Commodore Amiga 500
Donor: Randy Baldwin
Location: Williamsburg, VA
What's the coolest personal computer in the world. For
my money, it's the Amiga. The Amiga 500 followed the
Amiga 1000. It was an all-in-one unit targeted towards
the home market. Why were Amigas so cool? Here's why:
The Amiga utilized both a graphical interface, and a
command line. (A little like having an xterm window open
in X Windows.) You could perform most tasks from the
graphical interface, but the command line was available
to those who liked it. The startup scripts on most Amigas
I've seen set up a small command line window at the
bottom of the screen. It combined the best of both
worlds. Plus you got long filenames.
The Amiga excelled at graphics. You had numerous
resolutions from which to pick namely:
- 320 x 200
- 320 x 400 (using interlacing)
- 640 x 200
- 640 x 400 (using interlacing)
The low resolution modes (320 x whatever) were good if
you had to use a TV as your display device. The high
resolution modes worked great with the Amiga monitor. The
interlaced modes tended to flicker quite a bit, but
that's the price you pay. You could buy additional
hardware that would eliminate the flicker.
You also had numerous color depths. You could have
anywhere from 2 to 16 colors (from a palette of 4096) in
any of the resolutions. In the low resolution modes, your
could also have 32 colors.
Additionally, there were two special modes available
in low resolution modes. One was called Half-Brite mode.
It gave you 64 colors, with a catch. You got to pick 32
colors, and 32 more were created that were half as bright
as the 32 you chose. It sounds weird, but was great for
games with drop shadows.
The other special mode was called Hold And Modify, or
HAM for short. HAM mode let you have all 4096 colors on
the screen at once. It performed this trick by creating a
16 color palette. A pixel could be one of those 16
colors, or it could copy two color values from the pixel
to its left and define the third color. For example, a
pixel could copy the red and green values from its
neighbor to the left, and define its own blue value. This
let you have all 4096 colors, but limited which colors
could be next to each other. Plus, changing one pixel
could potentially change the color of every pixel to the
right of it. Despite these limitations, HAM mode screen
could be gorgeous, for beyond what either IBM or Mac
machines could do. HAM mode was used mainly for still
screens, but a few games actually utilized it.
The Amiga also had other graphics features. A stock
Amiga 500 could output an RGB signal, or a monochrome
composite video signal. The 520 adapter allowed it to
also output color composite video and even an RF signal.
The AmiGen genlock would let you superimpose computer
graphics over a live video signal. The video feed would
replace the background color on the screen. This lets you
add titles to video and do a host of other neat things.
You could also capture still shots from a video
source. Digi-View, one such product, captured monochrome
graphics from a standard composite video source. It came
with red, green, and blue filters. You would take three
separate captures, one through each filter, plus one with
no filter, for luminance values. Then the software would
combine the 4 images into one glorious HAM screen. (You
could also take red and blue captures from two different
angles and make your own 3-D images.)
The Amiga also had great sound capabilities. It used
digital sound, through 4 separate channels. (Does your
Sound Blaster have 4 separate digital channels? I didn't
think so.) The sound was pumped through two audio
outputs, with 2 channels assigned to each one. This let
the Amiga produce true stereo sound.
Amiga music packages used digitized instruments for
their sound. There were programs that let you create your
own instruments by digitizing a sample and setting
looping points within the sample. The final output was
stunning. (Still is!)
Digitizers, like Perfect Sound, let you record your
own samples. Perfect Sound had dual inputs, which let you
directly record in stereo.
Amiga hard drives just plugged into the side of the
machine. Some had a switch on top that let you easily
switch between booting from the hard drive and booting
from floppy. The Amiga OS let you do a sort of symbolic
link that would allow you to run software designed for
floppies off the hard drive.
Amigas could also read 3½" IBM floppies and high
density Mac floppies. Memory expansion took the form of a
wedge shaped unit that fit into a cavity on the
Software is still being written for the Amiga. The
best source for Amiga software is at Aminet.
Amigas are capable of surfing the net, and since they can
read other systems' disks, it's not that hard to get them
set up for it.
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