Since I started collecting Nintendo 64 games and accessories, I went looking for a suitable CRT monitor to connect it all to. I ended up coming across two compatible displays at once - a Sony 14" Professional Video Monitor (PVM-14L2) and a Fujitsu General FGS251 TV.
The Sony monitor was a score in itself, and I would like to use it as a production monitor for a video setup at some point. But I was even more impressed with the capabilities of the Fujitsu General, with native RGB, a digital audio processor, built-in stereo speakers and a sharp, vibrant CRT. I wanted to use it for more than just casual games, and started looking into other ideas.
Someone on Reddit suggested it would be neat to somehow connect it to one of the various fan-made streams simulating classic television networks, like Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network. It’s possible to export video to VHS, or PVR, or access streaming video on TV connected devices, but I wanted more control over the content.
With some additional equipment, the 1997 TV Starter Kit was born.
The video stream is generated by a host computer, and delivered via digital HDMI to a HDMI to Composite video converter. It’s then handed to the VCR, which serves as a video switcher between the computer input and Nintendo 64 (and it can record the inputs to VHS cassette if desired), and then delivered through to the TV.
Where the magic happens is on the host computer itself. The HDMI to Composite converter appears to the computer - in this case, a MacBook Air - as a secondary display. VLC handles the scheduling, queueing, streaming (from local disk, network or internet) and video pre-processing.
And if anyone is wondering, the video is “Revolution” from NewTek, a demo reel for the Video Toaster for Commodore Amiga from 1991.
VLC is configured to use this secondary display as its video output device, in 576i PAL resolution, with no on-screen display or control overlay, and with 4:3 crop or aspect ratio resize where needed. This means the HDMI to Composite converter does no downscaling - the computer running VLC handles it instead. This preserves video quality, but also allows for some interesting effects, like selective crop, moving the video along the X and Y axis, colour adjustments, video effects and overlays.
I can import episodes of TV shows, commercials and network idents, from a local drive and over the internet, and mix both sources in one playlist if I choose to. (Although the internet connection here is too slow to handle real-time playback.) It’s like having a television station in a box. I can even add a semi-transparent network identifier graphic video overlay to all of the videos if I like.
And then when it’s done, throw it across to the TV and record it onto a 3 hour LP VHS cassette.
There’s something fun about combining new technology with old to recreate an era of entertainment and set a mood. With a few clicks it’s possible to create an entire evening of broadcasting from any era I choose, combining source material from my own media collection and YouTube.
I love classic technology and video production, so I’m having a blast with this.
Now I’m thinking about what comes next. I’ve considered transmitting the video signal via VHF to an actual analogue TV channel frequency, so the computer’s video output can be picked up with a standard “rabbit ears” antenna, but the equipment needed for that is fairly expensive, so if I do, that’ll be something that comes later.
Otherwise, I’m thinking maybe a couple of bean bag chairs, and just enjoying the show.