VTech Laser 200

Last updated

VTech Laser 200 & Laser 210
Manufacturer Video Technology
Type Personal Computer
Release dateNovember 1983;35 years ago (1983-11) [1]
Introductory price US$ 99
GB£98
Discontinued1985;34 years ago (1985)
Units sold200,000 in Australia
Media Cassette tape, Disk drive
Operating system BASIC V2.0
CPU Zilog Z80A clocked at 3.58 MHz
Memory6-22KB RAM + 2 KB VRAM, 16 KB ROM
Display32×16 (8 colors), 128×64 graphics (2 background, 3 foreground colors)
Graphics Motorola 6847 video processor
Input45 key Keyboard
Power10 volt
Dimensions29 × 17 × 4cm
Mass800g
Predecessor VTech Laser 110
Successor VTech Laser 310

The VTech Laser 200 was an early 8-bit home computer from 1983, also sold as the Salora Fellow (mainly in Fennoscandia, particularly Finland), the Seltron 200 in Hungary and Italy, the Smart-Alec Jr. by Dynasty Computer Corporation in Dallas, Texas for the USA, the Texet TX8000A (in the United Kingdom), and the Dick Smith VZ 200 (in Australia and New Zealand) and the VTech VZ 200 (in the United States and Canada).

VTech is a Hong Kong-based global supplier of electronic learning products from infancy to preschool and the world's largest manufacturer of cordless phones. It is also one of the top 50 electronic manufacturing services providers globally.

In computer architecture, 8-bit integers, memory addresses, or other data units are those that are 8 bits wide. Also, 8-bit CPU and ALU architectures are those that are based on registers, address buses, or data buses of that size. 8-bit is also a generation of microcomputers in which 8-bit microprocessors were the norm.

Home computer class of microcomputers

Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977, that started with what Byte Magazine called the "trinity of 1977", and which became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were intended for the use of a single nontechnical user. These computers were a distinct market segment that typically cost much less than business, scientific or engineering-oriented computers of the time such as the IBM PC, and were generally less powerful in terms of memory and expandability. However, a home computer often had better graphics and sound than contemporary business computers. Their most common uses were playing video games, but they were also regularly used for word processing, doing homework, and programming.

Contents

Video Technology manufactured calculators and LCD pad game toys (similar to Nintendo Game & Watch) at a rather claustrophobic multi-storey factory in Hong Kong. The VZ200 is a development of an earlier monochrome TRS-80 copy, and is similar to the EACA Color Genie and the Mattel Aquarius.

TRS-80 TRS-80 (Model I)

The TRS-80 Micro Computer System is a desktop microcomputer launched in 1977 and sold by Tandy Corporation through their RadioShack stores. The name is an abbreviation of Tandy/RadioShack, Z80 microprocessor. It is one of the earliest mass-produced and mass-marketed retail home computers.

Mattel Aquarius Mattel Z80 home computer developed by Radofin

Aquarius is a home computer designed by Radofin and released by Mattel in 1983. It features a Zilog Z80 microprocessor, a rubber chiclet keyboard, 4K of RAM, and a subset of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. It connects to a television set for audio and visual output, and uses a cassette tape recorder for secondary data storage. A limited number of peripherals, such as a 40-column thermal printer, a 4-color printer/plotter, and a 300 baud modem, were released for the unit.

The VZ200 has three circuit boards, the video board and voltage regulator being separate to the main board.

The machine ran basic games on cassette such as "Hoppy" (a version of Frogger ), "Cosmic Rescue" ( Scramble ), "VZ Invaders" ( Space Invaders ), "Dawn Patrol" ( Chopper ) and Moon Patrol . The Laser 200/210 and VZ200 computers were discontinued in 1985 being replaced by the Laser 310 and VZ300 computers.

<i>Frogger</i> 1981 video game

Frogger is a 1981 arcade game developed by Gremlin Industries for Konami. The object of the game is to direct frogs to their homes one by one by crossing a busy road and navigating a river full of hazards.

<i>Scramble</i> (video game) 1981 arcade video game

Scramble is horizontally scrolling shooter released in arcades in 1981. It was developed by Konami, and manufactured and distributed by Leijac in Japan and Stern in North America. It was the first side-scrolling shooter with forced scrolling and multiple distinct levels.

<i>Space Invaders</i> 1978 fixed shooter video game

Space Invaders is a 1978 arcade game created by Tomohiro Nishikado. It was manufactured and sold by Taito in Japan, and licensed in the United States by the Midway division of Bally. Within the shooter genre, Space Invaders was the first fixed shooter and set the template for the shoot 'em up genre. The goal is to defeat wave after wave of descending aliens with a horizontally moving laser to earn as many points as possible.

Release

The VZ200 had little impact in the UK where it sold at a similar price to the 16 kB Sinclair Spectrum and in USA where a Timex TS1000 could be bought for $30. It gained a measurable following in other countries where it was supported by the distributor and where Sinclair Research was too disorganised to have any impact.

Sinclair Research Ltd is a British consumer electronics company founded by Clive Sinclair in Cambridge. It was originally incorporated in 1973 as Westminster Mail Order Ltd, renamed Sinclair Instrument Ltd, then Science of Cambridge Ltd, then Sinclair Computers Ltd, and finally Sinclair Research Ltd. It remained dormant until 1976, when it was activated with the intention of continuing Sinclair's commercial work from his earlier company Sinclair Radionics, and adopted the name Sinclair Research in 1981.

It gained some following in Australia and New Zealand, and in some countries in northern continental America and Europe. In Australia it was bought mostly to learn programming; the only other widely available systems being the Commodore 64, whose BASIC is crude and slow, and the much more expensive Amstrad CPC. The Vic-20 and the Commodore 16 more specifically competed with this simple microcomputer.

Commodore 64 8-bit home computer introduced in 1982

The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit home computer introduced in January 1982 by Commodore International. It has been listed in the Guinness World Records as the highest-selling single computer model of all time, with independent estimates placing the number sold between 10 and 17 million units. Volume production started in early 1982, marketing in August for US$595. Preceded by the Commodore VIC-20 and Commodore PET, the C64 took its name from its 64 kilobytes(65,536 bytes) of RAM. With support for multicolor sprites and a custom chip for waveform generation, the C64 could create superior visuals and audio compared to systems without such custom hardware.

Amstrad CPC series of home computers produced by Amstrad

The Amstrad CPC is a series of 8-bit home computers produced by Amstrad between 1984 and 1990. It was designed to compete in the mid-1980s home computer market dominated by the Commodore 64 and the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, where it successfully established itself primarily in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and the German-speaking parts of Europe.

Commodore 16 Home computer

The Commodore 16 is a home computer made by Commodore International with a 6502-compatible 7501 or 8501 CPU, released in 1984 and intended to be an entry-level computer to replace the VIC-20. A cost-reduced version, the Commodore 116, was sold only in Europe.

At its UK launch, Texet claimed that the £98 TX8000-branded version was the cheapest colour home microcomputer on the market. However, this was not enough to ensure its success against the dominant ZX Spectrum and similar machines already on sale. [2]

ZX Spectrum series of personal home computers

The ZX Spectrum is an 8-bit personal home computer released in the United Kingdom in 1982 by Sinclair Research.

The "Dick Smith"-badged VZ 200 was more successful in Australia, where it proved popular as a first computer. [3]

An improved version known as the VTech Laser 310, or the Dick Smith VZ 300 featured a full travel keyboard and 8K ROM software based Floppy Disk Controller, was released in 1985 and continued until 1989. [4]

Technical specification

Externally, the VZ200 resembles a cross between the Commodore Vic 20 (whose name it closely resembles) and the Sinclair Spectrum. The VZ200 features the one touch command keys of the Spectrum, but unlike the Sinclair machines, their use was not mandatory.

Internally, the VZ200 is a workalike of the Tandy TRS-80 Model I. The micro uses the same basic architecture, but TRS-80 programs cannot be loaded and only simple TRS-80 BASIC programs can be entered as it has a different memory map and some commands in BASIC are absent and can only be substituted by significant alterations in program algorithms, so it cannot be considered a true clone.

The connections consist of a port for an unregulated DC power supply (the voltage regulator is on the PCB), a stereophonic earphone jack for a cassette recorder, an RF modulated video ouput, an edge connector which is a printer and disk drive port, an edge connector that is a joystick port, and a composite monitor output (NTSC 60 Hz output in north America, PAL 50 Hz output in the British Commonwealth and continental Europe).

The VZ200 uses a copy of a Zilog Z80 processor (made under licence by NEC) running at 3.58 Mhz (3.54 Mhz on VZ300) and was initially sold with either 4 Kb (Europe) or 6 Kb (in USA), which was increased to 8 KB within weeks of its release. A 16kB expansion unit was available, increasing RAM to 24kB. The VZ300 was initially sold with 18kB of RAM. An 8 kB system consists of 6 kB of RAM, 16 kB of ROM, and 2 kB of video RAM. The memory could be expanded to 24 kB (22 kB memory plus 2 kB video memory). Like the TRS-80, both memory and i/o locations are mapped.

Memory Map :

VZ200 :

8K - BASIC ROM

8K - BASIC extensions and firmware

10k - cartridge (empty)

2k - keyb (empty)

2k - video

6k - ram

16k expansion ram

VZ300 :

16K - ROM, BASIC and firmware

10k - cartridge (empty)

2k - keyb (empty)

2k - video

16k - ram

16k expansion ram

10kB was reserved for ROM cartridges. No memory was provided for this on the circuit board. This memory could only be used exclusively so was not practically available for RAM.

Extended RAM was available above top RAM using the remote offset addressing method available on the Z80 (also known as bank switching). Banks of system memory can be reassigned using an offset above the top RAM. Those banks are then no longer available, so program algorithms cannot be used in extended memory (as the program would "disappear" when extended memory is accessed), so it can only be used for program data.

Video RAM can be increased to access the higher modes of the 6847 since there are video RAM chip select lines on the memory expansion. Remote offset addressing must be used because the video processor cannot address system or internal expansion RAM, externally connected RAM must be used.

BASIC

Like all the early micros (except the Jupiter Ace), the VZ has a BASIC interpreter in ROM, which is used not just for programming, but for accessing the kernal, recording programs, and in fact all the operations on the micro.

The VZ200 uses a version of Microsoft Basic II, similar but not identical to Level II Basic on the TRS-80, including useful commands like SET, PRINT@ and IF-THEN-ELSE. Firmware machine code routines are available using the RSX command. The firmware contains a large number of useful routines provided by Zilog, via NEC.

Some TRS-80 BASIC commands, such as RANDOMIZE, ON and the really useful DEF commands (only subroutines can be used for formulae), are not available, so only simple TRS-80 programs can be entered without alteration.

The Basic can use integers, decimals and floating point numbers. Double precision numbers are not available, but can be used by storing the different power position numbers in a string and concatenating the strings.

Video

The VZ200 uses the Motorola 6847 video processor, which has a resolution of 256 x 192 pixels made from either 8 x 8 pixel character blocks in a 32 x 24 block screen, or a monochrome bitmapped mode.

As the VZ200 is limited to only 2 kB of video memory since only 4 kB of memory in total was initially available, the screen is limited to only 16 lines down, making the total number of pixels in text mode 256 x 128 pixels. The bitmapped mode is unavailable.

The VZ200 has nine colours, an eight colour palette plus black.

The VZ200 has 256 predefined character blocks. Text is only available in upper case. The character blocks cannot be redefined.

The screen can use green mode or black mode, the latter using inverse colours.

MODE 0

In mode 0, the background colour can be either dark green or orange.

Text

In mode 0, text uses a black foreground with either background colour. The first 128 character blocks are 64 alpha-numeric characters and their inverses. Text mode 0 is the only mode in which black is available.

Block graphics

The latter 128 character blocks consist of a 2x2 pixel block in each possible combination (8), in every of the 8 colour palette for foreground, together with either background colour chosen. Black is not available.

MODE 1

For mode 1, two colour sets are used with each background colour :

SET 1 -> background : light green - foreground : light green, yellow, blue or red.

SET 2 -> background : buff [white] - foreground : buff, cyan, magenta or orange.

Text

Text is identical to Mode 0, using either colour set for foreground with each background colour. The difference is that all 2kB of video memory is used, whereas only 512 bytes of video memory is used for Mode 0, and the text cannot be black, which is unavailable in this mode.

Graphics

The graphics mode has 128x64 addressable points. For each character block, the background colour can be either light green or buff (white), with the foreground any of the four colours in the set. The colours can be used in any combination on the screen, but only one colour set can be used per screen, so screens are limited to five colours at most. Black is not available in this mode.

VZ-300

The VZ300 had a small number of physical upgrades, but is completely compatible with the VZ200.

Externally,the rubbber keys were replaced with hard plastic capped keys. The case was made with a less brittle type of plastic.

Video Technology used higher capacity memory ICs for the VZ-300, having 18kb of memory (16kb CPU RAM + 2kb video RAM). The system RAM capacity was increased to 16kB, which together with 16kB of expansion RAM, makes a total of 34kB RAM for the system.

The VZ200 16kb RAM expansion could be used, but because of the way the chip select pins were arranged, only 8kB would actually be available. ETI magazine in Australia published an electronic cicruit which would enable VZ300 owners to use all 16kB of the VZ200 expansion.

The Dick Smith VZ-200 computer Disk smith vz200 front.jpg
The Dick Smith VZ-200 computer

Laser 100 / Laser 110

The Laser 100 and 110 were released just prior to the Laser 210 / VZ200. These computers were a near identical clone to that of the TRS-80 Model 1. Both computers were released with the same orange coloured keyboard 'chicklet' style keyboard on a black background.

The Video Technology Laser 110 computer. Laser110.jpg
The Video Technology Laser 110 computer.

Both computers also had the same BASIC in ROM, of which, there are at least three versions: 1.0, 1.1 and 1.2. The laser 100 was released with 2K RAM + 2K Video RAM, whilst the laser 110 was released with 4K RAM + 2K Video RAM. Both computers supported colour within the internal language interpreters (BASIC, Assembler), however, the output video from the NTSC and PAL circuitry only supplied black and white signals.

The Laser 100 and 110 computers were not ever released as a re-badged 'VZ-100'.

Laser 310 / VZ 300

The Laser 310 was released in 1985 throughout parts of Europe and the United States. It was named and sold as the "Dick Smith" VZ 300 throughout Australia and New Zealand. Also based on a Zilog Z80A CPU with a slightly updated 16k ROM version, it was driven by a television colour burst (3.54 MHz) crystal. It came with 16k of RAM for programming, along with the same 2k of Video Ram as that of the Laser 200.

The VZ300 computer, showing early and late model keyboards. Vz old & new.png
The VZ300 computer, showing early and late model keyboards.

Laser 305

The Laser 305 is an extremely rare computer produced by Video Technology. Essentially it is the Laser 310 motherboard placed inside the Laser 200 keyboard, of which, anyone with these two computers could perform themselves. However, the original release and the reasoning behind VTech releasing this particular configuration, unfortunately, has been lost to history. At the time of writing, there are only two known Laser 305's in existence.

Seltron 200

The Seltron 200 Color Computer is quite unique. It was only sold throughout the two countries of Hungary and Italy and is unique with its own configuration layout of the motherboard; quite different to that of the other family of computers.

The Seltron's motherboard contained the same custom VZ300/Laser310 single packaged GA003 and GA004 chipsets (which replaced discrete VZ200/Laser200-210 components), though the design eliminated the need for the GA008 (clock register and DRAM controller) that is used in the 16Kb VZ300/Laser310. Some speculate that it was Video Technology's attempt at cost reducing the manufacturing process. It was released with the usual 2Kb of video RAM, along with 2Kb of user RAM (Same as the Laser 200), however, the motherboard allowed for further expansion of another 2 KB or 4Kb of RAM. By adding an additional 2x 2 KB user RAM it would bring the Seltron up to the same spec as an "8K" VZ200/Laser210. The Seltron also had the standard 16k ROM, and the motherboard allowed for the option of either a single 16Kb ROM package or 2x 8Kb ROM chip packages.

Only one Seltron is known to still exist today.

Peripherals

Within a year of the Laser 310's release, an 80k disk drive unit was released on to the market, of which two could be connected to the computer at the same time. A plug-pack cartridge containing the DOS ROM was required to operate the drives. The DOS ROM and diskette drives were backwards compatible with the Laser 200. A number of other VTech designed plug-in peripherals were also available for both the Laser 200 and Laser 310 computers. Among them were joysticks, cassette drive, light pen, printer plotter, 75 baud MODEM, word processor cartridge, and the 16k and 64k extended RAM cartridges. As numbers of users grew, so did the number of home-made kits which were on offer, which included a Speech synthesizer, Texas Instruments SN76489AN programmable sound generator chip, EEPROM programmer, data logger, 300 baud MODEM, full 101 keyboard, and a RTTY Ham radio kit.

The VZ200 and VZ300 datasettes along with the VZ200 Printer Plotter Vz periph.png
The VZ200 and VZ300 datasettes along with the VZ200 Printer Plotter

Software

With both of their releases in Germany, England, USA, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and a few other countries, commercially based software titles grew and were distributed throughout various outlets in their home counta syets store fronts throughout Australia and New Zealand sold many titles, including educational and graphical games, finance programs and various software utility tools, most of which have been found and transferred for the use in the various emulators. Unfortunately, there are a number of known software packages that have simply been lost through the age of time.

Dick Smith Electronics ran a program buying software from local programmers and selling them through their stores for $12 a cassette. Most VZ200 programs were written in Australia, it is the equivalent of the Sinclair ZX-81 in Australia (which was never really available because of production problems in the UK), a system which many early programmers learnt on. The lack of foreign competition tended to encourage local programmers, programmers having little success competing with foreign programs on the most popular system, the Commodore 64.

Emulators

A number of emulators have since been written for these models of computers:

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References

  1. Video Technology LASER 200 / 210 OLD-COMPUTERS.COM Museum
  2. Bennett, Bill, Texet TX-8000 review Archived 15 May 2004 at the Wayback Machine , Your Computer magazine, April 1983. Retrieved 21 March 2007.
  3. Dick Smith VZ-200, thepcmuseum.com. Retrieved 21 March 2007.
  4. Video Technology Laser 310, old-computers.com. Retrieved 21 March 2007.