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SpectraVideo 328

Donors: Stefan Jones & Chris Chan
Location: New Brighton, MN

Thanks to Stefan Jones, I now have a full SpectraVideo 328 system! It includes the expansion unit, that plugs onto the back of the main unit. The expansion unit provides slots for various cards, kinda like a PC today. Included in this system were an 80 column graphics card, a printer interface card, and a floppy disk controller card. The two floppy drives simply sit on top the expansion unit case. I've taken a load of pictures of this gem. Take a look.

Once upon a time, Bill Gates wanted to break into the Japanese computer market. He tried to set up a standard, called MSX, so that different brands could swap software and components. Each computer would be compatible with the others, but could include special features of its own. Many of the MSX computers had special music hardware and could be hooked up to piano-type keyboards. One American company, SpectaVideo, decided to join the Japanese companies. Before it actually produced any real MSX compatible computers, it produced 2 wonderful quasi-MSX 8-bits computers, the 318 and the 328. The 318 had a chiclet keyboard with built in joystick and 32K RAM. The 328 had a real keyboard and 64K RAM. Both computers ran off a Zilog Z80 chip. Both had 32K worth of BASIC in ROM, which resulted in one of the finer versions of BASIC ever produced. They also had good sound and graphic ability, although the graphics were not quite as good as a C64. My 328 has a tape drive. Disks drives were also available. In the end, the Japanese MSX standard never caught on. (See? Bill doesn't always win.) The only non-SpectraVideo MSX computers I have ever seen were in a musical instrument store, years ago. There is an MSX Computer Club in Australia, the Melbourne MSX-Spectravideo Users Group.

Frances Fontaine kindly supplied me with a considerably more accurate history:

Harry Fox and Oscar Jutzler (two Swiss clock/watch makers who had moved to North America in the 1950s) made the SVI-318 and introduced it on the market. It was not a very big success, so in 1983 they asked Kazuhiro Nishi (also known as Kay Nishi) the head of ASCII Microsoft Japan, to help them redesign their computer.

Kay Nishi agreed to help them, on the condition, he could base his MSX standard on the SVI design that he would do. He then supplied the BASIC which is very close to the MSX-BASIC and remodelled the keyboard and expanded the RAM from 32k to 64k and released it as the SVI-328.

The idea behind MSX was that it would become a world standard for computers. (Much like other electrical appliances or devices adhere to, such as VCRs or lamps. A VCR of one brand will play tapes recorded by another brand of VCR. No matter which incadescent lamp you buy, the same light bulbs that will work in it, will work in other light sockets in your house as well.) It was to allow the interchange and addition of peripherals used on any of the MSX machines that were made by any of the MSX manufacturers. It would also allow for a larger software base that could be shared by all MSX computers. (You have to remember back in 1983 the computer market was very badly fragmented with IBM, Apple, Radio Shack, Commodore, Atari, Texas Instruments, Timex Sinclair and a host of CP/M based machines, all vying for the same support from manufacturers and market but for all those different types of machines and operating systems!) The MSX standard was supposed to eliminate that.

Bill Gates though, being the head of Microsoft internationally, had no wish to alienate the world's then largest computer manufacturer IBM and his client for MS-DOS (which was relatively new on the market), was not very supportive of MSX becoming a world-wide standard.

The MSX Standard was to be based on the following specifications (at least the first generation of MSX computers anyhow):

  • Z80 CPU
  • 16k RAM (minimum)
  • 32k ROM (minimum) with built BASIC
  • ROM Cartridge port
  • A Joystick port
  • 8K RAM for writing MSX-BASIC programs 16 colours
  • 3 sound generators with 8 octaves
  • 24 x 32 character screen
  • 256 x 196 pixel resolution - 32 sprites 1200 - 2400 baud capabilities
  • 72 key keyboard with 5 function keys, cursor control pad, and three other specialized keys.

Some of the companies to jump on the MSX bandwagon were: Spectravideo, Yamaha, Philips, Toshiba, Sanyo, Sony, Daewoo, Mitsubishi, Pioneer, and Panasonic among others. Out of all the MSX computers to become available internationally, the only MSX computer to be sold in North America was the Yamaha computer which had a MIDI-interface incorporated in it. Yamaha North America though, insisted on selling it as a musical device rather than as a personal computer.

Many of pioneered and implemented in their MSX computers back in 1983 and 1984, many devices and peripherals that we have only begun seeing available for manufacturersthese CX5M

PCs in recent years, such as the CD-ROM drive, MIDI-interface cards and 3.5 inch diskettes to name a few.

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