This site is a collection of notes surrounding my explorations in DIY video synthesis.
Part of the reason that I’m starting this site is that my experience with trying to do DIY video electronics has been very challenging. Like many DIY people, my initial interest in electronics was in making audio circuits. There’s no end to resources for audio electronics DIY online – from building simple oscillators to making full fledged modular synths or hifi equipment, there are tons of well-documented projects available. As such, the learning curve for audio electronics is pretty smooth, and the bar for getting started is low. Even if you have no formal electronics training, it’s easy to pick a simple audio project and start figuring out how things work. Audio circuit bending is also a major point of entry for many people who have little or no electronics experience, and can yield incredible and rewarding results.
At first blush, video is more unforgiving than audio. Unlike sound experimentation, where you can send all kinds of stuff into an amplifier and get at least some kind of result, video display systems have more specific input requirements. A quote from the developers of the Synkie open-source analog modular video synth sums the problem up well:
“You cannot just fool around with like with sound: Besides the much higher bandwidth (~5MHz) which makes designing video circuits much more demanding, the main problem is that video signal contains not only the actual picture, but also synchronization signals. You touch the picture and the sync goes away, the screen starts shaking… Try to fade a video signal to black like you would with audio – no way to do this with just a potentiometer. Instead of a nice appeasing black you’ll get a crazy light storm capable of generating epileptic seizures…”
My sense is that the need to work within these requirements presents a large enough technical hurdle to getting started that a lot of people shy away from trying to do DIY video electronics. Forrest W. Mims III‘s Tone Generator circuit, which has lately come to be popularly renamed the Atari Punk Console, is an example of a very simple audio circuit that yields quick and satisfying results for new experimenters. Building this circuit, powering it up and hearing screeching electronic noises blast out of it was a crucial experience in getting me started down the DIY electronics path. Projects like this have a great power to open people’s eyes to the possibilities of electronics, and offer an important source of self-confidence, proving that you really can do it yourself! Unfortunately, I haven’t come across any such simple, beginner-level circuits in the video field. One of the things I’m hoping to develop is a set of simple projects that will help anyone with little or no electronics experience start exploring DIY video synthesis.
I am not an electronics engineer, and am approaching this project from a background in DIY electronics experimentation. I mention this partly as a caveat for anyone who uses this site as a resource in their own DIY video electronics projects. Circuits that I design will not conform to EE-standard best practices! By turns, though, one of the things I’m hoping for is feedback (no pun intended) on circuit design from people who are more knowledgeable than me.