Color Vector Display Controller Brings Arcade Classics Back To Life


If you’ve been reading Hackaday long enough, you’ve probably come across a few hacks where someone made simple animations or even video games on an analog oscilloscope screen. Those hacks generally use vector graphics, where the cathode ray tube’s electron beam directly draws geometric shapes onto the screen. This gives the image a unique look that’s quite distinct from the pixel-based raster displays used on TVs and most computer monitors.

Vector displays were also used in several arcade machines of the early 1980s, including classics like Tempest, Gravitar and Star Wars. In order to emulate these games more faithfully than would be possible on a raster monitor, [Robin Champion] designed the vstcm: a color vector monitor controller to easily drive RGB vector monitors.

Star Wars (1983) displayed on CRT monitorThe design is based on [Trammell Hudson] and [Adelle Lin]’s v.st system, and therefore features a Teensy microcontroller as well as a couple of digital-to-analog converters. While the v.st can only connect to monochrome X/Y systems like oscilloscopes, the vstcm can work with RGB monitors to allow near-perfect emulation of color vector-based games. A custom software interface connects the vstcm to AdvanceMAME, a special version of the well-known arcade emulator that facilitates the connection of unusual display systems.

The end result definitely looks the part, although [Robin] notes that performance is not at the level it could be and requests those familiar with the Teensy platform to help optimize the code. If you’d like to build the vstcm but can’t find a vector monitor, you can always modify the yoke of a conventional CRT. Want to learn more about vector displays? Check out this thorough introduction.




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