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Test Equipment Upcycling – Variable Attenuator Module

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
  • AC/DC coupling
  • -5dB
  • -10dB
  • -20dB
  • -40dB

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
  • Pushbutton operation
  • 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.

Power Supplies

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.

Finishing off

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.

eBay Reverse Parking Sensors Teardown

Parking Sensors Kit

Parking Sensors Kit

This is a cheap kit from eBay, to retrofit an older car with ultrasonic parking sensors. 4 sensors are included in the kit, along with a hole saw to fit them to the bumper. There’s a small controller module, and a display module that fits onto the dash of the car.

Controller Module

Controller Module

Here’s the controller module, with it’s row of connectors along the front. The unit gets it’s power from the reversing light circuit, via the red connector.

Main Controller PCB

Main Controller PCB

Removing a couple of screws allows the PCB to be removed. There’s quite a bit on this board, including 4 tunable inductors for the ultrasonic transducers. There’s a linear voltage regulator on the left which supplies power to the electronics, and a completely unmarked microcontroller.

Electronics Closeup

Electronics Closeup

A closer look at the analogue end of the board shows a JRC4558D dual Op-Amp, and an NXP HEF4052B analogue multiplexer. As the microcontroller is unmarked I have no data for that one.

Dash Display

Dash Display

The dash display is housed in another small plastic box, with bargraphs for each side of the car & an overall distance meter.

Display Module

Display Module

Clearly this is a custom module, with the tapered bargraph LEDs on each side & the 7-segment display in the centre. There’s a beeper which works like every factory-fitted unit does, increasing in rate as the distance closes.

Display PCB

Display PCB

The back of the display module has the driver PCB, with yet another unmarked microcontroller, and a TI 74HC164 serial shift register as a display driver. There’s only 3 wires in the loom from the controller, so some sort of 1-wire protocol must be being used, while I²C is the most likely protocol to be talking to the display driver circuit. There’s also a small switch for muting the beeper.

Sony HVF-2000P Viewfinder Teardown & Composite Video Hack

Rating Plate

Rating Plate

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.

Mirror & Eyecup Assembly

Mirror & Eyecup Assembly

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.

Top Cover Removed

Top Cover Removed

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.

Bare PCBs & CRT

Bare PCBs & CRT

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.

40CB4 CRT Label

40CB4 CRT Label

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.

Bare 40CB4 CRT

Bare 40CB4 CRT

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.

Electron Gun

Electron Gun

The electron gun is the usual single unit as usually found in monochrome tubes.

Deflection Board

Deflection Board

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.

Horizontal Board

Horizontal Board

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.

Flyback Transformer

Flyback Transformer

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.

Boards Connected

Boards Connected

The boards slot together in the centre to form the fully operational circuit.

Video Input

Video Input

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.

Fallout!

Fallout!

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: