Vintage film viewers as RetroPies

Converted vintage film and slide viewers into modern gaming systems.

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I love vintage photography equipment and currently purchased a few vintage film and slide viewers to turn them into modern gaming systems. These were always used as viewers, so they are ergonomically correct (1970s standards) for viewing once you are positioned in front of them.

I started the project by carefully gutting the viewers and bagging the parts based on their serial numbers for future reference. I then did some soldering and fitting of a 2.8" PiTFT screen, Pi Zero, four port USB hub, USB mini speaker, USB game controller, power supply using the vintage power switch on the back, and finally, a 32GB RetroPie game collection with a Star Wars theme including soundtracks playing in the backfround while searching through the game menu (courtesy of CoinJunkie and ArcadePunks). 

These viewers look big enough for lots of internal parts, but that is deceiving. One third of the space is required for focal distance to magnify the image through the glass magnifier. Most of them are built out of die cast metal, so they feel nice to the touch.

Obi-Wan Kenobi would have said - "Your fathers's RetroPie. This is the gaming system of a Jedi Knight. Not as clumsy or random as a plastic case. An elegant system, for a more civilized age."

  • 1 × Viewlex film viewer
  • 1 × PiTFT 320x240 2.8" TFT Resistive Touchscreen
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi Zero with Header
  • 1 × USB Mini Hub
  • 1 × 5V 2.5A Switching Power Supply with 20AWG MicroUSB Cable

View all 8 components

  • 1
    Gutting the viewer

    I started the project by carefully gutting the viewers and bagging the parts based on their serial numbers for future reference. I wanted to use the viewer's built in on/off switch, so I cut the power supply cable and soldered it to the switch. The micro USB end goes into the Pi Zero.

  • 2
    Summary of parts

    These are the parts used for the project. They are described in the components section.

  • 3
    Hammer your Pi​

    You can purchase the Pi Zero with headers to plug into the TFT touchscreen. I found that out later, so I purchased the solderless hammer headers. As the name implies, you have to use a guide and a hammer to correctly insert the header into the Pi. It saves time unless you enjoy soldering 40 pins.

View all 5 instructions

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christoph wrote 05/14/2021 at 13:15 point

Great idea, I just finished mine!

Some hints for the software side: For NeoGeo and modern Arcade titles (like CPS1/CPS2), only PiFBA is fast enough on the Pi Zero. With the USB speaker, it will crash with a segfault because the USB speaker can only do 48.000 Hz and PiFBA does not support it - but it can easily be added in the source code and then it works fine.

With the display (MZDPI-VGA) and the standard configuration, PiFBA was running at 90 fps (way to fast). I fixed it with the following display configuration in config.txt:

hdmi_timings=480 0 100 16 59 640 0 20 126 15 0 0 0 60 0 31500000 1

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tomschuring wrote 05/16/2019 at 12:07 point

Thank you for the inspiration. I'm not even embarrassed to say I plainly copied you.

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Beauregard Slim wrote 04/24/2019 at 22:46 point

I love it.  I remember finding something like this in the back of a closet at my grandma's when I was a kid.  I might have to grab one of these for a build.  That Opta-View looks straight out of Forbidden Planet. 

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Maximo wrote 04/24/2019 at 14:02 point

Nice project!

I've bought this Argus Previewer some time ago with the idea of doing something similar:

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b1tbang3r wrote 04/23/2019 at 12:36 point

This would make a pretty slick Pip-Boy!

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NeoGryph wrote 04/22/2019 at 20:40 point

this is very cool.   Thanks for the idea!

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