Tag Archives: Screen Worlds

A High Speed High Current LED Driver; Refurbishing ACMI’s Zoetrope

One of the more popular exhibits in Screen Worlds at the ACMI is The Zoetrope. Like all exhibits inside of Screen Worlds, the Zoetrope has not aged gracefully due to over 9 years of active service! With the original design utilising xenon based strobe lights, the maintenance cost of this exhibit in man hours and replacement lamps was significant. Eventually it was decided to refurbish The Zoetrope with a new LED based lighting system to reduce these costs, which was easier said than done! At the conclusion of the refurbishment a custom high speed, high current LED driver circuit and PCB was designed. Many were assembled and custom LED bars driven by these LED drivers replaced the old xenon strobe lights resulting in significant cost savings!

The Zoetrope Throughout Time

The Zoetrope. Source: ACMI

Zoetrope type devices were originally created in the 18th Century, however the technology used to produce a zoetrope like effect in modern museums has evolved significantly. By utilising an electric motor, 3D printed models, and strobing xenon based lights, a 3D real life animation like effect is realised!

However this mix of technology proved to be problematic. Due to the 8 hour a day, 7 day a week running schedule, at least one xenon lamp blew every week or two.  On average, replacing one these lamps took a technician 30 minutes to complete due to accessibility issues. Now 10+ years ago xenon strobe lighting was all the rage, however the ability to buy replacement lamps for these lighting devices has become increasing difficult due to the rise of the LED.

The Specifications

The control signal that drove the xenon strobe lights was a simple pulse, with a high value indicating the strobe light should be on, and a low value indicating the light should be off. This control signal came from a microprocessor with a series of connected sensors and these sensors detected when a lighting pulse should occur. The voltage output of this signal was approximately 10V peak-to-peak, an odd value that was likely chosen due to the internal circuitry of the xenon strobe lights used in the exhibit.

This control signal pulse had an on time of 4ms, and an off time of 54ms. This meant that the total cycle time was around 17.2Hz, with a duty cycle of around 6.8%. Now these requirements might not sound that stringent, with many LED strobes on the market being able to fulfill this criteria. However due to the type of control signal being used, the exhibit’s necessity on absolute synchronisation of the various elements, and the fact that DMX based lighting having a refresh period of only 44Hz (compared to what would be a minimum refresh period of 250Hz due to the 4ms on time), an off-the-shelf strobe lighting solution was quickly disregarded.

Due to this, whatever LED driver circuitry that was chosen had to be able to handle a 10V control signal, be able to sink over 1 amp of current for small periods of time, and have a rise time significantly less than 4ms. A variety of off-the-shelve Luxdrive LED drivers initially looked promising such as the FlexBlock series due to their ability to handle 10V strobed control signals and sink significant current, however when tested the output rise time of <2ms proved problematic. Dim output was observed and this option was also discarded. It was then decided to design a custom LED driver and LED Bar.

The Custom LED Bars

One of 12 constructed LED Bars.

To ensure enough light was produced, each custom LED bar consisted of six Cree XP-E2 LED stars for a total of eighteen individual LEDs. Pairs of LED stars are wired in series. Due to the forward voltage of roughly 2.9V, each series pair was driven with a 24V power supply. Each Pair of LED stars required it’s own driver box. In total 72 individual Cree XP-E2 LED stars were attached to 12 separate bars with thermal glue. A frosted optic was also used to focus the light with a tight beam pattern on the exhibit.

It should be noted that the LED bars did not have sufficient heat sinking capacity to to remain illuminated for a significant period of time and get truly hot when left on without pulsing!

The Custom LED Driver

The LED Driver circuit schematic.

The LED driver circuit was heavily influenced off the circuit found here. A 4N25M optocoupler was used to isolate the driver circuit from the control circuit, to buffer the control signal, and to provide the MOSFET with a sufficient input signal to fully turn the MOSFET on. The 1 ohm sense resistors connected in parallel were of the high wattage variety (5W+), as quite a lot of current is dissipated through them, making this not the most efficient design.  An output current of approximately 900mA was observed in series with the connected LEDs when the optocoupler was driven with a 10V input signal. Although if you decide to build this yourself, be sure to test this as small component variances may lead to an output current that destroys your LEDs!

One of the contructed LED driver boxes.

A custom PCB for the circuit was also designed and manufactured. It was found that no heat sinking of the MOSFET was required provided the duty cycle remained less than 10% with a cycle frequency of 17.2%. While this does not protect the driver from a control signal failure, it was deemed that this was unlikely to occur within the exhibit.

The Installation

The Zoetrope lighting before refurbishment. Source: here

The Zoetrope after refurbishment.

The LED bars were hung from the roof of the exhibit, and the LED driver boxes were connected to there respective LED bars. The control signal was wired in parallel to all driver boxes.

Setup diagram for LED bars and LED drivers.


While the challenge of refurbishing The Zoetrope was somewhat niche, the resulting design for a isolated high speed, high current LED driver is a useful one to have created. While the driver boxes are not the most efficient devices, they can never the less sink a lot of current with a very short rise time. This solution is something that is difficult to find off-the-shelf, and the relative simplicity of the circuit makes it something that is easy to construct in small runs for many applications.


A Magnavox Odyssey Pong Clone Using Arduino

The Australian Centre for the Moving Image, or ACMI as it is more commonly called was home to the permanent exhibition Screen Worlds before it’s recent refurbishment took place. The exhibition was first opened all the way back in 2009, and has a large range of exhibits that showcase different technologies and trends in film, television, and digital culture that date back more than 100 years. Now when screen worlds opened, I was only just graduating high school myself, but after joining the ACMI AV department as an AV Technician for the first time in 2013 I had the opportunity to get well acquainted with the individual exhibits by performing maintenance and making sure they stay up and running for as long as possible despite using equipment and technology that is now almost 10 years old!

This is easier said than done. Sometimes we are talking about maintaining 40 year old gaming consoles that run 24 hours a day! A reoccurring victim of this ambitious operating schedule was the legendary Magnavox Odyssey that ran a copy of the original Pong. ACMI burnt through quite a few Magnavox Odysseys through the years which is not particularly surprising seeing as the console was released in 1972. Original functional Magnavox Odysseys have become increasingly rare, and with the exhibit closed for some time the ACMI AV department decided to commission a rebuild of Pong that would try to emulate the original as closely as possible. Seeing an opportunity to do something cool, I put my hand up to attempt building a clone.

JAMMA Boards and Emulation

So how do you attempt a clone of something like Pong? There are lots of different pre-existing solutions out there that will do the job, but what are they and how faithful are they to the original?

Unbranded and branded so called “multicade JAMMA boards” are available from a variety of online sources that usually contain one or more versions of Pong, although versions of Pong that emulate the Magnavox are rare. Perhaps the most well known branded multicade boards are the Pandora’s Box series. But don’t go rushing to find a website with information on these boards, they are mostly illegal. They use MAME emulators in conjunction with illegal game ROMs that have annoyed companies such as Nintendo for years. If you know someone who has an arcade machine with these old classics and it didn’t cost several thousands of dollars, it is almost certainly illegal! Because of this using any kind of emulation or third party board was out of the question. This includes the use of any kind of computer that uses emulation software to play illegally downloaded ROMs. While various linux distributions such as the widely popular RetroPi are not illegal, legal ROMs of Pong are not available for purchase.

Coding a Clone

In contrast to emulated ROMs, coding a clone from scratch that is devoid of any particular trademarks is perfectly legal, hence why so many Pong derivatives have existed over the years. With this being the case, I decided to give a go at coding one these. The easiest solution would have been to make a reasonably accurate clone that can run on a PC or Raspberry Pi, but after doing some quick googling I noticed quite a few people had tried to code Pong games using the Arduino Uno and the TVout library. This library makes it possible to create composite signals using a couple of resistors and a couple of GPIO pins. The graphics it produces are pretty rudimentary, but perfect for something like a pong clone. Composite type signals are often imperfect, which actually helps create a retro type effect in applications such as this! It also has a simple audio tone generator which can produce some pretty convincing 1 bit audio signals.

The Hardware

The existing controllers were custom made to resemble the old school Magnavox controllers, and had two potentiometers each, as well as one momentary push button. One potentiometer acts as the spin control for once the ball has been hit, and one acts as the paddle position control. The push button puts the ball back in to play. The potentiometers are connected to various ADC channels on the Arduino, and the pushbutton is connected to a GPIO pin.

Existing Magnavox clone controllers

A GPIO pin was also reserved for connecting to an RCA jack that acts as the audio output. Two resistors are used for the composite output as per the write up done on the TVout library reference.

Schematic of project showing where everything was connected.

The Code

The code for this project is available here and is licensed under GPL 3.0, so by all means go ahead and use this yourself! I won’t go in to the details of the code itself as it is pretty sufficiently commented, but if everything is wired up correctly this should work straight out of the box using Sketch.

This Pong clone is closer to the version released for the Magnavox Odyssey 300 rather than the original Magnavox Odyssey. Hopefully the kids in Screen Worlds don’t notice! Some bugs appeared after installing this at ACMI which I didn’t have the chance to fix. If the ball is going fast enough sometimes it will go straight through a paddle and win a point for the opponent. The spin control was a little difficult implement, and harder still seeing as I never got a chance to play Pong on an actual Magnavox. One of the tougher things to get right with the TVout library is to make sure the game and graphics have been sufficiently updated before TVout tries to bit bang the output. This can actually add a visual retro effect to the game, but is not ideal and highlights how even a simple Pong game can push an AVR Atmega microcontroller to it’s limit.

With the ACMI renewal taking place Screen Worlds is no longer open, so you cannot any longer play this clone in the real world. However you can build it yourself using these resources and keep Pong alive well in to the future!