Not just any board -- this is "TheBoard"!

User avatar
Halvar

05 May 2013, 23:35

I found this on ebay and couldn't resist...

This is "TheBoard", first sold in 1985, built by the small German company "Hohe Electronics", and AFAIK the first range of keyboards featuring programmable LCD keys.
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TheBoard by Hohe Electronics GmbH
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This is how it looked before I retrobrighted the keys yesterday.
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A tad yellowed.
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Futaba switches. These feel strange, a bit flimsy, but not bad. They're tactile when pressing down, and they click when releasing. Overall they're pretty loud. Actuation force is supposed to be at 70 g according to the datasheet I got, but they feel lighter to me, maybe because of their age. I didn't ripster-measure them yet.

I was lucky: the board is fully working.
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Futaba switches
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Keycaps look like this:
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Futaba keycap with stabiliser
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They're doubleshot, and I like their unique profile. The manufacturer obviously tried a little too hard here to get the legends nice and thin. All rows have the same profile, so the board is stepped like an old typewriter.
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Hohe DasBoard doubleshots
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ALT (ziemlich alt)
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eNter
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Steps
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The "String" key allows definition of macro strings on the keyboard. The board has 64K RAM, which is what my C64 had when this model came out in 1985. According to a price list from 1989, the board cost 998 DM + VAT, so it was more expensive than my C64, too.
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Cursor block and STRING key
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The board has 24 instead of 12 function keys, and every function key has a 20x8 LCD matrix on it. The LCDs can be programmed using special MS DOS software that comes with the board. I'm stuck here at the moment. The board came with two 5,25" floppy disks containing the software, but my old floppy drive that I got out from a dark corner of my basement yesterday seems not to be able to read the disks (or any disk, for that matter), so I don't know if it's the drive or just the age of the disks that's the problem. Of course I'd rather find some newer software for Windows or Linux for it, but I couldn't find anything yet on that big worldwide network that we use today but nobody really had access to at that time.

According to the data sheet, 4 layers can be defined for every key, so if you press a modifier and have programmed the LCDs accordingly, the displays are supposed to change.
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LCDs, waiting to be programmed by someone who knows how
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Last edited by Halvar on 06 May 2013, 01:15, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
Halvar

05 May 2013, 23:37

Under the LCD in each keycap there is a small PCB with a custom chip that Hohe developed for their boards.
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Bold move probably to take the keycap off... Fortunately I didn't break anything, but I didn't dare to go further either.
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There was also a model that had (smaller) LCDs on all keys, and models with even more function keys. You can see the soldering points for the LCDs next to every switch in the third picture above.

These boards were also marketed in the US. Somebody probably told Hohe how silly "TheBoard" actually sounds, because they called it "LC Board" in the US.

Information about this board on the internet is very sparse. I had hoped that some linux hacker had written drivers for it during the last 25 years, but if so I still have to find them.

I did find the website of the engineer Reinhard Engstler who invented the technology and still has an engineering company named [E³] that constructs LCD keys: http://www.e3-keys.com/english/history.htm

If anybody on DT knows anything more about this keyboard, or maybe even has software or manuals for it, please answer here or contact me. I'd really like to program the LCDs on this beast.

Anyway, thanks for watching!
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Hohe Electronics GmbH TheBoard Model MF 1.24, this one was probably made in 1989.
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Last edited by Halvar on 06 May 2013, 01:33, edited 2 times in total.

User avatar
matt3o
-[°_°]-

06 May 2013, 00:23

really great find. congrats!

User avatar
kbdfr
The Tiproman

06 May 2013, 07:17

Halvar wrote:[…] If anybody on DT knows anything more about this keyboard, or maybe even has software or manuals for it, please answer here or contact me. I'd really like to program the LCDs on this beast.
Here's an old DT thread about the model with LCDs on the alphanumeric keys as well:
http://deskthority.net/marketplace-f11/ ... -t915.html
theboard1.jpg
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I have quite a bunch of original documentation about it, including a software tutorial, a programming manual and a lot of technical stuff marked "nur für den internen Gebrauch".
What I have been missing is the software for it.
Now I know it was a good idea to keep an old computer with a functioning 5.25" floppy drive :mrgreen:

(PM'd)

User avatar
Kurk

06 May 2013, 08:06

Someone brought this board to the Dutch Keyboard Party 2012. I can't remember who..
Image

User avatar
Halvar

06 May 2013, 08:25

@kbdfr: Awesome, that's way more than I hoped for! Let's see if we can't liberate those old bits.

@Kurrk: wow, when I see this I have to think about August 3 once again ....

@matt3o: thanks mate!

User avatar
Jmneuv

06 May 2013, 11:42

Those rubber lcd contacts seem so fragile - creepy.
Quite the sci-fi you have there.
The lcds are even in dot-matrix, nice.

User avatar
7bit

06 May 2013, 12:24

Welcome to the exclusive "TheBoard"-club!
:ugeek:

User avatar
Halvar

06 May 2013, 12:49

Oh, I was under the impression that webwit won your auction for 0€.

You probably just didn't send it out yet.

User avatar
Daniel

06 May 2013, 21:22

The "String"-Key is funny :) Many people in Germany say "String" instead of "Steuerung" (control) because they think "Strg" is the abbreviation for it.

Nice font. ;)

JBert

06 May 2013, 22:14

Does the MF13 key still work after you put the LCD / keycap back on?

User avatar
Halvar

06 May 2013, 22:19

Yes, fortunately it does. 8-)

User avatar
riffraff

14 May 2013, 15:22

That's a really creative design. I'm always amazed at these vintage boards and the amount of thought that went into them.

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