CRT TV + VCR Trinitron Retro Media Player | The MagPi #124

When Mairon Wolniewicz watches movies or plays games from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, he ensures he gets the full retro experience, as David Crookes explains in the latest issue of The MagPi.

CRT TV + VCR Trinitron Media Player The MagPi 124
The original plan was to place the Raspberry Pi computer within a stripped-out VCR space, but this method allows it to be easily unclipped and plugged into an HDMI monitor for debugging

Where is no doubt that a crisp, modern, flat display has been a blessing for our eyes, not to mention the space in our homes, schools, and offices. But if you’re a retro enthusiast and you have old video games or movies from the last century, then you may want to go the whole hog and grab yourself a cathode-ray tube (CRT) television instead.

That’s exactly what Mairon Wolniewicz has done, creating a media server based around a Raspberry Pi computer that outputs to an old Sony Trinitron CRT he picked up following months of searching. As it happens, these TVs were created in the Sony UK Technology Centre factory in Pencoed, south Wales, where Raspberry Pi is produced today, but Mairon was simply after a quality television set.

To keep Raspberry Pi in place and easily accessible, Mairon has made good use of the grill on the back of the TV
To keep Raspberry Pi in place and easily accessible, Mairon has made good use of the grill on the back of the TV

“I saw these were the best ever CRTs and one appeared out of nowhere with a built-in VCR,” he says. “The seller didn’t know if the VCR was working, but I wasn’t bothered because my idea was to remove the mechanical parts that occupied the VCR space and use it to store the cables, power supply, and Raspberry Pi.”

Picture perfect

In that sense, he had a bold plan. “Since the television only had composite and RF video inputs, I considered connecting the internal wirings of the A/V plug – the ones on the front of the TV – into a Raspberry Pi RCA cable. It would involve cutting out the RCA connectors and soldering the wires directly to the TV,” he adds. But then curiosity got the better of him and he bought a copy of Shrek on VHS. To his surprise, it worked!

He then resolved to revise his project, deciding, as a lover of retro, that he simply couldn’t scrap the VCR element of the TV. Instead, he opted to place the Raspberry Pi 4 computer into a case that he clipped on to the grid at the back of the TV. He admits it’s not the most elegant of solutions (“the composite inputs are on the front of the TV,” he laments), but his retro media player could still make use of the CRT display.

So what has motivated him to do this? “Well, I’ve been spending a lot of time learning how to paint by watching videos by Bob Ross [an American painter and TV host who died in 1995], and I thought it would be cool to just let videos like these play in a loop on a small screen in my room,” he explains. “Soon, I was also looking to add other functions. My Raspberry Pi came with SNES controllers, so playing games was inevitable.”

Mairon had been a long time user of RetroPie and EmulationStation, so decided to stick with it rather than create his own emulator/game selector
Mairon had been a long time user of RetroPie and EmulationStation, so decided to stick with it rather than create his own emulator/game selector

Play it again

This is when the project took off. The setup was straightforward (videos and games are stored on a USB stick and video output is via a P3/RCA connector), but Mairon’s retro media system has a custom GUI resembling a VCR interface – complete with white text on a blue background.

“I thought it would be cool to have a GUI where I’d choose what I wanted to do with my media player, and I thought the VCR look would match nicely,” he says. This was accomplished using Qt QML, a declarative language for designing user interfaces. “C++ was used for file reading and to launch Linux commands,” he adds.

This retro media system is fundamentally designed to be plug-and-play, with the software used to launch the correct applications
This retro media system is fundamentally designed to be plug-and-play, with the software used to launch the correct applications

Most of Mairon’s time has been spent tweaking Raspberry Pi configuration files. “It will run fine with composite output, on the desired resolution with legible font and without overscan,” he says. Indeed, the system is configured to output video to 480i, and it’s set up to correctly run music and games.

It’s navigated using the up/down arrow and ENTER keys on a keyboard, with the BACKSPACE key for returning to a previous menu. “I’d like the GUI to support gamepads, and I’d also like to integrate a personal assistant,” he says. “Sure, it’s not even close to retro, but wouldn’t it be cool to request your TV to play a season of an old show when you lie down on your bed?”

The MagPi #124 out NOW!

You can grab the brand-new issue right now from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, WHSmith, and other newsagents, including the Raspberry Pi Store in Cambridge. You can also get it via our app on Android or iOS. And there’s a free PDF you can download too.

magpi issue 124 front cover

You can also subscribe to the print version of The MagPi. Not only do we deliver it globally, but people who sign up to the twelve-month print subscription get a FREE Raspberry Pi Zero Pico W!

8 comments

Ashley Whittaker avatar

I too keep an old VCR around for the sole purpose of watching The Little Mermaid *properly* once every three years.

Liz Upton avatar

THE WAVES OBEY MY EVERY WHIM!

Cough

Sorry.

Akrilico avatar

Also nice keyboard! Is bluetooth ?
What model is it ?

Mairon avatar

Hey Akrilico! It is a Keychron K6. Works both by Bluetooth or USB.

Brian Inglis avatar

Recently gave away an old 32″ NTSC CRT TV with RF modulator to an eager retro gamer who was happy to pick it up from me: must have weighed 45kg! Back has gone out enough times I was not going to touch it.

Tankapotamus avatar

That’s it? He plugged a Raspberry Pi into a TV and it’s a featured project? Seriously? Am I missing something?

Ashley Whittaker avatar

Have a LOVELY day.

Sreejith C avatar

It seems so..

Comments are closed