The Fall Computer Collection At The Summer Consumer Electronics Show
Tom R. Halfhill, Features Editor
The flood continues: at least 17 new personal computers were introduced at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, and the end is not in sight. Among industry leaders, Atari made the biggest showing with a completely revised line, plus a radical new approach to software merchandising; among the newcomers, the strongest challenge came from Coleco.
It's been only recently – maybe a year or two – since home computer shoppers have had more than a handful of machines to choose from. Apple, Atari, Commodore, Radio Shack, Texas Instruments. Still, people agonize over the decision.
By this Christmas – destined to be called the Christmas of the Computers – there should be 30 to 40 under-$1000 personal computers for shoppers to sort out. Computers of almost every conceivable variation, from about $40 for a minimal 2K memory machine to upwards of $1000 for a full-blown 64K personal computer with built-in modem, speech synthesizer, and double-sided/double-density disk drive.
How will people choose from this bewildering array of equipment? According to industry analysts, the majority will stick with the established leaders – Commodore, Texas Instruments, and Atari. "The window is closing," says one consultant, "for new entrants in the low-end home market." They expect many, if not most, of the new arrivals to be forced out within the next year. In other words, the rich will get richer as the poor get poorer (perhaps a misleading expression, given the aggressive price wars which are driving even the Big Three toward the corporate poorhouse).
Yet, a few of the newcomers are making strong challenges, as evidenced by the hardware they displayed at the recent Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. In particular, the talk of the show was Coleco's entry into the field with an integrated system that includes an 80K computer with detachable keyboard, high-speed tape drive, letter-quality printer, and software, complete for under $600 – only $450 if you already own a Colecovision game machine. But no one was ignoring Atari, either. Atari scrapped its entire home computer line – including the brand-new but much-maligned 1200XL – in favor of a completely new line of four computers and numerous accessories. Considering the financial problems dogging Atari and TI, plus the approaching entry of IBM into the home market, it appears that the next 12 months will be a make-it-or-break-it year even for the "established leaders." In short, no one can afford to sit back and rest easy. And no one is.
Here's a rundown of the most significant developments at the Summer CES:
By the first day of the show it became apparent that Coleco's new "Adam" home computer was the system to beat. After Coleco shattered price barriers by introducing an impressive grouping of hardware and software for under $600, Commodore announced a similar package deal for under $1000, built around its newly discounted Commodore 64. And Atari told The Wall Street Journal it could offer a comparable system with the new 600XL and a letter-quality printer, also for under $600. Another competitor, newcomer Unisonic, even went so far as to redesign its prototype computer at the show – and then they stationed a pretty woman next to the Coleco display to pass out photocopied announcements.
Coleco's "Adam" system – the talk of the show.
Just what set everybody scrambling? Adam definitely is a price breakthrough, even if (at this writing) all the design specifications are not finalized. Adam has 80K of Random Access Memory (RAM), expandable to 144K (although it's not yet clear how much of this RAM is actually available to the user); a Z80A chip for its Central Processing Unit (CPU), allowing CP/M compatibility; a 75-key, full-stroke, typewriter-style keyboard that detaches from the main box on a coiled cord, much like the IBM PC (in fact, the keyboard strongly resembles the IBM PC's); a very high-speed cassette tape drive which Coleco claims is "comparable to a disk drive," and which stores 500K per cassette; a letter-quality daisy wheel printer; Applesoft-compatible Microsoft BASIC; a TI sound chip with three sound channels; 32 sprites (programmable shapes for animation); four expansion slots; a slot for ROM cartridges and Colecovision games; built-in word processing software; two joystick controllers with keypads, which also can control the cursor; and even an arcade-style game to get you started, Buck Rogers Planet of Zoom.
And yes, Coleco promises to sell the whole package for under $600. If you already own a Colecovision game machine, you can buy a functionally identical version of Adam that plugs into your unit and costs only $450. Coleco says Adam will be available this fall.
Options will include an adapter for playing Atari VCS 2600 video game cartridges, a second tape drive (built into the main box with the first drive), an 80-column screen adapter, and accessories to allow running CP/M (Control Program for Microcomputers), an industry-standard operating system that allows access to thousands of programs, mostly business-oriented.
Interestingly, Adam was one of three new computers at CES with Applesoft-compatible BASIC. However, Adam's internal memory arrangement is different from the Apple's, which means the majority of Applesoft programs will not run until the PEEKs, POKEs, and CALLs are translated. Also, Coleco representatives said they didn't know if the BASIC includes new commands to support features which Adam has but the Apple does not, such as sophisticated sound and sprite graphics. Other graphics seem to be the same, with 16 colors and a high-resolution mode of 256 by 192 pixels (screen dots).
Will Coleco's Adam be a significant challenge to Commodore, TI, and Atari, which have tremendous head starts? Remember that Coleco proved in the past year it could crack open what some analysts thought was almost a closed market – the video game machines – and still make a strong showing despite a late entry. Expect a hard-charging advertising campaign to win similar success for Adam in the months ahead.
Atari's Clean Sweep
Even Atari acknowledges it has been undergoing some rough times lately. Its profits have been seriously eroded by increased competition and by one of the most dramatic price wars in consumer history. Its image suffered when mounting losses prompted the company to shift manufacturing overseas, eliminating more than a thousand American jobs. And its top-line home computer, the Atari 1200XL, was introduced only a few months ago to something less than critical acclaim.
It was immediately obvious at CES that Atari had decided it was time for drastic action.
First, Atari reorganized its corporate structure, consolidating the home video game and home computer divisions. This is more than just a corporate shuffle. It should avoid future conflicts between the two entities, such as the present incompatibility between the home computer division's machines and the video game division's recently announced add-on keyboard for the Atari 2600 VCS.
Second, Atari made a move that some industry analysts are labeling the most significant development of the year – a new subsidiary, Atari Publishing, will begin producing hit software for competing computers, including arch rivals Commodore and TI.
Third, Atari has completely restructured its home computer line. Its entire current lineup — from the four-year-old 400 and 800 to the struggling 1200XL – has been discarded. Atari is betting everything on a new line of four redesigned computers and an array of impressive accessories and peripherals.
Fourth, Atari is acknowledging the importance of support from third-party manufacturers and the grassroots. The new computers are designed to be easily and almost infinitely expandable, and their architecture is "open" – freely available to independent companies that want to make accessories. What's more, to assure that the new machines are better received on the grassroots level than the ill-fated 1200XL, Atari flew 15 top user group officers from all over the country to CES, all expenses paid.
The problems of the past 12 months appear to have galvanized Atari, and the company is responding with an all-out effort to recover its position in the marketplace.
The XL Series
Atari's new XL computers range in list price from $199 to an unannounced top end that will be about $1000. Not only are they hardware- and software-compatible with each other, but best of all, they are fully compatible with the discontinued models. That includes almost all the new peripherals and accessories.
The computers are compact, attractive, incorporate the best features of the 1200XL plus some new ones, and together form a comprehensive product lineup:
• Atari 600XL. The low-end computer, with a suggested retail of $199 that most likely will be discounted, comes with 16K RAM expandable to 64K. Like all the XL computers, the 600XL has a rear slot with an edge connector that is a "full processor bus" – an extension of the main circuit board (motherboard). This slot is the key to the almost limitless expansion of the XL series. As detailed below, it allows almost anything to be added to the computers, even co-processors, as on the Apple. The 600XL's expansion slot accepts a 48K memory module that brings the computer up to a full 64K for about $100. This would make it identical in features and price to the next model, the 800XL, except for the lack of a monitor jack.
Also in common with the other XL computers, the 600XL has built-in Atari BASIC. It has a full-stroke, typewriter-style keyboard with non-glare keycaps, a topside slot for ROM cartridges, and 24K of Read Only Memory (ROM), which includes the BASIC language and operating system.
Atari 600XL, 16KRAM.
The operating system of all the XL series computers appears to be nearly identical to the 1200XL's. This means all four machines have most of the features introduced by the 1200XL, such as the HELP key, the international character set, self-testing, and the ability to disable ROM to access extra RAM underneath. For instance, disabling BASIC – formerly accomplished by unplugging the separate BASIC cartridge – now is done by holding down the OPTION key while switching on the computer, or via POKEs from within a program.
In addition, the XL series retains the traditional Atari features, such as 256 colors, four sound channels, five text modes, eleven graphics modes, hi-res graphics of 320 by 192 pixels, programmable character sets, up to five sprites, separate chips to handle the screen and graphics, a serial port for adding peripherals, and so on. However, there are only two joystick ports instead of the usual four.
• Atari 800XL. As described, basically this is a slightly larger, 64K version of the 600XL. At a suggested retail of $299, it costs the same as a 600XL expanded to 64K, although the built-in memory makes it less unwieldy. The only difference would be the monitor jack, absent on the 600. Even the keyboards are identical, but they do differ slightly from those on the upper-end models, the 1400XL and 1450XLD. The lower-end computers have non-glare keycaps and lack the four special function keys (Fl through F4) first seen on the 1200XL.
Atari 800XL, 64K.
Atari says the 600XL and 800XL should be available by the time you're reading this.
• Atari 1400XL. This is the model that most closely resembles the discontinued 1200XL (in fact, one Atari spokesperson told us – in jest, perhaps? – that a warehouse-full of 1200XLs might be converted into 1400XLs). Its outward appearance is virtually identical to the 1200XL's in every detail except the one that triggered most of the criticism against its late brother – the 1400XL has a rear expansion slot. Inside, it also adds two impressive new features, both built-in: a direct-connect modem and a speech synthesizer.
Although the 1400XL's price was not announced, sources say it will be in the $500-$600 range. Atari says it will be available in the fall.
Atari 1400XL, with 64K, built-in modem and speech synthesizer.
• Atari 1450XLD. Topping off the new Atari line, the 1450XLD has all the features of the 1400XL – including the 64K RAM, built-in modem, and speech – and adds a built-in, double-sided/ double-density disk drive. The drive stores up to 254K per 5¼-inch disk and is two and a half times faster than the current drives (which store only 92K). A magnetically isolated disk-storage compartment alongside the drive can be converted to a second drive later. Also, the new drive will recognize and read the current disks (details below).
The 1450XLD's price also was not announced, but should be around $1000. Atari says it will be available by Christmas.
Making The Atari Talk
The modem and voice synthesizer aboard the 1400XL and 1450XLD are well-integrated with the rest of the computer. The 300-baud modem is handled as the "T" device (for telecommunications or telecomputing); the voice, as the "VI" device. In other words, the modem and voice are addressed as easily as any other device supported by the operating system, such as the screen, keyboard, disk drive, cassette recorder, printer, etc. This simple BASIC program will make the 1400XL or 1450XLD greet you with a "hello":
10 DIM A$(10) 20 A$ = "HELLO" 30 OPEN #1,4,0, "V1:PF" 40 PRINT #1;A$
Atari 1450XLD, with 64K, built-in modem, speech synthesizer, and double side/double density disk drive.
As on all Ataris, the voice emanates from the TV speaker. The speech, created by a Votrax chip, is comparable to the Voicebox sold for Atari and Apple computers by the Alien Group. It's easily understood, but unmistakably a computer.
Addressing the modem and voice as standard Atari devices provides great flexibility. For instance, an Atari spokesperson told us the voice can just as easily be sent through the modem. And the computer includes built-in software to operate the modem.
Also, there are three speech modes. Notice line 30 above: OPEN #1,4,0,"VI:PF" opens a device channel to the voice in phoneme mode. Phonemes are the phonetic building blocks of a spoken language. For the best speech, words should be spelled phonetically. "ATARI" is spelled "UHTAHREE." In this mode, the computer ignores certain consonants which might confuse the synthesizer, such as C and X. For a "soft" C, you must use an S; for a "hard" C, a K. Similarly, an X is spelled EKS. The other two speech modes are alpha and numeric. Alpha is a more direct text-to-speech mode. The numeric mode allows voice programming in machine language.
Interestingly, we found that hitting BREAK while the computer is talking does not shut up the voice. This has always been true of sounds created with the four sound channels. This may mean that synchronizing speech with screen graphics could be a relatively simple programming task.
Atari's New Peripherals
Atari engineers must have been awfully busy for the past year. Besides all the new computers, Atari introduced a slew of new peripherals and accessories. Most of them work with the discontinued models, too. A summary:
• Atari 1050 Disk Drive. This double-density drive replaces the old 810 unit. It stores 127K per disk. It is not double-sided, as is the 1450XLD's on-board disk drive, which may not be available separately. The 1050 is trimmer than the 810, designed to match the XL series computers, and it automatically recognizes and adjusts itself for the current single-density Atari disks. Thus, it is fully compatible with both old and new systems. It should be available immediately at a list price of $449. However, until the new double-density DOS III (Disk Operating System) becomes available this fall, it will be shipped with the single-density DOS II. We saw a preliminary version of DOS III with instruction screens that could be summoned at a touch of the HELP key, plus a new option on the DOS menu called "Convert DOS II." Old disks can be converted to double-density with this option.
• Atari CP/M Module. This small box adds CP/M capability to any Atari computer when plugged into the serial port – which means it also works on the older models. It contains a Z80 microprocessor, 64K RAM, CP/M 2.2 operating system, switchable 40/80 column screen adapter, a serial port, and a monitor jack. This last feature allows CP/M and 80-column video even on Atari's lowest-priced models, the 600XL and old 400, which do not come with monitor jacks. Compatible with the 1050 and old 810 disk drives, the module brings thousands of (mostly business-oriented) CP/M programs within reach of Atari users. It should be available by the end of this year. The price is unannounced, but sources peg it at under $400.
• Atari Expansion System. With this box, the XL series can be expanded almost without limit. It plugs into the rear expansion slot and thus is compatible only with the new computers. It adds two RS-232C serial ports, a Centronics-standard parallel port, and most importantly, eight card slots. The slots could accept 80-column cards, extra memory, RAM-based disk emulators, coprocessors for CP/M or IBM compatibility – almost anything. Atari, however, is expecting third-party companies to supply most of these add-ons. The architecture is open to everyone. (The box is the XL series' counterpart of the old 850 Interface Module, which Atari says it will continue manufacturing until demand dries up.)
• Atari 1027 Printer. This amazing letter-quality, 80-column printer retails for only $349. One-third the size of most printers, it uses standard typing paper, prints bidirectionally at 20 characters per second, and even underlines. It plugs into the serial port and works with the older models as well.
• Atari 1030 Modem. This is a 300-baud, direct-connect modem that permits phone numbers to be dialed from the computer keyboard. The price has not yet been announced.
• Atari Touch Tablet. With this pad and its stylus (or your fingers), you can draw pictures and diagrams, write script, or select menu options. There are two fire buttons on the tablet and another on the stylus. The tablet plugs into the joystick ports and has a drawing surface of 4½ inches by 6 inches.
• Light Pen. When the 400 and 800 were first introduced a few years ago, Atari announced – and even demonstrated – a light pen. Then problems cropped up and the light pen disappeared. Now it's back, and we saw it really work. You can draw and paint on the screen in different colors, choose from menus, and so on. No price yet, but Atari promises the pen will be in stores by the end of the year.
• Trak-Ball, Remote-Control Joysticks. The long-awaited Trak-Ball operates as either a true positional trackball or as a directional trackball, so it can substitute for an Atari joystick. The price is $59.95. The remote-control joysticks are jumbo versions of the standard Atari controllers with protruding antennas. A receiver plugs into the joystick ports. Range is about 20 feet. The price is $74.95 per joystick with receiver.
The computer keyboard for the VCS also was displayed at the show – in early prototype stage (see "Atari's New Add-On Computer For VCS 2600 Game Machine," COMPUTE!, May 1983). The keyboard has been slightly redesigned since it was first announced a few months back. Atari has renamed it "The Graduate" instead of "My First Computer." It is still planned to sell this fall for under $90, and some predict the VCS itself will drop to around $40 by then (at this writing, the going price is $79).
Atari also introduced more software than we have room to mention, including games, educational programs, graphics utilities, and the Logo programming language on a 16K cartridge.
Realizing that there can be a greater market for home computer software than hardware – especially with the price wars going on – Atari's biggest software news of the show was its decision to sell programs for competing computers. Although this will help alleviate one of the problems with the competition that Atari cites in its advertising, the profits will be welcome. The new Atari Publishing subsidiary will sell hit games for the TI-99/4A, the Commodore 64 and VIC-20, the Apple, and the IBM PC.
All these computers will get versions of PacMan, Centipede, Defender, Dig Dug, and Donkey Kong. In addition, there will be versions of Stargate for the VIC-20, Commodore 64, Apple, and IBM PC; Robotron for the VIC-20 and 64; and (licensed from Synapse) Shamus, Protector, Picnic Paranoia, and Slime for the TI.
The games will come on cartridges for the TI, VIC, and 64, and on disks for the Apple and IBM. Prices range from $34.95 for disks to $44.95 for cartridges.
Commodore Strengthens Software
On the hardware front, Commodore was relatively quiet at this CES, at least compared to the blockbusters they dropped at the last two shows. No new computers were announced. A few previously announced but still-to-be-introduced computers and peripherals were shown again, and one computer was dropped before reaching the market.
But even when Commodore is "quiet," it is far from silent. Fueling the price wars further, Commodore chopped the wholesale cost of the Commodore 64 from about $360 to $200, which means retail prices at some outlets should be $250 or less by mid- to late summer.
In addition, prices on printers and disk drives were cut up to $100, and software prices were cut up to 50 percent.
Commodore's biggest news was its efforts to strengthen software support for its computers. A beefed-up software division has been formed, and more than 70 new packages for the VIC-20 and 64 were announced at new low prices. Examples are Easyscript 64, a word processor for under $50, Multiplan, a spreadsheet for under $100, a small business accounting package of five programs for under $250, and Magic Desk I – Type and File, an under-$100 program that one spokesperson called "Commodore's answer to Apple's Lisa."
Magic Desk I, a cartridge for the 64, is the first of a series of programs aimed primarily at home users. The screen comes up with a picture of a room containing a desk, typewriter, index file, telephone, calculator, ledger, wastebasket, artist's easel, file cabinet, and a digital clock. Floating in the air is a hand with a pointing finger. Using a joystick, trackball, or "mouse" (not yet available), you can move the hand to point to any object in the room. Pressing the fire button selects that option.
For instance, pointing at the typewriter and pressing the fire button loads a typewriter-like word processing program from disk. The screen really looks like a typewriter carriage, with margin stops, paper guides, and a blank sheet of paper. You can type a document, then return to the room by pressing fire. Back at your desk, you can file the document in the cabinet, toss it in the wastebasket, or do various other things. The other options represented by objects in the room will be enabled by further programs in the Magic Desk series. Eventually, you'll even be able to define your own objects in the room.
Some other interesting software announcements for the 64 were six adventure games, including the popular Zork series; Wizard of Wor, the first talking game using the speech module introduced at previous shows; Super Expander 64, a cartridge with extended commands for graphics and sound; Music Machine and Music Composer, which use the plug-in synthesizer keyboard announced at the Winter CES; and Logo and PILOT languages on disk.
The bulk of the software seemed to be for the 64, but new VIC programs included VICwriter, a word processor; SimpliCalc, a spreadsheet; VICfile, a data base manager; Know Your Child's IQ; and Number Nabber, Shape Grabber, a teaching game for children.
On display was the previously announced portable version of the Commodore 64, known, as the Executive 64 (formerly called the SX-100). The current prototype has a built-in, six-inch color monitor and disk drive, and is priced at $995. A second drive is optional. Commodore has moved the delivery date back to sometime this fall.
Not on display was a new computer announced at last summer's CES, variously known as the P Series, P128, or P-500. Intended to be a souped-up version of the Commodore 64, with 128K RAM expandable to 256K, a larger keyboard, and sleeker styling, the P was dropped without official explanation. Unofficially, Commodore wanted to concentrate on other projects. The P is being transformed into an 80-column machine without color or graphics, and will be aimed instead at the small business market. Commodore says it may be available later this year, along with the closely related B and BX Series announced last summer.
Pre-show rumors were that TI would introduce one or two new computers, possibly the TI-99/4B and the TI-99/8. So much for rumors.
The 99/8, however, is said to be very near. Insiders say it will come with 80K RAM, built-in speech, and sell for roughly $500. BASIC, Forth, Logo, and UCSD Pascal will be the available languages. The 99/4B, they say, will fall somewhere between the 99/4A and 99/8 in features and price.
It could be that TI is somewhat gun-shy after its recent experience with the 99/2. Introduced at the Winter CES, the 99/2 was an economy version of the 99/4A without color or sound. It was designed to sell for $99. Unfortunately for TI, the ongoing price war with Commodore and Atari heated up a little faster than anticipated. To compete, TI slashed the price of the 99/4A again and started another rebate program. This brought the 99/4A to under $100. Unable to cut the 99/2's price accordingly, TI was forced to drop the new model it had spent months (and millions) developing. Now that each one of the Big Three has been burned in a similar way – Atari with its 1200XL and Commodore with its P128 and Max Machine – they may be more circumspect about making splashy introductions of new computers.
Although TI unveiled no new machines at CES, the company did introduce a 99/4A with a redesigned white housing. Word is the new plastic case is cheaper to manufacture, and that it will match the design of the coming 99/8.
The most interesting TI news, though, was a plug-in speech and voice recognition device for the 99/4A. Called the Milton Bradley MBX Expansion System, it works with ten software packages available from MB and TI. We saw it used with an educational game for children, I'm Hiding. Wearing a small headset with a microphone, the child names an object on the screen which might be hiding a tiny creature. The program responds to these verbal commands and even talks back with a remarkably human-like voice. The MBX will be available later this year for $129. Versions also may be adapted for other computers.
TI also introduced a 300-baud, direct-connect modem for $99; TI-Mini-Writer, a cassette-based word processor for $19.95; four games (M*A*S*H, Sneggit, Moonmine, and Entrapment); and six educational packages, including three games based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
NEC Portable Computer
The almost overnight success of Radio Shack's Model 100 portable computer seems to have caught many in the industry off guard. Watch for several similar computers to be introduced in the coming year.
The 100's sudden success also was reportedly a large factor in NEC's decision to export its version of the Model 100 to the United States. The NEC PC-8200, still being redesigned for the American market, looks almost exactly like the Model 100. This is not surprising, because NEC makes part of the Model 100 for Radio Shack. Therefore, the specifications, and even the built-in programs, are nearly identical.
NEC is departing a bit from the Model 100's design, however. Preliminary specs call for 16K RAM standard instead of 8K, expandable to 96K instead of 32K. The onboard modem found in the Model 100 may be removed, but a spreadsheet program added. The keyboard is slightly changed, with five special function keys instead of eight, and the cursor keys arranged in an efficient diamond pattern. As for pricing, NEC says only that it will be "competitive" with the Model 100. It's scheduled for delivery late this year.
Another interesting computer was the Unitronics "Sonic." Display models were early prototypes not yet fully functional, and this is the computer that was upgraded right at the show in response to Coleco's stunning introduction. Nevertheless, the Sonic has its own distinguishing features.
It comes with 80K of user-available RAM, plus another 16K to support its TI graphics chip. The TI chip gives the Sonic 32 sprites and 16 colors. The Sonic also has a built-in Waferdrive, a very fast mass storage device that uses Exatron Stringy Floppy technology. A wafer the size of a business card can store up to 128K. A 12K operating system and Applesoft-compatible BASIC load from one of these wafers each time the computer is switched on.
Other features: 6502 CPU chip (the same as Apple, Atari, and Commodore); upper/lowercase, 40-column screen; 70-key typewriter-style keyboard with 16 function keys; three sound channels with music synthesis; three different expansion ports, one Atari-style joystick port, and a VIC-20-compatible serial port. In addition, the Sonic will come with some software, including Frogger, the Magic Window word processor, Applesoft-compatible BASIC, the operating system, and blank wafers. Unitronics says the Sonic will be available this fall for $400.
Also planned are a Z80 Card Module to add CP/M capability, interface modules for the Atari 2600 VCS and Colecovision game machines, the Unimodem, and other peripherals and software.
Timex displayed two improved versions of the Timex/Sinclair 2000 introduced at the Winter CES, plus a completely new model, the T/S 1500.
The T/S 2000 series computers are basically upgraded versions of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, a popular machine in the United Kingdom. The top-line T/S 2048 is a compact computer with 48K RAM and 24K ROM with BASIC; interface for standard cassette recorders; eight colors; hi-res graphics of 256 × 192 or 512 × 192; selectable 32- or 64-column screen; TV and monitor output; 10-octave sound generator; 42-key rubber "half-stroke" keyboard (not a membrane keyboard, as on the T/S 1000); one-touch BASIC keyword entry; upper/lowercase; Z80A CPU; and two joystick ports. Timex also added a slot for cartridge software and a bank-switching feature that allows addressing even more memory. Timex says the T/S 2048 will be available by fall for $199.95.
The other 2000 series computer, the T/S 2024, has all the same features except less memory: 24K RAM and 16K ROM. It costs $149.95. Both work with the T/S 2040 printer ($99.95) and ZX Spectrum cassette software. In addition, Timex is producing a line of software on cassettes and cartridges, specifically for the 2000 series, priced from $9.95 to $29.95.
The Timex/Sinclair 2048 with 48K RAM and hidden cartridge slot (beneath cover at right).
Timex's completely new computer, the T/S 1500, more closely resembles the ZX Spectrum, although it is not a color computer. It comes with 16K RAM expandable to 32K; 8K ROM with BASIC; interface for standard cassette recorders; 40-key rubber half-stroke keyboard; one-touch BASIC keyword entry; 32-column screen; programmable character sets; 22 graphics characters; and 64 44 graphics. The price is $79.95. An optional interface will allow the T/S 1500 to use 2000 series cartridges.
Mattel Aquarius II
Besides showing its Aquarius, Mattel revealed a sequel, the Aquarius II.
Available later this year, the Aquarius II is a more powerful computer with 20K RAM and 12K ROM. Other improvements over the Aquarius include a full-stroke, typewriter-style keyboard (without the hazardous RESET key that destroys programs) and extended Microsoft BASIC. All other features are the same as the Aquarius, except the Aquarius II is expandable to 64K RAM. It works with all Aquarius software and hardware introduced to date. Price will be in the $130-$175 neighborhood.
Mattel also displayed new accessories for its computers. The plug-in Aquarius Command Console allows computer control of household appliances and security alarms. The screen draws a cutaway picture of the house with all electrical outlets. Up to 32 devices can be controlled automatically (in seven-day cycles) or manually from the computer. The Aquarius Master Expansion Module is a large box with room for two disk drives, extra memory, two cartridges, and up to seven other peripheral boards. The Aquarius Four-Color Printer has blue, red, green, and black, and generates 40 or 80 columns on 4½-inch-wide paper. The Aquarius Phone Modem is a 300-baud device that plugs into the computer's cartridge slot. Mattel says all four products will be available later this year; prices are undetermined.
New software released for the Aquarius includes a Logo cartridge; games such as Burgertime, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and Tron; and home management programs such as Finform (a spread-sheet) and Fileform (a word processor).
Mattel also announced Aquarius Home Services, a data base available by modem through the CompuServe Information Service. It will have a "Hints from Heloise" column, educational games for children, SAT college-prep drills for high-schoolers, electronic mail, classified ads, and information on Aquarius computers.
This summer's award for the most unusual computer shown at CES must go to the Vectrex Graphic Computer System. Still in early prototype stages, it consists of an add-on computer keyboard for the Vectrex game machine.
In case you're unfamiliar with the Vectrex, it's a unique game machine with its own built-in video screen. Unlike regular TV, however, the screen is a vector-graphics screen. TV sets use raster-scan screens. An example of a vector-graphics screen is the arcade version of Asteroids. Images are formed not with pixels, as on raster-scan displays, but with oscilloscope lines. Some unusual effects can be created this way, including simulated 3-D.
The Vectrex now sells for $99 to $129, and the computer add-on, when it becomes available, should cost around $100. It will have 16K RAM expandable to 64K, 16K ROM with BASIC, three sound channels, a 40-column by 15-line screen, and a 6809 CPU (as in the Radio Shack Color Computer). A Stringy Floppy drive will be optional. The BASIC has special sound commands such as NOTE, AMPLITUDE, ENVELOPE, and NOISE. A light pen introduced for the game machine also will work with the computer.
Another accessory may also work with this new computer: the new 3-D Imager. Designed for the Vectrex game machine, the 3-D Imager is a pair of heavy glasses that you wear while peering into the vector screen. One lens is blue, the other red, just like the 3-D movie glasses of the 1950s, except some kind of motorized disc spins in front of the lenses. When you look at the screen without the glasses, the vector lines appear to be vibrating. But when you look through the glasses, the lines are stable and the 3-D effect is incredible. Just imagine the games this computer could produce.
Video Technology Computers
Video Technology, which introduced the first under-$100 color computer at the Winter CES (the VZ-200), showed two new computers at this CES. Both are more advanced models:
•Laser 2001. Standard features are 80K RAM expandable to 144K (16K is consumed by the graphics chip); 16K ROM Microsoft BASIC; 6502A CPU; cartridge slot; rubber half-stroke, typewriter-style keyboard; user-definable keys; upper/ lowercase; full-screen editing; 16 colors; two Atari-style joystick ports; 36-column text mode; 256 × 192 hi-res graphics; four sound channels; 300-baud standard cassette interface; Centronics-standard parallel port; and a rear expansion slot. Video Tech says it will be available in the United States by January for $299.
•Laser 3000. Standard features are 64K RAM expandable to 192K onboard; 24K ROM with Applesoft-compatible BASIC; 6502A CPU; 81-key full-stroke keyboard with numeric keypad and eight special function keys; upper/lowercase; selectable 40- or 80-column screen; hi-res graphics modes of 560 × 192 and 280 × 192; eight colors; four sound channels with six octaves; outputs for TV, composite video monitors, and RGB (Red-Green-Blue) hi-res monitors; Centronics-standard parallel interface; cassette interface; and a rear expansion slot. Video Tech says the Laser 3000 will be available by January for $699.
Optional accessories will include disk drives, a CP/M cartridge, an RS-232C interface, a modem, joysticks, and an expansion box. Video Tech is a Hong Kong-based company which exports its products to subsidiaries throughout the world.
Royal Alphatronic PC
Royal, known for its typewriters and printers, will import a Japanese-made computer to the United States this fall.
Called the Alphatronic PC, it has a Z80A CPU; 64K RAM and 32K ROM with BASIC; interfaces for Centronics-parallel, RS-232C, cassette, and system expansion; a hidden cartridge slot; CP/M compatibility; selectable 40- or 80-column screen; eight colors; an 85-key, full-stroke keyboard with numeric keypad and six special function keys; outputs for TV, composite video, and RGB monitors; and TRS-80-style line editing.
One unusual feature is a high-pitched beeper which emits a constant tone whenever you hit more than one key at a time – inevitable during fast touch-typing. The tone does not stop until you press a key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard, or else turn off the computer.
Accessories will include 320K slim-line disk drives. Royal says the Alphatronic PC will sell for $695.
Tomy, a large toy manufacturer, introduced the "Tomy Tutor," a 16-bit home computer that can generate attractive game graphics.
The only other 16-bit home computer is the TI-99/4A. The Tutor has 16K RAM expandable to 64K; 32K ROM with extended BASIC; a rubber, half-stroke, typewriter-style keyboard; 16 colors; upper/lowercase; 256 × 192 hi-res graphics; 32-column screen; three sound generators with eight octaves each, plus a noise generator; cassette interface; TV and monitor outputs; and a cartridge slot for plug-in software. Accessories include a recorder, joysticks and controllers, a voice synthesizer, disk drive, and printer.
Tomy says the Tutor should be available this fall for under $150.
At the Winter CES, Spectra Video introduced its impressive SV-318 and gave COMPUTE! a peek at a mock-up of their forthcoming SV-328 computer. Working models of the SV-328 finally appeared at the Summer CES.
The SV-328 should satisfy those who prefer a full-stroke, professional keyboard to the half-stroke, rubber keyboard on the SV-318. It also replaces the cursor joystick with a numeric keypad, has built-in CP/M capability, 80K of RAM expandable to 256K, and an unusually large amount of ROM, 48K expandable to 96K. Why so much ROM? Besides a super-extended Microsoft BASIC, it contains a word processor and a terminal program.
The SV-328 shares all the other SV-318 features, such as 16 colors, 32 sprites, Z80A CPU, topside cartridge slot, and three-channel, eight-octave sound. Spectra Video says the SV-328 should be available within a few months for $595.