Passing time

Well, having nothing that you could exactly describe as a life... Okay, that's maybe a little harsh. I'm not one of those peculiar people who desires to get laid every night, but ask yourself how many normal people would switch on their local radio station and set about doing this. And if you wish to discuss the exact definition of 'normal', first consider how many people would do this and also hook it up to their computer...


This is a Sony HandyCam. If you are even geekier than I am, you'll appreciate knowing that it is a CCD-F450E. For the rest of us, that's an 8mm model. We're talking like early '90s tech. We're talking the kind of thing you see in those cheesy camcorder books you see in the library (yes, only three types of people on the planet know about this little gem: Buffy fans, geeks, and library staff...).
Oh, and it is completely buggered.
But, no biggie. It wasn't exactly expensive. In fact, it cost me nothing.


Right. First things first. Whipping the cover off. Any true geek knows that this is the prime objective of every day. Some guys want to find a partner and have them take their clothes off, others prefer to find an electronic appliance and take it's clothes off. The thrill factor is about the same, but usually hardware doesn't have nasty repercussions. My HandyCam won't slag me off and, in a few months, leave a pile of CCD sensors on the bench, all demanding alimony and patrimony and antimony and other words ending in, and requiring, money...
Then again, the worst you can do to hardware is kill it. And without a murder one and a bunch of homosexual prison experiences to add to your curriculum vitea. In fact, you kinda start to understand that American obsession with blowing things up when you have a defunct ZX Spectrum and about £30 disposable cash to sink on fireworks (don't even ask!)...


All things considered, this camera wasn't too hard to get into. I mean, sometimes you would find it easier to hack into the Pentagon with an acoustic-coupled modem chugging along at 300bps and a computer built from old microwave oven controllers than actually getting one of those damn Olivetti 286-class triple-RFI shielded buggers open. The HandyCam fell into the category of "take out all the screws you can find, then throw it in the air and see how many bits of wrapping fall off".


So I locate the power input and strap it into the spare computer PSU on the desk. It wants something in the order of 6 volts so I feed it 12. It takes it like a man, and blows its little internal fuse.
So, a new fuse later (and these things don't even look like fuses), I jack it between the +5V and the +12V. That, by my reckoning, gives it 7V. It seems happy with that.

So I can load a cassette and play from it. The CCD imager works. But when in record mode, it just flashes the "insert a cassette, dickwad" logo. Oh, and whatever the setting of the SP/LP switch, this thing sits in LP mode like it would even know what the hell my Toyah LP is, never mind how to play it...

Life, but not as we know it...



The above picture has no discernable purpose really, I just figured maybe somebody out there would like to see what a naked video camera looks like.
In common with my Canon A2Hi, the thing is two subunits. The left bit is the CCD imager. The right bit (the shinier part) is the tape drive. As you can see, the imager is tiny (unlike my Canon, where it dwarfs the tape unit). Then again, it is a lower-end domestic camera, so the lenses and image quality won't be anything to write home about really. No point, standard 8mm tape is only marginally better than regular VHS, which we all know is pretty crap.
Anyway, the modular design is to allow different combinations. They could have a different imager (maybe, one with a wider lens) or that could have a different tape drive, like VHS-C or something. There are few connections between the two - video/audio, power, and some control rubbish. So it might be possible to rig it up to a computer...


So I examine the thing, and I notice a huge tear in one of the little ribbon cables. Now that really pisses me off. I mean, I like to think I'm the first inside it. You know, like this whole electronic deflowering the virgin kind of deal. But, well, can't have everything. Anybody that has even dealt in anger with ribbon cable will know it is awful stuff. Exactly like the ribbon that links an inkjet printer head to the rest of the printer, that long flat orangey thing (in case you can't quite visualise this), you will know that it is used when space is tight. The inside of a video camera uses it to excess. So I whip the two halves off. Repairing it is simply non-viable.
So I grab my old SCSI cable and hack off two inches of the IDC cable. I'll fix it with that.
All except one wire was soldered into place. The IDC cable was twice as wide as the ribbon cable that it was replacing.

Stop a moment and reflect upon that. A broken ribbon cable inside a video camera was fixed with a piece of SCSI cable.

Fixed with a bit of SCSI cable!


So I powered the thing up to see how it behaved. I wasn't able to fit every connection, one was omitted. If you think that's bad, you try it yourself. :-).

Test bed?

Everything was back and working now, with the exception of the electronic fadey-wipey thing. I've never really figured out a use for it, except excruciatingly cheesy captions, so I wasn't too miffed that it wasn't fully working.

A view through the camera.


There was more to do. No pictures, but the two positioning rods near the video head were way off track. So I popped a cassette into my other video camera and recorded a few minutes at low-band. This was used to align the camera with the wonderfully technical method of twiddling the two rods until the picture was steady. Pause is not jitter free, so I don't have it exactly yet, but it records and plays back a steady picture.

This is where the camera surprised me greatly. I wound back too far. The picture was sparkly and washed out (kinda like an analogue feed from Astra through a thunderstorm), but my god this little low-band camera was actually playing back hi-band recordings. Wow.



Now, I'm sure those who know me will be ignoring the rubbish about the camera and paying more attention to my desk. So here goes...

The desk picture...

...and the annotated version.



(bad news - now I have a RiscPC, the desk layout is different...and no, it isn't any tidier!)


More soon...


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