Video: First looks at the RGB2HDMI for Amstrad CPC

Introduction

I blogged about this new RGB2HDMI card here but now you can watch the video showing it’s features.

Check it out.

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Video: First looks at the Ultimate CPC MIDI Sound & MIDI Interface Card

Introduction

I blogged about the Ultimate Midi sound card for Amstrad CPC here, but this post is to point you to a video I uploaded to youtube, take a look and see and hear for yourself how cool this card is !

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First looks at the Ultimate CPC MIDI Sound & MIDI Interface Card

Introduction

I saw a video on an Amstrad CPC facebook group that I thought was rather amazing, in it was an Amstrad CPC 464 with cards connected to the expansion slot and playing back MIDI music brilliantly, it sounded so cool, I knew I had to try one.

This card is the work of Michael Wessel, who truly loves anything MIDI and is a keen fan of the Amstrad CPC. He started out using an Amiga 500 but later progressed to an Amstrad CPC and was disappointed that there weren’t any decent MIDI alternatives for the CPC, so he created one, the Ultimate CPC MIDI card !

To follow his GitHub project see here.

The card is loaded with features and they are listed below.

  • CPC MIDI Soundcard using the S2 GM MIDI Module from Serdashop
  • CPC can send MIDI data over output port &FBEE to the S2
  • MIDI IN and MIDI OUT via Adadfruit Midifeather (standard MIDI DIN sockets)
  • MIDI IN to the CPC: check for new MIDI byte on input port &FBFE and fetch pending byte from buffer via &FBEE
  • MIDI soft through: all incoming MIDI data (from CPC or MIDI IN) can be forwarded / relayed to the MIDI OUT socket (“MIDI SOFT THRU”)
  • CPC MIDI Synthesizer software in machine code (MIDI INPUT demo)
  • CPC GM Drumcomputer software in BASIC (MIDI OUTPUT demo)
  • “Lazy engineering”: MX4 compatible CPC extension board using three sockets, one for the Blue Pill, one for the S2, one for the optional Midifeather.
  • Only one additional chip required – a GAL22V10 programmed as an address decoder. The Blue Bill does not have enough 5V-compatible GPIO ports to do the decoding fully in sofware
  • Everything else is done purely in software – unlike LampdaSpeak, no additional glue logic is required to manage the databus (e.g., no flip flop to latch the databus upon IOWRITE requests, or busdriver to tristate the microcontroller output to the bus upon IOREAD requests). The 72 MHz Blue Pill is fast enough to respond to and manage IO requests and the databus via ISRs (Interupt Service Routines). It was tedious to get the timing of the ISRs right (done by inserting __asm__("nop") at the right spots), but it works flawlessly by now.
  • No extra circuitry for Z80 /WAIT management
  • Low cost – final PCB will be in the 50 to 60 EUR range
  • Very DIY friendly (no SMD, plug and play of standard modules)

The brains in the card which handles MIDI, is the Blue Pill card (plugged into the front of the card, on the right side facing you). On the rear of the card is an S2 sound card which gives great audio output, you can also upgrade to an even better Roland compatible X2 GS sound card but it’s not cheap.

But let’s start getting to know the card and to do that we’ll first test get it plugged into the CPC. For that you’ll need a connector board as it won’t plug in directly to the CPC. You also optionally need a MAXAM rom board to handle the assembly files, more of that later.

Below is the connector board I purchased from Michael, you can find similar ones on ebay.

And here’s my ROM board, complete with a few ROMS including MAXAM 1.5.

Tip. If you are using multiple ROMS only enable the MAXAM during recording as the other ROMS can cause incompatibilities.

Connect everything up so it looks something like this. Note: In the photo below I have not got my MIDI cables connected yet.

There are some additional things you’ll need, for example you’ll want to connect the board up to your speakers, and for that you’ll need a 3.5 inch audio cable and you’ll need USB to MIDI cables to connect to your PC. Lastly, if you want to connect to a MIDI device (like a MIDI keyboard) you’ll need MIDI cables.

Note: Not all MIDI cables are the same, I ordered another one initially (no-name cheap crap) and it produced more problems than it solved, the cables below worked perfectly for me.

Getting connected to your PC

Now that you have the board connected up, you’ll want to verify that it’s talking to the CPC and vice versa. The board comes with 2 DIN sockets, one for MIDI in and one for MIDI out. The corresponding cables need to be connected to your DIN sockets. You’ll also want to get some MIDI capable software to run on your PC. I recommend MIDI-OX which is free for personal use.

Once you’ve downloaded that software, install it, then start it up and connect your USB to MIDI cable to your PC. The MIDI cable doesn’t need any drivers and should be auto-detected by Windows. I’ve tested it on Windows 10 (and Windows 11) with no issues. If you look in device manager you’ll see the MIDI cable show up under Sound, Video and game controllers.

Next, start up MIDI-OX. Click on Options and set the MIDI-in and MIDI-out options to point to your MIDI-USB cable.

At this point if you output some MIDI on the CPC you should see it reflected in the MIDI-OX window.

But let’s start with recording something from the PC to the CPC. To do that, start up MIDI-bar (in C:\Program Files (x86)\MIDIOX\Midibar.exe)

Once again, you’ll need to configure it to point to your MIDI-USB cable by clicking on the circle with dots, then select your USB MIDI Interface from the options available.

Once done, download the following DSK files from Michaels GitHub, I used the following but he keeps updating with more content.

You’ll also want to download some MIDI files to test with. There are some samples on Michaels GitHub.

https://github.com/lambdamikel/BluePillCPC/tree/main/midi

On the UltMidi3 disc you’ll find a Recorde2.bas file, run it and you’ll see options to record (1), playback (2) and so on. In the short video below I played back a MIDI file using Minibar on the PC and recorded it directly to the CPC, amazing !

IMG_5218

After you’ve recorded your MIDI file from the PC to the CPC you can save it for playback. It’s all really awesome.

Connecting a MIDI keyboard

You can also connect up your MIDI keyboard and configure it to output to the MIDI cable (check the Manual for your MIDI keyboard to do so). I set the following two settings on my MIDI keyboard, function 15, 16.

  • 015: Local Off
  • 016: External Clock OFF

With Michaels help we figured out that my Yamaha YP2-230 MIDI keyboard was outputting to channel 1 (using Midi-OX we could see that). So we edited a line in one of his programs to point to that channel instead of the default (channel 0).

The result ?

I could play on the MIDI keyboard and using CPCSynth.bas from the UltMidi.dsk I was able to see that happening in real time on the Amstrad CPC, awesome or what.

If you have access to a 512KB expansion on a 464 (like the DDI5) you can try out the 512 KB MIDI from RAM playback2.bin with EYESKY.DSK demo.

Conclusion

The Ultimate CPC MIDI Sound & MIDI Interface Card is just that, it’s amazing. It gives you options to play MIDI like you’ve never heard it before on your Amstrad CPC either directly through the CPC speaker or via some external speakers. You will be blown away by the sound quality.

That said, you will however need a fair amount of equipment, cables, software and patience to get it all going but the end result is definitely worth it !

I’ll upload a video review of the card to my youtube channel in the coming days, so please stay tuned !

 

 

 

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First looks at the RGB2HDMI adapter from Piotr Bugaj

Introduction

I recently ordered an RGB2HDMI adapter made by Piotr Bugaj via the SellMyRetro website here. The device cost me 55 GBP + another 5 Euro postage. I was excited to test this alternative method of showing Amstrad content on modern monitors as I’ve been using the following method on my LCD for the last few years.

The hardware is based on a publicly available GitHub project called RGBtoHDMI which was originally designed for the BBC Micro but works on many different systems. The hardware runs on a Raspberry Pi Zero W v 1.1.  You can get details about the RGBtoHDMI project here.

When the device arrived it came with an anti static bag, a receipt, no instructions and a DIN 6 cable to connect from the RGB2HDMI adapter to a CPC 464/6128 . There is also a CPC + cable available for purchase from Piotr but I did not get one.

The original for sale post on SellMyRetro says a 5v power supply is required, but basically any USB-A cable with a mini USB-A connector that is connected to 5v output will do.

What it didn’t mention was that you’ll also need a mini-HDMI cable connector to connect up to your LCD or monitor. The mini-HDMI connector is shown in the red box below.

I ordered a mini-HDMI cable that had a DVI connector on the other end which I could connect to my old Dell LCD. I also sourced a USB-A to USB-A mini cable which I’ll use for powering the device by connecting it to a USB-A powered port.

So what’s in the 3D printed box ?

I carefully removed the device from it’s enclosure to get a close look at what it’s made of, you can see it disassembled here. At the bottom of the photo you see the Raspberry Pi Zero W v 1.1 and there are a further two mini boards that sit on top of it.

Both of the other boards belong to the RGBtoHD project, one is a Three/Four level analog RGB/YUV & composite monochrome interface for RGBtoHD, and the other is the RGBtoHD 12 Bit issue 4 board which contains the switches and leds as well as the Xilinx CPLD.

Strangely, none of the boards are branded with Piotr’s usual ZAXON brand.

After connecting everything up and playing with the device, I determined that the three horizontal switches and LED’s on the device work like so. It would be useful if this information was shared with the device in printed format or better yet, 3D printed on the device.

According to the wiki quick start guide the buttons do as follows:

SW1:
Short press = Call up menu
Long press = toggle scanlines (if available) on/off

SW2:
Short press = Screen capture (File is written to SD card)
Long press = Toggle NTSC artifact colours on/off

SW3:
Short press = Enable (if disabled) or refresh genlock
Long press = Calibrate sampling position

When the menu is on screen:

SW1: Select menu option or enter editing mode for the selected parameter
SW2: Cursor Down or increase selected parameter
SW3: Cursor Up of decrease selected parameter

Pressing SW2 and SW3 together will take a screen capture with the menu on screen

A fourth button SW4 can be used to reset the Pi but only if an additional 2 pin header is fitted on the Pi zero.

Connecting the device

To use the device, connect a 5v mini USB-A power cable to the mini USB-A port on the right side under the 5V LED, and connect your mini HDMI cable to the mini HDMI connector. You can see those cables are connected here along with some explanations of what the ports are.

On the left side of the device, is the micro SD card slot where a 4GB card contains the files needed for the solution. On the right side there’s a 6 pin connection slot for a cable supplied with the device, that cable is either for connecting to a CPC or CPC+ model, depending on what you order.

Once you have connected the device it’s time to turn everything on. I connected up an Amstrad CPC 472. I noticed that the borders normally evident on an Amstrad monitor were not present, in other words the text went right to the edge of the screen. You can see that in the photo below.

After some digging around in the settings, I later found out in the configuration where to change that setting, more about that later.

The colours are bright and cheerful, there is little if no noise on the screen, it really looks great.

Using the On Screen Menu

The power of this device is in that it is flexible, and there are lots of settings that you can play with in the on screen menu (OSD). Pressing the first button brings up the menu, and you can then scroll through the settings or change them, it’s very easy to do so and intuitive.

Note: be careful about what you change as you can screw it up, for example I played around with the resolution and after saving the changes and rebooting the Pi, I got no video.  To solve that I had to eject the 4GB mini SD card, mount it on my PC and copy the contents of the default_config.txt to config.txt. You can see those files below.

Remember the no-border I talked about before ? to change that simply bring up the OSD and navigate to Scaling. Mine was set to Auto (Integer/Sharp).

After pressing the menu button and changing that setting to Interpolate Full/Soft I got the Amstrad border look I wanted.

Don’t forget to Save your configuration by selecting Save Configuration. Followed by Return, it’ll inform you that a reboot is needed.

After changing the setting, it looks like this, which is more accurate in terms of an Amstrad display.

Saving screen captures from the CPC

The RGB2HDMI comes with another great feature and that is the ability to take screen captures from the CPC. Below are some screen captures I took, it’s so easy to do and really show’s the power of your CPC.

It’s simple to activate, just press and hold the middle button in for a few seconds when not in the OSD. Once done, you’ll briefly see a message across the screen telling you where it’s saving the screen capture and it’s file name. Check out these sample screen captures, amazing quality !

Conclusion

The RGB2HDMI device is very nice indeed, it’s tiny, and it’s small size hides it’s power. It’s built on well established hardware using a publicly available GitHub project so development will continue for a long time I’m sure. It’s encased in a nicely 3D printed case and the price is OK, considering what you get. Well done Piotr on making this available for the Amstrad CPC and CPC+ computers. Hopefully he’ll read this and include some of my thoughts in the next version.

well that’s my first look at the RGB2HDMI, what do you think of it ?

cheers

niall

 

Posted in Amstrad, RGB2HDMI | 5 Comments

Video: A closer look at the Amstrad CPC 472

Introduction

In this video I show you the two different versions of Amstrad CPC 472 that were sold in Spain between September and December 1985 and explain which of them is rarest and how you can find one for yourself ! Enjoy.

 

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A closer look at the Amstrad CPC 472 timeline

Introduction

Of all the Amstrad CPC’s, the CPC 472 definitely fascinates me. Amstrad sold the CPC 464 model in Spain as elsewhere in Europe but due to local laws and added tariffs, Amstrad was forced to change how the original CPC 464 was sold in Spain, and therefore their were actually 4 distinct incarnations of the Amstrad CPC 464 sold in Spain, listed below.

  1. CPC 464 with British keyboard and Basic 1.0
  2. CPC 472 with British keyboard and Basic 1.1
  3. CPC 472 with Spanish keyboard and Basic 1.0
  4. CPC 464 with Spanish keyboard and Basic 1.0

So what was the CPC 472 actually ? The CPC 472 versions had an extra 8k RAM which was unused, 64k+8k = 72k. That extra 8k was enough to avoid the 90 Euro tariff (approx 15,000 pesetas).

These CPC’s however were all CPC 464 under the hood in looks, motherboard and more, they did have an additional daughter board soldered on to make it look like the total of 72k was real, but it was fake. This was a 64k computer with different versions of Basic, different boot roms, and different languages on the keyboard.

Below you can see the hack, with the Spanish ROM. This photo is from a late CPC 472 with the ‘ene’ key and Spanish keyboard.

40037   32K ROM; BIOS and BASIC for CPC464 and Late-CPC472-models (Spanish)

Timeline

Based on the info I’ve found so far, I’ve updated an existing Amstrad Wiki timeline with 472 specific information, it’s approximate, so if you have more accurate info let me know.

The gap of possible sales of the CPC 472 would probably have started sometime after August 28th 1985 + 2 weeks if you take into account the amount of time engineers had to create the workaround.

Sales of the CPC 472 would presumably have ended January 1st, 1986 when Spain joined the EEC as therefore the tariff would no longer apply, and therefore no justification for the CPC 472 would exist. So in the timeline below, I am guessing that the CPC 472 was actually offered for Sale some time after August 25th/September 3rd 1985 and up until January 1986.

Note: If anyone has a CPC 472 that was purchased before July 17th 1985 or after December 1985, then please let me know and include a photo of the back plate including the serial number for proof. I will then update this CPC 472 specific timeline.

That said, if there were any unsold stock of 472’s left over after January 1st then we may have seen them sold after this time. This would mean that the timeline for CPC 472 availability would be approximately from August 28th – December 31st 1985.

A closer look

The first 464 sold in Spain had a British keyboard, Basic 1.0 and looked just like a normal CPC 464. Below is a photo of one which I found on the Spanish sales site Wallapop today.

Then on July 17th 1985, a law (or royal decree) was signed into Spanish law declaring that all computers that were imported into Spain had to have an additional tariff (extra customs charge) added. This was probably related to a Spanish company called Eurohard which wanted to sell their 1 million Euro stock of Spanish made Dragon mini computers to the home market.

This tariff added approximately 90 Euros per CPC sold in Spain and would have been the  end of the CPC in that market.

However, August 28th 1985, the law was amended, as companies that imported PC hardware in Spain lobbied the government to add an addendum to make the tariff only applicable for imported computers with less than or equal to 64k of RAM.

This effectively meant that any CPC with more than 64k could be sold without a tariff. This was enough for the Amstrad engineers to come up with a justification for the extra 8k RAM in the CPC 472, even though the actual RAM was unused.

 

Below you can see a CPC 472 with a British keyboard.

Below is a CPC 472 with a Spanish keyboard

And below is a Spanish keyboard CPC 464 (which would have been after the CPC 472 were  produced)

And below is a very late Schneider branded CPC 464 with a Spanish keyboard

The CPC 472 serial number

The serial number on the back of your CPC 472 reveals where and when it was made. Thanks go to the cpcwiki for this info. The serial number used on CPC 472’s should be in the following format:

“123456 Kxx-yy”

  • K is the country of production (K for Korea – South Korea)
  • xx is the plant (31 or 32 are the two codes that typically found).
  • yy is the year and month of leaving the factory. First digit represents the year (4 for 1984, 5 for 1985), second digit represents the month (1 through 9 = January-September, X, Y and Z= October, November and December)
  • Finally, the 6-digit number is the actual serial production sequence number fr that factory and year

Examples:

  • 93132 K32-54 => Korea factory 32 – April 1985 (a 664)
  • 218 167 K32-5X => Korea Factory 31 – October 1985 (a 6128)

Below you can see three CPC 472 genuine serial numbers.

Serial: 247129 K31 – 5X (October 1985)

Serial: 242265 K3- 5- (1985)

Serial: 283097 K31 – 5Z (December 1985 )

Where can I buy one ?

Try ebay.es or es.wallapop.com, keep in mind you’ll probably need to find a friend in Spain to assist you with the purchase if it’s from the Wallapop site. They range in price from 99 Euros up to many hundreds more, depending on condition and what they come with.

Conclusion

If you compare the timeline (and locations) of where CPC 472’s were actually sold to that of the Amstrad CPC 664, I think this device is actually rarer than the coveted CPC 664, and it should get that recognition. My advice ? Buy one now, while you can. I suspect that they will go up in price.

Related reading

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Video: First looks at the Dandanator Mini Dual

Introduction

I blogged about the newly released Dandanator Mini Dual here, take a look at that to find out how to buy one for yourself. And now I’ve released a video showing you my device in all it’s glory, check it out and if you haven’t already please do me a favor, give it a like and subscribe and comment. Thank you !

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First looks at the CPC Dandanator Mini Dual

Introduction

I’ve previously looked at other DanDanator devices here and this is yet another new version from the cool guys at Rancanuo team.

As you can see it’s very colourful and oozing with charm. The cases are lovingly 3d printed, and very good quality.

I got mine in yellow but they come in bright colours as you can see here.

I’ll upload a video soon so you can see how it works and get up close.

Where can I get one ?

I bought a yellow one from the Spanish version of ebay here and it cost 45 Euros (+ shipping which came to 65 Euros). I must admit the red and blue ones are also cool looking 🙂 and even the green one !

How can I load games on it ?

To load your own compilation of games or to load a pre-compiled ROM please see my post here.

How can I use the diagnostic rom ?

The alternate rom (Red button) comes with a default diagnostics program which is nothing fancy. To use the diagnostics rom simply press and hold down the Red button while powering on your cpc, it’ll launch the diags from that rom.

I’d highly recommend you replace it with Noel’s diagnostics which I show you how to do here.

Technical Specs

New selectable SWITCH button, allows one-handed flash change management
Colored push buttons and high quality stickers. When you look at it at first it looks like there are LED’s beside the switch, but there are none, it’s just clever art work. I actually think it would be cool if there was an LED showing which switch position you are in.

SMD technology which reduces the space occupied by the components and allows the inclusion of An additional flash memory to double the capacity (1M vs. 512K of the original version) Flash selectable by switcH

PCB same size as the original version.

Compatible with all CPC 64k and 128K models.

– SMD technology which reduces the space occupied by the components and allows to include
An additional flash memory to double the capacity (1M vs 512K of the source version
– Flash selectable by jumper
– PCB same size as the original version

• Offers 512k of instant access memory for developing advanced multi-level games offering a “console-like” experience.
• Instantly load selected 128k / 48k / ROM Programs / Games via menu on Amstrad CPC
• Games / programs can be changed from the CPC itself without the need for additional hardware via USB.
• Allows you to compress games to fit more on the cartridge.
• Works without jumpers or configuration on any CPC 464, 664, 6128, 464+ and 6128+ with adapter.
• Supports images in SNA, CDT and DSK format (in proof). It does not support multi-load games.
• Allows you to select pokes from a WinApe compatible library or enter them manually.
• You can “freeze” the splash screens at startup for our enjoyment.
• Offers software for creating, managing and transferring game romsets for Windows, MacOS and Linux.
• Supported in RetroVirtualMachine, Arnold and zesarux emulators
• Test Rom by McLeod Ideafix
• Public domain project

The Dandator project creator can be found here:

www.dandare.es

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Video: The saddest Amstrad CPC 464 – part 1

Introduction

This poor Amstrad CPC 464 has clearly not enjoyed the best life, it’s obviously neglected, missing keys, has burn marks, paint stains, cracks, spills and more. Yet against all the odds, it has survived.

This is part 1 of fixing this poor thing up, I want you to help decide what we’ll do with it *within reason*, please watch the video to see what the options are, or if you have other good ideas, please let me know what you think we should do with it.

Huge thanks go to Christopher Dragon (check out his youtube channel here – https://youtu.be/ideOrvUd3nc?t=316 ) for very kindly donating this CPC 464 to me, I’ll make sure it get’s repaired and that we are all happy with the end result, thanks again Christopher !

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Video: Getting custom cartridges on your Amstrad 464 or 6128 Plus

Introduction

In the video below I show you the unboxing of 8 games I got made in Cartridge format and explain where I got them, to read about it check my blog post here.

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