What would you do if someone who didn't know their own strength and didn't understand why DVDs get scratched and dirty, or that DVD player trays don't like being smashed into place wanted to watch movies for hours on end while chancing movies every few minutes?
This is the latest in a years-long attempt to make my brother Ricky a video player rugged enough to stand up to his use. I've been fixing his video players since the days of digging stretched out VHS tapes from his VCRs. I'm always trying to make the latest iteration more robust for him than the last. For his own comfort as much as those around him.
When we last left off I had the system more or less ready electronically, so on go some handles, a cooling fan in the back, some holes in the back panel for airflow, and an acrylic screen protector lest overly rambunctious video watching turn violent.
But, after all of thisu I was *still* waiting on the audiobook player I needed to pull the cartridge port out of. Seems like it's been a while, so lets check where it's at. Oh, it was dropped off at my old house a week ago because I didn't change my ebay mailing address.... shit. Thankfully the new tenants at the place hadn't tossed it or tried to return it! a Crimbo mackerel!
A quick jaunt up to Freeside Atlanta, some convincing with The Largest ViceGrips, a kiss with the belt sander, and we go from this:
Not my cleanest work, but now it can at least be mounted into a square cut slot. I put a normal USB-A lead on the original plug header, then made up a mount with some wooden blocks, screws, and hot glue I'd rather not talk about or photograph.... :| Lets just say it looks better outside than inside. A little marking the front and a buzz with the oscillating wiggle-saw and it's pretty much complete! I'd like to make a logo panel, maybe built into a guard/beauty plate around the cart slot, but time is short and Santa waits for no man. After loading his favorite shows and movies onto the new USB carts I made up labels and it's off we go!
Sometimes I'm a clever duck. As I was trying to decide how to best mount the electronics to the inside of the case it occured to me I can just screw a board to the screen's VESA mount and stick most of the guts of the player to that, so I did.
I threw all of the parts together like a tossed salad and it worked perfectly. Time for paint. I hate waiting on paint to dry..... First a rattle can coat to soak into the grain of the wood, then a light sanding, then a couple days later a rolling-on of oil base gloss black. I've always found oil based paint to be easy to clean and hard-wearing. If it's good enough to paint a tractor then it'll hold up to anything paint can.
The cartridge port will go along side the buttons once it arrives, but with this much back together I couldn't resist a test:
Decided to forego the corner pieces of the cabinet to leave a little more wiggle room since after edge-screwing the cabinet together it was plenty sturdy. With a bit of superglue around all the seams to help hold it all rigid, I was left with a box with a hole in it.
From there I realized I'd left most of the guts meant to go into it except the screen at my hackerspace (shoutout Freeside Atlanta!), so rather than my usual methodology of "smash all the parts in and make it go BRRRR" I took a more metered approach and filled holes and rough spots, sanded it smooth, and then installed the screen since I at least had that with me at home.
Give it a lick of paint, and it'll look like one of those fake stand-in TVs Ikea used to have in the 90s. On the inside I used 4 small pieces of baby angle iron I had around to hold the screen in the right position for the front opening. I figure this is a bit of future-proofing since if I ever need to replace this screen with similar-but-not-the-same I can just shift the brackets as needed. I'll cook up something better than ratty buggee cords to hold it on for real.
One small note for this particular screen is it had face-bezel mounted buttons, but they just barely protruded, so a quick buzz with a grinding wheel makes sure they won't accidentally be pressed against the wood. The screen powers on to the correct input automatically anyway so it shouldn't need any controls for the user.
The format wars have not been kind to special needs folks. With added complexity, features, more compact shapes, and the like comes fragility, more difficulty in understanding, and frustration if things don't behave the same every time you try to use it. The VCR blinking 12:00 was innocuous enough, but how do you explain to a toddler they can't watch their favorite show because their disc is scratched, they're in the wrong menu, and besides that, the TV was set to the wrong input?
Well the first thing you can do is make the physical media harder to damage or use incorrectly. Over the years I've tried hiding the media in a cabinet, keeping it in the SD card or USB stick attached to a Pi, but you know? VHS tapes were pretty robust, what's a similar take for the modern era?
With all the main parts ordered or on-hand, tested, and everything working on the test-bench, it's time to make something that can take a licking and keep on playing, and that starts with the cabinet. I've decided to plagiarize TV design from the late 80s to the mid 90s and just make a simple boxy thick box. a PC monitor will mount in the frount, the elctronics will be mounted to the sides or bottom of the cabinet, and the whole thing will be constructed of half-inch ply with a removable back for servicing.
It's not the end of the world that the controller is the only way to get at the fast forward and rewind buttons. I'm a fairly dab hand with an iron, so I gutted the controller, charted out what pins on the control chip do what, stuck it on perfboard with some Wago-style spring terminals to make running out to other buttons easy, and got out some small wire and the 60/40.
Don't forget the intrinsic documentation. The next poor asshole working on it will thank you, and it's likely to be you anyway.
One serious hurdle to making Ricky a solid video player is his ability to understand it's usage grammar. I'm not sure if this is the correct term in engineering design, but it seems correct to me. If there are menus he might get lost, if button presses don't quickly yield some change he gets frustrated or confused. Sometimes the same goes for his caregivers, be they family or helpful nursing staff. You can't blame someone who's confused at how to make a one-off prototype machine behave if it doesn't do what they expect other similar machines to do.
To that end I've tried to make simple, flat, simple interfaces in previous players, but sometimes prototyped machines do strange things when i've already driven home several hours away and that's a sad time for everyone. This time around I'm essentially outsourcing the video player design to an inexpensive no-name USB/SD card video player.
My brother Ricky is HARD on video players and media. Really hard. Since we were kids he'd watch one spot of a tape until it snapped and broke in the VCR. I grew up figuring out how to splice and extract busted tapes, reset VCRs, and intuited not to touch the big red wire inside his TV/VCRs well before I had anyone who could tell me the angry pixies were hiding under that suction cup.
The VHS era was great for folks of limited mobility or cognitive ability. Stuff chunky plastic tape into hole, watch video. Simple. DVDs made the care and feeding of video media much more difficult for folks who can't understand or aren't able to avoid scratching, smudging, or otherwise being rough on DVDs and DVD players.
In 2013 I built Ricky a small "arcade cabinet" with a modified 5-disc DVD changer inside wired to arcade game buttons for controls, and this served him well for several years, but nothing lasts forever, DVD's heyday came and went, and an unfortunate incident with chocolate milk spilling between the cracks ended the DVD player's tenure.
Ever since my family should have purchased stock in various DVDs he's been fond of. Lilo and Stitch, Knight Rider (with the 'hoff of course), and others. I've also worked with hackerspace friends to roll up various Raspberry Pi based video player solutions for Ricky, some of which even lasted a year or two under his heavy use.
I didn't get to see him all of last year, and this year for Christmas I'm bringing him a new player.