Keyboard Idea - LED Indicator Caps for every cap (formerly 1980s LED Backlit)

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olePigeon

20 Sep 2019, 22:24

I'm sure someone's thought of this, but I didn't see one in the search.

ALPS & Cherry both had/have caps with LED windows back in the 1980s and probably earlier. As everyone knows, they were usually used for the Num Lock, Scroll Lock, Caps Lock, etc.

At my local recycler, they have lots of vintage LEDs. The diffused, soft glow kind from all the old tech. Usually monocolor red, orange, yellow, or green, but they also have some cool tri-color red/orange/green or red/yellow/green LEDs. Not like those stupid blindingly bright LEDs everything has now.

Looking at those vintage LEDs made me want a keyboard that's all LED window keycaps with old-school tri-color LED. Have different LED options when you press a key such as Always-On, On-On-Press, Off-On-Press, Blink-On-Press (1 time, 2 times, 3 times, etc.), Fade-On-Press ... you get the idea. Make sure it's compatible with XT, AT, and USB. Will probably need auxiliary power of some sort when not used with USB.

This is the keyboard layout I came up with. Had fun with the layout designer. It's black & charcoal because my 486 is black & charcoal, but could be any color obviously.
1980s-backlight.png
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A couple new keys. Nav Lock to toggle between 8-way nav and T-nav. Meta Lock makes the Meta function the default operation for a key. You can program Meta Lock using Prog + Meta Lock (not Meta, that's for something else.) Meta Lock-Reset will clear all saved Meta Locks.

Programmable Function keys in blue. These can be programmed via the Prog key. Hit Prog, hit a PF key, then type on the keyboard. Hit Set to set the key. Repeat for others. The red Meta key lets you program the Meta Fkeys. Prog, Meta, MF key, type away, then Set.

You can Save, Load, and Delete profiles to the keys. Prog, Save, PFkey, Set to save all currently programmed keys. Prog, Load, PFkey, Set to load. Prog, Del, PFkey, Set to delete a saved profile. Up to 24 different profiles can be stored between the PFkeys and MFkeys.

Prog-Reset will reset all programmable keys. Prog-Delete-Reset will clear memory. Alt-Super-Meta-Control-Reset will reset the entire keyboard to default settings and clear memory.

Super Lock is for disabling the Windows key. Not so useful on a Mac that utilizes the Super instead of Control.

Below are examples of windowed keys, including 0.5u windowed keys.

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Last edited by olePigeon on 23 Sep 2019, 17:32, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Muirium
µ

21 Sep 2019, 14:43

I like your thinking.

One issue that comes to mind for me is what LED windows actually look like. They shine as a bar on the key. They look like an indicator light—WARNING!—rather than an always-on identifier, like a legend. Yet it is possible to use LED windows in large numbers, and do so with a neat vintage look. Nord does a great job of that with their flashy electric pianos:

Image

But don't mistake LED windows with backlit legends. They are different duties. Turn the room lights down, and that piano and your keyboard will need the same muscle memory as unlit ones.

Findecanor

21 Sep 2019, 15:48

You would need some kind of "RGB switch" to show more than two colours, because regular switches support only single-colour LEDs with two legs.

I suspect that any bi-colour or tri-colour LEDs you could find are not actually built to be flickered (PWM-control) by modern LED controllers, so brightness would be lacking.
Controlling those LEDs could also be difficult, because not all LED controllers are built for current flowing in more than one direction. Some LED controller chips actually depend on "charlieplexing" to reduce the number of pins for the matrix.

User avatar
olePigeon

21 Sep 2019, 20:42

Muirium wrote:
21 Sep 2019, 14:43
One issue that comes to mind for me is what LED windows actually look like. They shine as a bar on the key. They look like an indicator light—WARNING!—rather than an always-on identifier, like a legend. Yet it is possible to use LED windows in large numbers, and do so with a neat vintage look. Nord does a great job of that with their flashy electric pianos:

But don't mistake LED windows with backlit legends. They are different duties. Turn the room lights down, and that piano and your keyboard will need the same muscle memory as unlit ones.
Oh, I know. Absolutely NOT backlit legends. Yep, just the opaque keycaps with the little windows and a diffused LED. :D Yes, they'd be practically useless as true LED backlighting, but hey, this is about the nostalgia factor and not practicality. They might illuminate the key on the immediate row below it. :lol: However, there is something to be said about visual feedback for when a key is pressed, so it does offer some function.
Findecanor wrote:
21 Sep 2019, 15:48
I suspect that any bi-colour or tri-colour LEDs you could find are not actually built to be flickered (PWM-control) by modern LED controllers, so brightness would be lacking.
Controlling those LEDs could also be difficult, because not all LED controllers are built for current flowing in more than one direction. Some LED controller chips actually depend on "charlieplexing" to reduce the number of pins for the matrix.
Yeah, I had thought about that. I'm not very technically minded. I'm decent with a soldering iron and diagnosing hardware issues, but not actual programming or anything. Those old LEDs are certainly pretty dim, but that's part of the charm for me. That soft glow. Back when you're a kid and you could actually fall asleep in a living room filled with electronics. Now it's all blindingly bright blue or white LEDs. If so inclined, you could leave on all the LEDs on every key (indicator LEDs would be a different color) and it wouldn't likely be distracting or need a visit to the ophthalmologist.

User avatar
kbdfr
The Tiproman

22 Sep 2019, 08:01

I would suggest you edit the title of the thread and remove the word "backlit".
It would almost have deterred me from reading the thread at all :lol:

User avatar
olePigeon

23 Sep 2019, 17:57

kbdfr wrote:
22 Sep 2019, 08:01
I would suggest you edit the title of the thread and remove the word "backlit".
It would almost have deterred me from reading the thread at all :lol:
Fixed. :)

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