Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Philips CDI 450 Repair: Laser Replacement

So in a previous post I mentioned how I bought a CDI 450 from a seller on ebay that had a laser that didn't work. I also said that I was planning to fix it. Well I managed to get it back up and running and have decided to put a tutorial up here because to the best of my knowledge there isn't any tutorial on replacing a CDI 450 laser on line. At the end of this I'll put a link to two youtube videos that I found very helpful. One is a teardown of a CDI 450. The other is a video of the laser replacement on a Jaguar CD, it uses the same type of laser and is very similar to the laser replacement on a CDI 450.

Anyway the first thing you will need is a new CD unit. The CDI 450 uses a CDM 12.1 model. They don't make these anymore but the VAM 1201/1202 laser unit is compatible and there's plenty to choose from on ebay. This tutorial will only apply to the 450 model but can be used as a reference for other models that use the CDM 21.0, 12.1 and 12.2 lasers. I bought mine from this auction here:

Shipping was free from Hong Kong. It took a while to arrive but worked fine when it did.

Before I continue I want to have a bit of a moan about the CDI 450 version of the CDI range:
The 450 only has composite output, which if you know me, infuriates me. Composite is god awful and I'd much prefer RGB. The ethernet port you see is actually the power port, the system is powered from an ethernet cable attached to the power supply which is weird to say the least.

Anyway first off you have to remove the cover over the Digital Video Cartridge slot. You'll need to remove the DVC if you have one, I don't unfortunately.

The next thing to do is to remove the four screws from under the CD lid and the DVC slot, I've circled them in Red. You'll need a small allen key since the screw heads are hex shape. One thing to note is the light grey circular piece hanging from the underside of the CD lid. This is a magnetic weight that keeps the CD firmly on the spindle. This will be important later on. When the screws are removed you can take off the top shell, you might need to apply a bit of outward pressure on the corners. You'll be presented with the view below.

Now remove the useless metal shielding. Be very careful not to break the thin wires that connect the CD drive to the motherboard. As you can see they are held to the shielding by a white piece of plastic, be careful! Once removed you should see this:
The next step is to free the CD drive wires from behind the CD drive. Be careful, you don't want to lift the CD drive too quickly, you might break the wires and the ribbon cable connected to the motherboard. As you can see in the picture below the wire harness and ribbon cable are connected to the motherboard and need to be removed.
Once these are disconnected you can lift the entire CD drive assembly out of the system. There's an annoying piece of plastic at the back that keeps the CD drive assembly in place which came off when I tried this. Don't be alarmed since it's useless and more a hindrance than anything. I've marked where it is in the below picture with a red circle. It is now forever rattling at the bottom of my console.

Next remove the CD drive from the metal plate. It will be held above the metal plate by four rubber holders that act as the shock absorbers for the assembled unit. You might need to force it with a screwdriver or knife. You should have the CD drive with attached wire harness which now needs to be removed.
There's 6 solder points that the wire harness is attached to. My advice is to draw a diagram of which colour wires attach to where on the CD unit. My own crappy diagram is below:
Why so glum at the bottom?

Two solder points are on the CD spindle motor, marked in red below. Another two solder points are as a switch marked in blue below. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo, you can see much better in the video of the Jaguar CD repair at the end of this tutorial.

The last two solder points are at the lateral motor at the back of the unit.
Remove the wires from these solder joints by holding a hot soldering iron to the solder until it softens and pulling the wire away. Below is the freed wire harness and the new VAM 1201 laser unit. Remember to keep the laser unit on an antistatic bag or if you don't have one then a sheet of A4 paper like I used will suffice. The new laser is a little different, with a different coloured spindle and also a smaller lateral motor as shown in the two pictures below. The ribbon cable is also protected by a metal protector that needs to be removed later.
Black spindle instead of grey
Smaller lateral motor
The next step is of course to reconnect the wire harness in the same manner as with the previous CD Unit. A small amount of solder needed to be applied to each solder joint other than the two lateral motor solder joints which handily had solder on them already. The new CD drive with attached wire harness is shown below.
Next is to attach the CD drive to the metal CD drive holder. Just slide the rubber shock absorbers into the appropriate slots on the CD drive. It shouldn't offer much resistance. Next attach the wire harness and ribbon cable to the motherboard as below. I found the ribbon cable extremely tough to get into the ribbon cable connector on the motherboard and it required a lot of force to get it into it. Be careful not to damage the ribbon cable when doing this. The first time I assembled the CDI the CD rom drive did not function at all and I believe it was because the ribbon cable was not fully inserted. Try and get it in as far as you can and don't be afraid to force it. I managed to bend the end quite a bit but it still worked. Not recommended but you might have to do the same. The ribbon cable connector will not fully cover the exposed metal ends of the cable but it should still be pushed a fair bit into it. This is the most awkward part of the repair.
I found it very awkward to run the wires around the back of the CD drive assembly and get the assembly to sit properly so instead I ran the wires under the CD assembly instead of behind it like they were arranged initially. I used some sellotape to hold them together as below. It's now time to re-assemble the CDI once the CD drive assembly is in place. If you are putting back on the metal shielding be careful not to cut the wires, especially if you run the wires under the CD drive assembly like I have.

You should fully assemble the CDI including the four hex screws that hold the top shell casing in place. I found that without these screwed tightly the system would not recognise when the CD lid was closed. Next stage is the testing stage. This is where I ran into some more trouble so please follow the next few steps.

You should first test the CDI with the CD lid up. The magnetic weight in the CD lid is removable. Take this out and place it on top of the CD you want to test with. My advice is to start with a music CD. The magnetic weight will hold the CD in place during testing. Without it the CD will slip and be unreadable and make some horrible grinding sounds. Use a small thin object, I used a DS stylus, to hold down the closed lid switch to test if the laser will seek and recognise the CD. Here's an extremely bad picture of me doing this, notice the magnetic weigth is removed and sitting on top of the CD.
I apologise again for the crap picture quality
Once you are sure that the CD drive is working the next step is to test the unit with the lid closed. This is where I ran into trouble. Remember to put the magnetic weight back in the CD lid roof before starting. If you are lucky the CDI will run perfectly. If you are unlucky like me your CD drive might be a few millimetres off and you will hear the horrible screeching sounds of the magnetic weight rubbing against its enclosure. If this happens you can try adjusting the position of the CD drive until you get it right but this was too much of a pain for me. I instead completely cut out the magnetic weight's enclosure. This was a total pain to do and involved slowly cutting away at it with a saw and then shaving pieces off bit by bit with a sharp knife. You'll have to make sure you get rid of almost all of the plastic in there to avoid the magnetic weight rubbing on it. I've a picture of what I did below, be warned, it isn't pretty.
Yes I know it's a real hack job. I now need to place the magnetic weight on top of each disc manually but it's not that much of a pain and well look at the pictures below, it actually works!

I hope this tutorial is of help to people since I couldn't find any tutorials myself online. I suggest watching these two youtube videos before you start. The first is a tear down of the CDI 450, this will show you how to open the system up:

And the next is a guide to replacing a laser on a jaguar CD unit. I found this the most helpful since it's the same laser as in the CDI 450.

Happy soldering!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Videogame Mythbusters: Ninja Gaiden

Filled with an overwhelming sense of self confidence after finding Contra quite easy I decided to try another game that is famous for its difficulty, Ninja Gaiden on the NES. Well this game was a walk in the park as well and I blazed through it. Actually I’m lying, this game was hell.

Unlike Contra, Ninja Gaiden lives up to its difficult reputation. The final two stages 5 and 6 had me tearing my hair out and swearing like crazy. However by that stage the difficulty had become a little unfair, unlike Contra which remains a fair challenge throughout. Ninja Gaiden actually uses its bad programming in the level design. If an enemy spawn point is at the edge of the screen it will continually spawn when it is killed. It’s not enough that the enemy placement and level design is fiendish enough as is but the level designers use this nasty quirk of the programming in some really nasty ways.

In a game filled to the brim with more dick moves than any other I’ve played it has what is for me the biggest dick move in videogame history. The final boss takes place over three forms, the second of which is one of the hardest bosses I’ve ever faced. However should you die on this boss no matter how many lives you have in reserve you are dumped back to the beginning of stage 6-1 and have to repeat stage 6-1, 6-2 and 6-3 before you have another chance at the boss. To put things in perspective, those 3 stages are absolute nightmares and it will take you at least 30 minutes until you get another shot at the boss. The bosses second form is so difficult that it will take you about 20-30 attempt to beat him. Between each attempt you’ll have to replay those stages. Apparently this was a bug that the original programmers couldn’t be bothered to fix. I managed to beat him by save stating right before him because I was sick of playing those horrible stages. I don’t care what you think; to me it counts as beaten.

So that’s an awful lot of complaining about the game but you know I did really enjoy it. The controls are fluid and it’s one of the best platformers on the NES. It’s one of the first games to use cutscenes to tell a story and even though it’s cheesy and cliché it does add a cinematic flair to the proceedings. Next up: Ninja Gaiden 2.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My first podcast experience

I have been meaning to do a podcast for ages now with guys and girls from the arcade and retro forum on Boards.ie. Anyway after much procrastinating, myself and the user known as Dinorex finally got around to recording a pilot episode about the Starfox series. It's only about 30 minutes long. Anyway, have a listen and tell me how good or crap I am, I can take some constructive criticism. Hopefully we can make this a regular thing:


Monday, January 16, 2012

Videogame Mythbusters; Contra really isn’t that hard

We’ve all seen the pseudo humours Youtube videos and blog posts about how tough Contra is. We’ve all seen the t-shirt. The iconic Konami code; Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right B, A. Supposedly the game is near impossible even with this cheat code to give you 30 extra lives instead of the normal 3. Well here’s some news for you. Contra isn’t tough. In fact compared to other NES games it’s a walk in the park.

I was at a recent retro games meet up and give contra a quick go and was surprised how far I was able to get in such a supposedly hard game. So out of boredom last night I threw it on and played it seriously for the first time. My first go took me all the way to the stage 7, the last stage. A few more tries and an hour later I was watching the ending. All without once using the 30 extra lives code. Contra isn’t a total push-over, stages 6 and 7 are brutal, however compared to other NES games at the time it’s got nothing on them. If you want really tough games then try the later stuff in the series like Contra Hard Corp or Shattered Soldier, now they really are tough!

This guy reminds me of Krang

If you don’t like tough games then don’t be put off playing Contra. It’s still one of the greatest NES games ever made. It controls beautifully with some very well thought out level design. There’s also the 2 player mode, which despite making the game much harder due to even more screen clutter to follow, is a one of the best NES co-op experiences. It’s one of the best arcade conversions ever and even improves on the arcade original by getting rid of the cramped vertical screen orientation and adding in two extra stages that so happen to be the best stages in the game. It’s pretty much essential to any NES collection.

Game of the Year 2011: Dark Souls

Anyone I know will tell you they are sick of hearing me talk about how Demon’s Souls is far and away the best game of this generation of consoles. Well I’ve changed my mind because its spiritual successor Dark Souls is so much better.

Dark Souls is basically Demon’s Souls on steroids. The combat mechanics have been tweaked and improved making heavy armour now a viable option. The separate level structure of Demon’s Souls has been dropped in favour of a more open interconnected world to explore. The fantastic and unique multiplayer aspects have also been expanded upon. Dark Souls keeps the ability for players to summon other players to their world for assistance or to invade another player’s world to attempt to kill them. There are also some nice touches like in the early stages of the game there’s a bell tower that the player must ring to advance. Whenever another online player rings the bell you can hear it in your world giving the player an incentive to succeed where others have before.

Before you reach that bell you have the first real boss fight, this guy... and his friend. It's a real baptism of fire.

Make no mistake, Dark Souls is a difficult games, although not as difficult as the press make it out to be. However the difficulty is its own reward. There are no super powers here and only a few magic spells. When you go up against a 50 ft long dragon it’s you as a normal person in armour and a sword up against this monstrous beast. No other game gives you this feeling of being overwhelmed by the odds but then no other game gives you the satisfaction of when you finally take one of these huge beasts down. It’s not just the enemies that are out to get the player but also the world and its maze like design and various traps. Some excellent art and sound design compliment the oppressive atmosphere.

Yes you have to kill this thing as well. It's not even the hardest thing you'll face, not even close.

Not only is Dark Souls far and away the best game of the year but also the best game of this console generation for me. Don’t be put off by the difficulty, otherwise you’ll be missing out on one of the most challenging but ultimately rewarding games ever made. For anyone that can’t deal with it I have this advice: Man up! (or consult the excellent wiki).

Monday, January 9, 2012

My first bad eBay experience :'(

Well it had to happen sometime. I got a perfectly good saturn from a seller in a recycling centre and a pristine Virtual Boy from a seller normally dealing with antiques he picks up from car boot sales. I noticed just before Christmas that nobody was bidding on ebay anymore so had a look to see if the one thing I've been after the last few months was on sale, a Philips CDI. Yeah, I know it's probably the worst console ever but me and my girlfriend get a good laugh out of crappy FMV games and there's always a few gems on every system to be discovered. I also wanted to give the first two CDI zelda games a go since I heard that they are actually quite good, despite what people that have never played them will tell you.

Anyway there was a CDI up for auction that had decent shipping and most of all a control pad which seem to be pretty hard to come by. I won the auction and it arrived a few days ago. Unfortunately the CD drive was screwed. I think the seller leaving a game in the drive when he shipped it might have been the culprit and not because he wanted to screw me over. It won't read any games or CD's. The seller offered me a refund but by ebay policy I'm not due the shipping cost and also must ship the item back at my own expense. If I went this way I would have pretty much wasted 80 euros on nothing.

If only you worked :(

It's not all bad though, apparently replacing the CD drive on the model of CDI I had is quite an easy process so I decided to repair the machine myself. I ordered a new laser unit and surprisingly the threat of bad feedback got me the price of the replacement part back from the seller. I just hope that the repair job works out since it will be the first time I've used a soldering iron and performed a console mod!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Best Games of 2011 Part 3

Tomorrow will be last one and will just be my game of the year. One small note I was going to include Skyward Sword but the last few days I’ve not played as much of it as I thought and don’t feel I’ve played enough of it to really say whether I like it or not.


I wasn’t sure whether to include this game. Firstly, it came out before 2011 but wasn’t released on PC until 2011 but screw it, it’s what I played it on. Secondly, I was kind of disappointed in the game because for all its aspirations of pretention it ends on a whimper and some of the puzzles at the end are too obtuse at times. However I did have a lot of fun with this game and absolutely love the atmosphere conjured up by the gorgeous art and ambience. It may have been disappointing but it’s still excellent.

Bit.Trip Runner

Another game released before 2011 but again only released this year on PC. Despite being just another one of those platformers where you constantly run forwards (think Canabalt or Robot Unicorn Attack) I feel Bit.Trip Runner is the best of its kind. It’s maddeningly difficult but I keep coming back to it, I think it’s something to do with how the gloriously infectious chip tune music is controlled by your actions in the game.


I’ve already said loads about this game in a previous post. While games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect are embarrassing in how they treat relationships it’s great to finally get a game that is so well written and deals with issues that aren’t just violence in the videogame medium. Outside of the narrative the block pushing puzzle elements are deceptively deep. In terms of best writing and narrative this year it’s a toss-up between this and Portal 2 but I’m going to give it to this because it deals so well with issues that I thought would never be covered by a videogame.


I got very addicted to this game while it was in beta form last year, so addicted that I gave it up otherwise my thesis would never have gotten completed!  When I finally returned to the game it had finally reached its full release. What a difference a few months made. It’s like a completely different game. So much has been added, from new items, to RPG elements and even a singleplayer endgame to strive for. However it was the multiplayer that had me hooked. I’m sick to death of shooters so it’s so refreshing to jump into minecraft with similarly minded people, construct something you are proud of and then be green with envy when a neighbour one ups you in spectacular fashion.

Worst Game of 2011: Duke Nukem Forever

Oh deary me. It took 14 years for them to come up with this? DNF is one of the most uninspired and boring FPS games I’ve ever had the misfortune to play. It feels really dated, featuring awful level design including some terrible turret sections that were dated back in 1998. Some people think the character of Duke is dated but it’s not the problem with him. In Duke 3D he quoted some 80’s movies and there was a small bit of naughtiness but it was cheeky more than anything. Some of the sexual ‘jokes’ that Duke comes out with in DNF range from embarrassing to downright loathsome. I bought this game for five euros in the steam sale and still feel ripped off.