Much to my surprise, on Sunday I received an SMS stating that the Amstrad CPC 464 I was expecting to be delivered on Tuesday, was actually being delivered between 10am and 2pm. As it was already 12:30pm, I figured I wouldn’t have long to wait, and no, I didn’t.
The courier rang on the doorbell, which I answered and handed over a nondescript plastic courier bag. Ruh Roh. No box. I could even feel the system through the bag so not even bubble wrap!
I got it to the bench, removed the packaging and… it was in near mint condition.
All the buttons.
No major cracks or scratches.
Even the tape counter button was intact.
Would I be as lucky with it actually working? Only one way to find out.
As the system runs off 5v, Center positive with a 2.1mm barrel jack, I could use my USB to barrel jack adapter. I carefully plugged it in and… Nothing. Wait. Maybe this has an on switch somewhere. (Fumble fumble). Find the switch and… I have a red light! Awesome! That means at least the power subsystem is working. I quickly unplug.
Now for some video out. The CPC was originally sold with an attached CRT that connected directly, and provided power as well. I didn’t have one of those, and I didn’t particularly want one of those. (I have plenty of dodgy CRTs taking up space in my study, thank you very much).
Thankfully I’d been to my local electronics hardware store a few days before hand in preparedness for the CPC arriving and had a collection of bits ready to go.
First up was a simple black and white cable, consisting of a RCA connector connected to the Ground (Pin 5) and Luminance (Pin 6) lines. This is how the original CPC Monochrome monitors were connected.
Plug it in and… Success! I have a CPC picture!
Yay! Now let’s see if I can get colour.
The next step is to see if I can get colour. I worked off guides for cable adapters to connect the CPC to the ubiquitous GBS8200 image scaler, and hoped I’d be able to use my 15KHz compatible monitor to connect, in a similar way as my Apple IIgs is.
It really was as simple as taking some suitable cable and wiring red to red, green to green, blue to blue, ground to GND, hsync to SYNC, the shield through and that’s it.
I plugged it in and connected my 15KHz screen and… it works as well!
Woohoo! I have colour!
Now what? Let’s test it. I have exactly ONE tape. “TimeMan One”. I know nothing about this but we’ll give it a go to see if the tape drive works.
I stick it in, follow the magic commands (RUN””<enter> followed by <ctrl>+<enter>, then press play on tape followed by a key on the keyboard) and the tape drive whirls to life!
OMG! it lives! I wonder if it will load? I wonder what sort of game it is?
I walk away (This IS tape we’re talking about) and come back 15 minutes later and the program has loaded successfully. Woohoo!
Unfortunately TimeMan One is an absolutely dire “educational” title. Seriously, it’s just dull.
Time to get MORE games on it. I remember seeing a cassette to CD adapter (remember those?) in a box of parts I got with my C64 / VIC 20 haul, down among the proto boards for the VIC 20 and other random odd bits and pieces. A few minutes of digging and I still have it. Excellent! It even fits reasonably well. (There’s a slot in the tape cover, presumably for tuning tape head alignment, that the cable neatly passes through).
The next step was to find a way of reliably getting a tape image played out so the CPC could “hear” them.
This actually turned out to be the most complex step. While I had a good application for the ZX Spectrum, there was nothing official in the Android Store for the CPC to play back tape images. Eventually I found TapDancer, which I had to install from an APK (Something I usually prefer NOT to do, but as I’m using an old Samsung S4 as a “smart cassette” I’m not too fussed. It’s not even connected to WiFi), and that sort of works? It has a nasty tendency to crash at the drop of a hat.
I’m actively seeking a better solution.
My next steps are to get a DDI5 memory expansion / floppy disk emulator and to build up some joysticks for the system, preferably connected via a 2 player adapter, for the small number of games that required it.
All in all, it’s a lovely little machine. The picture is rock solid, thanks to the built in RGB and the library is an interesting mix of original titles and excellent ports from other systems.
One final note, I have started photographing screens of things like pinouts. It’s quicker than printing and more versatile than trying to open an unresponsive website on my phone. A useful trick…