Intellivision ECS Keyboard Repair and Demo

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Intellivision ECS Keyboard Repair and Demo

Intellivision ECS Keyboard Repair and Demo

Hello! And welcome back to another episode of 8-Bit
Keys. So, recently a fan of the channel named Alex
called me up and offered to ship me this keyboard, which is an accessory for the Mattel Intellivision
gaming console. Well, I thought, wouldn’t that be interesting
to try to make some music with that? So, I’m like “Sure go ahead and ship that
over.” And I thought this device, since it is made
by Mattel and it’s specifically for the Intellivision. And I thought, well, this will just plug right
in to the game console and then there would be maybe some kind of cartridge that had some
kind of musical software on it. Well, it turns out it doesn’t work that
way at all. So, let’s have a look at how it really works
and see if maybe I can make some music out of this thing. This is the Intellivision musical synthesizer. It has 4 octaves or 48 keys, which isn’t
terrible. And as you can see, this is an official 1st
party product from Mattel. However, take a look at this connector. It’s two DB9 connectors, similar to the
joysticks used by Atari, Commodore, or even the Intellivision itself. But where does this plug in? If you look at the console itself, you’ll
notice it has only a single DB9 connector for each controller, but they are much too
far apart for this thing. So, that’s where this thing comes into play. The Intellivision computer adaptor. I first became aware of this device recently
when visiting the National Video Game Museum. I also saw there was a similar device for
the Atari 7800. So, if you open this cover you’ll see the
connector that will match up with the musical keyboard. And the way this works is it slides into the
side of the Intellivision. And not only do you need to power your Intellivision,
but the ECS module also has its own power cord as well. And of course, it’s primarily made to work
with this computer keyboard. And this keyboard has that same funky connector. So I’ll just plug that in here. Now, when I first powered on my Intellivision,
I just got this black screen. I actually thought something was wrong with
the unit. But what I eventually figured out is that
you have to insert a game cartridge. It doesn’t even really matter which cartridge
you use. I’ll use Frogger here for an example. Now when I power it on, I get this screen
saying the ECS is connected. Pressing any key on the controller will bring
up this menu. There are 3 choices. If I pick 2 for cartridge, it will start whatever
is on the game cartridge, in this case frogger. And, everything works pretty much like you
would expect. If I power cycle and choose 1 for BASIC it
will take me to a BASIC screen, much like you would expect from a vintage computer. It uses a strange dialect of BASIC, though. Some commands are abbreviated. For example, you type PRIN instead of PRINT. The keyboard is pretty terrible, not just
because it is a chiclet keyboard, but also the location of many of the keys is irritating,
such as the backspace, which is actually the left cursor key. One thing that is interesting is that when
it parses a line, it highlights the different parts of the code in different colors, which
is kind of neat. So there we go, my incredible program. Interesting to note that when listing, it
doesn’t show the color codes. Anyway, here we go. BASIC is pretty hard to do anything interesting
on this platform. Also the characters are huge, probably a result
of the low resolution of the Intellivision’s video chip. In fact, it appears you only get 20 columns
by 12 rows, which is actually considerably less than a Commodore VIC-20. The ECS unit also has ports on the back to
connect a cassette recorder and that way you could load and save your BASIC programs to
a cassette tape. Now, it’s no terrible surprise that this
unit was a terrible flop on the market and there’s a fascinating history as to why
Mattel produced it, and of course why it flopped. Maybe eventually I’ll do an episode on that
on my other channel, but for now let’s see if we can make some music. If I reset it again, and this time select
3 for music, I can actually play music on the QWERTY keyboard here, but the notes are
not in any particular order. So it’s just about random what note you’ll
get. So, yeah, that’s pretty useless. So, what I’ll do now is unplug the QWERTY
keyboard and attach the musical keyboard. Well, that works a little better. Yes, it’s showing sharps on the screen here
even though I’m not playing them, but I’ll explain why in a minute. The first problem I noticed is this. Yeah, some of the keys just aren’t making
good contact anymore. I can probably fix that. Then I wanted to test the polyphony. And I wasn’t surprise to see I could hold
down 3 notes at once. But I actually discovered it could do 6 notes
at once. This really surprised me. You see, the Intellivision uses the General
Instruments AY-3-8910 sound chip. I happened to know this chip pretty well,
since we’ve been using it in our prototypes for the Commander X16 up until recently. And so I knew those chips only had 3 voices. So, then I discovered that the ECS unit contains
an additional sound chip, giving it a total of 6 voices. The only controls I can seem to find is that
if you use the buttons 1 and 3 on the controller, it will transpose the entire keyboard by 1
half step, which is why you were seeing sharps earlier because I had been playing with that
before recording. If you use buttons 4 and 6 it will transpose
by an entire octave. And that is pretty much it. I mean, that is the extent of the music making
ability. There are no different instrument types to
pick from, or ADSR, or rhythms or anything. It turns out there was a cartridge made called
Melody Blaster. It worked kind of like a modern-day guitar
hero. I wasn’t able to get ahold of the cartridge
in time for the video, but here’s a clip from Arcade Database, which they said I could
use. And this is about all the cartridge did. It really didn’t allow you to create music
or anything, it was mostly just learning to play whatever songs were built in. Obviously, the AY-3 chips are capable of considerably
more advanced sounds than this, but that’s all Mattel seemed to think we needed. Now, I did find a home-brew ROM called Sinthy
which allows the user to play some more complex sounds, but I wasn’t able to figure out
any way to get this to work on my machine in the amount of time I had available. Before I can do any audio recording for this,
there’s two problems I’ve got to solve first. One problem is that the Intellivision itself
doesn’t have any sort of audio output. All it has is an RF output designed for you
to tune your television to channel 3 or 4, and that’s how you would normally watch
your games and hear any sound that comes out of the system. Well, the only way I can use that would be
to either try to record from the television itself or use some sort of RF demodulator,
which I really don’t want to do. So, I think the best thing to do is to go
ahead and modify the Intellivision for composite video and direct audio. But, before I do that, there’s one other
problem I need to tackle. I’m going to go ahead and take the keyboard
unit apart and see if I can clean the contacts inside. It’s pretty easy to take apart, as there
are just a few Philips screws on the bottom. And there we go. The top piece comes off, and then the keyboard
mechanism is now accessible. The inside is pretty dirty. There are dust bunnies everywhere. It’s no surprise it isn’t working well
anymore. It looks like I’ll need to remove this metal
bar. And there are just a few screws holding that
in. OK, so how do we get these keys off? Well, it’s not hard. You just need a screwdriver and bend these
little clips back like this, and there you go, the keys pop off. So, I have a significant number of the keys
removed, but I’m actually a little bit at a loss to figure out where the conductivity
takes place. I’m thinking maybe it’s under this foam
pad? Regardless, this board is really, really gross,
so again, not surprised that it’s not making good contact. OK, I’ve removed all of the keys from the
keyboard, and unfortunately, I’m not going to be able to remove the PCB. The main reason is the way it is attached
to the frame, where they have essentially melted the plastics to hold it down. So I’ll have to clean it in place. I’m going to peel up this foam and see if
there are contacts underneath. Yep, there they are. This is a bizarre method of detecting keypresses. The actual construction of the keyboard isn’t
really bad. I’ve seen much worse. But the contact system here is probably the
cheapest most horrible design I’ve come across so far. Well, I’m going to put this back down for
now and rinse the keyboard off. I took all the parts outside and gave it a
good spray to clear all of the dirt and dustbunnies out of there. I still don’t know what to do about this
foam situation. I’m going to try cleaning the board with
deoxit and then scrubbing everything really well. But that only cleans one side of the equation. And to be honest, I don’t think this part
is even the part that has failed. This is a mind bogglingly dumb design. It appears to be 3 parts, you have a plastic
strip with holes, some foam, and then conductive paint or something on the foam. I think for the moment I’ll try just putting
this back down and seeing if there is any chance it will work. I have the top of the board and the foam dried
off pretty well, but there may still be residual water on the bottom side of the board, in
which case it may take a few days for that to dry since I can’t get to it. But I’ll just attach a single octave of
keys and see what happens. I also took the liberty of cleaning the keys
since they were pretty gross as well. OK, here we go. It sounds like DTMF tones for dialing an old
telephone. I guess it thinks more than one key is being
pressed down. I pulled the foam back off and decided the
best way to deal with this would be to try to recreate a new foam pad. So the first step was to attempt to get all
of the old adhesive off of the PCB. The next step was to see if I could separate
the foam from this plastic spacer. This will save me some time if I don’t have
to try to manufacture one of these myself. Fortunately, I found that with some work I
was able to get most of the foam off. But it was still covered with a small layer
of the old foam. Here’s what the original foam looks like
without the plastic spacer. I’m pretty sure they just painted the conductive
area right onto the foam. I can’t feel any other material here. I wanted to see if I could clean up that spacer
a bit more, so I went for the WD-40 and let it sit for a while. Then, combining that with some alcohol I was
able to get most of the rest of the material to come off pretty easily. And here is the plastic spacer all by itself. It’s barely recognizable. So, this is how it goes down on the PCB, and
eventually we’ll have to put some new adhesive on this to hold it in place. But, I have to find some suitable replacement
foam. I started at Joann, as I thought surely they’d
have something like this. I mean, they have every kind of craft thing
in the world. But all I could really find was foam like
this, which was much too limp and probably made for stuffing into blankets and stuff. Of course, they did have some other kinds
of foam, but this stuff was way too thick. So, my next stop was Hobby Lobby. Surely, they would have something, right? I mean, they do have a variety of things made
from foam, but not really the sort I’m looking for. I suppose if you need a pair of balls, they
do keep those in stock. Next stop was The Home Depot. You know, this is really so typical. People always wonder why it takes me so long
to make videos, well it seems like nothing ever goes right or goes as planned and I’m
always trying to solve problems like this. Hey, it looks like they sell 3 dimensional
icons for VLC player. So I did find some various types of foam here
in the store. But I didn’t think any of these would likely
work. It really just seemed too thin. However, this foam double-sided tape caught
my eye. I don’t really need the double-sided part
of it, but it does solve the problem of having to use adhesive at least on this part. OK, so here’s some of the stuff that I bought,
and I’m just going to have to try several of these and see how they work. So here’s one type of foam that I managed
to find from a friend. And this is something I found around the house. It’s just some packing foam. Probably not going to work. And then this is the double-sided tape I bought
at the hardware store. And of course I have to figure out how to
make little bits of it conductive. So, one possibility is I’ve got this copper
tape here, which could be used. I’ve also got mylar that is conductive on
one side, but not conductive on the other, I think. So, I might be able to punch out little circles
of that. And, I’ve also got some conductive paint
that I can try actually painting onto the foam itself, which is kind of how the original
product was designed. So, I’m not going to give you all the details
on this. I’m going to experiment here a bit and I’ll
get back to you and see what I found. Of the many experiments I did off camera,
the most promising one was to use the aluminum coated mylar in combination with the foam
tape. I tested it with my fingers first, and as
you can see, it works. Of course, I can’t use one long strip of
the stuff, because that would interfere with being able to play multiple notes at once. So, I used this punch to punch out some little
circles of the mylar. All right, so I have cut myself out some of
these little guys. I’ve got about 50 of them here. And one problem with these is that they’re
only conductive on one side because they’re mylar coated. So, I’m going to have to test each individual
one with a multimeter to figure out which side to put them on, but anyway, hopefully
these will work. Next, I unrolled a sufficiently long piece
of the foam tape. And here’s the tricky part. I need to be able to mark where the circles
go, so I’m going to very lightly place the plastic spacer onto the sticky part of the
tape, but hopefully not get it stuck permanently. Then I’m going to use a sharpie to mark
the little circles. And then I’ll remove the spacer before it
gets too comfortable being stuck there. The next step is to test a little circle here
and see if this side is conductive. And no, it isn’t. So, I will flip it over like this. And now I’ll test it again. Bingo. This is the side we need. I tried to place these on the tape by hand,
but found my fingers were just too big. So I ended up doing it with tweezers like
this. And here’s all 48 of the little circles
now in place. Just to be on the safe side, I’ll go back
and test each pad to make sure the conductive side is facing the right direction. Unfortunately, as you can see, I did find
one that somehow got put on backwards. I was concerned if I would be able to get
this thing back off without damaging the tape or foam. Fortunately, I did manage to remove it. And, obviously, I replaced it with another
one. This next part is very delicate. I got my wife to hold up the one end of the
strip so that I could carefully line this spacer up as I worked my way down the line. The circles don’t line up exactly, and I
didn’t figure they would. In fact, they are slightly larger than the
holes in the spacer, which is why I needed to put them down on the foam in the first
place like I did. OK, time for a test. Right now this pad is not sticky in any way
on the bottom. So I can just slide it under this one key
I’ve placed back on the keyboard, so I can see how it works. And it seems to work. I’ll give you a little closeup here so you
can see exactly what is happening. Since it looks like this is going to work,
I will need to put some new adhesive down, but this will also be tricky. The way I’ve decided to do this is to mask
off everything I can, and use 3M spray adhesive. Of course, I definitely have to make sure
to cover up these conductive points, otherwise the adhesive will ruin the whole thing. So, the idea is, we just want adhesive between
these spots. So, I’ve got everything masked off. This will give you an idea of where the adhesive
is going to go. And here’s the 3M spray I’m going to use. I’ll only get one shot at this, so here
goes nothing. OK, let’s peel up this masking tape. Let’s take a quick look at the adhesive. It appears to be exactly where it needs to
be, right between the pads. OK, here’s another thing I only get one
shot at. I need to line this up just perfectly. OK, so far so good. I’ll just press it down. And of course, now it’s time to re-attach
the keys so I can see how it’s going to work. The good news is, all 48 keys are working
now. So, time to re-assemble the keyboard. And ran into another problem. When I re-assembled the keyboard, I found
the case had a stopper that prevented the keys from going down far enough to actually
engage the thin layer of foam I used. So to counter-act that, I simply removed the
little wax paper thing on the other side of the double-sided tape, and then added another
layer of double-sided tape on top of that. Then, reassembled it all again. All right, so I’ve got good news and I’ve
got bad news. The good news is that all of the keys on the
keyboard are now currently working. The bad news is, they’re probably a bit
more stiff than they ought to be. As far as, it takes a little bit too much
pressure to push the keys down. When I tested the foam on a single key, you
know, that’s one thing, but it’s not quite the same thing as actually trying to play
a tune. And so, obviously this could be fixed. All I would need to do is take it all back
apart and then basically do the exact same hack I already did, only find some other foam
that’s a little bit less stiff. And but, guess what? I’m actually not going to do that. This was supposed to be a 5 day project and
here I think I’m at day 12 already. And plus, I had promised to modify the Intellivision
to put the composite video mod and I’ve already got the little circuit here for that
as well as wire up direct audio so that I could record some kind of performance. But that would probably add another 4 or 5
days to this long overdue project so I’m really just going to have to move on with
this. So, what I’ll do is, I’ll probably do
the composite mod on a different video, probably on my other channel the 8-Bit Guy. So, until then, I guess that about wraps it
up for this episode. So, as always, thanks for watching!

100 thoughts on Intellivision ECS Keyboard Repair and Demo

  1. I'd use a non-perishable like silicone and build my own mould then set in some new contacts but I imagine that would cost and time prohibitive getting the correct consistency and thickness to avoid double note triggering (unless you wanted to hack your own weird intellivision roli seaboard or something). I liked your solution eitherway, keep up the good work Dave.

  2. I just figured something out. I've watched a number of 8-Bit Keys videos, as well as computer restoration ones, but it was not clear to me why you even wanted to do some of the stuff you do. The answer hit me while watching this one. You are a "hot-rodder"! Just that instead of cars, you use old computers and keyboards, striving to get them back to "cherry" condition. Cool!

  3. If you took the second strip of foams backing off if would not be as stiff. Would be tacky but that shouldn't be much of an issue as would be inside.

  4. Was this before or after the Sega 32 / Sega cd stuff? As for the efort of rebuilding the contacts…. Hat off, Sir 🙂

  5. Seems there's a long history of game consoles with accessories to turn them into computers.

    The Intellivision, the 7800…

    The Famicom – actually given it's name that's to be expected. Ironically the NES was first presented as a home computer for the US market, but Nintendo were told in no uncertain terms that this would be a bad idea.

    Of course there's also purpose-built hybrid devices, like the Atari XEGS. (while it's release was a bad idea in the long run, it's existence is no huge surprise given the Atari 5200 was a flop but basically the same hardware as the 8 bit home computers; So that made the XEGS the 5200 but reworked to use the more widely available A8 software.)

    Interesting concept in general. And believe it or not it still persists in some form into modern times;

    Both the Playstation and Playstation 2 had (hard to come by) kits designed for hobbyist software developers – obscure, and very limited compared to commercial development, but still interesting.

    The Playstation 3 of course, infamously had it's 'other OS' option – eg. the ability to run linux. Even though they eventually patched it out.

    This is a bit of an Edge case, but the Super Famicom had several releases of RPG Tsukeru (RPG maker) released for it, alongside specialised external storage for saving your creations that works through controller port 2. (reminds me; I really need to reverse engineer one of these save devices at some point; would be oddly useful.)

    The Gameboy advance had an officially licensed cartridge that allowed small custom programs to be written. (it was also designed to allow video playback AFAIK)
    The Nintendo DS apparently has some obscure Basic program….

    And, as of about a month ago, the Nintendo Switch has Fuze4Switch; a basic-like programming environment (it's not basic; It's more like a hybrid of Basic and C with a few of it's own quirks thrown in), with built in support for sprites, 2d and 3d graphics, some kind of simulated 16 channel FM synth device (The device is not representative of any real hardware; it's just a software synth with properties comparable to a 2 operator FM synth.)

    It's both kind of weird, but also a lot of fun being able to write arbitrary code on a Switch…
    Bonus points for it being a portable device…

    Obviously performance is terrible, relatively speaking, given it's an interpreted language…
    But still…

    Meanwhile, aside from adapters that turn consoles into full computers, musical keyboard adapters also seem oddly common.


  6. I bought one of these keyboards on close out for $20 in 1985 and rewired it and wrote assembly code to make it work on my Atari 400. No Kidding!! I will be happy to explain what and how if anyone is interested. 😉

  7. Would simply using the keys not ultimately compress the foam making the keys easier to play? (A good few firm presses). That’s a lot of work you put in there too.

  8. Removing the pcb from the plastic is really easy: Just carefully cut the melted plastic flush with the pcb.
    You should now be able to remove the PCB. You are then left with plastic tabs which you can use to mount the pcb onto later.

    When reassembling. Just slot the pcb back onto the tabs until they are flush with the top of the keyboard.
    Now, to get the pcb to stay put, here's what you to:
    Get a small phillips head screwdriver which. Heat the tip of the screwdriver almost glowing hot with a lighter or similar.

    Then, carefully press the tip of the screwdriver into the flush cut tab. This will force the plastic out in a sort of cross which locks the pcb into place.

    I've used this method a hundred times in situations like this. Works every time.

  9. Suggestion for a quick fix to the stiffness problem – use an exacto knife or similar to cut through the foam and backing between each contact. That way the structural strength of the foam is not spread out over its entire width and each individual key only needs to counter the stiffness of a little bit of the tape.

  10. this was bad design all.along. From the controller ports not actually fitting the controller ports to the foam on the keys

  11. I totally thought you were going to use a three hole puncher to make the wee li’l circles. Your patience is insane

  12. That kind of patience comes only from love to old technology…
    Great job. I always enjoy your work… Please keep up with it. Greetings from Argentina…

  13. Want to see if the Basic is decent? Just type in this program which computes prime numbers:

    10 LET x=1
    20 LET x=x+1:LET y=1
    30 LET y=y+1:IF y>(x/y) THEN PRINT x:GOTO 20
    40 IF (x-INT(x/y)*y)=0 THEN GOTO 20 ELSE GOTO 30

  14. just what i needed my computer is being a douch and i've not been able to see the screen as its cracked and has gotten the bars that block everything so now a week later and there is an 8 bit keys vid hell yeah i'm watching that

  15. 3M make some self adhesive pads that come in small sizes and shapes ranging from circles to squares. I think you can still buy conductive paint from electronics dealers.
    You would still need the circle punch. Nice video I'm just getting into retro stuff again.
    Many thanks from an old electronics guy.

  16. Honestly, I'm not surprised about the stiffness and that's what I was thinking the whole time it was being assembled. However, I thought it would be because the previous paint was malleable with the foam, and the mylar circles would need to be depressed more instead of the tape being too stiff. Either way, it's always interesting to see the various money saving mechanisms that have been used throughout the years.

  17. I know you said you were done with the foam thing, but a way better foam strip to look for would be the insulation foam strips they make for windows and automotive applications. It's usually black, and really soft and springy. I thought of it as soon as you went shopping. They make some that are mylar and some that are nitrile. A keyword to search for might be pickup truck caps, as lots of people use it as a DIY waterproofing solution for the seam between truck bed and cap.

  18. If you ever get ambitious and want to redo that there is a perfect product for that, it is a less dense foam that is only adhesive on one side and is available in all sorts of thicknesses. It is generally used for weather sealing doors and hatches, If you want I can find a link to somewhere to buy it.

  19. Look at it this way — if there had been a problem with the PCB, I'm pretty sure you could get a new one from PCBWaaaay! Because as we all know, PCB stands for Properly Conductive Buttons. … Doesn't it? (Sorry, that was really the best one I could come up with. I know perfectly well they're keys, not buttons.)

  20. Why not use a VCR to get audio out? It'll be a little noisy, but it's not like this thing is gonna have much dynamic range anyway…

  21. Have you thought about trying foam weather stripping? It only has one sticky side and to be honest that's what the original foam looks like to me.

  22. Isn't it ironic that all the old gear is so sought after. It bums me out when"80's synth heavy bands can't faithfully reproduce a song live because they used some vintage gear on the recording.

  23. I wonder if it would have been better to have just a softer foam, or maybe a little thinner than the 2 strips of what you had, but not as thin as the one strip

  24. Not sure why it was important that they were circles, a suqares would have been easier since it would have been covered by the plastics anyways and "become" a circle.

  25. I think part of the stiffness might be because of the paper strip on the foam. Removing the paper should help, though you'd need to do something about the adhesive. Either use something that can remove the adhesive without degrading the foam, or using a thin layer of something else that will keep the adhesive away from the keys without adding stiffness like the paper. Maybe one of those balloons they make balloon animals from?

  26. its probably a bit more labor intensive than necessary, but I wonder if a 3d printer could manufacture some type of a more robust bracket to replace that spacer, and then use some of those conductive foam inserts from the Compaq Portable restoration, though they would probably have to be resized to fit the holes in the spacer.

  27. I've had the ECS Computer Adapter and Music Keyboard since the days after the crash when everything was in the bargain bins and never knew you could use the Controllers Keypad to change the octaves.

    Where did you get the Homebrew App Sinthy that you mentioned that allows you to play more complex sounds? How do you spell the name of it the CC showed it as Sinthy, is that the correct spelling?

    Found it here

    Video Here

  28. Wow, that was such a quest to restore the keyboard, no surprise video took so long to be made. Nonetheless, that's a great job, I guess that's what makes the review so interesting. Thank you!

  29. My gf almost choked on her tea at 14:26 "wife" …don't worry 8-bit guy, she hates when I cast your videos to the big screen so I make sure to do this quite often 😀

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