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Tupin
October 31st, 2009, 10:50 PM
I've seen the large amount of Europe-only computers and games, and I figure I should get around to adding one to my collection one of these days.

I have a few questions, some vague and some specific, and others just opinions.

1. Most British computers used the cassette tape as their standard method of recording data. If I were to download a game off of the Internet and onto a tape, would it work?

2. About plugs and currents, is there a voltage range of these old computers? I.E, can it be plugged into an American outlet using only a plug converter without any sort of stepdown?

3. NTSC-PAL differences, will there be a major problem or will the games just run really fast due to Hz differences?

4. What should I expect to pay for a ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC 464/BBC Micro/Acorn Electron?

5. Which of those are best for a person wanting to start a British gaming collection?

Sorry about the questions, I just want to know what I'm going to get myself into.

FishFinger
November 1st, 2009, 02:43 AM
1. Shouldn't be a problem. You might not even need to put them on tape. The software you find on the internet is often in a custom archive format designed for use with emulators, and there is often player software that will let you plug you PCs sound output straight into the old computer's tape input.

2. Depends on the computer and power supply. Some may accept a wide voltage range such as 100-240V and 50-60hz, but most 80s stuff tends to have fairly basic power supplies that will most likely only work with 220-240V 50Hz, so you'd need a proper power converter for them.

3. If your TV only supports 60Hz then you won't get a proper picture from a computer putting out 50Hz. Some computers can be modified to produce 60Hz instead, but this may lead to compatibility problems with software that uses the framerate for timing. Many modern TVs can accept both 50Hz and 60Hz anyway, although you might only get a b&w picture if the TV doesn't also support PAL colour encoding.

4. Depends if you're buying locally or importing. In the UK Spectrums are dirt cheap. The iconic models such as the original rubber keyed 48K, the Spectrum+ and 128K are a little more expensive than latter models like the +2/+2A, but there are always tons on ebay. 10-30 unboxed at a guess. The CPC is roughly similar. The BBC tends to be a little more expensive, but not much. Boxed examples are a little more.

5. My first computer was a Spectrum, so I'm probably a little biased, but that's a very good starting point IMO. There are probably more Spectrum games than the others put together.

Zeela
November 1st, 2009, 02:44 AM
Finally a topic that I know something about :)

EDIT: FishFinger was quicker than me... But I see that we agree! :)


I've seen the large amount of Europe-only computers and games, and I figure I should get around to adding one to my collection one of these days.

I have a few questions, some vague and some specific, and others just opinions.Of course you should have some European computers in your collection! But I do miss the Swedish ABC-80 in your list below ;) It's a computer with similar specs to the TRS-80. (Did I mention that it was my first computer)


1. Most British computers used the cassette tape as their standard method of recording data. If I were to download a game off of the Internet and onto a tape, would it work?Yes it would work. But often you wouldn't have to go all the way to tape. You could play a .wav (or maybe .mp3) of the game with media player on your modern computer or Ipod or such. Likewise for saving programs you've written, then just record with your soundcard.


2. About plugs and currents, is there a voltage range of these old computers? I.E, can it be plugged into an American outlet using only a plug converter without any sort of stepdown?All European electronic devices run on 220-240V so you can't run them on the 120V you have over there... You need a stepup device. Some computers used the Hertz of the current to keep it's internal clock in sync so that would be a small problem for you. I know that the C64 did this, making the clock run a little fast on a 220V/50Hz-machine in 110V/60Hz-land.


3. NTSC-PAL differences, will there be a major problem or will the games just run really fast due to Hz differences?Not with computers (video game consoles however might have some trouble). The only thing noticeable would be a slight speed increase if you notice anything at all. There probably are some demos made for various computers that really need a PAL machine to work correctly, but they aren't all that many I'd think.


4. What should I expect to pay for a ZX Spectrum/Amstrad CPC 464/BBC Micro/Acorn Electron?Looking at ebay.co.uk gives you this:
ZX Spectrum 20-50 depending on condition and boxed or not
Amstrad CPC 20-50 depending on whether the monitor is included (you need it to run the computer)
BBC Micro 20-200 depending on model, included accessories (disk drives etc)
Acorn Electron 10-50 depending on loose or boxed and condition

Beware of shipping from the British islands though it's very expensive to send any thing heavier than 2 KG from there. You might find all of the above computers at ebay.de, but then you need some knowledge in German and they usually don't take Paypal. As a side note, the Amstrad CPC was sold as the Scheider CPC in germany...


5. Which of those are best for a person wanting to start a British gaming collection?I'd say the ZX Spectrum. It's a small computer (doesn't weigh much) and it has a gazillion games made for it on tape. The Electron would be my second choice. The Amstrad wouldn't be all that interesting as it needs a monitor to supply power to the computer so shipping would be really expensive. But it's a nice computer with some competent games made for it. The BBC Micro is another nice machine, that is really interesting, but it's heavy and if there's some nice accessories budled then the price usually gets high.


Sorry about the questions, I just want to know what I'm going to get myself into.If you don't ask you don't learn things :)

Tupin
November 1st, 2009, 02:17 PM
So, I need a step up converter, not a step down one?

Such as this one:
http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2104179

carlsson
November 1st, 2009, 02:22 PM
I can add that BBC Micro's have (temporarily?) increased in value after BBC Four aired the 90 minute comedy documentary Micro Men, which was about the competition between Sinclair and Acorn for the contract to sell BBC a school computer. It seems to have stirred an increased interest in Beebs, but perhaps not in Speccys.

Another unusual machine you may consider is an Oric-1 or Atmos, which however is less common to find. And well, you have the Welsh Dragon 32, but that is pretty much the same as a TRS-80 CoCo. Besides I think it was sold in the USA as Tano Dragon so you may be able to find those locally.

If you look beyond the UK, you have a few more European computers but most of those are only known within the country and may have limited support, e.g. the French Thomson MO and TO series.

What Zeela mentions about internal clock only works for those machines which require AC input, e.g. 9V AC. The ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC and BBC Micro essentially use DC power of different voltages, so I can't believe that would ever be an issue. Although I think the Acorn Electron takes low voltage AC input, I doubt it has any particular use of the frequency.

And yes, you need to step up ~110-115V to ~220-230V. Us in Europe use step-down converters to go in the other direction. You can find cheap step-ups and step-downs on eBay. I can't say if the one on Radio Shack is a good price, but 150W capacity is quite a lot. Of course if you're going to connect some PAL monitor and perhaps other device it doesn't hurt if the step-up is beefy.

tezza
November 1st, 2009, 03:59 PM
Even though I'm not British, I would agree that the ZX Spectrum, and BBC are classic British early '80s micros. Those two especially but also the others that have been mentioned.

The Sinclair QL and of course the original ZX-80/81 were also British. The ZX81 was also very popular but that could be bought in North America as the Timex 1000.

In the early 80s in New Zealand we saw machines from all kinds of English speaking countries coming in such as those from Britain, U.S.A and even Australia (microbee anyone?). However, we also saw models from Japan (Sord for example) and other Asian countries (e.g. EACA machines).

While we had a good spread, the downside was that everything was highly expensive once it reached the customer. Even in bulk, shipping still costs. Distance also increased the number of middle men with their corresponding mark-up.

Tez

carlsson
November 2nd, 2009, 01:07 AM
Of course all these systems are emulated and you tend to have good libaries of available software. Although some people may have mixed feelings for emulation, I believe it is a good way to get acquainted with a system, find out if it is something for you. Those who simply collect computers to put them on the shelf have no need to try an emulator, but for possible enthusiasts it could make a difference or at least help defining a priority list.

Tupin
November 2nd, 2009, 02:17 PM
I'm definitely going to emulate these systems before I get one, the Electron I found an emulator for, as well as the ZX Spectrum. Any other system would cost way too much to import.

Oh, and I guess I'll need a joystick interface for either, right? Can someone post the pictures of the ports on these systems?

FishFinger
November 2nd, 2009, 02:51 PM
Spectrum joysticks are generally one of two types:

1) Standard atari-style 9-pin joysticks (referred to as "Kempston" joysticks in Spectrum circles). These are the most common, and virtually all after-market joystick interfaces will be this type.

2) So-called "interface 2" joysticks, which use the same 9-pin D-sub connector, but with a non-standard pinout. You can make an adaptor cable easily though. These are only really used by the Sinclair Interface 2 joystick interface, and the built-in ports on the +2/+2A/+3 models.

There are a few other types, but I wouldn't worry about them.

Tupin
November 2nd, 2009, 03:08 PM
So, a Kempston adapter and a standard Atari joystick will be good enough?

JohnElliott
November 2nd, 2009, 03:26 PM
Spectrum joysticks are generally one of two types:

1) Standard atari-style 9-pin joysticks (referred to as "Kempston" joysticks in Spectrum circles). These are the most common, and virtually all after-market joystick interfaces will be this type.

2) So-called "interface 2" joysticks, which use the same 9-pin D-sub connector, but with a non-standard pinout. You can make an adaptor cable easily though. These are only really used by the Sinclair Interface 2 joystick interface, and the built-in ports on the +2/+2A/+3 models.

There are a few other types, but I wouldn't worry about them.

Actually, the Interface 2 had a standard Atari pinout. The funny pinout is only on the Amstrad-made +2, +2A and +3. It was their cunning plan to force everyone to buy their own-brand joysticks.

Tupin
November 2nd, 2009, 06:26 PM
Does anyone have a picture of the ports on a Sinclair-made Spectrum? What is the cassette cable set up like?

Oh, and which would be the better model between the original 48k rubber-keyed Spectrum and the ZX Spectrum 128k? I might have to go with the former just because it would be so small to ship...

carlsson
November 2nd, 2009, 11:31 PM
The ZX Spectrum 16/48K has a total of five connectors: 9V DC power, RF output, two 3.5 mm jacks for EAR/MIC (cassette) and one expansion bus which is where you connect the joystick interface, printer interface, IDE interface, network interface or whatever you like.

If you don't mind a bit of modding, you can internally convert the ZX Spectrum from RF to a reasonably good composite video signal, reusing the same RCA connector. If you do it properly, you can even restore RF at a later point. I write "reasonably good" because the signal may not be of ideal strength but most TV's can display it anyway. Usually TV sets are more likely to properly display a composite video signal from a foreign region than a RF antenna signal.

The Spectrum 128 has a slightly better keyboard and more memory, but in terms of size I would just as well step up to a +2 model which has an even better keyboard. Of course the small rubber keyboard is what made the Speccy iconic so if you want one to show to your pals, it is the model you should aim for.

By the way, the Acorn Electron and BBC Micro have a 7-pin DIN connector for tape. Only a few of the pins are significant though. The Oric-1 happens to be compatible with this tape cable. This cable however is NOT the same one as you would find on a TRS-80, IBM PC (?) and a few others.

While joystick interfaces for the ZX Spectrum are fairly common and can usually be picked up cheap, an Atari-style interface for the Acorns is harder to obtain. There is a "First Byte" one for the Electron which shows up now and then, but I believe you need to load a patch program before loading one of the SUPPORTED games. It comes with instructions how to adapt other games to work with it though. The BBC has its own analogue joystick port which some games utilize. There are diagrams how to build an Atari joystick adapter but I haven't tried this yet. Rarely a commercially built adapter shows up on eBay but I've noticed they end up at remarkable prices.

Tupin
November 3rd, 2009, 04:46 PM
Looks like I'll be going for a 48k Spectrum, then. Both for the iconicness and for its games. It can handle games from the late 1980's that are bigger, right?

It's audio quality compared to the other computers was less than average, correct? Didn't it have a speaker built into it? And that keyboard, did people like word process with it, or was it only good for games?

carlsson
November 3rd, 2009, 11:23 PM
I'm afraid a 48K machine can only load programs written for the 48K machine. I don't know the ZX Spectrum good enough to tell how many games and utilities were 128K only. I believe the listings at World of Spectrum (http://www.worldofspectrum.org/archive.html) will tell you. A quick search reveals 441 out of 10584 commercial titles (4%) were exclusive for the 128K machine.

Quite a few of the smallest computers have built in speakers. I never figured out why, in particular those with a dedicated sound chip should just as well have managed to route it through the RF. Perhaps due to different PAL substandards and audio carriers they preferred not to, so one could import a machine from the UK to mainland Europe and use it with TV volume off.

Regarding the keyboard, I would not want to use it too long but those who grew up with it generally have fond memories. Again there were quite a few machines with rubber keyboards and out of those Sinclair may have had one of the better ones. It is similar to full sized keyboards, you have good and bad ones among those too.

geoffm3
November 5th, 2009, 09:09 AM
Hope you like playing in B&W (without modification that is)... PAL machines won't show color on NTSC sets... and that includes composite video outputs. If the machine has a SCART output, or if it's available on the video chip outputs you could wire up to either take the color difference signals and adapt to RGB (or straight to a newer TV with component video I think), or the analog RGB outs to a monitor like a Commodore 1084. Then you should be able to display color.

FishFinger
November 5th, 2009, 10:12 AM
The vast majority of Spectrum software will work on the 48K. The extra memory in the 128K was generally just used to load a game all in one go, instead of loading levels separately as some games did on the 48K, and to hold the music for the 128Ks sound chip.

I think the 48K only has RF output, and possibly composite (or can be modded to produce composite). Only the 128Ks had an RGB video socket.

Tupin
November 5th, 2009, 04:40 PM
Hope you like playing in B&W (without modification that is)... PAL machines won't show color on NTSC sets... and that includes composite video outputs. If the machine has a SCART output, or if it's available on the video chip outputs you could wire up to either take the color difference signals and adapt to RGB (or straight to a newer TV with component video I think), or the analog RGB outs to a monitor like a Commodore 1084. Then you should be able to display color.
What about a computer monitor? Or, there are converters that allow color to be shown.

I have no TV that can to 50Hz, just monitors. I get a VGA to composite cable, I plug that into the output of a PAL converter, and plug the Spectrum into that. That would be setup, unless my monitor has a PAL mode.

geoffm3
November 5th, 2009, 04:56 PM
What about a computer monitor? Or, there are converters that allow color to be shown.

I have no TV that can to 50Hz, just monitors. I get a VGA to composite cable, I plug that into the output of a PAL converter, and plug the Spectrum into that. That would be setup, unless my monitor has a PAL mode.

That is something I hadn't considered. Yeah, if you got a PAL->VGA converter that would be an option.

Tupin
November 5th, 2009, 06:07 PM
What I was actually considering doing was just getting a VGA to composite cable, modding the Spectrum for composite video, and plugging it directly into the monitor using the adapter cable. It can run in 50Hz and I'm pretty sure it can auto-detect PAL and will switch to PAL mode and give me color.

geoffm3
November 5th, 2009, 08:24 PM
What I was actually considering doing was just getting a VGA to composite cable, modding the Spectrum for composite video, and plugging it directly into the monitor using the adapter cable. It can run in 50Hz and I'm pretty sure it can auto-detect PAL and will switch to PAL mode and give me color.

There are no direct composite video to VGA cables. There has to be some signal processing since the signal is completely different. Composite has the color signals mixed together with the luminance and sync (hence the name). Also, Composite NTSC uses 15kHz horizontal sync, which is half the lowest acceptable sync rate for most VGA monitors.

I have seen converter boxes that have TV tuners built-in that will allow you to watch TV or a composite signal on a VGA monitor before. The quality of the one I saw was not very good, but it was also only around $100. Some of those may have a PAL compatibility mode.

Tupin
November 5th, 2009, 08:51 PM
Well, then I guess I'm getting a PAL converter to go with my cable. Unless I can find a compatible TV.

carlsson
November 6th, 2009, 01:50 AM
Over here, most quality brand TV sets made in the last 5 years or so can display NTSC composite video in colour. I've heard the opposite it is far less common, but it may be feasible to find a working TV. Sometimes you can even find a 10 year old TV with this ability, but it would seem to be a matter of brand.

geoffm3
November 6th, 2009, 06:50 AM
Over here, most quality brand TV sets made in the last 5 years or so can display NTSC composite video in colour. I've heard the opposite it is far less common, but it may be feasible to find a working TV. Sometimes you can even find a 10 year old TV with this ability, but it would seem to be a matter of brand.

I've never seen one sold over here that has a PAL compatibility mode, although I have seen VHS VCRs sold at the end which had PAL media compatibility.

OP, if you can't find a reasonably priced converter, I would suggest looking into a video capture/TV tuner card. Most of those I've seen do support PAL.

EDIT: can->can't ;)

carlsson
November 6th, 2009, 08:17 AM
Perhaps you have no quality brands in the USA? :-P *hides* Usually the ability to receive an NTSC video signal is not advertised even in the manual, it is something you will have to discover yourself.

Tupin
November 6th, 2009, 11:10 AM
Most modern TVs (made in the last 2-3 years or so) have both of these features, while older ones don't. It also depends on the brand. Some "store-brand" TVs that you would buy at a store like Best Buy, such as Insignia, have 60Hz only and 120v only. That TV is from 2007, and I have another one by Magnavox that has both, 50/60Hz and 100-240v. The Magnavox is actually broken, but it's a bad capacitor on the power supply, which I can replace easily.

Having 50Hz compatibility AND an operating toleration of up to 240v, wouldn't that mean it could technically work in PAL mode?

FishFinger
November 6th, 2009, 11:23 AM
50Hz and PAL generally go together, but they're not necessarily the same thing. PAL is the method of encoding the colour information onto the signal, and is independent of the refresh frequency. So the TV handling 50Hz doesn't automatically mean it can do PAL too.

Most TVs made within the last 10 years or so can probably support both 50 and 60Hz, but it's pretty hit and miss whether they can do both NTSC and PAL. The only TV I have that will actually show NTSC in colour is a cheap portable. The other (newer and better) TVs I have will all handle 60Hz, but won't do NTSC colour, so they only show it in black and white.

geoffm3
November 6th, 2009, 11:43 AM
Most modern TVs (made in the last 2-3 years or so) have both of these features, while older ones don't. It also depends on the brand. Some "store-brand" TVs that you would buy at a store like Best Buy, such as Insignia, have 60Hz only and 120v only. That TV is from 2007, and I have another one by Magnavox that has both, 50/60Hz and 100-240v. The Magnavox is actually broken, but it's a bad capacitor on the power supply, which I can replace easily.

Having 50Hz compatibility AND an operating toleration of up to 240v, wouldn't that mean it could technically work in PAL mode?

The TV power supply may work on those input voltages and frequencies, but that has little to do with decoding the color information in a PAL signal. The TV will operate but will only decode NTSC, unless it also has a PAL compatibility mode.

Maybe things have changed since I worked at a store selling TVs, but I doubt it. We bought an LG 47" TV (a "quality" brand ;)) in 2006 and it doesn't have a PAL mode.

Tupin
November 6th, 2009, 02:23 PM
I guess I'll have to get a switcher, unless by some miracle the TV I'm looking to use has the ever-so-elusive hidden PAL mode.

Tupin
November 16th, 2009, 06:30 PM
Does anyone know where I can buy a ZX Spectrum for a reasonable price? For being Britain's best selling home computer ever, it sure is hard to find it, even on ebay.co.uk.

I could actually just buy one without a power supply, and get a variable power supply in America. That is ideally all I would need. But I might need to get an NTSC to PAL converter.

carlsson
November 16th, 2009, 11:35 PM
I suggest you keep looking. For example there are at least two auctions ending within about 7 hours while listed as UK only, says in the description the seller would post elsewhere.

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQitemZ220510464867QQ
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQitemZ260505675484QQ

Here are some instructions how you can modify one to output composite video, which may be somewhat easier to import to a NTSC TV than what the RF signal would be:

http://womblesretrorepairshack.blogspot.com/2008/11/zx-spectrum-composite-video-mod.html

Tupin
November 17th, 2009, 01:32 PM
A lot of those are untested, I better make sure I can return it before I bid...

geoffm3
November 17th, 2009, 01:34 PM
I suggest you keep looking. For example there are at least two auctions ending within about 7 hours while listed as UK only, says in the description the seller would post elsewhere.

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQitemZ220510464867QQ
http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/_W0QQitemZ260505675484QQ

Here are some instructions how you can modify one to output composite video, which may be somewhat easier to import to a NTSC TV than what the RF signal would be:

http://womblesretrorepairshack.blogspot.com/2008/11/zx-spectrum-composite-video-mod.html

Even with a composite signal though, you'll still have the problem of no color. I agree it might be easier to display something than with the standard RF. I think your channels/frequencies typically used on RF modulators are in our UHF range.

carlsson
November 17th, 2009, 01:51 PM
Guaranteed working computers however run a bit higher in price, but as you will spend a small fortune on shipping even for a such light computer as a Spectrum, I see if you're willing to spend that little extra.

However you're probably right about the 0.99 machine as the seller wrote: "I tried to power it up with a standard 9v adapter but it didnt work" which to me sounds like he killed at least the voltage regulator, perhaps even more inside the computer if his "standard" 9V adapter uses positive polarity. The 16/48K Spectrum has negative polarity... I made that mistake once.. err.. twice. :oops:

Tupin
November 17th, 2009, 03:14 PM
Yeah, postage costs a lot from there. That and there doesn't seem to be as many systems as there are games. I'm trying to get one without the power supply, the ZX Spectrum 48k itself only weighs 550g.

IBMMuseum
November 17th, 2009, 03:36 PM
Another British computer line would be that (at least originally) from Apricot. I have two Qi's (microchannel bus) based on a 386SX. Maybe a little newer (there are older "vintage" systems from Apricot too) than what is being referenced on the thread right now, but a British computer manufacturer nonetheless.

Tupin
November 17th, 2009, 03:49 PM
Oh, and if anyone here has a ZX Spectrum and wants to sell it to me, PM me.

Tupin
November 18th, 2009, 08:40 PM
Well, I got my display problem settled. I'm using a device called a Gamebridge that can run PAL at 50Hz. I'm going to hook it up the ZX Spectrum to the Gamebridge, then up to my computer. Only problem with that is that if I were to plug up a the cassette cables into the audio inputs, I would get no sound out of my speakers. Guess I'll have to dub the sound using a cassette player before hand.

Speaking of which, do I just type LOAD and the the program name in quotes?

JohnElliott
November 19th, 2009, 01:30 AM
LOAD "" will load the first program on the tape.

Tupin
November 21st, 2009, 12:54 PM
I just realized, I have PAL NES games that run at 50Hz and in PAL mode that work fine on my TV. So it should be Spectrum compatible, right?

carlsson
November 22nd, 2009, 04:08 AM
Err.. not unless you own a PAL NES console. If you have a NTSC console that has been hacked to play PAL-A or PAL-B region games, the console will still output a NTSC video signal and probably play the games a bit faster than intended.

One needs to keep apart two things: software written for a particular video mode and hardware generating a video signal for that particular video mode. Usually you need a perfect match, i.e. if you try to run PAL software on NTSC hardware you may lose colours, the screen doesn't sync properly, things flicker and so on depending on how advanced the software is.