Commodore PET plays YouTube videos with Raspberry Pi Zero

This project is totally in keeping with the spirit of things around here. Thorbjörn Jemander did what any self-respecting tinkerer should do after securing a prized piece of retro tech: hack it with a Raspberry Pi to make it do something elaborately pointless. The Commodore PET was released in 1977, and this one came back from the dead to fulfil the important task of playing videos from YouTube, a platform launched in 2005.

Make sure you watch this excellent detailed description of how the maker pulled this off

What could be a better use of your time than watching fail videos from 2018? Watching them jerking around on a wibbly green and black screen, that’s what.

GIF showcasing the PET’s video playback from Hackaday

How does it work?

A Raspberry Pi Zero 2 W grabs YouTube videos via Wi-Fi, and converts them to an 80 × 25 grid of ASCII characters. Another board then loads these, frame by frame, into the video memory of the Commodore PET so it can play them.

commodore pet 600 plays youtube videos

Thorbjörn’s tinkering secured a 30 fps (frames per second) playback speed — the minimum needed to avoid jerky motion. Ideally we’d be looking at 60 fps, but ideally we’d also not be watching video content on a 40-something-year-old machine.

Unusual PET

Even 1980s programming kids may not be familiar with the PET 600. Maker Thorbjörn made a video explaining what it is and how he got his hands on the rare Swedish Commodore model.

Commodore 64 synthesiser

While we do love Thorbjörn’s commitment to pointlessly excellent retrofit tech, this is only our second favourite Commodore-based project. Our very own Simon Martin mashed Raspberry Pi with a Commodore 64 to create Synth6581 — a unique musical instrument.

It’s based on the music chip inside the Commodore 64, and features circuit boards stacked on top of a Raspberry Pi 4. Read more about how Simon built it here.

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