P10 Dark Trace CRT – The Skiatron

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I have a little story to tell. Years ago, I met someone who had a very large collection of CRTs. He had everything from common 3BP1s all the way to rare little gems like the 1EP1 and some vintage prototype CRTs. He showed me an item in his collection which was a rectangular CRT with a P10 phosphor. Finding a CRT with the P10 phosphor is like finding a unicorn. P10 is not really a phosphor; it designates a screen coated with some sort of alkali-halide (potassium chloride) that darkens when hit with an electron beam–a scotophor. The darkening effect lasts until the coating is heated, and typical P10 CRTs have a built-in heater that erases whatever was recorded on the screen.

Anyway, a few years go by and I lose contact with the guy. Rumors are flying around, and it turns out that he has decided to sell his entire collection. Bits and pieces of it start showing up at auction houses and flea markets. Another friend of mine mentions that he picked up a lot of CRTs at an auction house and asked if I wanted to pick through it. While sorting through it, I recognized the rare beast and bought it on the spot.

P10 Dark Phosphor CRT

So I finally got the time to hook it up and try it out. There doesn’t seem to be any documentation. The part number is 06E024P10, made by Thomas Electronics. It works, but not particularly well. Since the pin connections are nonstandard and the electron gun has some extra elements, I’ve probably got it connected all wrong. Anyway, I was able to put some scribbles on the screen.

P10 Dark Phosphor Screen

Notice the dark purple areas. I am shining a lamp through an aperture in the top of the CRT.

P10 Dark Phosphor Screen

Looking through the aperture, you can see how the CRT has a standard green phosphor section on the top third. This might have been used to verify that the tube’s electron gun was in focus. It could also have been used for status information. Most likely this tube would have been used in an early form of storage oscilloscope for capturing single-shot high speed events, although most examples of P10 tubes were designed for radar displays.

CRTs with Magnetic Deflection

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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

Asteroids Mini Arcade Machine

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Here’s a tiny Asteroids arcade machine I built from scratch. It uses a vintage 3″ round cathode ray tube driven from an amplifier board and high voltage supply of my own design.

A friend of mine ported his 6502 emulator to an STM32F4 Discovery board so this arcade machine is able to run the original Asteroids program without any modifications. The STM32F407 processor has two DAC outputs which work perfectly for driving the X and Y deflection inputs on the amplifier board.

Turns out the ST Micro part is really good for driving displays like this. Not only do the DAC outputs work great for deflection, but the hardware floating point really speeds up things like 3D vector rotation.

Come find me at the Bay Area Maker Faire! (May 17 and 18–go buy your tickets now!) I will be located in the Fiesta Hall (the dark room with the Tesla coils). I’ll set up a second arcade machine running some additional demos, including a Super Secret Game. You’ll just have to come and find out what it is.

Three Fives – Discrete 555 Timer

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My friends at Evil Mad Scientist have a new kit for sale. It’s a 555 timer circuit that you can build yourself using discrete transistors. You can wire it into all sorts of 555 timer circuits and then probe individual nodes to see how the chip actually works.The circuit board that you get with the kit has silkscreen labels that mark the functional blocks of the circuit, and silkscreened component designators that match up with the “official” Signetics schematic.

The circuit is full of interesting analog electronic design elements. You’ll be able to play with differential pairs, current mirrors, Darlington stages, diode-connected transistors, and more.

It’s a great kit if you want to learn more about how integrated circuits work, or if you’re a fan of the indefatigable 555 timer and want to have a neat conversation piece, or even if you’re just a beginning electronics hobbyist and you want to practice your electronics assembly and soldering skills.


CRT Driver Kit Update

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It’s been quite some time since I last posted about this. The project has been on the back burner for some time now since I’ve just been so busy with other things. It’s actually pretty far along the process but the cost of the parts is just too high, and the kit has quite a few parts.

I’ve been revisiting the design again to see if I can make it easier to build and less costly.

A question: Would you consider a version without a DAC? Instead of having an 8-bit digital interface (Arduino compatible), it would have analog X and Y inputs and a video/blanking input.

Quick Note

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If the site’s been very slow for you lately, it’s because someone used a PHP injection attack to add some potentially malicious Javascript to the top of the page. It should be fixed now. Thanks to Olli for the tip.

Panaplex Wall Clock Schematic and Software

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Remember my Panaplex clock project? Here’s a present: the design details!

Panaplex Clock Schematic
PIC18F242 listing – main.asm

Still Alive

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Wow, it’s been a few months since my last post. Sorry for the blog silence. I got very busy with a new job and just haven’t had the time to work on projects at all, let alone blog!

So here’s a quick one–it’s a Heathkit GC-1005 digital clock that uses Panaplex displays (Neon filled). I picked it up at the electronics flea market and it looked like someone had been trying to get it working before me, and they left a bit of a mess. I had to clean up the wiring job and check the electrolytics to make sure they were still good (they were).

The reason it wasn’t working right is that some of the component leads on the bottom of the PC board had poked through a paper insulator and shorted out against the switch contacts on the bottom of the case. All I had to do was trim the component leads and fix the insulator.
Heathkit GC-1005 Clock

A CRT Driver Board Kit?

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At Maker Faire, a lot of people asked me if I had a kit available for any of my CRT clocks. Based on the amount of interest, I’ve decided to put together a kit that will make it easy for people to drive cathode ray tubes using simple digital or low voltage analog control signals. The kit will include a PC board and all the components as well as detailed assembly instructions. For people that opt to use the digital interface, the kit will also include source code libraries making it easy to generate simple vector graphics.

The kit will use surface mount components, but none smaller than 0805. The ICs will be SOIC or SOTs, with the exception of the DAC, which is TSSOP.

Because this would be the very first surface mount kit many people attempt, I’m trying to figure out an approach for the assembly instructions that will make it easy to succeed. Some ideas I’ve had so far are:

  1. Solder the DAC first since it has a fairly fine pitch package (TSSOP). The kit might include a second DAC as a spare. By soldering it first, it’s easier to check for short circuits and open circuits. Another approach is to make a “spare parts kit” available that has some of the commonly “blown” parts.
  2. Assemble the kit in sections, testing the circuit a piece at a time. For example, after assembling the DAC, you would assemble the filament power supply and then test it to make sure it works and outputs the proper output voltage.  This makes it easy to correct any mistakes as they occur. I don’t want people to assemble the whole board, throw the switch, and not have a working kit–or worse yet, have the kit go up in smoke.
  3. It makes sense to release the assembly instructions on a site like Instructables, where it’s easy to include detailed macro photos of critical assembly details (like diode orientation). It also makes it easier to correct the instructions for mistakes, and it avoids the environmental impact of including printed instructions with the physical kit.

Hobbyists seem to have an aversion for surface mount components. With a little practice, I’ve found that it’s faster and easier to use surface mount components. Think about all the time you could save by not having to bend and clip resistor leads. You can solder most of the components without having to flip the board over.

If you have any ideas, please feel free to comment. This is all still in the early stages so there is plenty of room to change things and try new approaches.

Maker Faire 2011

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The Maker Faire is a neat DIY convention that happens every year. I’m bringing some of my projects to the Maker Faire Bay Area; just look for Tube Time. Come and say hello!

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