Monday, September 3, 2012

Ricky's DVD Player Part 1

This is my brother Ricky:














He's a year older than me and shortly after I was born he became epileptic. He's a generally sweet, quiet, and awesome guy, and his mental capacity is around that of a 6 year old. He loves when I visit him and we usually ride around his town, go to the beach, go to restaurants, listen to the radio too loud, and above all else, we go by a great video game store called Game Over! which has lots of DVDs.

Ricky loves DVDs. He loved VHS tapes before that. I have him to thank in part for getting me into electronics, since when we were kids he'd wear VCRs and video tapes out so much he'd wear holes in their buttons, cycle tapes so many times they'd wear thin and snap, and generally put them through a lifetime's worth of use in a few months. When his favorite tapes would break I took up trying to fix them, splicing out worn-thin sections, figuring out how to un-mangle tapes the VCR would eat, and reinforce worn-out rewind buttons. He's a one-man acid test for consumer video players and.

When DVD players became the norm and tapes became more scarce Ricky got used to DVDs, and fell in love with the old TV show Knight Rider, Lilo and Stitch, Dora the Explorer, and Twister. Unfortunately Ricky's not the best at keeping DVDs in good shape. My family should buy stock in whatever company presses those discs because we've probably spent close to $1000 between us all on those shows alone since even though he tries not to, Ricky's DVDs usually end up looking like this:

Scratches, cracks, scuffs, you name it. Ricky's DVDs don't live long lives. Neither do DVD players. Most of them aren't made with very large or strongly built buttons, and disc trays don't take kindly to ricky's shoving them home when he puts a disc in place.

So ever since we were kids and I began learning to dig reels of tape out of VCRs I wanted to make a Ricky-Proof video player he could use to his heart's content and never have to worry about breaking. I've looked into military grade players, ones made for small children, slot-loading players, media-center PCs, and the possibility of modifying an old CD drive that had sealed shells for CDs to be kept and loaded in, but nothing seemed likely to fare better than a $20 player and none of those would fix the problem of scratching the discs themselves or would be too complicated for him to navigate. I tried a 5 disc DVD player some time ago that could be locked but he figured out unplugging it unlocked it. No dice.

Fast forward to today a couple years later and I think I'm ready to make a shot at a player Ricky can't kill and won't have to worry about scratched discs for. One of the worst things for me is visiting him to find out he's been home for weeks without a working disc he's really wanted because it took a particularly fatal scratch shortly after I got it for him.

I built a MAME video game cabinet from scratch years ago, and noticed while making it all the ways those things are designed is to prevent customer tampering and abuse affecting the way the machine works. They're tough, they're simple to use, and they're made to work for years without any help, so they're a great starting point for designing a Ricky-proof player. Arcade buttons are designed to stand up to tens of thousands of presses as hard as you like and are mounted into an acrylic panel that's virtually water proof. With the whole thing enclosed it's hard to yank wires out of place and it saves the TV being pulled off a shelf, which has been a problem before.

Soo....... I've found myself a nice 5 disc DVD player and ordered some arcade buttons from HAPP controls, and I'll be building a DVD player with Ricky's in mind and hopefully years of functional life from it to come. Stay tuned.

EDIT: Got it built and you can see the build post here.



3 comments:

prolificmadscientist said...

I like your inventive spirit. As far as your brothers dvd player, why not build a home theater PC and burn all his movies onto the hard drive. you can put links (icons) for each show onto the Desktop(on t.v. )that start each episode. That should be easy enough for him to start with a mouse or similar device. Just a thought.

Ronnie said...

I'm currently mulling over making a custom raspberry pi setup to do something similar, but when I've tried HTPCs before the interface has always been a little too complicated for his abilities. He doesn't do so well with a mouse. A touchscreen might work, but it'd have to be one of the old CRT ones to hold up under his use too long.

Drew Volker said...

You could perhaps adapt XBMC (which has a Raspi port) to have an interface like Netflix, where it displays a series of box covers. Buttons to go left/right, select, etc. Have a PC elsewhere in the house housing the ripped DVDs and doing transcoding.

That's how I'd do it, at least.