Blu-ray player collecting dust? Turn it into a laser scanning microscope

Blu-rays have never been able to completely take over DVDs. Recent estimates, based on data collected by Nielsen VideoScan and MediaPlayNews, show that by the second quarter of 2022, DVDs still control 51.4 percent of the market share, compared to 48.6 percent of Blu-rays. And no matter which format has the largest share, the physical media pie is shrinking. So if your Blu-ray player has become an ornament collecting dust from the center of your home theater, a clever hacker will know what to do with it.

As spotted by Hackster.io this week, a YouTuber named Doctor Volt recently detailed his two-part journey in turning a Samsung BD-J5900 Blu-ray player into a laser scanning microscope.

Doctor Volt used his DIY laser scanning microscope on a piece of cloth.
Enlarge / Doctor Volt used his DIY laser scanning microscope on a piece of cloth.

As noted by Gizmodo, one of the main advantages of laser scanning microscopes over optical ones is that the latter max out at 1,500x magnification. Dr Volt told a reviewer that he wasn’t sure about the magnification of DY microscopes, but “can resolve structures of about 5 micrometres.”

Doctor Volt could be hacked because Blu-ray players and laser scanning microscopes work similarly. As a quick simplification, Blu-ray players beam lasers onto Blu-ray discs and their sensors can read a value of 1 or 0, depending on how strongly the light is reflected onto the player’s optical receiver unit.

Optical receiver unit inside the Blu-ray player.
Enlarge / Optical receiver unit inside the Blu-ray player.

But since the sensors in the optical receiver unit are not actually binary and can measure varying amounts of reflected light, Blu-ray players are sinister candidates for makeshift laser scanning microscopes.

As explained by Hackster.io, “By running the same process and recording each density measurement, an image of the surface of everything the laser is scanning can be created. Resolution is a function of the laser’s physical movement as it scans.”

Doctor Volt used various parts of the Samsung Blu-ray player for his projects, including a laser diode, stepper motor to drive the laser, optical receiver unit and focus coil. They also had to create additional plastic parts for a crawling bed.

According to Doctor Volt, the microscope creates images using 16,129 measurements to create a 127×127 pixel image, which the hacker scaled to 512×512 in the image below.

Image captured by Doctor Volt's microscope through a piece of cloth.  They make adjustments to the image through a Java-based browser interface.
Enlarge / Image captured by Doctor Volt’s microscope through a piece of cloth. They make adjustments to the image through a Java-based browser interface.

Of course, Doctor Volt’s microscope isn’t as powerful as commercial products in a lab. But considering that these can cost tens of thousands of dollars, we can say that Doctor Volt does well, while Doctor Volt needs an obsolete tool that you can have at home or find cheaply used.

The YouTuber isn’t the first to reuse a Blu-ray player to get an enlarged view. In April, University of Connecticut professors published the article “Blood-Coated Sensor for High-Throughput Ptychographic Cytometry on a Blu-ray Disc” in ACS Publications. They used a modified Blu-ray player and a blood-covered image sensor to get “high-quality images of biological samples,” as UConn’s announcement states. UConn Technology Commercialization Services has filed a provisional patent application around the findings.

Doctor Volt shared instructions for turning your Blu-ray player into a laser scanning microscope on Hackster.io.

You can watch the DIYers’ full video below, which includes more about the making process and additional footage shot with a microscope.
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DIY Blu-ray laser scanning microscope: image capture.

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