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#73957 - 22/02/2002 03:08 Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
Preface

I hope it's OK that I'm posting this review. I'm not certain if Brian wants information about his project to be disclosed publicly yet. I asked Brian via a private e-mail if it was OK to post about this, but he's probably in bed right now and I haven't seen a response yet. Oh, and there's that other issue where my mail server seems to like bouncing messages from his address... Anyway, I'm so excited about this that I couldn't wait any longer. So here we go.

Backlit buttons!

Brian just gave me a crack at one of his first backlit button kits. He's almost ready to start making these publicly available, and he wanted a guinea pig to help him work the kinks out of the system. I sent him the cash last week, and received the kit in the mail today. Began work on it immediately after I got home, and it took several hours to complete. I took lots of notes, and I just sent off my notes to him.

By pure coincidence, Mark Lord graced us with his presence again today, and I took the opportunity to ask him if he would please add Brian's button-light-activation code to his default Hijack kernel. I did this even before I knew that the parts had arrived in the mail. I got home tonight, ready to install the kit, and found that Mark had put up Hijack 202 just in the nick of time. Thanks, Mark!

So, what does it look like?!

The file attached to this message here is a photo of what the player now looks like sitting on my desk as I type this. Note that since all Brian had were blue buttons to send me, I have changed the player screen color from green to blue, just so I could match.

As you can see, it is the business. It is the shiznit. It is the bee's knees. Words cannot describe how utterly cool this is.

One thing you can't see from the photo is that the shade of blue of the buttons is slightly different than the shade of blue of the screen. My digital camera isn't the best at capturing the subtleness of the hues coming from the player's screen, so the photo makes the buttons look like a perfect match. In real life, they are close, but not exactly the same. Since we know that there is a lot of variation in the screen hues, it's not going to be possible for Brian to match the hues perfectly. I think that he's gotten it quite close, and it looks fantastic. In fact, I think the slight difference in hue looks really good, and now I'm curious to try it with blue buttons and a green screen.

Assembly

I'm going to say this right off the bat right now...

THIS IS SERIOUSLY HARD CORE.

This is not an easy hack. It is nerve-wracking and a complete pain in the ass to do. You have no idea how frigging small these surface-mount components are until you've actually tried to solder them yourself. You must be extremely good with a soldering iron if you want to do this.

Let me strengthen that statement. You must be better than the best solderer you know. Think about your skill with a soldering iron objectively for a moment. When you look at other people's soldering jobs, do you think "I could do better than that with my eyes closed"? You have to be twice as good as that.

The surface-mount components required here are basically the size of a flea with anorexia. Imagine having to flow the solder onto just one tiny part of something that small. The resistor pack that solders onto the display board has eight tiny pads that must each be soldered individually, and if the solder fills any of the gaps between the pads, you're hosed.

I was able to do it, but just barely. I'm worried that it's going to stop working after a few thermal cycles of my player because my solder joints on the resistor pack will come loose.

Fortunately, the resistor pack was the hardest part. Assembling the knob-board and soldering the LEDs into the buttons was pretty easy by comparison. The components that went onto the knob-board were just as small as the resistor pack, but at least they didn't have rows of tightly-spaced connection points. After doing the resistor pack, the knob-board was a walk in the park. I still wouldn't recommend it for anyone who has even the slightest doubts about their soldering skills, though.

The tails of the LEDs didn't quite "drop" into the button holes, they required some coaxing and bending before they would go through. At least on my board, that's how it worked out. YMMV.

After testing with a multimeter and discovering to my amazement that the resistor pack was soldered correctly, I hooked up power. And discovered I had soldered in the top LED backwards, it didn't light up. D'OH! Desoldering that bugger was a pain. So, I warn you now: Triple check Brian's illustrations and make sure you really are following them!

I had some difficulty fitting the knob properly after the knob-board was installed, but I was able to resolve the issue with some ingenuity and modding. I have confidence that Brian will be able to make it work more universally when he starts shipping these things for real.

And while I'm on the subject of the knob-board, I just want to say that it's a tiny little work of art. Quite clever, how he worked it all out so that it lights the knob properly.

Oh, and as long as we're talking about works of art...

The Buttons

Absolutely impeccable castings. The texture and shape is fantastic. No bubbles or cracks.

I had a slight problem with the knob, which is that somehow it came out kind of oblong instead of perfectly circular. But this is no big deal, I think this was an early prototype knob and he'll hopefully be able to correct it in future castings. You can't tell the knob is out of round when it's installed on the player, it just looks normal.

The plastic of these knobs is a touch more "brittle" than the plastic used in the original knobs. For some reason, this makes the knob grip the shaft less tightly than the original knobs.

I have a Mark2 with the round (non-keyed) encoder shaft. Some of you may remember that the very first Mk2 shipments had their knobs slip on the shaft, so they redesigned the knobs to grip better and gave replacements to Mk2 owners. With these replacement knobs, there was a rubber O-ring included. The O-ring made the knob grip even tighter. Well, I never needed the O-ring with the original replacement knob, but I kept it just in case. Well, with these translucent knobs, you need the O-ring. Glad I kept it. Now that the O-ring is in place, it's very solid and does not slip on the shaft.

Since I don't have a 2a to play with, I can't comment on how the knob would work with a 2a.

The four buttons fit perfectly. Brian did an amazing casting job. They are slightly more sensitive to fascia position than the original buttons, so you have to be careful about scooching the fascia into the right position before cinching down the hex screws, but as long as you're careful and you don't make the hex screws more than finger-tight, the buttons work great.

Brian has stated that he intends to experiment with different compounds to make the buttons distribute light more evenly. I would like to see this happen eventually, but even without this feature, the buttons look fantastic.

When the buttons are not backlit, they appear very very dark. Almost black, in fact. This actually looks quite cool on the face of the "powered off" player, giving it a sleek stealthy look reminiscent of the Mk1.

I would assume that any compounds used to spread the light more evenly would make the plastic color lighter, too. That means that if you want blue buttons, they would appear to be a milky sky-blue in regular light. This might or might not look good, I don't know. Personally, I'd like to see Brian take a stab at grayish translucent buttons. I think that buttons backlit in a neutral gray tone would look fantastic when set against the colored player lens. Well, let's just hope Brian get the time to work more on this and come up with different things to try.

Summary

On the Spinal Tap scale:
Coolness factor: 11
Installation difficulty: 9.5

Should you do this to your player? If you really think you can solder an eight-pad SMT resistor pack onto an irreplaceable display board, then it's a no-brainer. This looks awesome. And your player will be the star of the next owner's meet.

If you can't do the soldering, then I suggest making friends with someone who can. Buy them lunch. Or flowers. Or a Porsche. Whatever it takes.


Attachments
71792-backlit.jpg (1121 downloads)

_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73958 - 22/02/2002 06:22 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
rob
carpal tunnel

Registered: 21/05/1999
Posts: 5315
Loc: Cambridge UK
You might find the SMT soldering a little easier if you use solder paste instead of solid strand. You dab the paste onto the pads, stick the component down, and heat up the terminals with a soldering iron or hot air gun.

Rob

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#73959 - 22/02/2002 09:30 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
robricc
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/10/2000
Posts: 4909
Loc: Orange County, NY USA
Personally, I'd like to see Brian take a stab at grayish translucent buttons.

I agree. I would also like to see purple ones. I seem to remeber early sketches of the Mk2 with a blue screen and purple buttons and knob. I think that would look wicked awesome.

I am very clumsy when it comes to soldering, but if Rob is right about the solder paste I might be willing to try this mod.
_________________________
-Rob Riccardelli
80GB 16MB MK2 090000736

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#73960 - 22/02/2002 09:48 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: robricc]
LTJBukem
enthusiast

Registered: 18/07/2001
Posts: 299
Wasn't someone going to make some flourescent ones, that gave a nice hint of blue. I spotted some powder a while back that could be added to the mix. This would work for me, as I'm officially the worst solderer I know
_________________________
LTJ

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#73961 - 22/02/2002 09:58 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: rob]
altman
carpal tunnel

Registered: 19/05/1999
Posts: 3450
Loc: Palo Alto, CA
Actually, the paste is still an absolute pain. What makes the job much easier is plenty of SMT flux - you can buy pens of it for about $5. Ok, the amount in a pen is enough for about 100 players, but if you drown the component in flux, you have far fewer problems with solder bridges, believe me.

Hugo

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#73962 - 22/02/2002 10:04 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: altman]
guardian__J
enthusiast

Registered: 28/01/2002
Posts: 265
Loc: MI, USA
I have a question for the empeg guys...
Obviously this hack voids warranty...
but is there any chance something could be done that would allow this hack to be done by someone "licensed" that would allow the rest of the player to still be under warranty?
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guardian__J
MKIIa 20g Smoke

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#73963 - 22/02/2002 11:04 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: guardian__J]
tonyc
carpal tunnel

Registered: 27/06/1999
Posts: 7058
Loc: Pittsburgh, PA
I'll answer this for the Empeg guys just because I've seen their answers to a hundred similar questions.

No.
_________________________
- Tony C
my empeg stuff

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#73964 - 22/02/2002 11:08 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tonyc]
guardian__J
enthusiast

Registered: 28/01/2002
Posts: 265
Loc: MI, USA
I can assume as much...just wanted to hear it from them...
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guardian__J
MKIIa 20g Smoke

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#73965 - 22/02/2002 11:29 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: guardian__J]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
The real problem is finding someone insane enough to actually want to do this to a bunch of players. Not sure if Brian will end up doing it or not.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73966 - 22/02/2002 11:33 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
guardian__J
enthusiast

Registered: 28/01/2002
Posts: 265
Loc: MI, USA
dang...I really want this...it looks so good...
just don't think I'm ready to void my warranty already...
I wish I could buy an extra empeg...
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guardian__J
MKIIa 20g Smoke

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#73967 - 22/02/2002 11:35 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
In fact, I think the slight difference in hue looks really good, and now I'm curious to try it with blue buttons and a green screen.

Hmm, not so good. The problem is that the knob sits atop a section of the colored faceplate. So you have green backlighting shining into blue plastic. This dims the light of the knob too much. So your button plastic really should match your face color, at least with this pass of the knobs.

Now, if Brian came up with a way to distribute the light more evenly, and we did gray translucent buttons, I think that would work. We would have either a slightly-colored knob when the lights were on, or we could mask off that under-the-button section of the faceplate with black tape and depend upon the knob collar to collect the button light.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73968 - 22/02/2002 13:13 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
bmihulka
enthusiast

Registered: 15/06/1999
Posts: 259
Loc: Lincoln, NE
Thats on thing I was going to add to the howto. On my first player I cut away around the screen. But if you do this make sure you don't go too far or white light will bleed between the knob and facia. I'm still working on the diffusion part and practically any color should be possible to make.
_________________________
Brian

-See my empeg <a href="www.hulkster.net/empeg" target="_blank">here</a>-

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#73969 - 22/02/2002 15:16 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: guardian__J]
rob
carpal tunnel

Registered: 21/05/1999
Posts: 5315
Loc: Cambridge UK
Erm, no.

Rob

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#73970 - 22/02/2002 15:17 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: rob]
guardian__J
enthusiast

Registered: 28/01/2002
Posts: 265
Loc: MI, USA
damn....it was worth asking though...
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guardian__J
MKIIa 20g Smoke

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#73971 - 22/02/2002 15:40 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: bmihulka]
tracerbullet
addict

Registered: 08/01/2002
Posts: 419
Loc: Minnesota
What about.... colored LED's?

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#73972 - 22/02/2002 16:01 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tracerbullet]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
Yes, colored LEDs are possible. You would simply replace the LEDs in Brian's kit with the desired colors. Note that the ones to fit in the buttons are small ones, not the usual Radio Shack size. And the ones on the knob-board are tiny SMT diodes, I don't think you'll see those on the shelf at ratshack, either.

The problem with colored LEDs is thus: It makes it hard to change colors. Remember, I had to desolder one of the button LEDs when I made a mistake in my installation, and let me tell you, it was a PAIN.

Whereas, if you use white LEDs, you can change button colors as easily as you change faceplates. You have to buy an extra set of buttons, but I'll tell you, whatever Brian is charging for extra sets, it's worth it.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73973 - 22/02/2002 16:12 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
jane
enthusiast

Registered: 10/10/2000
Posts: 350
Loc: Copenhagen SW, Denmark
I have actually soldered a DIMM-memory socket to a board by hand... using a microscope, that was really really hard work... but it trained my soldering skills ;-)

Marius (Escort Cab + Mark II)

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#73974 - 22/02/2002 16:13 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: jane]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
So you'll be doing this hack ASAP, then?
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73975 - 22/02/2002 16:13 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: rob]
jane
enthusiast

Registered: 10/10/2000
Posts: 350
Loc: Copenhagen SW, Denmark
Hot air guns may be dangerous... I remember hot-air-desoldering an entire PCMCIA-card when all I wanted was one of the components.

The solder-metal melts very easilly...

(I haven't looked at the empeg board to see how difficult it is... yet...)

Marius (Escort Cab + Mark II)

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#73976 - 22/02/2002 16:15 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: jane]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
Good point. I wouldn't recommend using a hot air gun on your display board. Wouldn't want the whole thing coming apart before your eyes.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#73977 - 22/02/2002 16:18 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
jane
enthusiast

Registered: 10/10/2000
Posts: 350
Loc: Copenhagen SW, Denmark
Well... I'll wait until I can buy the kit, I think :-)
(And get access to a microscope and a tiny soldering iron, may have to wait till I visit my company's office in Norway again)

Marius (Escort Cab + Mark II)

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#73978 - 22/02/2002 16:22 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: jane]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
I didn't need a microsocope, just a steady hand and a little experience with solder and flux. And a good feeling for how to "blob" the solder in such a way so that it sticks to the bits you want and not to the bits you don't want.

I do admit that I was pretty nervous the whole time. I was afraid that I would lose one or more of the SMT components due to a sneeze or something. They are so tiny that I would never have found them if they had fallen into the carpet.
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Tony Fabris

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#73979 - 22/02/2002 18:47 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
loren
carpal tunnel

Registered: 23/08/2000
Posts: 3824
Loc: SLC, UT, USA
Alright... i'm on the button waiting list... While i'm waiting, i'm going to do about a hundred practice tiny solder joints on some old boards i've got laying around in the closet. I wanna try solder paste... never used it. I must have translucent backlit buttons!!! I've been waiting for those suckers for over a year.
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|| loren ||

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#73980 - 22/02/2002 23:20 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: loren]
lothar
member

Registered: 21/01/2002
Posts: 107
Here here loren!

I can't wait to take on the so called soldering "nightmare" that Tony has so vehemently articulated for us. Bring it ON!!!

(Apparently Tony has not yet grasped the basic concept of magnification by way of refraction lenses which comfort the aging ocular when soldering tiny electrical components) ((<jokingly of course>))

(Anxiously awaiting the most revered and talked about enchanting bliss of light filled night navigation EVER!!!)

=o)

woohoo!

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#73981 - 23/02/2002 07:48 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: lothar]
justinlarsen
old hand

Registered: 31/12/2001
Posts: 1109
Loc: Petaluma, CA
looks like ill be doing this hack.. im half way confident.. ive soilder in a mod chip in my playstation 2 with the 8 wires.. and that was so-so ive done it about 5 times.. for friends and becuse one wire got loose once.. so im down for sure on the skills just wait till brain throws it up publically.
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---- Justin Larsen

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#73982 - 23/02/2002 15:15 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: lothar]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
Magnification was not the problem. My eyesight is fine, I had no trouble SEEING the flea-sized components. It's the relative size of the tools involved and the dexterity of the tool operator in question here.
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Tony Fabris

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#73983 - 23/02/2002 16:11 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
Laura
pooh-bah

Registered: 16/06/2000
Posts: 1682
Loc: Metamora, IN
I hope someone decides to do this hack for x amount of dollars. My solder skills are sadly lacking, only used a solder iron a few times and I woundn't trust my eye sight on something that small.
_________________________
Laura

MKI #017/90

whatever

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#73984 - 24/02/2002 12:16 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: justinlarsen]
hybrid8
carpal tunnel

Registered: 12/11/2001
Posts: 7738
Loc: Toronto, CANADA
Oh oh, not another "I can do a mod chip" thread about to start. The SMT parts here are smaller than any mod chip installs I've ever seen. I usually let my younger brother handle the soldering stuff like this. Mostly because I find it too tedious.

A better comparison to this project is replacing the LEDs on a Nokia phone. If you can do that (screen and face diodes) then you will be able to handle this kit.

Bruno
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Bruno
Twisted Melon : Fine Mac OS Software

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#73985 - 24/02/2002 12:31 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: hybrid8]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30694
Loc: Seattle, WA
Glad you said what I was afraid to say, Bruno, thanks.
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Tony Fabris

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#73986 - 24/02/2002 12:40 Re: Backlit buttons by Brian Mihulka [Re: tfabris]
jimhogan
carpal tunnel

Registered: 06/10/1999
Posts: 2591
Loc: Seattle, WA, U.S.A.
The file attached to this message here is a photo of what the player now looks like sitting on my desk as I type this.

Aiyeeeee! That is so horribly excellent. I fear that if I can not have this tomorrow, in green, I must instead take that old sword out of the hall closet and kill myself.

I am way too old, infirm and clumsy to attempt this. Gad, for SMT stuff like this, don't the big boys use micro remote control arms and such?

A thought: if Brian was willing to do a series of these, might it be more efficient to do in a big batch -- like in the back of a stolen fiber-splicing van at an owners' meet? Would it help if part of the cost went to a plane ticket?

Ooooh, me want, me want so bad.
_________________________
Jim


'Tis the exceptional fellow who lies awake at night thinking of his successes.

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