AMIGA alive

AMIGA alive

Thursday, January 26, 2023

S-Video is awesome!

Over the last decades I've tried countless different setups in order to properly capture the Amiga's video output. Pretty much all of them were unsatisfactory, way too expensive (think A4000 plus V-Lab Motion or PAR). Old PC analogue capture cards give quite good results, but device drivers and PCI slots for these are getting really rare. So - finally! - I've decided to drop my attempts with the Composite video connection, and build an S-Video adapter for the Amiga.

Composite video merges all video information into one wire, so its signal quality is somehow limited by design. Composite video is easily available on all Amigas (built-in, or via A520 TV Modulator), but the real disappointment happens when you see this signal recorded with some average digitizing equipment. Weak colors, red all over the place, blurred, misaligned - the results are hardly enjoyable.

The Amiga provides separate red/green/blue component signals on its DSUB23 video output, which many people (including me) use with a RGB-to-SCART cable. Such a cable gives great picture quality, but only if the receiving device a) has a SCART input connector, and b) uses the separate color components.

Among my video capturing attempts was a Terratec USB box with a SCART connector, which looked great from the outside. But it turned out it doesn't use color components, only the Composite signal provided on one of the SCART connector's pins. Blurred, washed out, ...again. Sigh.

S-Video, aka Y/C, uses two wires: brightness (Y, gamma, luma, luminance), and color (C, chroma, chrominance). That doesn't sound like much on first sight (hear), but S-VHS tape recorders featuring S-Video were super expensive back in the day, and most modern analog video capture devices, including the cheap ones, have a S-Video input. So at least some improvement of picture quality can be expected just from the different specifications, and maybe from a different signal path inside the capture device.

A guide on how to build a S-Video adapter for the Amiga was quickly found at Everything Amiga: https://www.everythingamiga.com/2017/02/amiga-rgb-to-s-video-adapter.html

S-Video adapter circuit shown at https://www.everythingamiga.com/2017/02/amiga-rgb-to-s-video-adapter.html (NTSC version)

The design of the circuit looks straightforward, it uses a AD724 video chip, and it adds another Composite video output which may come in handy some day. Nice, let's start building!

The DSUB23 video connector was created from a DSUB25 one, and the SMD video encoder chip needs a little "daughterboard" adding "human-readable" soldering pads (holes).

Test-ready build of S-Video adapter

Oops, something went wrong...

First testrun: There's clearly something wrong here. This is what you get when you use a PAL crystal (4.433619MHz), but still have the AD724 set to NTSC output by connecting +5V to STND (pin 1), as shown in the (NTSC) schematics. To switch the chip to PAL video mode, STND must be connected to ground. (As noted in the bottom section / "2017-04-03 UPDATE" of the article at Everything Amiga.)

Slightly better soldering, and added composite video out

It took me a couple of attempts to get a working "daughterboard" with the AD724. Maybe the small green PCBs are of inferior quality. Or maybe just my soldering skills are, and I fried something a little too long.

Here are some pictures of the results, with RGB-to-SCART and Amiga 1200's built-in composite video for comparison.

RGB-to-SCART

A1200 built-in Composite

Composite (via S-Video adapter)

S-Video, Hi-Res 640x256

S-Video, Hi-Res laced 640x512

S-Video, Super Hi-Res laced 1280x512

Wow, it's pretty much as good as RGB-to-SCART! I certainly didn't expect that much of an improvement. (And I never knew "Palette" prefs shows up in different shapes depending on screen size. Nice.)

A very cheap USB video capture device

And here's a frame of S-Video captured with a 15EUR USB dongle capture device:

Screenshot of Amiga S-Video capture on Linux computer

Wow, that's... pretty good! Ohyeah, I can use that! :-D

To give the thing some protection, esp. when plugging/unplugging it, a simple housing was quickly created. It's a bit flimsy, and not particularly beautiful, but it'll do for now.

With this successful proof-of-concept I'll probably build another adapter, with better layout, less wires, and a sturdy, more precise case. Also maybe some shielding will further improve picture quality. 

Current "final" build state, with "modular" video chip board

Awesome! It works, is usable, and I'm totally surprised by the amazing capture quality. I expected either total failure, or a just a slight improvement, due to cheap, inferior capture device. But it turns out S-Video makes all the difference, two wires are obviously far superior to just one.

Big thank you to Everything Amiga for sharing your information!

Sources:
https://www.everythingamiga.com/2017/02/amiga-rgb-to-s-video-adapter.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S-Video

 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

57 new links in the AMIGA alive Web Directory

Happy New Year! The AMIGA alive Web Directory got updated with 57 new links and a round of corrections - now 529 websites listed.

As always, if you're looking for something specific, make sure to check the "Misc / Mixed" section, as some websites cover multiple different subjects, e.g. software authors may have created very different applications. And/or try your browser's text-search functions to find keywords like application names, authors, game titles, etc.

Please leave a comment if you spot errors, broken links, or would like to see a (your?) website listed.

Have fun browsing the...

>>> AMIGA alive Web Directory <<<



Thursday, December 29, 2022

History in the making: Amiga CD1200 tear down

Beth Richard, lead engineer of the CD1200, provides more in-depth information about the device's story as she's taking it apart.

As a follow up to the article about the rediscovery of the ultra-rare Amiga CD1200 drive, we're happy to be able to share even more information about it.

On July 17th 2022, Beth Richard, lead engineer of the CD1200 in 1993/1994, visited the Retro Computer Museum in Leicester, UK, making more history and providing invaluable information by talking about her experience, and actually taking the device apart.

A video of the event was uploaded to YouTube about a month ago.

Here's the video of Beth Richard taking the (presumably) only Amiga CD1200 in existence apart (on YouTube channel "PixelFix"):


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYGhOuIysVU

Shortly after the video was uploaded to YouTube, Ms. Richard left a comment which provides even more insight into the background of the CD1200 (transcript of comment follows).

Ms. Richard's comment on the above video
(source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYGhOuIysVU)

"That was quite an experience! I'm so glad we got to do that.  

People look back at my work and assume that as the lead engineer, I was somehow a Commodore "Legend". I'll leave that to those to whom it really applies. I was a junior engineer at the time, near the beginning of my career. I think the best way I can describe how I ended up being the lead engineer on this project is a quote taken from Any Weir's "The Martian": "Ares 3. Well, that was my mission. Okay, not mine per se. Commander Lewi was in charge. I was the lowest ranked member of the crew. I would only be 'in command' of the mission if I were the only remaining person. What do you know? I'm in command." It was very clear by the time I started this project that the end was near. I worked on this at a time where we thought it may be possible that someone would buy the company and take it seriously. Having demonstrated that there were ideas and projects with a roadmap into the future would be what someone would want to buy. Several of us were working right to the end to keep a portfolio of projects that could be turned on immediately, should a new owner wish it. (Like the work Dave Haynie was doing at the high end, and some stuff Greg Berlin had been doing too.). It was not to be. 

I'm so embarrassed about misspeaking that the date of Pearl Harbor was 7-Dec-1943... ***1941***!!!! I know that! How could my mind have been so bounced and distracted that I would have gotten that wrong? I might have had an excess of adrenaline at the time.  

Although I designed that in 1993-1994, I was particularly nervous about opening it because it isn't mine... it's the RCM's. And it's got to be the only example left in the world by this point. I offered to coach Andy through opening it as it's his museum's property, but he wouldn't have it. Sadly, in order to make it work, it needs the controller board to go into the A1200 and cable that came through the port on the rear of the A1200 to connect it to the drive. None of those seem to have survived. 

I know it was edited for privacy reasons, but when I was going through the names I saw on the PCB, I started with the first one on the list... mine. The names were actually the userIDs for our email addresses, each of which ended with @ 'cbmvax.commodore.com'. And the word preceding that cut was my userID: brichard. Since that email has been invalid since April 1994, I'm not terribly worried about people knowing it.  

And credit where credit is due: My spouse, Teresa, who has her degree in Engineering Management that included nearly the complete curriculum of Mechanical Engineering took a look at the lid spring and noticed the extra bend that was causing it to pop out of position. When she showed it to me, I recognized that the spring was not actually the original factory spring. It must have been broken at some point and someone replaced it by bending a bit of spring-steel wire to (nearly) match. In fact, that mechanism was not custom to the CD1200 - it was re-used from the CD32. So by comparing with a CD32 lid spring mechanism, we confirmed it was wrong and replaced the spring with one from a CD32. The lid works correctly again!  

Such a great day! Thank to Andy for inviting me to the RCM and being so gracious about the experience."

(transcript of @bethteresarichard3910's comment on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYGhOuIysVU)

Great work by Ms. Richard, Retro Computer Museum, and all others involved! Thanks for sharing, and keeping the CD1200 alive.

Additional sources:
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-12-00051-EN.html

 

Sunday, December 25, 2022

AADevLog #6 - Merry Christmas! And, yes, it will become a game.

Merry Christmas everyone! So it's christmas, and I thought I'd pull out a couple of things from my harddrive.

You might have noticed this, well, attempt at a platformer that goes by the name of "Wheelchair Hero". I'm working on it on-and-off, but there is actual progress. One of the issues I had postponed was some sort of rudimentary color management, meaning some basic strategy regarding palette use. Another one was to add some strategy elements, so the... game?... doesn't get too boring too quickly. Anyway - here's another work-in-progress screenshot of "Wheelchair Hero", and, yes, it looks as if this will become a game. :-)

Wheelchair Hero with new elevators, NPCs, items, better colors

Also a little bit of work has been done on "reed" texteditor: a little update to the GUI layout, and it now shows actual settings' values.

"reed" on AmigaOS3.9

And while we're at it: When creating a game, why not create two? Or even three? So I started drawing assets for more playable stuff. This next one might be called "Attack on the Beach", and maybe you can make a guess what it's all about from this mockup-picture:

"Attack on the Beach" concept picture

Finally, something that I had on my mind for decades. With all the knowledge gained from hundreds of programming experiments and attempts, I thought it's about time to somehow tackle the challenge. I'm pretty sure everyone gets a "rough" idea what this one might be about from this early title picture. ;-)

"Airborne Trooper" work-in-progress title picture

* * *

Thanks for reading, happy holidays & stay healthy!



Thursday, December 22, 2022

WinUAE, IBrowse, AmigaAMP updated

Great christmas gifts for Amiga users of all kinds! WinUAE, IBrowse, and AmigaAMP have received (sometimes substantial) updates.

WinUAE 4.10.0

WinUAE is the king of Amiga emulation. You can read about all the details on WinUAE's homepage, but here's the big one in this latest release: 100% cycle accuracy! Oh wow, this is a blessing not just for hardcore classic gamers and sceners, but for all Amiga software developers. Very good!

Go to https://www.winuae.net for more information!

IBrowse 2.5.8

IBrowse developer team, again, proves its dedication to Amiga webbrowsing: this latest version contains all hotfixes since the previous one, and adds a round of new bugfixes and improvements, such as re-enabled Gemini protocol support and better stability.

Check out https://www.ibrowse-dev.net/news.php?id=1671191636 for more information!

AmigaAMP 3.33

Thomas Wenzel wishes everyone a Merry Christmas, and has released AmigaAMP 3.33. Improved sound playback and repeat/shuffle features make listening to some music on the Amiga even more enjoyable!

Go to http://www.amigaamp.de for more information!

Sources:
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-12-00100-EN.html
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-12-00086-EN.html
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-12-00102-EN.html


Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Games galore #33: Maria Renard's Revenge, Karate Champ 500, Spheroid, Farmiga, GermZ

Is this a coronavirus-lockdown effect? Developers seem to have become increasingly productive - in 2022, new Amiga games have been and still are popping up like mushrooms after a warm, rainy day.

 

Maria Renard's Revenge

Pretty much whenever you hear something French, you can be sure it has beauty and taste. ("French fries" ;-) ) This is certainly true for this outstandingly beautiful new game, which is currently under development by DomKid. 

As the title suggests, Mademoiselle Renard is a bit of a damsel-in-distress, meaning in order to get her revenge, she has to travel various dungeons and landscapes populated with dragons, skeletons, giant worms, and other such species, and of course avoid being harmed by the aforementioned. A friendly bird is at her side, but darkness, lava pits, falling stalactites and similar obstacles don't particularly make her journey easier...

Long story short: "Maria Renard's Revenge" is an exciting, and just gorgeous looking gothic platformer!

Here's the latest work-in-progress video from DomKid's YouTube channel (2022-05-23):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_7jeh_pljRs

Go to the game's website for more information and releases:
https://z-team.itch.io/maria-renards-revenge

 

Karate Champ 500 (work in progress)

Jean-François Fabre never stops: After "Amidar500", "Scramble500", "Pacman 500", and "Ms Pacman 500" (!) we're about to get "Karate Champ 500".

"Karate Champ" is another classic arcade game, but there was never an official version for the Amiga - only a slightly disappointing public-domain version. 

Well, it looks as if this is about to change, and with Jean-François Fabre's productions you can be quite sure it's going to be yet another great Amiga conversion, which is more or less pixel perfect to the original.

Here's the latest demo video from Jean-François Fabre's YouTube channel (2022-10-02):


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NWE23H0W78

Additional sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karate_Champ (arcade game)
http://hol.abime.net/6228/weblink (1987 PD game)


Spheroid (demo)

In "Spheroid", you have to guide a ball through increasingly complex maps made of tiles. Some of the tiles are switches, some are mined, others are transporters, walls, or break easily. On top of that, you only have a limited amount of steps your ball can make. 

So "Spheroid" is an arcade puzzler! It's a comparably simple, but challenging, well made game, with a fitting technoid soundscape, and lots of maps to get your little grey cells some exercise.

Here's a video from Saberman's YouTube channel (2022-05-26): 


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA7jjGPyJ5k

Go to Arkanix Labs forum to download "Spheroid" demo:
https://www.arkanixlabs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?id=1142

Additional sources:
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-05-00096-EN.html
https://www.indieretronews.com/2022/05/spheroid-new-puzzle-game-for-amiga-via.html


Farmiga (beta v5)

Do you like the countryside and farming? Cows, sheep, chicken? Very good. "Farmiga" puts you in control of a little farming economy, complete with animals, crops, trading, and actual hog-shooting.

The graphics are mostly simple, but cute and effective, there's some enjoyable music playing along, the building and trading has enough depth to keep you occupied, and, well, occasionally you get to shoot some hogs. Oh, and the in-game currency is Polish zloty. "Farmiga" looks great and fun to play - if you like strategy gaming make sure you check it out.

Here's a video from Saberman's YouTube channel (2022-11-27):


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0EzRf-0qmI

Go to the game's itch.io website for more information and download:
https://tukinem.itch.io/farmiga-wip

Additional sources:
http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2022-06-00041-EN.html


GermZ

Beware, it's the... GermZ! A strategy puzzle game by the developers that brought us "Atarenium Falcon" (see also bonus "news" below). In "GermZ" you basically become a virus that wants to spread and win over other viri according to logic rules. 

"GermZ" is another simple, well-made arcade strategy game - and it has two great features seen too rarely in Amiga games: up to four players simultaneously (joystick and keyboard control), and a map editor - which means tons of fun for a long time!

Here's a video from Saberman's YouTube channel (2022-05-02):


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtKt4_t3FPM

Go to the game's itch.io website for more information and download:
https://lastminutecreations.itch.io/germz

Additional sources:
https://www.indieretronews.com/2022/05/germz-brand-new-amiga-party-game-by.html

 
* * *

...and some bonus gaming news:

Atarenium Falcon released

We've reported about this game before. Meanwhile, more precisely on May 1st 2022, the final version was released. If "GermZ" sounds interesting to you, or even if it doesn't, why not check out "Atarenium Falcon"?

https://lastminutecreations.itch.io/atarenium-falcon

 

* * *

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for "Games galore #34"!


* * *

Support Amiga game development! Buy a game!


Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Gigahertz-Amiga that never (really) was

When browsing the net, you sometimes stumble upon things that question your beliefs.

About 20 years ago, PowerPC was the Amiga's future. There had been talk about DEC Alpha CPUs, and other quantum-leap high-performance gear, but only phase5 had the guts to deliver: a dual-CPU board with a PowerPC CPU clocked at 233MHz! A quantum-leap it was, but it also came too late, and was too costly for most. Only a few years later the Amiga market would effectively be dead. Then came the retro movement, people brushing the dust off their old Amiga computers, and their assembler coding skills. Nowadays, we have a thriving hardware and software development scene, all rooted in the good old days: pure Amiga, classic Motorola 68k! If you like some extra speed, you can choose from several low-cost 68000 to 68060 accelerators, FPGA based CPU replacements, and a range of emulation setups, all of which are actively developed in recent times, and run M68k code. PowerPC accelerators have become unobtanium, and the few owners still there from the early days are not enough to make a visible impact on the scene.

Imagine this alternate reality: In 2013, 1Ghz PowerPC accelerators for the Amiga became available. By 2015 prices have dropped, and a transparent M68k emulation layer has been implemented for PowerUP/WarpUP. People are running M68k "Real3D" and "Imagine" on PowerPC, because emulation is faster than any available M68k CPU. By 2020, the 2GHz barrier has been broken, and while your PowerPC-native "Blender" port renders HD images for your new YouTube video, you're playing a round of DREAD. AmigaOS 3.1.4 and 3.2 were never developed, because AmigaOS3.9 and 4.0 have merged into a single product made of a M68k core for backwards compatibility, and PowerPC-native applications.

Well - back to actual reality. That was some nice fantasy, it just didn't happen that way.

...but is was close!

It was called UltimatePPC, and... yes. And yes. And yes. It is what it sounds like. No strings attached. It's the thing only few dared to imagine, because it was just too... outrageous. And it actually got built.

Prototype UltimatePPC card
(source: http://ultimateppc.nl/gallery.php (archived))

Press release of May 22nd, 2012: AMIGA MEETS GIGAHERTZ

Gideon Zweijtzer (of 1541-Ultimate fame) and Rutger Bevaart have teamed up to bring renewed innovation to the Classical Amiga by announcing the UltimatePPC today, the ultimate CPU expansion card for the Amiga 3000 & 4000. This new card will bring unparalleled performance and many great new features to the Amiga series of computers that were not available previously and give current users a viable upgrade path for aging components. It also opens new possibilities for newer versions of the Amiga Operating System or alternatives to run on your classic hardware with great performance. The UltimatePPC puts your Amiga right back on your desk as the most versatile and fun computer that has ever existed!

Right now the UltimatePPC is in active development, we expect to be able to take pre-orders at the end of 2012. Please visit our project website at http://ultimateppc.nl for availability information, specifications and detailed status reports.

Gideon & Rutger

(source: http://ultimateppc.nl (archived))

Oh wow, this sounds so good. The endless possibilities. Hi-res video encoding and decoding, fast rendering of web pages, Doom, Quake, ...and did you see the SATA and DVI connectors in the picture? This is the ultimate thing for your A3000/A4000, no doubt about that. This is the next step after phase5's PPC accelerators, and it's a decisive one. This opens doors.

Prototype UltimatePPC card
(source: http://ultimateppc.nl/specifications.php (archived))

So the project's website was http://www.ultimateppc.nl, and if we do a little digging on the internet, we find an article on "Old School Game Blog" that publishes some more details about the "UltimatePPC" (which are taken from the project's specifications page):

The UltimatePPC provides many new features. The current shortlist of features for “Revision A” is,

  • 33MHz 68040 CPU
  • 1.0GHz Freescale PowerPC CPU
  • 128MB of DDR3 memory for the 68040
  • An additional 2GB of DDR3 memory on an SO-DIMM
  • USB2 host controller with integrated 4 port hub
  • SATA2 controller with two SATA ports
  • 10/100/1000 Ethernet controller
  • Embedded 2D video with DVI connector

(source: https://oldschoolgameblog.com/2012/05/23/amiga-ultimateppc-accelerator-for-amiga-30004000/)

A 68040 at 33MHz isn't shabby at all in Amiga world, but a 1 gigahertz PowerPC, and an extra 2.1 gigabytes (!!!) of memory on a single board for your Amiga - that puts other accelerator boards to shame. And it has SATA, USB2, ethernet and DVI. And it isn't even built by a big company, but a bunch of guys from the Netherlands. This is just ridiculous. Commodore, Amiga, Phase5, Escom, Gateway, Viscorp, Metabox - what the heck have you been doing?

UltimatePPC beats all of them, by miles. A project status was given on the website - judging from the estimated completion dates, it seems to be from late 2011:

  • Initial Design, done
  • Building of development boards, done
  • Implementing CPU, System and PCI-E busses, in progress (expected Q2 2012)
  • Implementing low-level devices, in progress (expected Q3 2012)
  • Implementing drivers and OS compatibility, no estimated completion date yet
  • Testing, no estimated completion date yet
  • Production of boards, no estimated completion date yet

(source: http://ultimateppc.nl (archived))

Did someone just say "PCI-Express on Amiga"? 

We don't know. And we'll probably never find out. In the last post on http://ultimateppc.nl, from September 5th 2019, Rutger announces the end of the project: Priorities of private life have taken over, and friendship needs some care, too. 

https://web.archive.org/web/20200129050452/http://www.ultimateppc.nl/

The last Wayback Machine snapshot of the website domain that shows UltimatePPC information is from January 29th 2020

This is where the short, but exciting story of "UltimatePPC" ends. That's sad. 

Well, we have to put this into context. It was 2011: Amiga companies had been out of business for years. Compared to about 10 years earlier, when phase5's PPC accelerators were released, the price of RAM modules vs. memory size had dropped through the floor. The cellphone market had exploded, pushing for ever more powerful low-cost CPUs. The RaspberryPi was just around the corner, and a modern homebrew/DIY scene, capable of SMD-soldering, started to emerge. From this point of view, it's no surprise the "UltimatePPC" was quite a quantum leap for the Amiga.

And it's also no surprise that it just stopped. Development of such a piece of hardware consumes an awful amount of time. If there's no competition, no audience asking for progress and providing some sort of income, no urging necessity behind it, then at some point it will just come to a halt, one or the other way. Since 2011, a lot of things have happened. It has become even easier to design and create printed circuit boards, FPGA chips have become powerful and affordable, and so on. The retro builder scene, and emulation on fast CPUs, has fully taken over, cementing the M68k heritage and future of the Amiga. "Next generation" Amiga computing is just being swept away by the renewed output of the classic scene.

But then...  

...it's just too awesome. The "UltimatePPC" is incomplete - but it exists, somewhere. Wouldn't it be an intriguing idea to completely restart as if it was 2011, and resurrect the "UltimatePPC" with all the tools and know-how available in 2022?

 * * *

UPDATE 2022-12-26:
Thank you very much, amiga-news.de, for reporting about this

And for providing more information: amiga-news.de's post about the UltimatePPC from back in the day: http://amiga-news.de/en/news/AN-2012-05-00055-EN.html

* * *

PLEASE NOTE: "phase5" refers to the company that was developing Amiga compatible hardware from around 1992 to 2000. At the time of writing no new, working Amiga-related hardware products from any later holder of the trademark name are known to exist.