This post describes how to re-purpose a NES console into a self-contained console with integrated Projector and games using a Raspberry Pi.
After seeing many very cool retro gaming ideas on Pinterest I decided to try and make one. Management wouldn’t approve a full size gaming cabinet as they had already approved a retro console in the yet-to-be-built breakfast bar. Instead, while I waited for the kitchen to become a reality, I forged ahead with a mini project using my favourite beloved childhood console the Nintendo Entertainment System. With the very cool NES30 controllers from 8BitDo I wondered whether a standalone NES could be integrated with a projector to play 8BIT on epic scales…
- Source a broken NES
- Bleach it back to grey
- Parts and Tools
- Final Touch – the happy red LED
Sourcing a NES
I knew that Making a NES projector would be destructive, and couldn’t bring myself to destroy a working relic of history so began searching for a ‘spares or repairs’ NES that was going cheap… It turns out good people earn good money repairing NESs so getting one is still not the 10 quid I thought it would be. Eventually I found a NES that was not listed as working (so my conscience is half-clear) and ponied up 20 quid to buy it.
Sadly when it arrived it looked like a special edition ZELDA Nes so I researched restoring the colour and discovered some hair bleach, clingfilm and sunlight could work. It turns out that NESs turn a gold colour with age – due to a fire retardant chemical in the plastic apparently.
The internet instructions suggested buying 40vol (12%) hair bleach and applying liberally before covering in clingfilm to ensure it stays moist and finally leaving for 3 hours in the Arizona sun. I initially tried a full day in overcast London, but after washing off the bleach only a little progress had been made. I decided to go for broke and applied copious bleach secured with clingfilm and left it outside for a week through several sunny but cool days in direct sunlight. (I left it for a week because I kind of forgot about it!)
After removing the clingfilm Voila! a Grey NES! There appeared to be a slightly uneven shading to the grey, but I couldn’t be bothered to spend any more time at this stage.
Parts and Tools
- Hacksaw blade
- Glue Gun
- Half-round file or drill to fit projector lens
- Gaffa Tape
- Soldering Iron (Optional)
Connectivity and Bits
- Short, flexible HDMI Cable (~20cm)
- HDMI Splitter (Optional)
- If you want the option of using a normal TV without dismantling the Console.
- 2X Short Micro USB cables for Power.
- 15cm Steel Ruler and small pebble
- 330 Ohm resistor and connector leads (Optional)
Next I did some hunting on cheap projectors and settled for one from Gearbest that looked reasonable. I thought resolution would not be an issue given the low resolution of the games. (While this is true, it later turned out the menu and prompt like a higher resolution.)
I then realised I’d have to find a way of powering a projector, PI and speaker without having 3 very un-cool plugs coming out the back. A lot of googling and nothing had come up and I thought I was scuppered… but then I noticed that while the projector comes with a power lead it also has a micro USB port that can power it!
It also turned out that the projector comes with a small internal speaker so I would not need to have a separate one.
I’d already planned to have 3 micro USB ports by this stage so opted for the 4-port adapter from Anker as it seemed to be the only one that offered a 3A power supply that the pi would need to operate reliably without the lightning symbol in the corner forever being illuminated.
Next was controllers – there really was only ever one option, and probably it was the 8BitDo famicom controllers that inspired me to build a NES Projector in the first place. Yes they are expensive, but you cant put a price on happiness and seeing my old friend (with a couple extra buttons) wireless and free still makes me smile…
Reflect on simpler days – remove the heart
Open your beloved console and remove the heart. Note you can see an extension port on the base that never got used… Cool. Note the size and simplicity of everything compared to todays microelectronics and the retro-coloured cables going to the power/reset buttons… Shibui.
Once reflection is over its time to figure out where everything is going to go. I wanted to be able to use the original controller ports for access when the controllers needed charging or if a keyboard was needed for any reason. Luckily the Pi can be positioned to line up perfectly with these once the plastic pegs to hold the body are removed. The best way I found to remove these (keep them as you need to reuse them later) was with a hacksaw blade removed from the hacksaw. It can be forced to bend close to the base of the NES to remove as much as possible.
Several attempts at removing as little of the original casing as possible but still being able to get a good connection and keep the chamfered corner look.
Next was the projector. Luckily on this model the tripod mount aligned PERFECTLY with the raised channel on the base so with a trimmed down bolt I could easily and securely affix it while keeping the NES able to sit flat on a table. (Very lucky).
To cut a hole in the casing in the right place, I found an olive oil cap that was the size of the projector lens. (Alternatively you could draw round it on a piece of card/paper and cut it out). Then place the template (cap) on the outside of the case, aligned with the visible bit of the lens and draw round it for where you need to cut.
If you are lucky enough to have a drill the size of the projector lens, you can just use it to drill and make the correct size hole. However, I did not own this drill and didn’t want to go out and buy one. In my woodworking days I’d have been told to use a coping saw to cut the curved line, however I don’t have one of these either… Instead I drilled lots of small holes around the marked line and with my trusty hacksaw blade joined the dots to remove most of the plastic. Then CAREFULLY use the half-round file to smooth back the hole. I was not patient enough here and ended up making a slightly imperfect hole 🙁 .
While i’d have loved to be able to re-use the original power ports, the Anker adapter sat snugly (very and probaly a little too snugly) beside the PI with the power cable input over the original AV out ports. This was close enough… It served to secure the PI as well as meaning no new holes in the pi. Plus they would be hidden at the back so no harm done:
To help support it, take some of the removed plastic moulding cone things and cut to size so that the adaptor can rest on them with the port at a hight so that the cable can be pushed through the AV ports. I wasn’t originally too happy with just gluing the power adapter but I’ve learned to admire the glue gun in this project. The rubbery, tacky filling substance also adds a little shock absorbtion too. plus I can’t be bothered making brackets and screwing/gluing them in place when it’s 5 minutes with a glue gun.
Accessing the power button of the Projector
Unfortunately, unlike the PI, you have to turn on the projector separately. To do this I rigged a steel ruler with a tiny pebble from the garden and some gaffa tape. This acted like a cantilever that could be accessed through the original game flap beside the HDMI splitter if you fitted one of these.
You’ve powered up your beautiful NES and basked in the glory of it being fully loaded with all NES games, fast-forwarded into the future with SNES and even cross-pollinated with the retro goodness of both the Sega Master Sytem and Megadrive. But something’s missing… The little happy square red LED that you associated with your happy childhood memories… It has to be on.
Looking online I found that you can direct power an LED from the PI (thats how most people start playing) but BEWARE if you’re directly powering the LED, be sure to include a couple of resistors.
Warning – I don’t know electronics and was getting bored by this point. I didn’t use connectors I just soldered the wires together and taped them up. Follow this at your own risk (and the risk of your Pi)!!!
Take a female connector cable from a raspberry Pi starter kit and attach it to pin 6 (Ground). Attach inline the 330 Ohm resistor (I crudely soldered the two together and insulated with tape). Connect another female connector to pin 8 (TXD). Connect the other side of the resistor and the Second (pin 8) connector to the diode terminals (Orange and White).
There… Much better 🙂
To take the project further, it would be super cool to see if a fully stand-alone battery powered console could be created. Not for any practical reason other than it might be cool to take camping and use on the inside of a tent to annoy the other campers!
It would also be good to create a custom 8-BIT style menu for game selection (Ideally with the original artwork!) so that the projector can handle the menu better.
It would also be good to put a HDMI extender in the box so that a TV can be connected through the back or perhaps the original ports?
Finally it would be cool to put a smaller projector in there to see if the controllers could be stored inside through the original game flap so the whole thing can be put in a bag and taken to your friends place or perhaps a fine establishment that serves beer?