X-Y-Z Core – Revamped

Avid followers may have noticed an absence of fresh posts recently… What gives?

I’m happy to report that it’s only because Oscilloclock has been absolutely run off its feet in 2016, producing more crazy CRT based devices than ever before. There just hasn’t been time to do justice to the blog!

The good news here is there are lots of posts in the backlog. Let’s start out with this one:

Yet Another CRT clock fanatic?

I was approached by [Mike], who wanted to design his own CRT clock from scratch, but didn’t want to mess with the high voltage circuitry involved. Could I help out with an X-Y-Z display assembly, and he would do the rest? You bet!

Here is the newly revamped Oscilloclock X-Y-Z Core, shipped out in Q2 2016:

Oscilloclock XYZ Core

And here is what [Mike] was able to with it, after implementing a totally fresh controller design incorporating Circle Graphics:

oscilloclock-xyz-core-customer-clock-implementation-01

[Mike]’s setup – A home-grown controller board, the X-Y-Z Core, and a 3KP1(F) CRT

Here is [Mike’s] story in his own words:

I was thinking of building a Nixie clock, but when I discovered the vector graphic clocks that Aaron and others had built, I knew I needed to build one. I felt comfortable that I could recreate my own version of the digital logic and the low-voltage analog signals, but didn’t really want to tackle the deflection amp or the high voltage circuitry. Buying the Oscilloclock XYZ display solved that problem. Everything arrived as and when promised, and I was beyond impressed by the care and workmanship that’s evident in everything from the boards to the harnesses to the documentation!

I based my controller board on a Cypress PSOC 5LP chip, which allows me to implement all of the digital logic in its on-board programmable logic fabric. The 80MHz 32 bit ARM processor allows me to program 100% in C, which enabled me to create my own version of the software fairly easily. (I tip my hat to those who have done it all in 8-bit assembly!)

Remaining work includes improving my signal quality, which doesn’t yet fully exploit the bandwidth and linearity of the Oscilloclock boards, designing an interesting enclosure, and adding a few software features.

Good luck [Mike] with the rest of your implementation!!!

Key features

This unit is the latest incarnation in a series started in 2015, for a client who needed a custom Head Up Display solution. The boards have undergone through several revisions since then to optimize performance. This particular kit was pre-configured and fully tested to support 3RPx, 3KPx and 3WPx CRT types, and features:

  • Cathode to deflection voltage of 1875V
  • Digital blanking (grid modulation), safely isolated at 2.2kV continuous working voltage
  • Precision deflection amplifier capable of driving +/- 275V with 0.1% linearity
  • 0-5V analog X and Y inputs with 2.5V reference output [Option RS]
  • TTL/CMOS compatible high-frequency blanking input
  • Dim/Bright digital input with PWM support
  • Power Off digital input
  • Temperature-controlled fan with Failure and Overtemp safety features
  • CRT rotation coil supply (+/-5V)
  • CRT heater soft start / inrush current limiting
oscilloclock-xyz-set-16001-01-01

Oscilloclock X-Y-Z Core set – as shipped


Like what you see?

X-Y-Z displays are cool. But so are my other unique creations! See the Gallery, and stay tuned!

The Oscilloclock Core

Over the years, folks out there have reached out to me with all sorts of crazy ideas about cases and housings for scope clocks and custom CRT displays. Here are some interesting examples:

  • The console of a vintage pipe organ
  • An ancient grandfather clock
  • A cylindrical case made of some exotic wood
  • A “cathedral” style vintage radio

Essentially, these people wanted just the innards of an Oscilloclock, which they would build into their own case. Could I help out?

Absolutely! For people who want to roll their own cases, and who have experience handling high voltage electronics and CRTs, I occasionally prepare custom board sets that are lovingly hand-assembled, tested, and tweaked for optimum performance with a given CRT. Here we go:

The Oscilloclock Core

Oscilloclock Core, hand-crafted in 2015 for a discerning customer in Germany

An Oscilloclock Core, hand-crafted in 2015 for a discerning customer in Germany


The standard Oscilloclock Core layout, on a test acrylic mounting

The standard Oscilloclock Core layout, on a test acrylic mounting

I supplied this particular unit with an 8SJ42J Chinese-made CRT, just for testing purposes. This is a 3″ PDA tube with a highly restrictive rectangular viewing area, but the customer found it just great for checking things out!

Oscilloclock Core - complete set for 8SJ42J - 03Oscilloclock Core - complete set for 8SJ42J - 06
Oscilloclock Core - complete set for 8SJ42J - 02

What comes with it?

Here’s what’s comprises the typical Oscilloclock Core:

  • 1 x Fully assembled and programmed Control Board (optional on-board GPS)
  • 1 x Fully assembled Deflection Board (latest ultra-linear revision)
  • 1 x Fully assembled Power Board optimised for a given CRT (latest revision with options: onboard high-bandwidth blanking amplifier, rotation coil supply, auto fan speed control, unblanking plate modulation, and isolated bright/dim input)
  • 1 x Fully assembled CRT Board (optional; an external blanking amplifier recommended when the CRT cable is longer than 50cm)
  • 1 x Rotary encoder
  • 1 x Worldwide 9V power supply (high quality wall wort unit, commercial ratings)
  • 1 x Garmin GPS unit with 5m cable; wired to board-side connector (not required for onboard GPS)
  • 1 x Set of standard inter-board and CRT harnesses for testing and reference (10kV/3kV silicone melt-proof used for HV cables, other LV cabling also heat-resistant)
  • 1 x Cast acrylic test mounting assembly, fitted with the boards, ready for testing out-of-the-box with your CRT
  • 1 x Ceramic adjustment screwdriver
  • Service documentation (schematics, board layouts, complete Digikey BOMs, harness specs)
  • All components are latest available types sourced within the last 6 months, 0.1% or 1% tolerance resistors, minimum 2 x rated working voltage capacitors, all lovingly hand-mounted by myself
  • All boards sprayed with HV lacquer for moisture and arcing protection
  • 2-week satisfaction guarantee. But no long-term warranty on board-only purchases

Naturally, the lengths of all harnesses and inter-board cabling can be customized according to the owner’s requirements. And there is also an Oscilloclock Core Cube arrangement, where the boards are stacked to reduce the length and width of the overall unit.

What CRTs does it support?

The Power Board and Deflection Board are increasingly flexible with each revision, but I insist on performing all configuration of the Core here in my lab. This allows me to tweak for maximum performance, and provide a proper satisfaction guarantee.

Typically I work with the owner to recommend a CRT based on preferences such as size, colour, and aesthetics. However in cases where the owner already has a CRT in mind, and I don’t have the particular CRT or a close equivalent, I ask the owner to send me one to test against. Or, I simply procure one; after all, one can never have too many CRTs!  (Though my better half does not agree…)

The current Oscilloclock Core board revisions meet the following operating parameters:

  • Maximum cathode to deflection voltage of 2175V
  • Maximum accelerator voltage of 3525V for PDA type CRTs
  • 6.3V heater, max 0.7A
  • Support for “Deflection Blanking” CRTs (see treatise here)
  • CRT rotation coil supply (+/-5V)
  • Precision deflection amplifier capable of driving +/- 275V with 0.1% linearity

Like what you see?

Check out the Availability page for more information, and of course see the Gallery for some unique CRT creations – many with an Oscilloclock Core at their heart!

Heads Up!!

Recently I received a most intriguing request: I was asked to build a self-contained, super-bright X-Y display unit with 3-inch CRT, for use in an “HUD“. Hmm…

Holographic Utterance Device?
Horizontally Unstable Doohickie?

Fortunately, I didn’t need to guess any further. As I was once an avid flight simulator enthusiast, I quickly hit upon the correct meaning: Head-Up Display. This is a mechanism that overlays instrumentation or map data onto the view looking forward from the cockpit, so that the pilot doesn’t have to look down to see this information.

HUD in an F-18 aircraft. Source: AC Aviation Life

HUD in an F-18 aircraft. Source: AC Aviation Life

Wikipedia has a great introduction to HUDs and their history, but Mike’s Flight Deck has the definitive tome for flight simulator enthusiasts who want to actually build an HUD. According to Mike, the system employs various optical paraphernalia, but at the heart of the mechanism is what lies closest to my own heart – a CRT Display!

Oscilloclock 3-inch X-Y-Z display, custom-built for an HUD

An Oscilloclock 3-inch X-Y-Z display unit, optimized for use in an HUD

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Tek 520A VectorClock!

Television broadcasting has switched from analog to digital – and if you’ve got a nice HD TV, you’ll be loving it!

But with that transition came the death of an entire breed of equipment – the Vectorscope.

Tektronix 1420 Vectorscope

Just to be clear, these are not monitors for playing ancient video games using vector graphics!!  No, the Vectorscope is (was) used to give a delightful view of the ‘vectors’ inside an NTSC or PAL video signal, describing the color components of the signal.

If you were lucky enough to be a TV broadcast technician, you’d use your Vectorscope all the time to check your vectors’ amplitudes and phase. You would even give your vectors names like ‘Jack’ and ‘Jill’, and check up on their relationships daily, just as any responsible guardian would!

But above all, you would marvel every single day at the beautiful hardware you were using, and the complex circuitry involved. Take a look at my Tektronix 526 Vectorscope, which has oodles of delicious tubes to heat my shop on a nice winter’s day:

Tektronix 526 Vectorscope

Well, it all went digital and there is no longer any need for analog color signal analysis. But dry your tears… There is something even better:

Announcing the Tek 520A VectorClock

This lovely Oscilloclock reincarnation of a Tektronix 520A, sold at Maker Faire Tokyo 2013, allows its new owner to forever relive the magic of NTSC, PAL and SECAM analog color.

Tektronix 520A VectorClock - brilliant blend of the old and new!

Tektronix 520A VectorClock – brilliant blend of the old and new!


See more related videos on my YouTube channel

The Tektronix 520A has a stunning built-in array of lights for illuminating the CRT graticules. By simply removing the bezel and external graticule, the Tek 520A morphs into a deliciously moody timepiece!

Tek 520A VectorClock - Glorious Glow

Normally, I shun CRTs with built-in graticules. Their lines detract dreadfully from an Oscilloclock image. But here! The Tek 520A’s internal vectorscope graticule is round! What better way to accentuate a Circle Graphics driven display?

Silky smooth Circle Graphics on steroids!

Silky smooth Circle Graphics on steroids!

Under the Cover…

The Tek 520A is solid-state. It can be left on 24 hours a day and not fail for many years. This makes it a perfect match for my Maximum Re-use + Minimum Invasion policy: nearly all existing circuits – HV power supply, deflection amplifiers, blanking – are put to use, with just a few (reversible) tweaks.

Tek 520A VectorClock - Maximum re-use, Minimum invasion

The Oscilloclock Power Board is mounted neatly next to its own dedicated low voltage supply. A small relay board can be seen below, for controlling the Tek’s main power unit. All cabling is HV-tolerant and neatly fastened with high-temperature cable ties.

Tek 520A VectorClock - Control Board mount and cabling

Of the more interesting reversible ‘tweaks’ needed for this retrofit, here we see a delightful little trimpot pretending to be a transistor. Quite an act, I would say!

Tek 520A VectorClock - an unorthodox transistor replacement

Like what you see?

If you love big, looming Vectorscopes and need to have one put to good use in your living room, Contact me. And be sure to subscribe from the front page, to track all the other exotic experiments and unique timepieces targeted for 2014!


Credits to [Quinn] in Canada, for providing the initial inspiration for the Tek 520A VectorClock project!

Luxury 2013 edition Model 1-S!

This 2013 edition hand-crafted scope clock exudes sophistication and elegance, to match the most refined interior – be it the boardroom or the bedroom. The 1-S boasts solid brass fittings custom-turned in Japan, ultra-transparent cast acrylic housings, and a decadent harness with chrome connectors and gold-plated pins from France. The brand-new old stock CRT was selected especially for its gentle white-blue trace and extremely long persistence, to provide a relaxing and refreshing viewing experience.

2013 luxury edition Model 1-S scope clock from Oscilloclock.com

This particular unit went on display at Maker Faire Tokyo 2013, and was sold within several hours. Enquire via the Contact page for pricing and availability of the Model 1-S and other exclusive Oscilloclocks.


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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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A Heathkit Oscilloclock!

Anyone familiar with Heathkit®?

From 1947 to 1992, the U.S. based Heath Company produced electronic kits for everything you can imagine: radios, TVs, computers, robots, ham gear, and electronic test equipment. Yes, you guessed it – they also produced kits for oscilloscopes!

My Grandpa purchased one such scope, the Heathkit OR-1, around 1960. He wanted to kick off a new career in electronics repair, and the ‘build-your-own-equipment’ approach to training was in full bloom at the time. Also, since this was before the era of cheap overseas manufacturing, he could buy a Heathkit far cheaper than an assembled scope.

Heathkit OR-1 manual - a work of art

Heathkit OR-1 manual – a work of art

Unfortunately, Grandpa’s electronics career never really took off. But decades later, he introduced me to his gorgeous oscilloscope, and boy – did that kick MY career off! Much later, the OR-1 came to live with me. (You can read a bit more about my affinity for this scope in my History page.)

The problem is, I have too many oscilloscopes. But I don’t have enough Oscilloclocks. What more fitting way to keep Grandpa’s legacy alive, than to retrofit his Heathkit?

Heathkit OR-1 Oscilloclock

Heathkit Oscilloclock - Splash and Clock

Special features

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Font & Figure Creator!

Those of you who own, or are building, an Oscilloclock may have realized how tedious it is to create a new character or drawing. My little Casper (October, Seasonal Treats post) required a grueling 5 hours to get him looking good!

Casper - as drawn by my son (L) and then the Oscilloclock (R)

Casper – as drawn by my son (L) and then the Oscilloclock (R)

The current method – Painful

I have another blog post series in progress describing the theory behind Circle Graphics figure display, so I won’t elaborate on details, but the current process of getting a figure from paper to screen is very much manual:

  1. Roughly sketch out your figure on graph paper.
  2. Split out your lines and curves into blanked circle and line segments.
  3. For each segment, roughly ascertain the circle’s radius (width and height) and centre coordinates.
  4. Type the numbers into the code file, in PIC assembly language syntax.
  5. Build the code and Program the PIC.
Easy?

NO.The figure looks NOTHING like you expect. The size is wrong. The edges don’t meet up. The curvature is out. The thing is upside down. All of the above!

  • Repeat steps 3, 4, 5 for several hours. Drink coffee. Redraw and repeat for yet another few hours.

  • Finally – Celebrate the birth of a new figure!

The Easier Way

The new Oscilloclock Figure Creator utility allows you to easily create and modify font characters, graphic images, and sprites – interactively.

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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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BOO!

Oscilloclock.com proudly presents a new feature – Seasonal Treats !

This month, the ghosts come out of the attic and merge with the electron stream, leaving their telltale prints in the phosphor… but if you get too scared? Just push the button and blow them up!

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