Vacuum fluorescent displays (VFD) make any consumer device looking eye-catching, compelling and unusual. A VFD emits a very bright light with high contrast and can support display elements of various colors, some of them are capable of rendering not only seven-segment numerals but characters and even graphical information. VFDs are equally great for anything from professional devices to basic do-it-yourself things. Yet VFDs are rather expensive for small hobby projects and notorious for their non-trivial control as they require voltages higher than just TTL levels, necessity to drive grids in addition to segments or dots and therefore make presence of dedicated VFD controllers highly desirable just to simplify communication with microprocessors.
But what if all this infrastructure already existed, would it be that difficult to combine together something like Arduino controller and VFD? The answer is no, not at all! Most modern DVD players equipped with VFDs and when less reliable mechanical parts (DVD ROM drives) fail devices are simply thrown away. Instead, some electronics could still be reused to give your project a completely new look reducing costs at the same time and saving the environment. In addition to a VFD with controller onboard and a power supply which provides everything with all vital voltage levels there is a bonus – an IR receiver and buttons. VFD controller takes care of refreshing display, handling events from buttons and IR receiver encapsulating whole control into a serial interface and making integration with even primitive controllers very possible, giving in exchange fully functional remotely controlled system.
But enough theory, let’s have a look at a real example. We found a broken DVD player literally lying in the street. Quick test indicated that VFD board and power supply were functional. VFD was 16-segment and therefore capable of displaying not only digits but characters as well. After a few minutes of internet search model name was identified: Philips DVP630
For our experiment we will need a front VFD panel and a power supply board only.