Following our previous post about the announcement of a new, modern technology Sinclair Spectrum retro computer, the ZX Spectrum Next, by UK company SpecNext Ltd, the designer of the Next’s electronics, Mr Victor Trucco, has posted a video demonstration of the Next’s prototype electronics, showing the majority of the commercial board’s proposed features.
The video is narrated by Mr Trucco in Portuguese and subtitled in English.
We thought you’d be keen to see this as an update, and so are we, so here it is!
We now also have confirmation that HDMI output will be via a Raspberry Pi Zero built into the case.
Things seem to have gone a little crazy on the retro computing front lately, what with new retro consoles and computers coming out of the woodwork all over the place – and the latest and possibly most amazing of all is a brand-new Sinclair ZX Spectrum, from yet another new manufacturer!
This latest homage to Sir Clive Sinclair’s classic ZX Spectrum+ has been dubbed the ‘Sinclair ZX Spectrum Next’ by new UK manufacturers SpecNext Ltd. The company has its registered office at 135 Bermondsey Street, London, and was incorporated on 9 February 2016 by Carlos Henrique Olifiers, Co-Founder of BAFTA-winning games developers Bossa Studios,.
And, by combining a slick modern take on the classic Spectrum+ exterior design, once again created by original Spectrum designer Rick Dickinson, with powerful modern electronics designed by Brazilian Victor Trucco, the latest ‘Speccy’ to hit the market looks like it’s going to be a hot product – though we will have to wait a while yet before the real thing is available.
A Speccy for all seasons?
Apparently officially licensed through intellectual property holders Sky In-Home Service Limited. the ZX Spectrum Next is clearly an upgraded homage to the classic 1980s micro rather than a traditional chip-by-chip clone.
Despite this the concept, which to date has been seen only in 3D renderings, seems to have been well-received amongst the ‘retro community’ so far, perhaps due the fact it is being pitched as a development to take the Sinclair brand into the future – and due to its adoption of the modernised Spectrum+ style case and keyboard, unlike the popular but sometimes controversial Vega range of hand-held consoles produced by Retro Computers Limited, who at the last count had decided against reviving an actual Spectrum computer.
The ZX Spectrum Next is based on Victor Trucco’s previous project, the TBBlue, and the Altera Cyclone FPGA-based board which will form the heart of the next Speccy is expected to be similar.
The Next is a reimplementation of the original at hardware level, ensuring it runs all the software out there. And it´s also planned to be compatible with most expansions made for the ZX Spectrum, as well as being compatible with new ULAplus video modes. There is also a possibility of implementing ZX81 hi res mode before the first units ship.
The SD card ‘disk’ operating system used is ESXDOS, and the new machine will be compatible with all the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum versions including 48k, 128k (Toastrack), +2 and +3.
In fact, amazingly, the Spectrum Next will also be compatible with Brazilian Speccy clones the TK90X and TK95, as well as the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, and Jupiter Ace!
Sexy specs for the Speccy Next?
The following equivalent specifications for the new computer have been revealed so far:
Processor Z80 3.5Mhz and 7Mhz modes
Memory 512Kb RAM
Video ULAplus featuring compatible and expanded modes and colours
Video output RGB, VGA, mini HDMI
Storage SD card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
Tape support Mic and Ear ports for cassette tape loading and saving
Audio AY-3-8912 or FM2149 audio chips (selectable) with stereo output
Joystick port DB9 compatible with Interface 1 or Interface 2 protocols (selectable)
PS/2 port Mouse with Kempston mode emulation OR external keyboard
Extras Multiface functionality for memory access, save games, cheats etc
Expansion Original Spectrum external bus expansion port
Accelerator slave board GPU/1Ghz CPU/512Mb RAM
Any colour you like as long as it’s black (or white)
The very attractive modernised design of the Spectrum Next may also be offered in traditional Spectrum black – or white! Not really surprising this as there’s been much interest from retro hobbyists in DIY modded white versions of the classic Speccy. So it looks like buyers will probably have the option to buy a black or white cased Spectrum Next, or indeed both. Pretty smart-looking either way, judging by the
Not really surprising this, as there’s been much interest from retro hobbyists in DIY modded white versions of the classic Speccy. So it looks like buyers will probably have the option to buy a black or white cased Spectrum Next, or indeed both. Pretty smart-looking either way, judging by the renderings published so far.
HDMI through Pi
It’s been suggested that the HDMI out video option will be given by passing the output through a Raspberry Pi computer, possibly a Pi Zero, built-in to the Spectrum Next casing, though this is unconfirmed as yet. Update 2 May 2016: we now understand the HDMI output is definitely planned to be via a Pi Zero.
Apparently the ZX Spectrum Next project is to be crowd funded, a popular method amongst new retro console and computer manufacturers. This has not yet been set up and we will follow this up in due course.
A preliminary website has been set up, but as yet shows very little. It does, however, offer the opportunity to sign up for a newsletter and further information:
Shock news has reached Retro Computing News tonight as we hear that two of the prime movers in UK company Retro Computers Limited have resigned, leaving the company’s future uncertain.
Managing Director Paul Andrews and Chief Technical Officer Chris Smith have left the company, leaving Sir Clive Sinclair and Dr David Levy the sole remaining members of the original management team. Mr Andrews and Mr Smith resigned on 8 April 2016.
We understand that Mr Andrews’ company has sent an email to everyone that has licensed games for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega console, which we reviewed in February. In this email the company states, we hear, that it will no longer be managing game licensing royalties, and that from now on Retro Computers Limited will manage them directly.
Dr Levy is apparently now solely responsible for everything related to the Vega console, including royalty payments to game authors (or donations to charity).
The company website has already been updated to reflect the changes in management, and details of the firm registered at Companies House show a change of address from the company’s original Luton addresss to 34 Courthope Road, London, England, NW3 2LD – the correspondence address of Dr David Levy.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
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 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.
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.
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→
The makers of the popular ZX Spectrum Vega, a ZX Spectrum-compatible games console, today announced the follow-up to their first officially licensed Sinclair-branded product.
The stylish new low-cost console, dubbed the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ is, say Luton-based makers Retro Computers Ltd, ‘The world’s only hand-held LCD games console with 1,000 licensed games inside that can also connect to your TV.’
The PSP-like portable gaming machine, the concept case design of which has been created by original Sinclair computer industrial designer Rick Dickinson, not only has its own built-in LCD screen, so gamers can dispense with the TV altogether, but a contemporary combination of low-profile joypad and control buttons that promise an even better playing experience than the first in the Vega line.
Sinclair with style
The Vega+ incorporates all the features of the ZX Vega and more, in a more attractive, if a little less nostalgic (no wobbly rubber keys!) package, including stereo output for ‘…great reproduction of gaming sounds and music’. It offers a built-in Micro SD card slot, composite video output (PAL or NTSC) combined with the headphone socket and +- volume buttons.
The Vega+ technology has been designed and developed by a team led by Chris Smith, who, say the company, is the world’s leading expert on the technology behind the 1980’s Sinclair ZX Spectrum range of home computers.
The name most closely associated with the Sinclair brand and the original Spectrum computers is, of course, the inimitable Sir Clive Sinclair, who said:
“The present surge of interest in retro products inspired me to plan the Vega+ as a handy games console which can be played anywhere.”
There and back again
The Sinclair ZX computer brand name was sold to Alan Sugar’s Amstrad in the late 1980’s; that company later sold it on to Sky In-Home Service Ltd, and the right to use the name was re-licensed back to Retro Computers Ltd, a Luton-based start-up in which Sir Clive’s company, Sinclair Research Ltd, is a shareholder, in 2014.
The Vega+, like the Vega before it, has been designed to reduce costs compared with the original and much-loved ‘Speccy’ by applying modern technology in the form of a fast but low-cost micro-controller which is the heart of the new machines.
The first Vega successfully went through the crowdfunding process at Indiegogo.com and the new Vega+ has been launched today on the same platform, with a price of £100 GBP plus shipping for the console itself, as well as a range of associated perks including limited edition colours, books, a Roll of Honour, signed art and Spectrum computers, and other options. For more details see:
Retro Computers Ltd are looking to raise £100,000 within a month to get their latest venture in production and on the market, and the project has certainly hit the ground running, with a prototype all ready to put into production and more than £11,000 raised in a day from over 100 backers already. Their initial aim is to manufacture the first production run of 2,500 units and get ready for the second run. Production and shipping of the first Vega Plus consoles are planned for late summer 2016.
Watch this space
Needless to say, Retro Computing News will be keeping a close eye on the progress of the Vega+ while preparing our review of the original Vega this week.
The new console certainly looks like a device with great potential to grab not only a share of the retro/nostalgia market but also a new market of modern gamers who will not only be able to have a lot of fun with the shiny new gadget, but will hopefully also be encouraged to take an interest in the history and heritage of one of the most iconic brands in British computing.
Filming is under way for a new documentary, Memoirs of a Spectrum Addict, a full length feature film (120-180 minutes, est.) which is aiming to take a detailed look at the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, its history, its developers, its games and its fans.
The movie, helmed by author, teacher and filmmaker Andy Remic, has been crowdfunded via a KickStarter campaign, and Mr Remic says:
“It will be a unique tribute to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and have dramatic re-enactments, interviews with industry figures and people who grew up influenced by the Spectrum.”
“I’m making the film because, as one friend said, I am “a nerd” and an unashamed fanboy of the Speccy. It’s a not-for-profit film, and I’m making it with lots of love.”
Andy told Retro Computing News that he currently has such industry notables as Jon Ritman, Steve Wetherill, Jas Austin, Oliver Frey, Roger Kean, Simon Butler, Ben Daglish, Mev Dinc and John Romero signed up for the project, with the list growing daily!
One of the most useful developments in retro computing and retro gaming in recent years has been the introduction of ‘digital hard drives’, created by means of interfacing digital camera memory cards via custom IDE interfaces, to speed up the use and enable the expansion of many aging but still serviceable computers. This is a great convenience – especially for those machines which were never intended to have such drives!
Of course, ‘back in the day’ – the 1980s-90s – for typical home computers, many programs were available only on slow and not always reliable audio tape cassette, and typically the most advanced storage system for such machines as, for example, the British Sinclair ZX Spectrum range, was nothing better than a microdrive tape loop system or a floppy disk with a few hundred kilobytes of capacity at most.
So it was that the most enthusiastic of home computer owners inevitably ended up with a large collection of tape cassettes or floppy disks, and it was only in the late 1980s, when the 16-bit and PC era began to get underway, that the average user could even think of owning, for example, a whopping great ten or twenty megabyte hard drive!
FLASH – A-HAA!
In recent years, then, a great boon to the growing numbers of retro computing enthusiasts, especially gamers, has been the invention of such very clever, and affordable, compact IDE interfaces. They offer the capability of clipping in a CompactFlash or, more often of late, SD card, with a few electronic components and some clever firmware to provide, in effect, a disc operating system or DOS – thus forming an affordable and high capacity solid state drive system with capabilities which would have been a mere pipe dream in the 1980s.
The enormous advantage of such a system is, of course, that it enables the mass storage of the hundreds, thousands, or – in the case of the Sinclair range, tens of thousands – of games and other programs which, having in many cases been abandoned by their past publishers, many of whom are no longer in business, are readily available online as digital files, in various formats, for use with emulators.
One such system was launched for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum range of computers last year by Ben Versteeg of ByteDelight.com in the Netherlands, who is well-known in the world-wide retro computing community. It is called the DivMMC EnJOY!