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Hail Hydra – Automatic Scart Switcher

Hail Hydra. No, I’m not trying to start underground movements to bring down S.H.E.I.L.D, but rather tell you about my experience with the Hydra auto scart switcher.

Hydra Scart Switcher

My 5 port manual RGB scart switcher was giving me problems recently. After years of use, colours were intermittent on most of the ports. More time would be needed to get a working picture by adjusting the sockets and wire than was spent gaming. So when looking for a new scart switcher and came across the Hydra at retrolemon.co.uk. The standard Hydra unit has 8 scart inputs to one output. A dual output model is also available. If 8 inputs are not enough, then additional “Head” units can be chained together to  give 16 or 24 inputs. 

The Hydra is well constructed with a thick PCB held between 2 laser cut acrylic plates. White PCB coating really looks good here. All the sockets feel firm and strong as they should when connecting cables. A 5v USB power connection is required and you will not get any output without it. Hydra also contains buffer capacitors for the video and audio and doesn’t require them in the console cables for most systems. A Sync Stripper is also present on the board, so one is not required in the console or scart cables if you prefer to use one. 

Onboard are buttons to enable/disable autoscan, and manually switch between sockets if you wish. You can also enable or disable a low pass filter. This makes little to no difference on my CRT setup.

In use

Upon connecting the cables and powering on, a scanning affect flows across the socket LEDs until a video source gets detected. The LEDs then stop and highlight the active port. Seeing this is very handy if you haven’t labelled your scart sockets (like me). Detecting and showing the image can take a couple of seconds at most.

Currently I have connected and tested:

  • Megadrive/MCD/32X
  • Sega Saturn
  • Dreamcast
  • Super Nintendo
  • N64
  • Amiga 1200
  • Wii
  • PlayStation

The only problem I ran into was with my Sega Saturn. The existing scart cable was wired with CSYNC. The picture contained lots of moving spotty artefacts. This problem was completely eliminated by using a new cable with Luma sync. Hydra only likes to accept RGB sync from Composite and Luma. It also works with Composite video and S-Video. When switching resolutions within games, there was no loss of signal lock. Hydra stays locked on a source for a few seconds after the console is powered off. So if you need to quickly power off and on again, it wont start searching all the ports again.  

Automatic detection has worked perfectly so far and I can find very few faults except that the device stays on all the time. I’m sure its not using much power, but I like to switch off my devices when not in use and it just keeps scanning for input 24/7.

Other that that I think the Hydra was a good purchase and fits in perfectly with my favourite consoles.

CRT Calibration

Just a quick update on the 21″ Sony Trinitron Last weekend. After spending some time with this TV I’ve managed to get it calibrated and fixed a few issues. Sometimes these old TVs need a bit of tweaking after years of service. Sometimes its due to the consoles outputting a slightly different signal that was calibrated for in the factory. This can cause the image to be not cantered correctly.

Here is before (Left) and after (Right) photos of the 21″ KV-X2182U.

As you can see, the image is now much better aligned. I was also able to make improvements to the geometry to straighten the edges near the screen edge.

All the adjustments were done in the Service mode. Photos really don’t do justice to a CRT image.

Another problem I fixed was to disable the Auto 16:9 switching mode. Depending on how the scart cables are wired, this TV would almost always go widescreen on AV1-RGB. It was annoying to have to press the aspect button the remote every time. In Service TT mode, I switched off TT14 (“Forced AV 16:9 Detection On/Off”). Also when using an RGB signal with composite video for cync it would default to composite mode. I’d have to press the AV button again to access RGB mode. TT18 enables RGB priority on this TV. Perfect, now the TV just uses 4:3 and RGB (if present) as default. 

I’ve been very impressed with this set. The image is so clean and sharp.  It might even be one of the best screens I’ve ever seen for displaying 240p, apart from professional PVMs. 480i is also clean and flicker free. Sony really knew how to make a good TV. For my tests I used the 240p Test Suite from my Mega Drive for most of the calibration, then run it again from the Dreamcast to check 480i display modes. Now I’m happy with this units setting I’m going to give it a clean inside and try to remove some of the dust from the chassis board.

Soon I’ll take a closer look at the 25″ TV.

CRT pickup Road-trip

CRT Madness. Does it exist? My wife thinks I have it, so it must be real. I’ve just been on a 400mile (round trip) to pickup a pair of Sony Trinitron TV sets. It was a long day but totally worth it. I’m no stranger to buying CRT TVs and finding problems when I get them home, but this seller was showing them working. He was also able to answer questions before I made the decision to take a drive across the country to pick them up. I was getting both a 25″ and a 21″ TV.

When I got to the destination address the seller had already set them up with a DVD player to show them working. I brought along a Mega Drive and Everdrive cartridge to use the amazing 240p Test Suite program to quickly establish how good they still were.

Having done some quick tests and played a bit of Sonic 3, I loaded up the car and set off home. 4 hours later I had them both on my console workbench to do some more tests and hopefully tweak the calibration to my liking.

KV-25F1U

The 25″ Trinitron KV-25F1U was in very good condition and was producing a good strong picture with no flickering in 60hz. Its geometry was ok for a 25″, and on the whole was quite acceptable all round. I did find the Horizontal positioning was slightly over to the left (see grid below). This I’m sure can be improved in the service menu. Colour and picture settings were also improved by doing a factory reset of all settings. Thankfully no problems with the convergence or gun strength here. 

Photos before calibration above. This TV will be my new primary TV for retro consoles, and is in place. I’m still tweaking this.

KV-X2182U

I knew this Trinitron KV-X2182U could be a really good set, and I’ve owned one before. Straight away the colours and contrast were very strong and the picture looks very sharp and detailed. Unfortunately cameras cannot do justice to a good CRT in photos, but Its very impressive. This TV looks to have ok geometry but could be improved somewhat. The vertical pin, and h-shift can be corrected in service mode when I get time.

Again the photos are without any adjustments yet. I think this set will look amazing when calibrated.

Its always a roll of the dice now when buying CRT TVs, but I think I’ve got lucky with this pair. This should provide me with a couple of spear units, and CRT gaming for a long time to come. I’ll post more photos when I get them both looking perfect.

At last! An update.

2021 is just flying by, and its been a long time since I had time to sit down and do an blog update.
My workshop got finished early this year just in time to start working from home.

So here’s how it went carrying on from the last post. Once the insulation was all installed, the plasterboards went up. Next the joints were filled and sanded to give a smooth surface for painting. I decided to go with a striking and warm orange along with contrasting grey (please don’t say ‘Easy Jet’). I then found a local supplier for floor carpet times.

These carpet tiles are new, found through Facebook. Two shades make a nice checker-board pattern.
I then finished installing the network points and the switch. I contemplated installing a patch panel, but decided to just allow the cables through the wall to the switch ports. There are 12 network sockets in total around the room, all going to the switch. I went with a TP-Link 16-port PoE switch. The WiFi point is powered from the switch and sits nicely on top.

For desks I also used Facebook marketplace and got a nice curved desk for my games table, and another straight desk for my PC area and soldering stations.

Then it was time to start unpacking boxes, setting up consoles and bringing over my arcade machines from storage. Lots more work was also done with the inclusion of smart heating and sensor controls.

So there you have it. An unused space in the garden transformed into an amazing space for playing arcade and console games, along with office space and electronics workshop.

Workshop Progress (January)

Well its been an exciting month so far. My long awaited workshop was built just before Christmas, and I could start working on the interior. As I’ve mentioned, I want to use this space as a workshop, office (work from home) and somewhere to put some video games and arcade machines. See my previous post for the concept renders.

I did a lot of research on other peoples garage/office installations to give me an idea on where to start. Firstly I decided to paint the interior joins with bitumen paint. This was applied around the base pointing, and up the sealed sections. I had rather a lot of this paint left over, so decided to paint all the exposed concrete.

Now to tackle the floor. with this being a solid concrete base it’s a good idea to put down an damp proof membrane first. Then the floor insulation was placed down. I didn’t have a lots of space available for the floor insulation, so I used 5mm foil backed insulation sections that slot together. Finally on top of that we installed 18mm flooring sections. These are intended to installing in lofts and slot together very easily.

Moving on. A large timber order was received on a cold dark morning, and shortly after that another load with insulating and plasterboards. So starting with the stud work, a frame was constructed around the floor and ceiling level. Then the vertical sections join them up, and more horizontal timbers to strengthen it all. No timber is connected to the concrete, just the floor and wood already installed on top of the concrete sections.

At this stage an electrician was hired to install cables and prepare to connect to the house mains. I also installed cat 6 network cables. A cable was also run from the house router to where I’m installing my network switch. Then we proceeded to install insulation and plasterboards.

The roof apex was packed with 50mm EcoTherm boards, the ceiling and walls also used used another layer of 50mm boards before the plaster boards went up. Any offcuts were also placed in the ceiling void. All plasterboard joins were covered in foil insulation tape.

Still lots to do. I’ll show more progress soon.

Workshop Progress

First post in ages.I’m still alive and so is my dream of building a Workshop and Arcade room in my garden. Some real progress happened last week. The concrete base has now been installed.

The final building size will be close to 20×10 foot, so bigger than my forst designs in the last post. Best of all the Section garage will be arriving in a couple of weeks.

From then it will be a process of lining the garage and making it usable as a workshop. It’s going to be fully insulated in floor, walls and celing to avoide issues with condensation. At the end it will also be heated and have plenty of power points professionally installed.

I’m happy to work on it through the winter, but only when finances can be spaired to buy materials. Good insulation and plyboard isnt chap, so work will be spaced out over next year.

Still I’m indundated with work requests, none of which I can can accept. Please understand its too soon to promise anything in this department. Thanks for the understanding.

Current Status – Workshop/Arcade plans

Hello. Its been a while since I last posted an update. We moved into our new house in the middle of February. The house had been empty for 4 years and is completely outdated, so we have a huge amount of work to do.

During this lock-down I’ve been able to start planning my new workshop. I’ve marked out the area I should be able to build in. It gives me an area of 19 x 8 foot. That should be plenty for a decent sized workshop and space for my arcade machines. The building will be breeze-block construction, and too keep the cost down, I’ll be building it myself.

I’ve also been brushing up on my Sketchup skills and done some renders of how it might look.

To get a better sense of the space I wanted accurate models of my 3 arcade machines, but couldn’t find the exact ones in the 3D warehouse. I finally found a model of the Naomi Universal, but not for the Electrocoin Neo-Geo or my Scud Race cabinet. So I made them in Sketchup too 🙂

So As you can see, its a long way to completion. I need to remove the old greenhouse foundations first, level the ground and get a new foundation ready. This project needs to be done alongside the house renovation when I can afford it. Until its build I have nowhere to work and understandably I still cannot accept and work requests. I’ll post more updates as the work starts.

RetroFlag cases for Raspberry Pi

With all my game collection, tool and most of my equipment packed up for the move (see here for details), I’ve been looking for an easy project to keep me busy. Something that doesn’t involve soldering for once.

I recently found out about the RetroFlag line of retro console inspired cases for the Raspberry Pi. Some while back I started looking into RetroPie for a friend, so I decided to build a couple of emulation machines for the living room. One based on the Megadrive case, and the other Nintendo SNES case.

Both cases are very good and could easily sit along the lines of the current mini consoles from Nintendo and Sega. The even feature working buttons for power and reset.
I’ll post more info and details of how I setup these machines soon.