Prototype: Retrofitting a Dreamcast into a Multi-function Printer (with Video!)

When I go to start working on a new hack, the issue of how to enclose it is always a tricky one. Building an enclosure from scratch can be extremely time consuming (if done well). Retrofitting an old enclosure can shave hours off of a build, and allow for more rapid prototyping. As I’ve been on a console hacking kick lately, I decided to open up the closet and see what grand old systems I could pull out and improve upon. This time it was the Sega Dreamcast which caught my eye and set my mind wandering about in a myriad of directions.

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You see, there are a number of features of the Dreamcast that make it particularly appealing to a console hacker. It’s power supply is built-in, so there’s no ‘brick’ to deal with. It offers gorgeous VGA-out on most games out of the box, and there are boot disks which force VGA-out on games which didn’t offer this functionality. You could burn programs or Linux to disk to run without a mod chip install. Let’s not forget about the DC homebrew and emulation scene (still going strong all these years later), filled with programs to try out. And it’s tough. You can drop it a few times without much damage. Trust me, I’m clumsy and I drop just about everything I’m working on a few dozen times. Combined with an old 19″ widescreen 1440×900 resultion monitor I had in the closet, I had the beginnings of a cool hack.

Still, that ever-present question arose. What to encase it in? I decided to ride over to the local thrift shop and peruse the aisles. Nothing great came from the furniture section, but something caught my eye in the electronics area. Encased there among the mile-high stack of dead and antiquated printers was an old epson multi-function printer/scan/fix. Something about it called to me, and it’s huge bulky frame almost guaranteed that no-one would purchase it, even for the 4$ price it was being offered at. I purchased it, and began the process of disassembly.

Read on for the full story and more photos.

The first thing I needed to do was to remove the glass from the scanner portion of the printer. It was glued on there fairly solidly, but 15 minutes with the hair dryer had it hot enough to pry off without cracking the glass. From there, I removed the scanner and motor portion of the top plate, and began the process of disassembling the LCD.

The LCD was a fairly standard 2003 model 19″ 1440×900 widescreen monitor. This means there’s a bit of wiggle-room when it comes to aligning the power regulator and driver (as they’re connected at the top of the panel only. Some newer LCDS have connection on all 4 corners, and are a bit trickier to mount inside a strange container. Luckily, this was a straightforward set of 10 screws holding in a couple of small speakers, the rear power driver, and the panel itself. Snip snap screw, ready to mount. I used a hot glue gun on a couple of strategic places around the LCD to keep it in place, then used liquid cement to bond it into the scanner panel. Thirty minutes later, the LCD portion was ready to go. I ran the cables down through the paper feed slot and into the under-carriage, and began the process of gutting the printer itself.

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Printers are a bit nastier inside than most electronics. They can be greasy, sharp, pointy, inky, dirty, moldy, a pain in the ass, and often all of the above. On the plus side, they can be huge and had for under a fiver at a thrift shop. That’s just about the perfect price for a hack enclosure, especially for a prototype. I set about removing all the screws (over 100) from the printer, followed by the gears, foam padding, cables, ribbons, and much of the inner plastic ribbing. There’s honestly a surprising amount of foam padding in a printer, so have a trash bag ready.

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After it was all removed, I used a hack-saw to cut the inner plastic moulding to be a Dreamcast-lid shaped hole. I then began routing all the power, audio, and video cables below the Dreamcast and behind the printer control panel. From there, it took a minor bit of cable massaging (and a little electrical tape) to get everything into place for the prototype. Finally, I super-glued a square bit of plastic foam on inner side of the LCD to keep everything level and braced when the “printer” is closed. At last, I was ready to place some Dreamcast in a printer. Prototype success!

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