First post, by badmojo
This is a project I dreamt up a while ago because a) I kinda needed a new media centre, b) I had a couple of spare C64 cases hanging around, and c) I’ve been looking for an excuse to try out a Raspberry Pi. I’m sure that there are easier and better solutions out there, but what’s the fun in buying something like this off the shelf?
My requirements were:
- able to stream movies from my PC
- able to stream content from the internet
- able to play content from a USB key
- HDMI output
- remote control
- responsive interface
- no modifications to the C64 case
- C64 keyboard works
- red ‘power’ LED works 😀
First things first I had to get a presentable case and working keyboard out of the 2 junker C64’s I bought a while ago as a source of replacement IC’s for my other, working C64. These were 2 very sorry looking machines when I picked them up cheaply on eBay, both having some broken key stems and significant yellowing to the cases on the back and sides:
Keyboards on the C64 are simple and easy to work with. There was some minor soldering required to get them apart but for the most part it was just a case of combining the best parts of both to make a working whole:
For the case I decided to use paint to hide the yellowing instead of RetroBrite, which I’ve never had much luck with, particularly in the situation where the yellowing is uneven as it was here.
As a kid I attempted to paint all sorts of things and was always disappointed with the messy, saggy, and uneven results I got due to not having a freaking clue what I was doing. The key, I now know, is patience, preparation, and thin coats.
I gave the case a good soak and scrub in oxy cleaner to get it squeaky clean, then primed it, and applied 3 coats of off the shelf ‘satin finish’ spray paint. I was very happy with the results:
Next up was installing a very cool little device which allows the C64 keyboard to work as a USB keyboard.
The Keyrah (manual here) is pretty much ‘plug and play’ if using the external USB cable to connect to your PC but to have the cabling internal, as I wanted it here, you need to solder in a 4 pin header and make your own cable. Then it’s just a matter of setting the relevant jumper to the relevant keyboard type, and off it goes.
The C64 keyboard is obviously not a 1-1 match for a modern 103 keyboard, so there’s a mapping of functions for anything beyond letters and keys. I wouldn’t want to write War and Peace on it, but for a media centre - which only needs a keyboard for searches, etc - it’s quite workable.
The next job was setting up the the Raspberry Pi, “the $35 computer”. It costs more than that down here at the arse end of the world, as most things do, and of course it’s not a complete computer. “The $50 motherboard” is probably a better description of it - you still need a PSU, SD card, input devices, monitor, etc. Most people have these things lying around though I guess.
If you google “Raspberry Pi PSU” you’ll soon realise that there are countless opinions about powering the Pi, but after some trial and error I ended up back-powering mine via a USB hub instead of via the micro USB power connector provided. Sending the power in via the ‘front end’ is a little more risky because it bypasses the fuses, and I don’t actually know if the hub I’m using is any good - I just found it lying around in one of my drawers - but I’m a risk taker. It’s a decent PSU, and it means that I have one less cord required.
The other 1 of the 2 available USB ports is taken up by the connection to the Keyrah.
Plugged into the HUB is an IR receiver for a cheap Windows Media Center remote I’d bought years ago and never used, and finally this USB wifi dongle:
I’m using the open source XMBC media centre package, and I’ve tried both RaspBMC and OpenElec. In the end I went with OpenElec because it seems a bit snappier and hasn’t crashed on me, where RaspBMC crashed a few times for whatever reason. OpenElec also includes some emulators apparently - I haven’t looked into that yet but I might be able to plug a joystick in (via the Keyrah) and get some hi-def 8 bit game action too.
Once the Pi was running and tested, it was time to put it all together. I mounted the Pi in the case with plastic standoffs which have double sided tape on their ‘feet’. I was able to position it so that the HDMI port is accessible via an existing hole in the case. The hub and the IR receiver are mounted on the side of the case which velcro and I considered trying to hide then around the back, but I like they way they look - they give the C64 a sort of “augmented” look, which of course it is.
I’ve been using it for a week and it’s been great so far, it streams from the PC like a champ (the PC is running Serviio), and internet content (local TV) is accessible via an add-on. Time will tell if it’s “production ready” - I’ll forgive the odd glitch because it looks like a C64, but my wife and kids won’t be so forgiving.
If it's broke, then fix it!