Nov
13
Intellivision – Add composite video, review 2 new games.


Hello, and welcome back. This episode is in
many ways a follow up to an episode I did back in October on my other channel, 8-Bit
Keys. In that video, I was going to show you how
the musical keyboard on the Intellivision worked, and then I was going to do a composite
mod and show you some other things. Well, I ended up spending all of the time on that
video doing a repair on the keyboard mechanism, so I never got around to the composite mod. Also, shortly after that video was released,
I went to the Portland Retro Gaming expo. And literally the last day I was there as
I was packing up and getting ready to go, William Moeller comes over to me and donates
two Intellivision games. These are sort of special because they are older games from
the late 1980s, but they were never released on the Intellivision. And so these are modern
recreations of those games for the Intellivision console. The first one here is Defender of
the Crown, which is actually licensed by Cinemaware. And the second one is Jeff Minter’s Hover
Bovver, which is licensed by Llamasoft. So, in order to show these, I really need
a proper composite output on my Intellivision. In fact, the 3 main reasons you would want
to modify any console like this to have a composite output would be, number 1 for better
video quality. Although it varies from one to the next exactly how much better it will
be. Second thing is, more display options. It’s getting harder and harder to find good
televisions that have that sort of RF connection, plus there are all kinds of monitors that
can display composite but not RF. And the last reason, sort of ties in with that, which
is easier to capture video. So yeah, for me I need to be able to connect these consoles
to a video capture device, and generally that means it needs composite. Sure, you can use
a VCR or some other type of demodulator, but that reduces the quality and just adds a lot
of extra work and complexity. So, why does composite look better than RF?
Well, this is television static. Some people say this static is caused by cosmic background
radiation left over from the Big Bang. Other say it is just because when no signal is present,
the gain gets turned to maximum, amplifying any noise that is inherently in the receiver
circuit. Either way around, even when a signal is present, there is always some noise on
an RF signal. It is most noticeable when looking at something that is supposed to be a solid
color. Now, the Intellivision has a surprisingly sharp RF output compared to some systems I’ve
used. But, it still has some minor noise. If you look at the black areas, these look
really clear. But if you look at solid colors like the water, you can see the noise. In
a traditional television broadcast, these sort of solid colors wouldn’t be expected
in a live image. Anyway, we’ll come back and compare to this footage when we’re done. So here’s the Intellivision 2. It’s just
like the original Intellivision only it’s smaller and cost reduced, but runs the same
games. On the rear, we’ve got the power port, channel selector, and of course RF output.
So, ideally, I’d like to replace that with a composite video and separate audio jack. Disassembly is really easy on this version
unlike the original which is a total pain in the rear. After you remove the controllers
there are just two screws on the bottom of the console, and there you go. The first thing we’ll do is have a look
at the chips, like we always do on this channel. This first one is the sound chip, which isn’t
hard to spot because it has the word SOUND printed right on it. It’s also the same
chip we were originally using in the Commander X16. These next two chips here are ROM chips. This one is the video chip. It looks blank
in this photo, but if you hold it just right in the light, you can see the numbers on it. Up here, this is the CPU. And this last large
chip here, actually is totally blank. There are no visible numbers on mine at all. I was
only able to figure out what it was by digging up the schematic. Anyway, yeah, this chip
is kind of weird. It’s a combination of an I/O controller chip and also contains around
700 bytes of RAM. This little chip here is called the color
processor. And then we have 4 different RAM chips. And so that’s the board, but the main thing
we’re going to be interested in is this RF-modulator. This little box is what takes
the signals and converts them to RF. In fact, if you look at the side of it, you’ll
see 4 wires coming out. Of course, there’s really 5 connections. The chassis itself acts
as ground and solders straight to the board. This wire here is the video signal, and next
to that is 12V power source for the modulator, which we won’t need for our hack. Next is
the audio signal. And finally is the channel selector, which we also won’t need for our
hack. Looking online, it wasn’t hard to find a
schematic of the circuit I needed to make to do this modification. I asked my friend
Kevin over at TexElec if he could whip something together for me real quick, and this is what
he made. So, my plan is, to actually remove the modulator
and mount something in its place. The modulator appears to be soldered in with 4 really large
connections. So, I got to work with some desoldering braid to soak up all of this extra solder.
Then I just needed to bend these little pieces back out of the way. And it came off really
easily. And here it is. I won’t be needing this this anymore…. Or will I? When I connected the board and powered it
up, I couldn’t get a proper video signal. Sometimes I got crazy stuff like this, but
most of the time I got nothing at all, just a black screen. Kevin and I went back and forth for a couple
of days trying to figure out if there was something wrong with the circuit that he’d
built, and one of the things that we figured out when we started looking at other hacks
that other people had done to their Intellivision, we discovered that everyone who did the composite
modification left their RF modulator in place. So, I used some alligator clips and re-attached
the video and 12V input of the modulator, along with attaching to the ground plane like
so, and to my amazement, when powering it on it works perfectly! And, while the quality difference is not amazing,
it is indeed noticeable. Just for reference, here’s one of the original test images I
made, and you can compare it here with the composite image we have now. And while there
is an obvious difference in contrast and brightness, I would like to point out some of the more
subtle differences. For one, if you look in this area, you can see a lot of noise. It’s
easier to see in a live image because the noise is constantly moving and changing. But
you can still see it even in the still image. And obviously, this noise is not present on
the composite version. Also, if you look up here you’ll see a bright spot on the water,
this is a form of ghosting. And if you look at the composite image on the right, you’ll
see there is no ghosting. And while composite is certainly not as good as S-video or RGB
video, I’ll take it over RF any day. So, it turns out I’m going to have to keep
the RF modulator for this to work. So, that’s sort of unfortunate because we
can’t quite figure out what it is that the RF modulator is doing to the signal that makes
it work. The original plan was after I tested this little board that Kevin constructed and
made sure it worked, he was going to go back and actually get a custom manufactured board
that would be the exact same shape and size of the RF modulator, so that you could basically
desolder the RF modulator and then put the new board right in its place. And it would
have the same video output in the exact same location and everything. So, that is what
the original plan was, but I guess at least until somebody can tell us what it is that
we’re doing wrong, I guess that’s not going to happen. So, I’m just going to have
to push forward and make something work with what I’ve got. So, I guess what I’ll need to do is put
this RF modulator back where I found it. It’s a good thing I didn’t cut these wires, which
I was tempted to do. And now I’ll resolder these connections
on the bottom. And just to make sure the RF signal is still
working, I’ll power it on right quick. Oddly enough, it seems to be missing color. OK,
actually its not missing, it’s just very low saturation for some reason. I flipped
the channel switch over to the other channel, and it seems to look fine. Another bizarre
quirk of using RF. So, I tested it like this with alligator clips
and it worked. So I went ahead and soldered the wires and now you can see it working like
that. So this is just the shell, so there’s nothing
in here. Another problem I’m trying to figure out is where to put the actual outputs. Because,
you know, it’s got these vents in the back and it’s not really suitable for using a
panel mount connector. Now, if we’d done our custom board we were talking about, then
the ports would be soldered to the board so it wouldn’t be an issue. But, I’m kind
of thinking I’m going to have to put them right here. There’s actually nothing up
here, so there’s some empty space, so yeah. As usual, I always apply masking tape to the
area so I can experiment with where I want to put the holes. And I’m also going to
go ahead and put the board back in the case, that way I can test the clearance of whatever
I’m adding. And yeah, I’m pretty sure there is going to be space. So, now I’ll drill some pilot holes. Once
that is done, I can remove the tape as it is no longer needed. And then I’ll follow
that up with one of those Christmas tree bits. Time for a test fit, and it looks like I’m
in business. I really wish I had a yellow RCA jack for
composite, but I don’t at the moment. So I’ll use red for video and black for audio. It
would be trivial to change this out later for the correct color. OK, so I have to figure out somewhere to mount
the little circuit board. I thought about using some stand offs and drilling into the
top of the RF modulator, but I don’t have the necessary parts to do this so I’d have
to order them. And I’m already several days behind schedule on this video. So I’m going
to cheap out and use double sided mounting tape. It’s not ideal, and it may not last
permanently, but it will work for now. So, just a few extra solder connections to
finish up. And now I’ll double check that it is going to close up. And yeah, everything
fits just fine. Time to screw it back together. And now, it’s time to test the composite
jack. For the moment I’ll use this burger time cartridge. And yeah, everything seems
to be working just fine. So, now it’s time to take a look at these
two brand new games for the Intellivision. We’ll take a look at Defender of the Crown
first. And yes, it even comes with the little overlay for the Intellivision controller,
which is something I always thought was kind of innovative about the controller. It slides
down in here like this, so you have custom controls for each game. And here’s the cartridge,
which looks pretty well-made. Well, here goes. OK, it seems to be working.
Well, the good news is, since we have composite video now, I don’t have to show you this
on the television, instead I can connect this to my video capture device like so. That way,
I can capture clear video and audio, which I’ll use for the rest of the review. I wasn’t sure what to expect from these
games, being I have never been a huge Intellivision fan and I know the graphics and sound are
just barely better than the Atari 2600. Nevertheless, it seems they did a pretty good job porting
a game like this. So, I’ll pick my character. Oh look, mouse control on an Intellivision.
Well, it’s not really a mouse, but close enough. I’ll start with a raid so I can
collect some cash. I have to admit, doing this with the Intellivision controller is
a total pain. While I said the controller was innovative for the overlay, it still sucks
for gameplay. Then I’ll move onto a joust. I’ll be honest, I never spent much time
playing this game on other platforms either, so I’m by no means an expert. But yeah,
the graphics and animation are not bad considering the limitations of the platform. OK, time to move on to Hover Bovver. Again,
I’ll insert the little overlay. And here’s the cartridge. Jim won’t mind if I borrow his mower. Again,
I think the hardest part for me is using the Intellivision controller to play this game.
It’s really terrible. But otherwise, the game seems pretty true to the originals, which
only previously existed on the Commodore 64 and the Atari 8-bit computers. And that’s actually about it for this episode.
I hope you guys found this interesting and entertaining, and maybe somebody can find
it useful. I’m not terribly proud of the way I mounted the little board on top of the
RF modulator, but its kind of one of those things, I’m actually leaving out of town
tomorrow so it was either get it done now, or you might not see this video for another
couple of weeks. So, anyway, it works and maybe I’ll revisit it in the future. And
maybe do a little bit better mounting job, especially if we can, if anybody can tell
us what we need to do to get rid of the RF modulator. That would be ideal. So, anyway,
stick around for the next episode and thanks for watching!