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.
Following on from the viewfinder teardown, here’s the rest of the camera. This unit dates back to 1980, and is made almost exclusively of cast aluminium. Very little plastic has been used here & only for the bits that the user comes into contact with. This camera is based around the Sony Trinicon camera tube system, technology dating back before CCDs. There aren’t many controls on this side of the camera, only the record button, which is hidden behind the camera handgrip.
The other side of the camera has most of the controls for the picture.
The image controls inclue auto / manual iris, white balance & colour balance.
Sharpness & fader controls are on the back of the camera, along with the umbilical cable which would have connected to a Betamax recorder.
The lens on this camera is massive, at least a kilo of optical glass. Focus control is manual, with both auto & manual zoom control.
The Zoom controls are on top of the grip, with a button to the rear of the control which I have no idea about. The internal belts are a bit rotted with age so the zoom function doesn’t work great.
After removing the side covers, the two large PCBs become visible. These units are absolutely packed with electronics. On this side is the Trinicon tube control board, generating all the high voltages for electron beam acceleration, focus & electrostatic deflection of the beam. There’s around 500 volts knocking around on this board, with some rather specialised hybrid modules doing all the high voltage magic.
The other side of the camera has the video process board, which performs all the colour separation of the video signal from the tube, processes the resulting signals into a composite video signal, and finally sends it down the umbilical.
Removing some of the remaining covers exposes the bare video controls, and a small PCB just underneath covered in trimpots to set factory levels.
The white balance is partially electronic & partially mechanical. This lever actuates a filter inside the lens assrembly.
A DIN connector offers remote control ability. The large loom of wires disappearing off to the right is dealing with the zoom mechanism & the onboard microphone amplifier. Just under the DIN connector hides the system power supply, inside a soldered can. The can under the white tape is the head end amplifier for the Trinicon video tube.
Hiding in the centre of the camera inside the casting is the Trinicon tube assembly itself. The label can just be seen here.
As is typical of 1980’s electronic design, the main boards swing down & are designed to slot into the base casting folded out for repairs. Internally the unit is a rat’s nest of wiring loom. There’s also another shielding can in here nestled between the boards – this is the video sync generator circuit.
The other side gives a better view of the video sync generator can. I’ll dive into the individual modules later on.
Under the remaining side cover is the zoom assembly & microphone amplifier board. More massive wiring loom hides within.
The video sync generator is pretty sparse inside, just a large Sony CX773 Sync Generator IC, with a pair of crystals. There are a couple of adjustments in here for video sync frequencies.
Removed from it’s shielding can, here is the head end amplifier for the Trinicon tube. This very sensitive JFET input amplifier feeds into the main video process board.
The Trinicon tube target connects to this input transformer on the front of the amplifier board.
The internal white balance controls are on this small PCB, mounted under the user-accessible controls.
Here’s the main control board responsible for the Trinicon tube & exposure control. Down near the front is the auto-iris circuit, nearer the centre is timing control & at the top is the high voltage power supply & deflection generator ICs.
Here’s the high voltage section, the main transformer at right generating the voltages required to drive the video tube. The large orange hybrids here are a pair of BX369 high-voltage sawtooth generators that create the deflection waveforms for the tube. The other large hybrid is a BX382 Fader Control.
The other large board contains all the video process circuitry, all analogue of course. There are a lot of manual adjustment pots on this board.
After removing the lens assembly, the tube assembly is visible inside the barrel casting. Not much to see yet, just the IR filter assembly.
Here’s the unit removed from the camera. Unfortunately this tube is dead – it shows a lot of target burn on the resulting image, and very bad ghosting on what poor image there is. The Trinicon tube itself is encased in the focus coil assembly, the windings of which are hidden under the shielding.
The IR filter is locked into the front of the tube, on a bayonet fitting. The twin target wires are running off to the left, where they would connect to the head end amplifier.
After removing the IR filter glass, the Trinicon tube itself is removed from the focus coil assembly. There’s an electron gun at the rear of the tube, like all CRTs, although this one works in reverse – sensing an image projected on the front instead of generating one.
It’s a little difficult to see, but the electrostatic deflection electrodes in this tube are created from the aluminium flashing on the inside of the glass, in a zig-zag pattern. The interleaving electrodes are connected to base pins by spring contacts at the electron gun end of the tube.
The electron gun is mostly hidden by the getter flash & the deflection electrodes, but the cathode can is visible through the glass, along with the spring contacts that make a connection to the deflection electrodes. This is also a very short gun – it doesn’t extend more than about 5mm into the deflection zone. The rest of the tube up to the target is empty space.
Finally, here’s the target end of the tube. I’m not sure how the wires are attached to the terminals – it certainly isn’t solder, maybe conductive adhesive?
It uses a vertically striped RGB colour filter over the faceplate of an otherwise standard Vidicon imaging tube to segment the scan into corresponding red, green and blue segments. It is used mostly in low-end consumer cameras, though Sony also used it in some moderate cost professional cameras in the 1980s.
Although the idea of using colour stripe filters over the target was not new, the Trinicon was the only tube to use the primary RGB colours. This necessitated an additional electrode buried in the target to detect where the scanning electron beam was relative to the stripe filter. Previous colour stripe systems had used colours where the colour circuitry was able to separate the colours purely from the relative amplitudes of the signals. As a result, the Trinicon featured a larger dynamic range of operation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The dash display is housed in another small plastic box, with bargraphs for each side of the car & an overall distance meter.
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.
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.