Flipper Zero takes to the big screen

RP2040-based Video Game Module brings game controller functionality and video output

A Video Game Module (VGM) containing a Raspberry Pi RP2040 microcontroller is out today for the Flipper Zero pentester multi-tool.

The tech is a simple device that attaches via the GPIO connectors on top of the Flipper Zero. It has an IMU with a TDK ICM-42688-P sensor, including a three-axis gyroscope and a three-axis accelerometer. It also has a USB Type-C connector for talking to the RP2040 and DVI output, which connects to a television.

The Flipper Zero team said: "This transforms Flipper Zero into a powerful gaming platform by enabling the broadcasting of multi-tool screens to TVs and monitors."

Flipper Zero Video Game Module

Flipper Zero Video Game Module (pic: Flipper Devices)

We're not entirely sure about the "powerful gaming platform" description. The hardware is not going to compete with the specs of many of today's more powerful handheld consoles, although El Reg enjoyed seeing Doom arrive on the RP2040 in 2022.

In our tests the system worked as expected, and the pixels on the Flipper Zero's orange screen turned up, magnified, on a connected television.

Alex Kulagin, founder and COO of Flipper Devices, said: "We hope to encourage developers, geeks, and retro enthusiasts to embark on a DIY journey, unlocking new ways of using Flipper Zero and bridging the gap between retro-gaming nostalgia and cutting-edge research."

Eben Upton, one of those chiefly responsible for the Raspberry Pi, described his company as "enormous fans" of the device and, unsurprisingly, of using the RP2040 to add DVI-D output to the Flipper Zero.

It is early days, and it will be interesting to see what applications are developed to take advantage of the hardware. However, the price – $49 – seems a little steep. After all, if you like playing games using the RP2040, something like the PicoSystem can be bought for around $60. A spokesperson for Flipper Devices pointed out that while the Pi Pico could be picked up as a bare board for less than $5, the VGM includes an IMU, a custom housing, and the hardware needed for connectivity.

However, such comparisons also miss the point.

For those unfamiliar with the Flipper device, it is seen as either a fun little tool to help you learn about all the radio signals surrounding you, or a potential weapon for hoodie-wearing criminals seeking to take over your electronic life.

It's a simple gizmo, and starts off with an electronic pet running within it that can be "fed" signals from the likes of RFID and NFC systems. It can then interact with those devices. It's very straightforward, although it's easy to imagine how such a device could be used for nefarious activities ... although the tech is limited.

Although it supports many wireless standards - for example, NFC and 125 kHz RFID – the beating heart of the hardware is an Arm Cortex-M4 32-bit chip running at 64 MHz. There is also 256 KB of SRAM. Therefore, the device is more suited to curious hobbyists than criminals seeking to crack anti-theft protections to make off with a modern car.

That hasn't convinced officials in Canada, where efforts are under way to ban the Flipper Zero.

The team behind the Flipper Zero is unimpressed by Canada's antics.

"Flipper Zero can't be used to hijack any car, specifically the ones produced after the 1990s, since their security systems have rolling codes. Also, it'd require actively blocking the signal from the owner to catch the original signal, which Flipper Zero's hardware is incapable of doing," said Kulagin.

"Flipper Zero is intended for security testing and development, and we have taken necessary precautions to ensure the device can’t be used for nefarious purposes."

According to Flipper Devices, the UK-based company behind Flipper Zero, half a million devices have been sold. Sixty-four per cent were ordered by users from the United States, followed by the UK, Australia, and Canada.

At $169, the Flipper Zero isn't particularly cheap, and the VGM feels similarly expensive at $49. Combined, the price is pushed well past the $200 mark.

However, while you could construct a similar device using off-the-shelf hardware, such as a Raspberry Pi, the end price would likely increase, and you'd lack the cute dolphin Tamagotchi-like electronic pet.

Plugging in the VGM removes the need to squint at the screen and adds some intriguing control options, but it will be up to the community to turn it into something more than just a way of casting that dolphin on a television. ®

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