Spectravideo was launched in 1981 as SpectraVision and originally produced games for the VIC-20 and Atari 2600. A couple of years later, it entered the microcomputer market under the Spectravideo brand and produced several lines of well-regarded home computers in the early 1980s including the SV-328.
The SV-328 was a more robust version of the SV-318, which was introduced at about the same time. It had a real keyboard rather than the SV-318’s chiclet style one. It was a Z80-CP/M system with a typical configuration. The SV-328 was one of the more affordable CP/M systems with a base price of just under $600
The company ran into financial difficulty in 1984, a year after the SV-328 was launched, and was forced to sell a controlling interest to Bondwell Holding Ltd. of Hong Kong. The Spectravideo brand and products were discontinued, and a restructured company began selling Bondwell-branded PC-compatible laptop and desktop computers.
Introduced: 1983 Original Retail Price: $595 Base Configuration: Z80A CPU, ROM cartridge port, 64K RAM (256K max), 48K ROM (96K max), TV video interface, integral keyboard/keypad, Super Extended Microsoft BASIC, word processing and terminal software, three-voice sound Video: 24-line x 80-column text, 256 x 192 graphics Important Options: SV-601 Super Expander, SV-902 5.25-inch floppy disk drive, SV-903 cassette recorder, mouse, SV-901 printer, SV-700 modem
The Victor 9000 was an early competitor to the IBM PC, introduced about five months later. It wasn’t a true PC compatible, but it did have an 8088 CPU and came standard with MS-DOS (as well as CP/M).
The Victor 9000 was developed by Sirius Systems Technology and sold in the U.S. by Victor Business Systems, a company known for its calculators and cash register systems. Sirius sold the computer as the S1 in France and as the Sirius 1 elsewhere. Sirius bought Victor Business Systems in 1982 and changed its name to Victor Technologies.
Chuck Peddle, who created the MOS Technologies 6502 and designed the Commodore PET series, became Victor’s president. Sirius produced 1,150 Victor 9000/Sirius 1 systems in March 1982, and 3,000 the following month.
Introduced: January 1982 Original Retail Price: $5,000 Base Configuration: 5MHz 8088 CPU, MS-DOS and CP/M-86, four expansion slots, 128K RAM (896K max), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, 12-inch monochrome monitor, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232C and one parallel port, voice synthesizer Video: 40-line x 132-column text, 800 x 400 graphics Size/Weight: 7 x 15 x 13 inches, 28 lbs. Important Options: Z80 coprocessor, CP/M-80, 10MB hard disk drive
Portable computer designers made sacrifices as they continued to shrink the size of the systems through the 1980s. Internal expansion options were one of the first to be cut in the name of achieving a smaller form factor. For some systems, the only way to add a modem, for example, was to plug one into an external port.
External modems were almost as big as the portable computer in many cases, making them poor choices for traveling professionals. To solve that problem, some vendors shrank the modem as well.
The Touchbase Worldport modems were small and light enough to be easily carried in a briefcase or coat pocket. They had a DB25 connector for the computer and an RJ-11 jack for the phone. The Worldports (initially branded Worldlink) were compatible with the Bell 103/212A and CCITT V.21/V.22 telecommunications standards, which allowed them to be used worldwide. The Worldport 1200 was introduced in 1986, and the Worldport 2400 followed in 1987.
This type of battery-powered portable modem soon gave way to even smaller units based on the PCMCIA card standard.
Multiplayer game networks were just starting to pick up momentum in the 1990s. The World Wide Web had yet to emerge as a platform for interactive gameplay, so the only option was to subscribe to a proprietary game network service.
Catapult Entertainment seemed poised to be a leader in that category. Its management was like a supergroup of executives from Sony, General Magic, and game publisher T-HQ. It had several big-name financial backers including Blockbuster Entertainment.
Owners of the Sega Genesis or Nintendo SNES game consoles could subscribe to Catapult for $5 to $10 a month. They received an XBand modem, shown in the photo, that provided network access through the console. The modem was produced by General Instruments.
The Catapult service had some features common on today’s web-based multiplayer games: game play advice, player rankings, the ability to message other players, and a list of players waiting to play. Every player had to own a copy of the game before they could play.
A limited number of games that supported the service, glitchy game play, and relatively few subscribers (believed to be no more than 15,000) were among the factors that doomed the service several years after its launch on June 7, 1994.
Dot-matrix print technology dominated the market for inexpensive printers for microcomputers in the late 1970s and into the 1990s. The Epson MX-80 was arguably the most significant of them. It certainly established Epson as an industry leader in printers when it was introduced in 1980.
Like other printers of its type, the MX-80’s printhead used a set of pins that would be triggered to impact an inked ribbon that would then produce a dot on a sheet of paper. The dots could be arranged to form of a character–the MX-80 produced characters in a 9 x 9 dot grid–or graphics. Epson was able to refine the technology for greater precision using research it gained as a watch and miniprinter manufacturer.
What set the MX-80 apart was that it was cheap and bulletproof. We had several in the offices of 80 Micro, and they just kept going under heavy workloads for years. It also took up less desk space than many of its competitors–a significant advantage at the time.
According to Epson, the MX-80 owned 60% of the market for personal computer printers in Japan at one point.
Introduced: October, 1980 Base Configuration: 9 x 9 dot matrix printhead, JIS 128 or ASCII 96 character set Print speed: 80 characters/second Line length: 40, 66, 80, or 132 columns Size/Weight: 14.75w x 12d 4.25h inches, 12 lbs 2 oz.
Long before the cloud or web, you had to buy software on physical media–most likely a cassette tape or floppy disk. Those purchases primarily were made through mail order, but in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a few retail outlets began to appear.
The Software Galleria in Sunnyvale, California, was one of them. As the photo shows, software packaging was designed for point of sale. The shelves were uncluttered so that each package was clearly displayed. Computers were set up, presumably so customers could try out the software before they bought it. I recognize an Apple II in one of the photos, but can’t identify the other systems.
The TRS-80 Color Computer, or CoCo, is sometimes left out of the discussion of great 8-bit home computers despite its popularity. Tandy sold millions of them through its network of Radio Shack stores, but a strong retail channel was not the only reason for its success.
The CoCo was a strong performing, inexpensive computer with a solid base of software. Its powerful 6809 processor and support chips enabled color video before many competitors. With the later option of the OS-9 operating system and expanded memory, the CoCo was also a viable development or business system.
The photo here shows a first-generation CoCo, apparently in a law office. Though most CoCos were sold as family computers or to hobbyists, some small businesses did use them and there was enough of a software base to support business use.
Introduced: July 1980 Original Retail Price: $399 Base Configuration: 0.894MHz 6809E CPU; ROM cartridge slot; 4K RAM (16K max); 8K ROM; TV switch box, integral Chiclet-style keyboard; RS-232C, cassette, and two game ports; TRS-80 Color BASIC; operation and Color BASIC manuals; reference card Video: 16-line x 32-column text, 64 x 32 graphics Important Options: Multi-Pak Interface, external floppy disk drive, CTR-80A cassette recorder, enhanced graphics, joysticks, Quick Printer II, modem, Extended Color BASIC ROM
In honor of Sir Clive Sinclair, who passed away September 16, today’s post features his Microvision 2700 flat-screen TV.
Sir Clive was best known for his inexpensive Sinclair brand computers: the ZX80 and ZX81, Spectrum line, and QL. He was a prolific inventor whose achievements include the Cambridge Scientific Calculator and the C5 single-seater electric vehicle.
The Microvision is fondly remembered by its owners. Announced in 1981 by Sinclair Research, the 2700 was one of the later models. The first model was introduced in 1966 by Sir Clive’s first company but never actually sold. The next iteration, called the TV1A, appeared in 1976 and sold in the US for $400. An improved model, the TV1B, was introduced in 1978, but Sinclair Radionics folded the following year.
The Microvision 2700 was a different design than the earlier Sinclair TVs. It was smaller (6 by 4 by 1 inches), lighter, used a flat-screen rather than CRT display, and had a built-in FM radio. It was designed on behalf of Timex, which would sell the TV for £50.
Removeable storage technology in the early 1980 was diverse with many competing standards. Not surprisingly, some were short-lived as they failed to interest enough system manufacturers and software firms.
Amdek’s Micro-Floppydisk was a good example. The company was a leading peripherals vendor with a wide product line. The market was starting to move away from the then-standard 5.25-inch floppy disks, and Amdek saw an opportunity to establish itself with a smaller format storage device.
The first generation of Amdek’s 3-inch drives launched in 1982 and was called the AmDisk-3. It was marketed primarily to Apple II users. It was based on the Hitachi/Matsushita/Maxell design. The Micro-Floppydisk dual-cartridge drive was introduced in 1984 and was available for a wider range of systems.
Sony’s 3.5-inch floppy format eventually won the day in the removeable storage wars.
Introduced: 1984 Original Retail Price: $899 Base Configuration: 2 3-inch floppy disk drives with a combined 1MB capacity, plug-compatible with 5.25-inch floppy drives
The Execuport was a hybrid CP/M, MS-DOS system. You could start with the base Z80 model running CP/M and later upgrade to an 8086 or 80186 processor for MS-DOS compatibility. Many if not most of the CP/M system manufacturers took a similar approach at the time as a hedge against the growing dominance of MS-DOS.
The base Z80 model was called the Execuport XL, and the 8086/80186 model was the Execuport XL+. The XL+ could also run CP/M as well as several multi-user operating systems. Both models shared the same physical configuration with a built-in monitor in a reddish brown case. One unusual feature was the 132-character-wide screen. Most systems of the era offered 80-column screens.
Computer Transceiver Systems had earlier produced Execuport-branded portable terminals. The company launched in the late 1960s as a manufacturer of computer peripherals.
Introduced: 1983 Original Retail Price: $2,495 to $3,195 Base Configuration: 4MHz Z80A CPU, CP/M 2.2, 80K RAM (512K max), two 5.25-inch floppy disk drives, monitor port, integral monochrome CRT, keyboard/keypad, two RS-232 and one parallel port Video: 25-line x 132-column text, 960 x 288 graphics Size/Weight: 18.12 x 15.62 x 6.5 inches, 28 lbs. Important Options: 8MHz 8086 or 6MHz 80186 coprocessor, MS-DOS 2.11, 10MB hard disk drive, modem, portable printer