Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Walmart once again proved that it is a giant retailer

Yesterday on Red Flag Deals (if you don't know about RFD, shame on you) a thread was started about Walmart discounting a huge amount of games at 1$. I thought I would miss on it since I could only go into a Walmart after work.

Boy was I wrong ! I was able to get about 27 games for the low price of 25$ + taxes.

And yes, I am keeping most of them for my collection and for playing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

My first ever Xbox 360 RROD fix or why you should RTFM !

Sometimes you find weird stuff in thrift shops. Sometimes you find stuff that shouldn't be there... yet. I found a lonely Xbox 360...

And those saying "Man that thing was dead for sure !" are right. And maybe the title tipped off others. Yes, that 360 had the 3 red flashing lights, the infamous Red Ring of Death or RROD for short.

So fixing a RROD on a 360 must be hard, right ? If it was easy, people wouldn't pay other people to do it, everyone would do it themselves. On the contrary, it is easy ! You ca find plenty or tutorials on the intarweb on how to fix it and they are mostly the same. Then, why people don't do it themselves ? Because they're afraid they'll destroy their machine.

It's just like plumbing. People are afraid they will flood their house so they pay a guy an insane amount of money to do a job that might be as risky as if people did it themselves (everybody who saw a Mike Holmes show know what I'm talking about).

And know you're wondering what is the link between fixing an Xbox 360 and plumbing... It's simple : follow the goddamn instructions. If you can't do that, then you deserve to pay insane amount of money to a guy that has as much chance as you to screw things up.

I made one small mistake when I fixed that RROD. My local hardware shop didn't have the correct length of screws needed for the fix but I was sure I would be fine. I wasn't... One of the 360 heat sink is thin and the holes are just under the heat sink fins. A longer screw would bend the fin and might screw up (pun intended) the integrity of the heat sink. So with a metal saw and a couple of vice grips, I was able to cut the screws to the perfect length and did my fix. But I do have to remember that if I ever had to fix another console.

The 360 is held together really well and has many parts and screws. Be careful and don't loose anything ! If you follow instructions, you won't break anything as well. Also, use Torx screwdrivers, don't think you'll be fine with a couple of different size flat screwdrivers, you'd just strip them and make the Xbox impossible to disassemble.

The fixed Xbox 360 is now in the ground floor living room and will most likely be used as a DVD player and casual gaming. Overall, I'm happy my fix turned out so well even considering the 4 hours it took me (cutting screws takes time!) from start to finish. I'll be faster next time (if there is one).

To conclude, I never intended to provide instructions on how to fix a 360. There is plenty of tutorials on how to do it with nice, clear pictures and since I didn't take any pictures, my instructions would be useless. A quick search on Google, gave me plenty of tutorials to choose from and I almost choose randomly. However, I'll be more than happy to provide advice if someone wants to fix his own console (but won't be held responsible if it doesn't work).

P.S. : Before attempting a fix like this, verify that your console is still under warranty with Microsoft. They would either fix it or send you a refurbished console free of charge.

P.P.S. : RTFM means Read The Fucking Manual...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Incantor and circuit bending, or the thing nobody really cared about.

On the Internet, you can come across weird electronic stuff. I still can't remember how I came across the existence of circuit bending.

To make a long story short, circuit bending is a process by witch you modify the way a circuit should work, hoping for crazy or awesome results. To further your knowledge of circuit bending, check Wikipedia. The whole idea of making music using circuit bent devices was made more popular by Reed Ghazala.

The best candidate for circuit bending are electronic toys and small synthesizer. Ghazala cover a lot of them in his book (available on Amazon and other fine retailers) but the most well known are the Speak series of toys by Texas Instrument in the early 80's. These toys had synthesized voice and had a large vocabulary.

I was recently able to get my hand on a really minty Speak & Read toy (even with the slip case). I knew I had to "bend" it. Since the required parts are switches, push buttons and potentiometer, it was nothing my trusty local part store couldn't handle. I did feel cheated on the normally closed push button... They are not commonly stocked so the only one they had was 13$... I'll buy one online next time.

Finding the instruction for a basic Incantor (circuit bend Speak & Read, as named by Ghazala) was easy since it is covered in a makezine.com article. Since I wanted it to look really nice, I was extra careful when I made the holes for the parts. I'm proud of the way it looks since the reset button almost look like a factory one. Ghazala mention in the article that many version of the circuit board for the same game exist and he is right. Mine was not even covered by the article since one chip was totally different from the schematic (different number of pins).

I was lucky since everything worked out fine the first time. The reset button does it's job: since the results are almost always random, you might need to reset the machine after a while. The loop button and switch work together: you press the button to "test" your loop and when you find one suitable, you "lock it with the switch. The pitch dial is the best feature in my opinion. Slowing the pitch to the limit always makes it sound weirder.

As for the bending switches, their effects are random but sometimes insane. Turning them on in different combination can change the sound or crash the system. But since the game was well built, I don't think you can break it.

While this was a cool project to do, unless you're a musician, you won't find much interest in this. I have fun with it from time to time and I am always amazed at the sounds that comes out of this thing, but I'm pretty sure I was the only to find it interesting. That being said, I'll probably keep it, even if they sell for quite a bit on ebay.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Building a CMVS - Part 3

While the previous part was more about the gathering of the parts, this part is about the making, and that part is easy too !

First is drilling holes. While any dumb guy can hold a drill (there should be a law for that), you have to be careful when makings the holes. You must carefully select your drill bit. In doubt, choose the smaller one. You can always make a holes bigger but not the other way around. It's also good to plan in advance the settings of your connectors, especially if you have one of a different size. As you can see in the picture, I went with the video quality and then sound. The other side only has the power connector, so I didn't bother to take a picture of it.

One you're done with the holes, it's time to bust out the soldering iron, your best friend in this adventure ! As you can see in the pictures, I also used a glue gun since I wanted everything to be nice and tidy. You can also note the use of only one ground wire. I find it easier and less messy that way. They would all connect together anyway at some point.

Once every video connector was connected to the encoder, I had to connect the input wires to the MVS board. Sorry I got no picture for that, but as long as you know your JAMMA pinout, you'll be ok.

Once the video encoder had both connectors soldered I did a small test. It was one of those occasions were I was glad I picked up a small Commodore monitor a couple years ago. It's bulky but it does the job when it comes to testing a console. I connected the board to one of my arcade and ran a long RCA cable to test the composite video on the monitor. Success !

The rest was easy, connect the power connector to one of the 5V line and 12V line and done. Now I could test on the big TV.

Arcade monitors are made to run with a native input, the original RGB input (not to be confused with Y/Pb/Pr input, or Component) so even on big screen, arcade games then to look very good. Much better than a NES connected over composite. However, this picture can not do justice to the quality for 2 reasons :
  • It's hard to take a good picture of a screen
  • You can notice the black line in the middle of the screen
While the black line is a problem with my TV itself, I was kinda glad it happened. This was the best proof that what I had been saying for the past 2 year and a half was true: there was something wrong with the TV! I was able to exchange it for a new TV since I took the extended warranty. I never thought of taking a new picture after the fact, sorry about that.

What ? 2011 ? Has it been so long ?

It's been four months since I updated this blog. People know that I'm alive and that's good enough.

Over these 4 months, my son was born and I can say he's a handful. He keeps us busy 99% of our waking time and some of our sleep time as well.

I also worked on some projects, most of them will soon be shown here. I just got busy and haven't had time to write about them.

Other than that, I've been to work, got some Legos (love Legos!) and got one new arcade game.

In the next posts, I'll includes the last part of my Neo Geo CMVS build, my Incantor build and some Legos pictures!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Building a CMVS - Part 2

So now that the Neo Geo arcade had its awesomeness ratio upped to "super awesome", I was ready for the next thing : the Supergun/CMVS (I refer you to the Wikipedia entry on supergun for more details : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SuperGun, CMVS means Consolized MVS, which is the name of the arcade version of the Neo Geo).

I had to choose between the Supergun or the CMVS but when I saw a Neo Geo board for cheap (35 shipped), I had made my choice.

When you consolize a MVS, you mainly need 3 things:
  • A MVS board (check).
  • A power supply. I acquired a couple with the correct rating last year so I was already set for that (check).
  • A video encoder (not check).
Video encoders are why this projects can get expensive. Unless you're willing to build one yourself, you have to get this from one of the three following source:
The JRok and Neobitz encoders are now able to output component (which is the last step before HDMI) so obviously, they command a higher price. I first contacted JRok and after one reply, he never contacted me back. Either my emails were sent directly to spam or I was asking too much questions. Y-Plus sell only a composite/s-video encoder, which is why it's cheaper.

So I went with the Neobitz encoder. I got better service from him and the board arrived while I was on vacation (good thing it's small, it was in the mailbox, not on my front door step). Shipped, that small thing was 100$ US.

The last thing I was missing was a controller. Another good thing about MVS boards is that some of them come with controller connector, like SNK was expecting people to use the board in different way than in an arcade cabinet. So ordering a controller on eBay was not too difficult, the only issue I had was that I payed more for shipping than for the controller itself.

Once you have all this, you still need a couple of things, but nothing that can't be found at your local part store (I go to http://www.active123.com/ for most of my stuff, except LEDs, one LED for 5$ is not a good deal).

Here's a final picture with everything needed. The Neo Geo cart is kind of a given, since you do need something to test. The output connectors were included with the video encoder so that was nice as I didn't really want to make a Digi-Key order (I find their order system to be a pain if you don't have the part number).

Of course, the board was first tested in my own arcade cabinet and once I was satisfied with it (took 30sec), I was ready to start building !

And that will all be covered in the next post !

Building a CMVS - Part 1

Yeah, new post ! Took me less time to post something than the previous times (we're talking June 2009 to March 2010).

So recently I sold a bunch of stuff on eBay and held off on buying new shiny things for my collection. So once I had enough money in my Paypal account, I went for it: finishing projects that I pushed for too long !

First off was the translucent arcade buttons. This is something that i had pushed back for a long time since it's only a cosmetic thing. I've been wanting to change the buttons of my Neo Geo arcade for so long and after seeing the translucent buttons, I thought it would be cool to have buttons that light up. You can't deny the awesomeness of those buttons.

While the concept is fairly simple, doing was another thing. The quality control on these buttons is not the same as the regular Happ buttons (even if they come from the same mold). You also have to consider that the type of plastic/vinyl used to make the buttons is weaker than a regular plain color buttons. Translucent = weak. The color also affect the weakness. Yellow is the worst, followed by blue.

Anyway, on to the project itself. I first decided that I wanted these to run of the 5V line already coming from the main power supply, no battery or external output. That would have been too much pain just to do that. Using a LED array wizard (http://led.linear1.org/led.wiz), I was able to figure build the needed circuit (it was mainly to know which resistor I needed to use).

One the circuit done and the buttons received, the rest was easier said than done. I installed the buttons and with my drill (I rarely used a Dremel anymore since the holes are all of the same size of an existing drill bit), I made a hole in the bottom and inserted a white LED. Then I soldered everything back to the small circuit, connected everything to the main Jamma connector and I was DONE !

It looks great and I like it. Next : the real CMVS !