A while back I found myself in the need of an adjustable RF attenuator capable of high-GHz operation. As luck would have it I had an old Spectrum analyser on the shelf at work, which we had retired quite some time ago.
Spectrum analysers being quite capable test instruments, I knew that the input attenuation would be done with a standalone module that we could recover for reuse without too much trouble.
The attenuator module
Here’s the module itself, with the factory drive PCB removed from the bottom, showing the solenoids that operate the RF switches. There are test wires attached to them here to work out which solenoid switches which attenuation stage. In the case of this module, there are switches for the following:
Input select switch
For me this means I have up to -75dB attenuation in 5dB steps, with optional switchable A-B input & either AC or DC coupling.
Drive is easy, requiring a pulse on the solenoid coil to switch over, the polarity depending on which way the switch is going.
Building a Control Board
Now I’ve identified that the module was reusable, it was time to spin up a board to integrate all the features we needed:
Onboard battery power
Indication of current attenuation level
The partially populated board is shown at right, with an Arduino microcontroller for main control, 18650 battery socket on the right, and control buttons in the centre. The OLED display module for showing the current attenuation level & battery voltage level is missing at the moment, but it’s clear where this goes.
As there weren’t enough GPIO pins for everything on the Arduino, a Microchip MC23017 16-Bit I/O expander, which is controlled via an I²C bus. This is convenient since I’m already using I²C for the onboard display.
Driving the Solenoids
A closer view of the board shows the trip of dual H-Bridge drivers on the board, which will soon be hidden underneath the attenuator block. These are LB1836M parts from ON Semiconductor. Each chip drives a pair of solenoids.
The bottom of the board has all the power control circuitry, which are modularised for ease of production. There’s a Lithium charge & protection module for the 18650 onboard cell, along with a boost converter to give the ~9v rail required to operate the attenuator solenoids. While they would switch at 5v, the results were not reliable.
A bit more time later, some suitable firmware has been written for the Arduino, and the attenuator block is fitted onto the PCB. The onboard OLED nicely shows the current attenuation level, battery level & which input is selected.
Well, it’s time for another viewfinder hack! I’ve been after one of these for a while, this is from an early 1980’s era Sony Trinicon camera, and instead of the tiny ½” round CRT display, these have a 1.5″ square CRT – a Matsushita 40CB4. Luckily I managed to score a pair of these from eBay for very little money. Update: The second camera’s viewfinder module turned out to have a dead flyback transformer, but at least I have a good spare CRT & the rest of the support components. More to come later on the teardown of the camera itself.
The eyecup assembly with the magnifying lens & turning mirror is easy to remove, with clips & a single screw holding it onto the CRT holder sticking out of the side of the main casing.
Removing some screws around the case allows the top cover to be removed, revealing the electronics. There’s certainly more in here than the later camera viewfinders, in this unit there are two boards slotted together with a board-to-board interconnect at the bottom. The CRT is at the top of the photo, hiding inside the plastic housing & deflection yoke assembly.
Here’s the CRT & one of the control boards removed from the case, having been stripped of the heatshrink tube that held the final anode lead in place. Just like on larger CRTs, this viewfinder has the final anode on a cavity connector fused into the bell, instead of being led out to a pin on the base. This is probably due to the much higher anode voltage of 5kV, a big jump from the 2kV on the ½” round tubes.
Yup, it’s definitely the elusive 40CB4. Apparently these CRTs are still manufactured to this day for professional camera viewfinders, as the resolution of this small vacuum tube is still better than similarly sized modern tech such as LCDs or OLEDs. The phosphor used is type P4 – ZnS:Ag+(Zn,Cd)S:Ag, with an aluminized overcoat.
After the base connector & deflection yoke are removed from the tube, the very long neck can be seen, this long glass neck apparently giving better focus & resolution than the stubbier tubes.
The electron gun is the usual single unit as usually found in monochrome tubes.
The bottom board in the assembly has all the control circuitry for the CRT, including the HA11244 deflection IC, composite sync separator & vertical deflection drive circuit. There are also circuits here to display a video waveform on the CRT, along with iris & white balance markers.
The other board has the horizontal drive circuitry, along with the video input amplifier. Despite the attempt to miniaturize the entire assembly, these are still well packed boards. Some of the resistors & diodes are bussed together in custom SIL hybrid modules to save PCB space. Like all the other CRT viewfinders, these units are meant for viewing via a mirror – the horizontal deflection coil connections need to be reversed to show a correct image without the mirror. The Red & Blue wires to the yoke need to be swapped here.
The horizontal board on this unit also supports the flyback transformer, which is massive compared to the other viewfinder circuits. Biasing, focus & filament supplies for the CRT are also derived from this transformer, via auxiliary windings.
The boards slot together in the centre to form the fully operational circuit.
Out of the 3 plugs emerging from the cable feeding the viiewfinder, only this one is important, on the horizontal drive board. Black is ground, Brown +8.5v & red is composite video input. There’s also a resistor tied into the positive rail to the video input pin, which pulls it high to 8.5v – this is R1 right next to this connector. Desolder this 22K resistor to help protect anything feeding a signal into the unit, like a RPi, it’s not needed for normal operation.
As usual for a CRT post, the Fallout loading screen on the display. The picture quality isn’t as good as it should be, probably due to the noisy buck-converter I have rigged up for testing. If it doesn’t get better with a linear regulator, I’ll start replacing the 39 year old electrolytic capacitors. Current draw is 130mA at 7.5v. Schematics for this unit & the CRT datasheet are available below:
Here’s the CRT & it’s drive board removed from the main chassis. Nicely modular this unit, all the individual modules (radio, tape, TV), are separate. This is effectively a TV itself, all the tuner & IF section are onboard, unlike in other vintage units I’ve modified, where the tuner & IF has been on a separate board. There’s a 3-pin header bottom centre for the tuning potentiometer, and external antenna input jack. The internal coax for the built in antenna has been desoldered from the board here. here a the usual controls on the back for adjusting brightness, contrast & V Hold, all the other adjustments are trimmers on the PCB.
Unfortunately after 30+ years of storage, this didn’t work on first power up, neither of the oscillators for vertical or horizontal deflection would lock onto the incoming signal, but a couple of hours running seemed to improve things greatly. The numerous electrolytic capacitors in this unit were probably in need of some reforming after all this time, although out of all of them, only 21 are anything to do with the CRT itself.
Here’s the anode side of the unit, with the small flyback transformer. The rubber anode cap has become very hard with age, so I’ll replace this with a decent silicone one from another dead TV. The Horizontal Output Transistor (a 2SC2233 NPN type) & linearity coil are visible at the bottom right corner of the board. Unfortunately, the disgusting yellow glue has been used to secure some of the wiring & large electrolytics, this stuff tends to turn brown with age & become conductive, so it has to be removed. Doing this is a bit of a pain though. It’s still a little bit flexible in places, and rock hard in others. Soaking in acetone softens it up a little & makes it easier to detach from the components.
There’s little on the neck board apart from a few resistors, forming the limiting components for the video signal, and the focus divider of 1MΩ & 470KΩ feeding G3. No adjustable focus on this unit. There’s also a spark gap between the cathode line & ground, to limit the filament to cathode voltage. The flyback transformer is nestled into the heatsink used by the horizontal output transistor & a voltage regulator transistor.
The CRT is a Samsung Electron Devices 4ADC4, with a really wide deflection angle. It’s a fair bit shorter than the Chinese CRT I have which is just a little larger, with a neck tube very thin indeed for the overall tube size.
Unusually, while the filament voltage is derived from the flyback transformer as usual, it’s rectified into DC in this unit, passing through a 1Ω resistor before the filament connection. I measured 5.3v here. The glow from the filament is barely visible even in the dark.
The electron gun is the usual for a monochrome tube, with 7 pins on the seal end.
The electrodes here from left are Final Anode, G3 (Focus Grid), Accelerating Anode, G2 (Screen Grid), G1 (Control Grid). The cathode & filament are hidden inside G1. In operation there’s about 250v on G2, and about 80v on G3.
The chipset used here is all NEC, starting with a µPC1366C Video IF Processor, which receives the IF signal from the tuner module to the left. This IC outputs the standard composite signal, and a modulated sound signal.
This then splits off to a µPC1382C Sound IF Processor & Attenuator IC, which feeds the resulting sound through the two pin header at the right bottom edge of the board to the audio amplifier in the chassis.
The composite video signal is fed through a discrete video amplifier with a single 2SC2229 transistor before going to the CRT cathode.
The remaining IC is a µPC1379C Sync Signal Processor, containing the sync separator, this is generating the required waveforms to drive the CRT deflection systems from another tap off the composite video line.
From this chip I can assume the unit was built around 1986, since this is the only date code on any of the semiconductors. Besides these 3 ICs, the rest of the circuit is all discrete components, which are well-crammed into the small board space.
There are 5 trimmer potentiometers on the board here, I’ve managed to work out the functions of nearly all of them:
SVR1: IF Gain Adjust
SVR2: H. Hold
SVR3: V. Size
SVR4: B+ Voltage Adjust
SVR5: Tuner Frequency Alignment? It’s in series with the tuning potentiometer in the chassis.
The PCB bottom shows the curved track layout typical of a hand taped out board. The soldermask is starting to flake off in places due to age, and there a couple of bodge wires completing a few ground traces. Respinning a board in those days was an expensive deal! Surprisingly, after all this time I’ve found no significant drift in the fixed resistors, but the carbon track potentiometers are drifiting significantly – 10KΩ pots are measuring as low as 8KΩ out of circuit. These will have to be replaced with modern versions, since there are a couple in timing-sensitive places, like the vertical & horizontal oscillator circuits.
Here the anode cap has been replaced with a better silicone one from another TV. This should help keep the 6kV on the CRT from making an escape. This was an easy fix – pulling the contact fork out of the cap with it’s HT lead, desoldering the fork & refitting with the new cap in place.
Here I’ve replaced the important trimmers with new ones. Should help stabilize things a little.
Injecting a video signal is as easy as the other units. Pin 3 of the µPC1366C Video IF Processor is it’s output, so the track to Pin 3 is cut and a coax is soldered into place to feed in an external signal.
After hooking up a Raspberry Pi, we have display! Not bad after having stood idle for 30+ years.
Datasheets for the important ICs are available below: