Category Archives: Retro Computers Limited

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ gets keyboard facility

The Vega Plus edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
The Vega Plus edge-on (pic Retro Computers Ltd)

More detailed anticipated specifications for the new Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ games console were revealed today, and top of the list for many potential buyers was the revelation that a real, and not just virtual, keyboard facility will now be provided in the production model, which will no doubt have Speccy-loving adventure gamers and programmers alike rolling about in a state of ecstasy.

The 48k and 128k Spectrum-compatible Vega+ will also offer access to programming mode (BASIC), and extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette. All this offers a tantalising glimpse of a potentially much-anticipated ‘return of the Speccy’ scenario, albeit in a radically different form-factor and with different circuitry to the classic rubber-buttoned favourite of 1980’s bedroom coders and playground warriors…

Wired or wireless?

This doesn’t mean, of course, that such a keyboard will be built-in, but that an external connection will be made available for an accessory keyboard, something which many in the retro community bemoaned the lack of in the original Vega. It is not yet confirmed whether the keyboard connection will be wired or wireless, although the concept design by original Sinclair designer Rick Dickinson does show a USB port marked Ext on the rear edge of the Vega+ (see picture above), and it is known that the circuitry for USB was included on the original Vega main board.

The company behind the British-made Vega range of Spectrum-compatible consoles, Retro Computers Limited, have published the specification on their Indiegogo page and on Facebook, and we reproduce this in full below.

Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Concept design by Rick Dickinson (pic Retro Computers Ltd)
Speedy success

These latest specs follow the news that, after fully crowd-funding the project in just 3 days (the initial target being £100,000), Retro Computers Limited then went on to break the quarter of a million pounds barrier on Monday this week, and funds raised currently stand at £272,338 with more than 2,500 backers.

Console-mio

The Vega+ console, like its predecessor the Vega, is a hand-held games machine compatible with the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum range and includes 1,000 Spectrum games built-in. The latest form factor includes a rechargeable battery and an LCD screen but retains the option to output composite video and stereo sound to TV or monitor.

Its launch was revealed in our news item of 15 February 2016, and was followed by our in-depth review of the original Vega console, which was launched last year after Luton-based start-up Retro Computers Limited joined forces with Sir Clive Sinclair in 2014 to license back the rights to the Sinclair computer name and other intellectual property from current rights holders Sky In-Home Service Limited.

For more about the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+, check out the latest specs below, then go to the Indiegogo page.

Latest Vega+ anticipated specifications

The specifications published today are as follows:

Controls

  • Classic gaming D-Pad, offering up, down, left right and diagonals.
  • Four primary action buttons and three secondary buttons.
  • System menu and control-set toggle button.
  • Volume up/down / Brightness up/down.

Screen

  • Sharp LCD 4:3 aspect ratio with approximately 0.2565 mm dot pitch. Accurately reproduces the ZX Spectrum 256×192 resolution with minimal screen border.
  • LCD Screen brightness adjustable. Suitable for all light levels, and to extend battery life.
  • Extended “ULAplus” colour palette support, in addition to the classic ZX Spectrum colour palette.

Battery

  • Specification yet to be finalised, due to the variations of physical size and capacity available, however battery life is expected to be in excess of 6 hrs of continuous use.
  • Charging is achieved through a micro-USB socket.

Storage

  • SDSC and SDHC micro SD cards are supported.
  • Additional games may be loaded from micro SD card – popular snapshot and tape file formats supported.
  • SD card also allows preferences and game-saves to be stored for later resumption.
  • Firmware upgradeable through SD card.

Operational features

  • Unobtrusive pop-up control panel during game play through which to access all Vega features.
  • Novel and easy-to-use virtual keyboard.
  • Save and resume game (stored on SD card).
  • Games may be tagged as favourites and recalled through a favourites menu.
  • Player controls completely reconfigurable.
  • Game pokes can be stored on SD card.
  • Switchable Kempston and Cursor joystick emulation.
  • Default Machine selection (48K and 128K models).
  • Access to programming mode (BASIC).

Peripherals

  • 3.5mm stereo headphone socket for private listening.
  • Supports connection of external keyboard (specification to follow).
  • Headphone socket doubles as an A/V connection, allowing stereo audio and composite video connection to a TV. Supports PAL and NTSC formats.
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RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega

The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box
The Vega, fresh from its nostagically-styled box

The ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega’ is a crowd-funded ZX Spectrum computer compatible direct-to-television games console in a game pad, produced by Retro Computers Limited, a Luton-based start-up in which Sir Clive Sinclair’s company, Sinclair Research Ltd, is a shareholder.

Bearing in mind the convoluted history of the Sinclair brand, the ZX Spectrum and its associated intellectual property, which was sold to Amstrad in 1986 for just £5 million, it is a wonder that the new company was able to licence rights for development and marketing of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega from Sky In-Home Service Ltd, who inherited the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers from Amstrad. Anyway, it’s great to see the once-proud Sinclair brand back on the market (especially bearing in mind Sir Clive’s close involvement), as the Vega has been since 2015.

The Vega is manufactured for Retro Computers Limited by SMS Electronics Limited of Beeston, Nottinghamshire, at the instruction of Vega Team: Paul Andrews, David Levy, Sir Clive Sinclair & Chris Smith. Good to see this kind of electronics being made in the UK again, especially after the mammoth success of the also British-made Raspberry Pi computer (manufactured in Wales).

Development
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k
Comparative size of Vega and ZX Spectrum 48k

The Vega was developed by Chris Smith, a former ZX Spectrum games developer who, the company say, is the world’s leading expert on Sinclair Spectrum technology. He is the author of the definitive technical book ‘The ZX Spectrum ULA: How to design a microcomputer’. Programming assistance was provided by Dylan Smith, and game licensing was organised by Managing Director Paul Andrews, David Levy and Gerard Sweeney. The games supplied with the Vega were configured and tested for the console by Joe Larkins. And music and fonts were contributed by Matthew Westcott and Andrew Owen.

The Vega received a huge amount of interest during its Indiegogo campaign, and the large amount of feedback received by Retro Computers during the campaign, which achieved all of its goals and was more than fully funded at £149,521 (50% above target), influenced the final design to some extent.

Form follows function
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)
The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega (pic Retro Computers Limited)

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega is, of course, not a Spectrum 48k ‘clone’ in the usual sense, despite being able to run a vast number of Spectrum games; it has a very different circuit design to the original, being based on a more advanced modern microcontroller rather than a large selection of discrete chips linked together by a dedicated rom and ULA.

But its shape and design cues to hark back to the original 48k ZX Spectrum, the good old ‘Speccy’, which has a nostalgia value for gamers ‘of a certain age’ and promises old-skool fun for them and their lucky children in what has proven to be a very marketable novelty product. To add to the nostalgia, the Vega comes boxed and sleeved in a fashion that is deliberately reminiscent of the style of the original Sinclair Spectrum retail boxes, though a lot smaller and using card instead of foam polystyrene packing.

Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions
Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega boxed with instructions

Once out of the box, the Vega does in fact look like a somewhat plasticky miniature Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k of the early 1980’s which has had most of the keyboard removed and replaced with a directional red joypad – the ‘D-pad’ as the makers call it, four small representations of original Spectrum keyboard keys, and five buttons. It’s about one-third the size of the original computer.

Just under the front edge of the unit there’s a small green power LED which tells you when the unit is turned on and a microSD card slot. A bundle of cables snakes out of the back, and, reminiscent of the classic Speccy, there’s a small rainbow flash printed on the front right-hand corner, and a raised ‘sinclair’ logo with ZX Spectrum Vega in smaller text below the logo.

The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables
The Sinciar ZX Spectrum Vega showing the connecting cables

Replicating many of the functions of the original Spectrum using a micro-controller and software enables the manufacturers of the Vega to reduce costs while still running all of the games, 14,000 or more of them, which were developed during the years when some 5 million of the original Sinclair Spectrum were being sold. And there’s more than enough games to keep the kids (of all ages!) busy built-in – a thousand altogether!

The Vega also has sufficient on-board memory to allow the user to download many additional games, which Retro Computers have said that they will be making available from time to time free of charge. You can of course add more (copyright permitting!) by downloading files from the usual websites and popping them onto a micro SD card, which is then inserted into the base of the Vega – though you will then have to organised the key mapping yourself.

The Vega was additionally designed with the capacity for expansion via a hardware interface on its circuit board (in practice this has not been implemented on the Vega, but there are indications it may be on the recently-announced Vega+ console) and the makers also added the ability for the software to be upgraded in future. Continue reading RCN REVIEW: The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega