What you got there sour grapes?

Arduino, Philips, Retro

Philips CDi 490

I appear to be on a mission to collect all the retro games consoles on display in The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, so when a non-working Philips CDi 490 turned up on ebay at a silly low price, I had to have it!

What I particularly loved about this purchase was that it came with a scart lead, and yet it doesn’t actually have a scart socket!

So anyway, I knew it would boot to the main menu screen, but beyond that it apparently couldn’t load games. There was no power supply or controller, but that never stopped me…

As soon as it arrived, I whipped it out of its packaging and plugged it in – standard 2 pin cable, which the original Xbox and the Sega Saturn both use too. And up came the menu screen:

Philips CDi 490 home screen
It’s alive!

Okay, good. So let’s put an audio cd in. Ah, you think there’s some clever technical reason for this? Nope. I didn’t have any games! To my delight, it started playing the CD!

Philips CDi 490 - music menu
Music to my ears!

However, the tracks were skipping and jumping every now and then. I wasn’t too bothered about this. (I’ve only just noticed those images in the background of the audio player screen – duh! What is that thing under the track numbers?)

Game time

Next up I decided to burn a few cds and see if they would load up. Now the Philips CDi 490 (or any of the other models probably) doesn’t have any copy protection. The reason for this is that when this console was born (1992, or 1994 for this model I believe), CD burners weren’t exactly a household item. The first one I tried did nothing, I tried and tried. I took the player apart and cleaned the cd lens. Nothing. So I burnt a couple more. I think these two, after a lot of persuasion, maybe loaded once or twice – and this was really exciting!

Zelda - The Wand of Gamelon
Zelda – The Wand of Gamelon
Dragon's Lair
Dragon’s Lair

Dragon’s bloody Lair – wow! I was really excited now, but I couldn’t play the games or test them out because I didn’t have a controller, plus they only loaded a couple of times and that was it.

Next up, I decided to dismantle and lubricate all the bits of the CD mechanism. This was quite exciting because the audio cd stopped skipping and the games were loading a few more times now. I burnt another game on a more expensive, thicker, CD – and that loaded almost every time.

Flashback! Well the menu anyway – still no controller…

So there we go, a bit of lens cleaning, a bit of cd mechanism greasing and some better quality CDs, and I was really pleased! Time to get some real games…

Philips CDi 490 Games
Real, original, bonafide games!

They arrive really quickly in a blog don’t they?! I ordered these because one of the games was Chaos Control, and that’s the one on show in the Computing Museum.

All of these load first time every time. Excitement overload. So now I really need a controller. The problem is, the controllers for this console are quite unique – and I think they have chips inside them to convert the signals to something the Philips CDi 490 can recognise. The result of all this is that they’re about £50 upwards on ebay…

Control freak

But we’re not going to be beaten by this little obstacle are we? No! Enter this blog on the Interactive Dreams website: https://cdii.blogspot.com/2016/05/now-you-can-play-cd-i-games-with-your.html

Here’s a top tip though, don’t spend hours soldering everything on a breadboard and hot-glueing a SNES socket on it and blah blah blah. Why? ‘Cos if you do a particularly terrible job of it like I did, then it doesn’t bloody work! I even killed an Arduino Nano in the process!

It looked good, but it was rubbish!
You try soldering to an 8-pin mini din connector!

What you should do of course, is just stick some wires in an Arduino Uno board. The soldering took me a couple of hours one evening. But the other way took me about 10 minutes – d’oh!

So the very basic things you need are:
– SNES controller
– SNES port (you could probably just stick wires in the controller plug come to think of it)
– Arduino Uno
– 9 jumper cables

That’s it! Just follow the wiring diagrams in the blog above, upload the code to the Arduino and away you go.

Philips CDi 490 controller input port
Oh, this is so much easier!
Arduino Uno
We have lift off!

It worked! So simple. So much cheaper than buying an original controller, and so much more rewarding.

Arduino Nano revisited

I decided to have another go at this with another Arduino Nano. No joy. I didn’t kill the Nano this time, but it just didn’t want to work. Same pin connections, same software, nothing doing. So Arduino Uno for the win! I did get a wired 8-pin din connector though, bit easier than sticking wires in the controller socket.

And finally…

I really enjoyed this little project and I’m beyond happy to have a working Philips CDi – especially for very little outlay 🙂

Mad Dog McCree
Mad Dog McCree
Mad Dog McCree
More Mad Dog McCree!
Ms Pac-Man
Ms Pac-Man!

Come here, there’s more!

So, a little while after writing this blog, the Philips CDi 490 stopped reading all CDs. It took me a while to track down the issue, but I suspect this is why it was a little hit and miss in the first place – only now it had got a lot worse.

Philips CDi 490 - CD ribbon cable
Torn it! Philips CDi 490 ribbon cable

Erm, yeah, not gonna be able to fix that one. Luckily, you can replace the entire CD assembly for just a few pounds. I won’t put a link up, ‘cos they’ll sell out and render the link redundant. Just have a search for Philips VAM1202CD .

I ordered this in February and then the pandemic hit. Fast forward 5 months and the new assembly finally arrived. I’m happy to report that it works perfectly and I’ve found my new happy place – watching Star Trek VI on Video CD!

Philips CDi 490 - Star Trek VI - Mr Sulu
Please don’t drop that cup Mr Sulu! (spoilers)

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