PC-6001 Demo Tape

This is NEC’s official demonstration tape for the PC-6001, which offers the user a glimpse into what is possible with their new computer.

It begins with a simple program that loads from tape in about five seconds, called “color”. It just shows off how many colors your computer can display (eight, although BASIC can only access them in terrible ways), and shows a couple of simple images that make use of these colors. The second picture shows that this cheap computer is just as capable as all of the expensive computers you can’t afford, as long as you sink a small fortune into expansions and peripherals. Motivating!

The second program shows some graphic capabilities. You can make graphs and charts and propel your career forward. If I recall correctly, the fifth image in this batch is from the third program, which shows off the audio capabilities of the machine, which are primitive, but still certainly add to the ambiance of a game.

Up last is probably the most interesting program on the tape, which shows a series of squares being drawn in different colors, rotated slightly and drawn over the existing squares, in series until the overall shape looks increasingly like a colorful circle.

I think there were more programs on the second side, I forget. I actually took these photos a few months ago. Anyway, I think this is a sufficient sample to get the idea.

One thing to remember is that NEC wanted to show users the machines capabilities, but actually the machine is *far* more capable than what you see here. You may recall the PC-6001 port of Eggy I posted about recently, it does a far superior job of showing the machine’s true power. Commodore had the same situation. Their demo disk showed so little of what the computer could do. To really push the limits of the machines, you have to get it into the hands of serious game developers, musicians, and even business software developers. These demo tapes and disks are really just the tip of the iceberg.

Also, since I took these pictures, I have acquired a PC-6001mk2. The difference is unreal. Quadruple the memory, far more sophisticated graphic modes and capabilities, vastly improved audio. The difference is really comparable to going from a VIC-20 to a Commodore 64 (which is not to say the machines themselves are quite comparable to the VIC-20 and Commodore 64, but the difference realized is about as big). Hard to believe they slapped on the same model number and just referred it as a new version, when it offered so much more.

Introduction to FM77AV20EX disk (5 of 5): Additional Software

This final branch of the demo disk is probably the most interesting to me. I love games, but I’m also really interested in 8-bit productivity applications. This highlights some of the productivity apps available for this system.

First up is Graphic Editor. It’s a ineloquent version of Photoshop, but then again, Photoshop 1 was also an ineloquent version of Photoshop! Actually I can’t judge its eloquency, but the demonstration was definitely over the top! This reminds me of an “examples of bad photoshop jobs” web page. But I think the reason was probably just limitation of technology at the time. It was 1987 on an 8-bit machine, after all!

I mean, okay, most of it can be explained. buildings in the background, sure. Bird in the sky and kayak on the water, only natural. I know I have seen elegant images of pianos on the beach, probably in music videos and the like. I’ll even give it the computer. Perhaps they were trying to make a statement, the computer looks as elegant on a beach as the piano, or perhaps it was just a cheeky placement of their product.; either way is fine. The three Leaning Towers of Pisa, though?! That’s just jumping the couch!

Three!

Next up is some animation software. Now, I don’t know what potential this software has. The demo is certainly unimpressive, but it might have good applications? I mean, it has the NTSC converter/superimpose/VCR output card as an option, it might not be too far a stretch that this could be used in a budget production system to create some simple multimedia animations to go with other video content. But I am not sure you would jump to such a conclusion by seeing this demo.

It establishes the three shapes as objects and seemingly automatically morphs from one object to the next as it goes across the screen. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Third is a demo of FM Teleact/FM Communication, which is a simulation of dialing into a Japanese data service/BBS system. I probably missed out by never doing this when I was a teen. But not only did I not have a modem, I didn’t really even have the concept of computers accessing remote services at the time. I probably would have enjoyed it.

The first screen introduces the software, and the second screen is the main menu when you launch the software, allowing you to connect to or to set up your services. The following three screens are all setup screens, just to show what options were available.

Finally, in the sixth screen, we connect and log in. The seventh screen shows us a menu of services, from which 3 is selected – a bulletin board system. On the eighth screen is a list of options for interacting with the bulletin board, you can manage your profile, engage in free talk, talk about hobbies, travel, and books, etc. The “user” chooses 9, a bulletin board to discuss computers and word processors. Beneath that, a list of posts are displayed. The user opens one and reads some information about advanced features of the FM77AV20EX and logs out. Probably don’t want to stay connected too long, I imagine getting on these services was quite expensive in Japan in the 80s!

Finally, and this is the most interesting to me, is FM Japanese Sheet, an application similar to a spreadsheet that allows your to enter user-defined columns of data and manipulate the data using a GUI. I really wish I could find a copy of this and try using it!

And this concludes this series on highlights of the FM77AV20EX system disk. Now to find something to do with my newfound free time!

Introduction to FM77AV20EX disk (4 of 5): Audio Software

As alluded to in the third article in this series, the machine has a 3-voice FM synthesizer (in addition to a 3-voice PSG synthesizer, for a max of six voices at once). I believe you could squeeze the full functionality of this by simply using the PLAY command in BASIC, but I am sure musicians would generally prefer a music composition software package with a GUI that is more intuitive and visual. Fujitsu’s got you covered!

First is FM Music Editor. Based on my experience with the Sharp X1 music editing software “V.I.P.”, I probably wouldn’t really be able to do much with this software even if it were physically possible, but unlike the X1, the FM77AV20EX doesn’t actually come with a software package, just demos, both passive and interactive. This demo was passive so it just started playing a song while displaying the music someone else had already composed. Which is good, because I couldn’t make that!

Next up is the sound editor. Again, not a clue what I’m doing. But it is an interactive demo, so I altered some values that caused the little triangle doohickeys to change shape, and that affected the overall sound. But I don’t think it necessarily sounded good!

And that’s actually kind of all for the music composition. The remainder of the software is for non-musicians. The third item in the menu is FM Music World, which I gather to be something of a multimedia encyclopedia of music. You can activate different parts of the world and make an improvised musical performance.

And finally, FM Music Box. It is a late-80s, synthesized music only version of WinAmp. I don’t know if it really kicks the llama’s ass or not, because this also is a non-interactive demo with only one song. I kinda feel they could have offered more so you could get a sense of what interacting with the software was like.

And that wraps up the music software menu branch!

Introduction to FM77AV20EX disk (3 of 5): System Features –

This begins sort of the core content of the disk. You’ve been warned not to flush your floppy disks down the toilet and you’ve become a master typist, now it’s time to see what makes this computer special! On today’s menu, we have:
– 4096-color generator mode comparison
– 4096 color chart
– FM sound synthesizer
– System specs
– Optional devices

First the color mode test. A scenic picture with an FM77AV20EX “photoshopped” in place. More on this in article 5. The progression goes from 8 colors to 64 colors to 512 colors and finally 4096 colors.

Look at that, 4096 colors. In 1987, I was still limited to 16 colors on my Commodore 64 or 128 (I forget when I actually upgraded). Look, I’m not knocking Commodore by a long shot, I have such a history with it. But this is 4096 colors! It has the same amount of RAM as the C128, so how does it squeeze out those extra colors? Blunt force. There’s a solid 96KB of video memory. I really should check into whether there was any sort of demo scene or art scene active from this era, because I’m certain it could be pushed much further than this picture shows.

Next is the color chart. Same concept, same progression.

It kind of looks less impressive shown this way, but we have seen a couple of examples already of how this can be used to good effect.

Third from this list is the FM sound synthesizer. It seems that the FM77 got its name from the fact that there are 77 instrument samples, and this demo highlights seven of them. The text is just a brief explanation of the utility.

I really ought to record some audio here, not because any single piece of music is that impressive sounding, but to give an idea of how clear the sound comes through. And again, I now want to search down more compositions.

Well, that concludes the exciting, multimedia portion of this menu branch. But we have a bit more content, continuing with the system specs:

It’s straightforward enough you probably don’t need much Japanese to figure it out. The CPU is a 6809 and it also has a 6809 for a “sub-CPU”. I’m not sure offhand what a sub-CPU means. I don’t think it’s exactly dual-processor, but perhaps delegates secondary tasks or something? The main RAM can be upgraded to 192KB, and it also has a 128KB kanji ROM.

Finally, optional devices. It’s broken down into three categories – audio, visual, and communications.

Audio:

1. Music Stereo Box – provides up to 8 FM voices at the same time through stereo channels (standard is 3). It provides an MML sequencer (music macro language) that allows for midi synchronization.
2. MIDI add-on – adds MIDI connectivity addressable through the BASIC PLAY command so no additional expensive software is necessary, but some programs are supported.
3. Voice synthesizer – add Japanese voice to your applications or reports.
4. Voice recognition – issue 64 different voice commands, and to customize your own command set.

Video:

1. Video digitizer card – real-time digitization of video images from TV or VCR. It converts them to 4096 color images in realtime (1/60 of a second) and dumps it to video RAM.
2. Video card – converts analog RGB signal to NTSC video signal. This can also be used to superimpose video signal and create videos for recording to a VCR.
3. Handy Image Scanner card – digitize materials and save them to disk.
4. NTSC adapter – Connect a TV or VCR to your FM77AV20EX

Communication:

1. 300/1200 baud modems – two different modems that allow you to dial into data services and networks.

Introduction to FM77AV20EX disk (2 of 5): Keyboard Practice

This is the keyboard practice branch of the menu. It is divided into three sections: alphabet, kana entry, and complex entry including kanji. Keyboard entry should not be so exciting, but I learned some good information here.

First is alphabetic entry. We can see that upon completion of a typing task, it tells us how long it took and how many mistakes we made. Don’t judge, I was typing in the dark to get a good picture! My most common mistake was my hands being shifted one column over from the home keys.

Next is kana entry. On a Japanese keyboard, even to this day, there is a hiragana (or sometimes katakana) character printed on almost every key. One keypress adds or alters one character.

It is a crude system to enter every possible sound made in Japanese. By the kana alone, you can enter an entire text document, and in fact people used to do it that way. Nowadays, very few people use this method, but it’s still available in today’s OSes.

Finally, the most interesting to me, is complex entry. Honestly, I didn’t think 8-bit computers had the capacity to operate this way.

I’ll spare details here, because it will probably get its own entry later. But this system is not so different from the much more modern, convenient IME entry. If you press ctrl-A, you switch to this newer method, and ctrl-S puts you back into kana entry. Actually, either method is capable of complex entry, but the newer method will be much more comfortable to people who didn’t use Japanese computers until after the 90s.