and quickly!

Well, it’s here! I’ve put together an open source release package for my CRT driver design. See all the glorious details at the GitHub project. It contains the fab data (Gerbers, NC drills, etc) as well as the CSV-formatted bills of materials for three boards. All the parts are available at Mouser Electronics (and the Mouser numbers are listed in the BOM). It’s the same set of boards that I used for my Asteroids and Flappy Bird arcade machines at Maker Faire.

The design can drive most 2″, 3″, and some 5″ electrostatically-deflected cathode ray tubes, such as the popular 3BP1 or the precision 3RP1A. It can be modified to drive some of the oddball 2″ and 3″ CRTs that have a shared heater and cathode connection.

The three boards are:

The 1KV power supply takes +12VDC and uses a Royer oscillator with an off-the-shelf CCFL transformer to create filtered 800-1200VDC. The voltage is tuned by adjusting R1. Use a plastic-handled pot tweaker tool please! The supply can easily source several milliamps, which at 1KV could stop your heart. This is a serious power supply, so please be safe if you decide to build it. Keep one hand in your pocket while using it. Turn the supply off before poking at it, waiting at least a second or two after switching off the DC supply to allow the sense resistor divider to bleed off the output voltage. Don’t work alone.
The design is inspired by CCFL circuits designed by Jim Williams–see the very long and wonderful AN65, especially Jim’s hand-drawn notes at the end. While Jim used a switching regulator to drive the Royer circuit, I used a simpler linear FET approach which works well but generates more heat. You will need to screw a metal heat sink to the plated through-hole located above Q1. Use a mica washer and a nylon screw if you want electrical isolation since this node is NOT ground.

If you want to put this in an enclosure, keep a clearance gap of 1cm or more between HV connections and low voltage nodes or a metal chassis. The power supply produces stray magnetic fields that will cause the electron beam in a CRT to deflect in ways you don’t want, so you should keep it far away from the CRT and use a CRT shield made out of high magnetic permeability material, like mu-metal or soft steel.

You can also add a voltage multiplier circuit, tapping in to diode D1, to generate post deflection acceleration (PDA) voltages. A 2-stage multiplier (as shown on the schematic) can generate 3KV which is fine for 3″ and 5″ tubes that require it.

At the heart of the design is the electrostatic CRT deflection and video amplifier circuit, which takes 0-3.3V analog signals for X and Y deflection as well as the video input, and outputs high voltage drive signals to the CRT.
There are two deflection amplifiers, one for X and one for Y. The core of the differential amplifier is a matched dual NPN transistor with a bias circuit for setting the gain and offset (width/height and position potentiometers). A cascode stage made out of two high-voltage NPN transistors increases the bandwidth slightly and level shifts the signal up to about 1KV. There are two 220K resistors that form the load for the circuit. Don’t substitute these with plain carbon composition resistors–these parts have to be rated for high voltage use. Bandwidth of the amplifiers is about 10-15KHz, so you could drive ramp signals in to X and Y and generate an NTSC sweep if you wanted.

The video amplifier is a pretty simple class A design with a cascode stage to increase the speed. Bandwidth is about 6MHz, so the circuit can easily handle NTSC video. A simple-minded approach for driving a CRT electron gun is to ground the cathode and drive the grid negative, but the circuit design ends up being tricky. An easier way is to drive the grid to ground (or in my case, to an adjustable brightness voltage from a potentiometer) and connect the cathode to the amplifier output. The end result is the same, although there is a slight impact on the focus electrode. The video amplifier uses a +60V bias voltage which needs to be rather stiff since the drive current is fairly high (required to get 6MHz bandwidth).

A focus potentiometer produces a bias voltage for the focus grid in the CRT. It’s adjustable over a fairly wide range covering most 2″, 3″ and some 5″ CRTs, but if you’ve found some oddball CRT, you could always change some of the other resistor values.

The astigmatism potentiometer changes the final accelerator voltage relative to the average deflection plate voltages. Adjust this potentiometer if the spot on the screen looks oval instead of round.

There is a connector for a 6.3VAC filament supply. You don’t have to use an AC voltage, but be aware that pin 1 is tied to ground. You might want to measure the actual output voltage of the filament transformer (under load of course). I’ve found that most of them tend to run high (7V is not uncommon). Adding a series resistor can help prolong the life of the CRT.

Finally, a video amplifier bias supply generates +60V for the video amplifier. As an “easter egg”, you could modify this circuit to operate as a Nixie tube power supply by changing the value of R1. You’ll also need to increase the voltage rating on C5.
If you’ve already looked at the GitHub project, you might have noticed that there are no design files. I use Altium Designer for my schematics and PCB layouts. It’s a fantastic tool, but Altium’s decided that hobbyists are not a target market so this is a very expensive product that not many hobbyists own, so I don’t think there’s much point to posting design files. Maybe if Altium releases a noncommercial free license, but  I doubt that will happen. Altium recently raised their prices by $2K so the direction they are going in is pretty clear.

I’ll be posting updates with additional information, such as a CRT compatibility table, pin connection tables, and so forth.


CRTs with Magnetic Deflection

Projects, Uncategorized 2 Comments

Whew, Maker Faire was a lot of work, and a lot of fun!

Now that the Asteroids arcade machines are finished, I’m thinking about some suggestions that people gave me. A lot of people want a larger screen. Even with a precision 3″ CRT (3RP1A, for the curious), playing the game involves lots of squinting and hunching over.

In my collection I have a pile of 5″ CRTs, mostly electrostatic but a few magnetic. The electrostatic CRTs are quite long: 16 3/4″ is a pretty common length but some are even longer. The distance is necessary to maintain a reasonable deflection factor. 70-100 volts applied across a pair of deflection plates leads to 1″ of beam deflection. While I could certainly build a project with a very long case, this gives me a good excuse to experiment with a few of the magnetic CRTs I have.

Starting with cardboard harvested from old toilet paper rolls, I made a tube that can slip over the neck of a CRT. Next I cut 12 notches in both ends so I could hook magnet wire around them. Then I cut the whole arrangement into two halves to make it easier to wind the first set of coils on the inside of the tube.
Hand Wound Deflection Yoke
Then I wound 19 turns of wire on each half, starting with a small set of 3 turns spanning 2 notches, and then winding 7 turns across 3 notches, and finally 9 turns across 5 notches. After taping the two halves back together, I soldered the two sets of windings together in series. The polarity is critical because the magnetic fields need to add together, not cancel out. The second set of windings used the same winding pattern only this time I wound them on the outside of the cardboard tube and rotated 90 degrees.

This coil arrangement is called a semidistributed winding: look at (c) in the figure below.
Deflection Yoke Styles

After wrapping a layer of insulating tape over the windings, I wound a thin strip of soft steel around the whole thing. This provides a high permeability path for the part of the magnetic field outside of the CRT envelope. The idea behind the winding technique and all that is to create a uniform magnetic field in the path of the electron beam. The uniform magnetic field deflects the electron beam according to the Lorentz force law:
F=q(E + v x B)
E is the electric field. In this case, it’s the potential between the cathode and the anodes in the electron gun as well as the final anode. This accelerates the electrons forward towards the face of the CRT. The deflection force is the cross product of the velocity (v) and the magnetic (B) field. You can figure out the direction of force using the left hand rule. Since the electrons are moving towards the screen, a magnetic field in the up-and-down direction pushes the electron beam from side to side. This means that the horizontal deflection coils have to be positioned on the top and bottom of the CRT neck.
5AXP4 With Yoke

And it worked! I slid the yoke onto the neck of a 5AXP4 which is a CRT designed for electrostatic focus and magnetic deflection. It took nearly 1 amp to get a bit under an inch of deflection. To decrease the current I can add more windings. There’s a classic engineering tradeoff there between response speed (bandwidth) and current, since more turns have more inductance and parasitic capacitance. Incidentally, since the magnetic field strength is proportional to the current in the coils, I’ll have to drive them with a linear amplifier design that servos the current instead of the voltage.

The next step is to figure out how to handle magnetic focus. I have a 5FP14 which requires an external permanent magnet or electromagnet to focus the beam instead of the usual electrostatic lens. My friend Kent sold me a military radar display that uses a 5FP7A, and this display has a ring magnet connected with a screw and gear mechanism to adjust the focus.

A great resource for me has been the MIT Radiation Laboratory Series, Volume 22: Cathode Ray Displays, available here as a free PDF download. It’s full of details on how deflection and focus coils were manufactured.

I’ll leave you with this beautiful shot of the zero-first-anode-current electron gun assembly in the 5AXP4. The visible elements are (right to left): cathode, grid, accelerator, focus electrode,  and second anode (electrically tied to the accelerator).
5AXP4 Electron Gun

3D Vector Graphics

Projects 2 Comments

It’s back! This is a new vector CRT driver setup. The 3D cube is generated by an Arduino driving an 8-bit DAC.

New Table Lamp

Projects 1 Comment

Several months ago at the electronics flea market I picked up a neat bit of brass. I did some internet research and it’s actually part of a 19th century scientific demonstration instrument, most likely a prism. I found a very similar example at Fleaglass. Theirs sold for quite a bit of money, but I got mine for $5, which is probably about the value of the brass in it.

So I turned it into a table lamp.


In the photo I’ve installed one of the many vintage-style reproduction light bulbs that are starting to appear. They don’t really look like a nice carbon filament bulb but I can use this every day and not worry about it burning out.

Now all I need to complete it is to put a shade on it. Ideas?

Lissajous Figures

Projects 6 Comments

My new CRT driver board is coming along rather nicely. Tonight I tested it out with a 5″ CRT. It uses a P7 radar phosphor so it looks bluish white with a sickly yellow persistence.

5" Cathode Ray Tube - Lissajous Figure

The pattern is a Lissajous figure (LISS-uh-joo). Take two waveform generators and connect one to the X input and the other to the Y input, and you get all sorts of interesting patterns. Since the CRT driver board is not available as a kit (not yet, anyway!) you can duplicate this with an oscilloscope and two function generators.

There’s some interesting math behind Lissajous figures, but I’m more interested in building 3KV power supplies.

Oscilloscope Video Monitor

Cleverness, Projects 12 Comments

Watch this YouTube video, and then read the rest of the post.

So how did I do it? It is actually a very simple circuit.
Basic Ramper Schematic

The LM1881 separates the sync signals from the NTSC composite video coming from the camera. It outputs a vertical sync signal (active low) that asserts during the vertical retrace period and a composite sync signal (also active low) that asserts during the horizontal retrace period and also during the vertical retrace period (but with a set of serration and equalization pulses).

To connect these to my oscilloscope, I have to use the XY mode on the scope and convert the sync signals into deflection signals. This is done using analog ramp generators. The simplest way is to use an RC circuit to generate a rather nonlinear ramp. When the sync signal goes high, it charges the capacitor through the resistor. When the sync signal goes low, the diode allows the capacitor to discharge immediately. This generates the sawtooth waveform. Adjust the R value so you get the most complete ramp (goes most of the way up to 5V).

The video signal is fed directly into the Z-axis signal at the back of the scope. Because the Z-axis signal has the opposite polarity from regular video (it is a blanking signal, where a positive voltage will turn the beam off), I had to build a really basic video buffer to invert the signal. This is a nice exercise in transistor biasing using four external resistors. Don’t ask me for the schematic–you should try to build it yourself. Even if you don’t get it working properly right away, you’ll discover all sorts of interesting analog video effects!

555 Contest Entry

Projects 27 Comments

Yes, it’s not really vacuum tube related, but I built an entry for the 555 timer contest. It uses an ICM7555, which is Maxim’s second source of Intersil’s CMOS version of Signetic’s original NE555 timer. Turns out the fact that it is CMOS is important for this particular circuit…

ICM7555 - CMOS Timer IC

My entry is an AM radio. The only active device (silicon, germanium, or otherwise) is the ICM7555. The tuning is accomplished with an inductor and a capacitor, and the ICM7555 acts as an AM demodulator and class-D power amplifier to drive the speaker.

555 Radio

You may be wondering how all this is accomplished with a 555. The schematic is below.

555 Radio - Schematic

Here’s how the circuit works: The AM radio signal is tuned by inductor L, which is 300 turns of wire on a 1/2 inch diameter cardboard tube made out of an old toilet paper roll, along with the 100pF variable capacitor. One end of the parallel configuration of L and C connects to an antenna (surprisingly long!) and the other end connects to a ground wire which is tied to the AC outlet ground (old books tell you to ground it to a water pipe). So far this is exactly like an AM crystal radio.

The 555 timer is configured as a pulse width modulator in a non-traditional configuration. If I used the standard approach and connected the input to the CV pin, the low impedance of the pin would prevent the circuit from receiving any radio signals. I had to invert the circuit and tie both high impedance analog pins, Threshold and Trigger to the radio signal input. This is the reason why the CMOS version of the 555 timer performs much better than the standard bipolar, which has higher input bias current.

The pulse width modulator ramp is created by the 0.01uF capacitor and the 10K bias potentiometer which are connected to the Discharge pin. The potentiometer wiper goes to the LC arrangement. With no radio signal coming in, the voltage on Threshold/Trigger ramps up until it hits the threshold, and then Discharge causes the voltage to ramp down again.

When a radio signal comes in, it gets superimposed on the ramp signal, causing the threshold and trigger comparators to trip early or late in a cycle. This variation causes the output duty cycle to vary, which we can hear as sound in the speaker.

Demodulating the signal properly requires adjustment of the bias knob, so that part of the radio signal is “clipped” and ignored by either the threshold or trigger comparators. This ensures that the negative “halves” of the radio wave don’t cancel out the positive “halves”.

Want to hear what it sounds like? Check out the video below:

And of course, I can’t end the post without a gratuitous shot of the ICM7555 in circuit.
555 Radio - The Core

Steampunk Wristwatch

Clocks, Projects 5 Comments

Steampunk Wristwatch
Is that…?
Steampunk Wristwatch
Yes, it’s an LED steampunk wristwatch! It uses the LED wristwatch board (see this previous post). The watch is constructed from a small piece of oak and pieces of brass sheet and tubing. I used hand tools, a Dremel tool and a cordless drill to shape and form each of the pieces.

There are four more LED wristwatch boards left. I wonder what style of watch I should make next…

Here’s one more picture.
Steampunk Wristwatch

LED Wristwatch

Clocks, Projects 12 Comments

Sure, this doesn’t use a vacuum tube, but it’s still a neat way to reuse some old-fashioned 7-segment LED displays. OK, so I can’t wear it yet. It still needs a case and watch band. I am kicking around a few ideas, but feel free to post a comment if you have any suggestions.
LED Wristwatch
The LED displays are quite tiny and would have been used for calculators or similar devices back in the day. They were made by Fairchild as you can see by the original packaging:
LED Wristwatch - Fairchild LED Chips
The unique thing is that each display has a single die inside with each of the segments etched into it. In the picture below, you get a pretty clear look at the bond wires and the top metal layer. If you click the image, I have annotated the Flickr page.
LED Wristwatch - Closeup of LEDs

Back to the watch. It keeps the time with a fairly pedestrian PIC16F628A. It has an internal timer that operates with a separate oscillator (which is the watch crystal in the lower right corner) which can run even during sleep mode. This is critical to keeping the power consumption low. When a timer tick occurs, it generates a wakeup event, and the processor can increment the internal timekeeping registers. The processor can also wake up when one of the buttons is pressed. When that happens, it turns on and starts multiplexing the LEDs so that it can display the time. After a short delay it goes back into sleep mode. I haven’t yet calculated or tested the battery life.

The batteries are ZnAir number 10 (a common hearing aid battery). This is a zinc-air cell that uses oxygen as part of the electrochemical reaction, which is why there is a tiny hole in the top of each cell. Any battery holder has to allow air to make contact with the hole. In many states, these are the only batteries you’re allowed to throw away in the regular garbage. California is one of the exceptions, and the state considers zinc to be hazardous waste, so these batteries have to be collected separately in a category called “universal waste”. To me this seems foolish because I suspect that a lot more zinc is released into landfills as bits of scrap galvanized metal. Things like galvanized flashing, nails, and deck screws. Regardless of legislation, zinc is a lot less harmful than lithium, so remember to dispose of your burned-out LED throwies properly (and not in the regular garbage).

Here’s a puzzle for you: the PIC has 13 I/O pins. The LED displays use 8 (7 segments plus 1 decimal point) anodes and 4 cathodes. That leaves a total of 12 I/O pins, and I am not using the 13th I/O pin (RA4) because it is open drain and not useful in this circuit. So how are the two pushbuttons wired to the PIC? In fact, how can either button cause the PIC to wake up from sleep? Post a comment with your theory. I’ll give you one hint: there is a dual diode connected in some fashion to both switches.

And here’s one last photo to give you an idea of how small this thing is:
LED Wristwatch - Coin for Scale

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