Connect !!

These days, just about everyone has an old oscilloscope lying around. You know, an old, dusty, derelict scope handed down from Grandpa (or Grandma). Well, [Paul] had something even better – an old Tektronix 602 X-Y Monitor! Could an Oscilloclock Control Board drive this vintage beauty? Absolutely. Could I make an aesthetically pleasing case? Definitely. How about time sync via WiFi? Stock standard!

Presenting the Oscilloclock Connect:

Here’s what it looks like plugged in to my fabulous old Tektronix 620 monitor:

And why not have a pair of Connects drive a Tek 601 and 602?

The Build

The main component of the Connect is, of course, a standard Oscilloclock Control Board. As usual, all 121 parts on Paul’s board were individually mounted and soldered by hand. The board then was programmed and underwent rigorous inspection and testing. Finally, the board was cleaned to remove flux and renegade flecks of solder, and sprayed with HV coating for humidity protection and – arguably more importantly – to give it its glorious sheen.

The case was custom-made and professionally machined right here in Japan from 6mm-thick sheets of pure cast acrylic (not extruded). This is an extremely transparent, hard, high grade acrylic – and Oscilloclocks deserve nothing less!

The case was sprayed with a special acrylic cleaner and static protection solution, before fitting the various components. Naturally, every part was cherry-picked, right down to the three BNC connectors – they needed an aesthetically pleasing colour, but they also had to have a shaft long enough to mount through 6mm-thick acrylic!

Finally, the physical interface! The knob was chosen for its perfect finger-fit and delicate aluminium/black tones, which gently contrast with the rest of the unit.

The Compatibility Crisis

Over the years, many folks have observed that the scope at hand has an “X-Y mode”, and asked if they could just ‘plug in’ an Oscilloclock Control Board. “Is it compatible?” Unfortunately, the response has usually been disappointing.

You see, creating figures and characters with Circle Graphics relies on the scope’s ability to turn the beam on and off at split-second intervals. This feature is called a “Z-axis input”. While many scopes from the 80’s and beyond do sport such an input, there are two common limitations:

Limitation 1: AC-coupled Z-axis inputs

Capacitive coupling – effective at isolating the input from cathode potential (-1260V !)

The input is connected to the CRT’s grid or cathode circuit via a capacitor. This is a low-cost, effective way to isolate the (usually) very high negative voltage of the grid circuit from the input.

The problem here is that the capacitor, by its very nature, removes the edges from the pulse. The controller is no longer able to control the beam on/off timing, and you end up with uneven blanking across the segments, as shown in the screenshot at right.

Depending on the values of the capacitor and the surrounding resistors, the symptoms may not be severe. However, the best way to resolve this problem (while still keeping the oscilloscope’s original circuit intact) is to insert an isolated DC blanking amplifier directly in series with the grid (or cathode). See the Kikusui 537 Oscilloclock for an example of this.

LIMITATION 2: INSUFFICIENT BLANKING AMPLIFICATION

Most oscilloscopes tend to require at least +5V on the Z-axis input to noticeably blank the beam. The Connect, however, is only capable of delivering +2.5V. It works just fine if you set the scope’s Intensity control very low, but as you increase intensity, the blanking quickly becomes ineffective.

Below we have a beautiful Japanese YEW (Yokogawa Electric Works) 3667 storage scope. The left shot is misleading due to the camera exposure; the displayed image is actually extremely dim. The right shot shows the same* image with the intensity control increased – the image is bright, but there is no blanking!

* Astute readers will observe that the time is significantly different between the two shots. This is a result of the WiFi NTP sync kicking in right in the middle! More (or less) astute readers may also notice that the scope’s trace rotation is not adjusted very well…

Of course, it would be a simple matter to incorporate a pre-amplifier for the Z-axis, which would solve this problem. This will be introduced with the next Control Board revision!


Like what you see?

Nothing brings more joy than connecting this bundle of usefulness into a woefully unused old oscilloscope or X-Y monitor. If this is of interest to you, visit the Availability page for more information, and of course see the Gallery for other unique creations!

3.3V to 5V Level Adjustment

Only just after I’d written last month’s post about an X-Y-Z display for an HUD, the customer asked for a spot of extra help with his new playtoy.

Uh oh - image not centred and way too big...

Uh oh – image not centred and way too big…

The Oscilloclock Deflection Board currently assumes X and Y input ranges of 0-5V, centred on 2.5V. However, the customer was programming an Arduino-based controller board with analogue output from 0-3.3V. Applying this directly of course didn’t break anything, but sure did make it hard to centre on screen! Would there be a quick way to adjust voltage levels?

Another issue was that the gain in the current-revision Deflection Board is hard-wired, and the image was not the right scale to just fit the screen. The gain could be changed via a single resistor per channel, but would there be an easier, more flexible way?

YES on both accounts!

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From the Archives – a 400-LED Oscilloscope

Long, long ago… In a workshop far away…

Recently, I’ve seen quite a few search hits and even an enquiry regarding the 400-LED dual-trace oscilloscope that I briefly mentioned on my History page. With renewed enthusiasm therefore, let’s take a trip down history lane and see what I was doing back in 1990!

A compact dual-trace 1MHz DC scope - what more could a high school kid want?

A compact dual-trace 1MHz DC scope – what more could a high school kid want?

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Making the Heathkit Oscilloclock

Last month’s post about the Heathkit Oscilloclock generated tremendous interest, and I’ve heard from several folks keen to try their hand at preserving their own beloved instruments.

… so let’s take a brief look at what was involved in the Heathkit OR-1 conversion!

Heathkit Oscilloclock - inside

Approaches to conversion…

There are many approaches to retrofitting a scope into an Oscilloclock, but it really boils down to how much of the original circuit you want to re-use, vs. what you will bypass with Oscilloclock boards.

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Transformer Corner part 4

Winding your own HV Transformer

In Transformer Corner Part 3, I looked at how to choose materials for a custom HV transformer. One way was to pull stuff from the junk-box – I did this in my early Prototype. The much, much better way was to use an off-the-shelf core with documented specs.

Let’s look at winding up the transformer. It’s amazingly easy to get a workable result!
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Transformer Corner part 3

Designing your own HV Transformer

In Transformer Corner Part 2, I looked at the power supply used in my early Prototype, and showed how to determine the key requirements for the HV transformer.

Now, let’s see how I could choose the materials and design the transformer – without any pesky mathematical formulae!

A hand-wound HV transfomer!

The end goal – a hand-wound HV transfomer!

Picking a core

The first challenge was to find a suitable core from my junk box. First off, recall from Part 1 that this couldn’t be iron (too ‘slow’ for 151 kHz), and it couldn’t be air (too ‘weak’ for 25mA). I suppose I could have tried plastic, milk, or even beer – but I knew better. I knew about a substance called Ferrite.

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Transformer Corner part 2

In Transformer Corner part 1, I introduced one of the key parts of the Oscilloclock – the HV transformer, and tried to illustrate some of the concepts and history behind it.

Next, let’s explore the Prototype’s power supply configuration. This will tell us a lot more about the transformer I had to wind!

Power supply design

My greedy little Oscilloclock wanted lots of different voltages…

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Do chips have bugs?

There are probably many people who think that microcontrollers are bug-free. After all, they are glorified integrated circuits; a hard-wired jumble of infinitesimal transistor logic gates. There should be no unexpected behavior, as long as you operate the device within the rated voltage and temperature parameters….

Wrong!

What we tend to forget from our CPU architecture classes is that a CPU actually has a program inside. Known as microcode, its primary function is to interpret each instruction into the right electrical signals to drive the various parts of the CPU. For example, an addlw 0x7F instruction might involve directing the ALU’s input to the next word in program memory (0x7F), and then telling the ALU to add it to WREG, with output set back in WREG. The microcode for addwf MyVar would be different again; it needs to get a value in RAM, and set the result back there too.

Well, where there is a program, there will definitely be bugs.

My first experience with a microcontroller bug cost me several weekends of frustration, fretting, and frantic but fruitless rework. Here’s how it happened:

Oscilloclock Gone Wild

It was the early days of the Prototype, And things were looking great! My dream was coming to fruition! Except… every once in a while, the clock would go absolutely berserk. Seemingly at random, it would start displaying crazy, meaningless images, and controls would cease to function. Sometimes it would recover; other times, it would exhibit brain death – requiring a hard reset.

April Fool's? No - it's a PIC bug!

April Fool’s? No – it’s a PIC bug!

No amount of testing or experimentation could tell me what the problem was. I rewrote huge blocks of code. I removed massive chunks to simplify the code. I drank more and more coffee. Sleepless nights and grumpy days ensued, wasting my precious youth!

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Circle Graphics – Lissajous figures

By the time you read this post, you must have seen the term “Circle Graphics” in a thousand places across the site.

In fact, “Circle Graphics” is not an official term – I just use it to describe how shapes are drawn on these clocks:

Everything you see on this screen is made up of CIRCLES! Blank out part of a circle and you get an arc. Squish an arc and you get a line. This clock simply draws circles, lines, and arcs of different sizes at various points around the screen. It does it quickly. And it does it very, very well!

The effect of using circles is beautiful – shapes are smooth and precise, with no jagged edges or pixelation.

Beautiful circles with no jagged edges

Making “perfect” circles

I carry on as if it were some incredible new concept or discovery, like the Higgs boson. But in fact, the analog technique of constructing perfect circles, ovals, and lines on a CRT is very, very old. These figures are really part of a class of shapes called Lissajous Figures.

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Transformer Corner

The atmosphere at Oscilloclock.com has been charged lately. Mails have been pouring in from folks who want to generate high voltage for their CRT projects, but have instead ended up with high tension from frustrated attempts. The primary culprit? Lack of a decent HV transformer.

HV Transformer basics

CRTs require high voltage, to coax electrons out of the electron gun and then accelerate them towards their fiery demise at the screen. This voltage can range from hundreds of volts for small tubes, to tens of kilovolts for large tubes! In the case of the Prototype and Model 1 CRTs, around 3kV was needed.

My Oscilloclock needed 3kV to draw this!

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