VCR Head Scroll Wheel (Imposter Syndrome Version)

VCR head scroll wheel implemented with a magnetic rotary encoder demo board and a teensy.

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The overall technical details for this project aren't all that complex, ground breaking, or even exciting.

I think the interesting thing about this project is that it's the result of a whole lot of procrastination, a significant amount of being lazy, and a single Aha! moment.

Oh, and at the end of the description, I'll explain what I mean by Imposter Syndrome Version.

Here is the story:

It's the end of 2010 when I happen upon this:

I immediately went to the thrift store, purchased a dusty old VCR, took it home, and promptly took it apart. I was feeling super inspired! Oh, and VCR heads are very therapeutic to spin (which was a concept that was only a few years ahead of its time). 

Shortly after that initial burst of inspiration, the lazy kicked in. I wasn't going to separate the brains of the mouse from its current PCBA just to mount it on another board so it would fit in the VCR head. No way! Why not just hide the original PCBA in the base of the awesome stand/case I was going to build, and just route some wires up to the relocated IR emitter and receiver in the VCR head? Then I would just figure out some easy/simple way to pass something between the emitter and receiver. You know, exactly the same way they do on most mouse wheels anyway. But different.

So many mice were taken apart.

So many terrible attempts at unblocking/blocking the path between the IR emitter and receiver while spinning the VCR head were made.

Well, there was this cool 3D printed gear-flared-finger thing that a coworker made for me that wasn't terrible. Remember back then 3D printers weren't so ubiquitous. It was a very nicely designed/printed part, gosh darn it, and at the time still such a novel thing to have fabricated. But despite the awesomeness of that printed part, I was still not making progress.

Frustration set in, and time started to march on without me.

Every now and then I would pick up my VCR head spinner project and give it another try, but to no avail. 


Fast forward to late 2022. I was at work editing what must have been a zillion page document, as one often does. I noticed that I was feverishly switching between the mouse wheel and the scroll bar on the right side of the editor window and the page up/down buttons and the arrow keys. Suddenly, I was wishing for that VCR scroll wheel thing, and just feeling silly on every level. What the heck? All these years had passed and I hadn't managed to get much farther than busting apart that VCR.

And then I remembered the magnetic rotary encoder demo board from a few years back that I had picked while evaluating parts for another project at work!

NOTE: This is not the same place at which I was working when the 3D part was printed. And it's not the place at which I am working now. It was another place. Where I was working previously and presently and in-between might not matter in the grand scheme of things, but the timeline of this project is now more than a decade long. These details add context, or something.

And then I remembered that microcontrollers can easily emulate computer peripherals!

I fell down the mechanical keyboard rabbit hole a several years ago. As the falling continued, I had been noticing a lot of mechanical keyboard projects utilizing the Raspberry Pico. While I hadn't gotten around to picking up any of those little guys to try out, I did have the typical stash of other microcontrollers collecting dust. Um, I mean, sitting idle. Well, it turns out that they can easily do peripheral emulation too!

Anyway, it didn't take too long to locate the rotary encoder demo board. Okay, maybe it took hours, but it didn't take days or weeks or years. I couldn't find the magnet, but that didn't take too long to find online, order, and receive.

There wasn't actually that much dust on the the microcontroller pile. On the top of the pile was a Teensy2.0....

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Arduino sketch. Runs well on a Teensy 2.0. Can't remember where the example code originated. Maybe the PJRC site?

ino - 3.71 kB - 10/01/2023 at 00:22


  • 1 × VCR head
  • 1 × AMS AS5047D-TS_EK_AB development board
  • 1 × Radial magnet
  • 1 × PJRC Teensy 2.0 development board
  • 1 × Altoids tin

View all 8 components

  • 1
    Teensy2.0 Wring

    Set USB to Serial+Keyboard+Mouse+Joystick, or just Keyboard+Mouse+Joystic.

  • 2
    Rotary Encoder Demo Board Wiring

    The rotary encoder demo board was used in its default state, no changes required other than the jumper for 5VDC operation.

    The 5VDC supplied by the USB connection is plenty to power the magnetic rotary encoder.

  • 3
    Scroll Wheel Assembly

View all 3 instructions

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crispernaki wrote 10/27/2023 at 16:39 point

@Elliot Williams I think it's pretty cool that you have to spin up your spinner before it starts to spin.

Thanks for the kind words

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Elliot Williams wrote 10/25/2023 at 10:22 point

Hah!  I love the "impostor syndrome" bit, but um... you made the thing.  The impostor doesn't make the thing. Hence, not impostor.  QED.

I remember that video head scroller.  I was also struck by it, but I wanted to do it "hard mode" instead, using only the reverse-engineered internals of the spinning head, without "cheating" and adding an external encoder. I mean, it has to know where it is, right?  

Well, no, not right.  And it took me N weeks of poking at that flat-flex that comes out of it to figure that out.  And then I never got it done.  I would have been better to use an opto sensor at the time, or one of those sexy magnetic rotation sensors today. Then I would have it done.

I went on to rip up an old 5" hard drive, and read the signals generated off that thing's motor windings -- that actually worked, mostly.  You still need to spin it fast enough to generate enough voltage, but you get used to it.  I've still got that kicking around somewhere, so I'm not a _total_ impostor, and I can prove it.

But my point is.  That Altoids can is janky as all heck.  You're going to want to replace that, long-term.  :)  

No, no, my point was -- not impostor!  Doing the thing = not impostor.  

And it's not your fault that a huge community of electronics hackers made it easy for you.  Just bask in it. 

And thanks for sharing.  It's a lovely story.

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