Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Benjamin Heckendorn turns old-school game consoles into custom-designed portable units

Like any good hacker, Benjamin Heckendorn knows that the best way to pay homage to a beloved piece of gear—say, a classic Atari 2600—is to rip it apart and transform it into something else, preferably something portable, with wood grain. So when the sign shop he was working at got a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) milling machine—an industrial device that cuts three-dimensional parts from solid blocks of metal or plastic—he used it to craft a custom-designed handheld case from two one-inch-thick slabs of acrylic. Then he stuffed in a 2.5-inch screen from a portable TV and the guts of an Atari 2600, which he’d chopped up and resoldered to make more compact. Powered by three AAs and a nine-volt, that first portable system came complete with a brightness switch, speakers, buttons from an old Nintendo controller, and the signature faux-wood-grain trim.

Heckendorn, a part-time filmmaker and graphic artist, has since created several more portable Ataris, including one with a solid oak case, as well as portable PlayStations and Nintendos. Most of the newer systems run on rechargeable batteries and are more energy-efficient, thanks to active-matrix screens modified to be lit by white LEDs. As soon as Heckendorn finishes a system, he puts it up for sale on his site, benheck.com, to pay rent and fund his films.

But why buy when you can build? Heckendorn has just written a how-to book, Hacking Video Game Consoles (Wiley, $30), with detailed instructions for eight different portables. And because few people have milling machines in their basements, half of the projects use hand-cut engraving plastic for the body, including the SNES system illustrated at left. Find the complete chapter on creating this portable here, and preview all the systems in the book at Heckendorn’s site.

I think anything thats portable is cool. I guess its the idea that you're not limited to what you can carry around with you that makes "portable" an exciting addition to any product. And people also get a kick out of seeing things smaller then their original size.


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