Saturday, January 16, 2016

Pioneer UC-V102 - Part 1

When I wrote about AUCNET I showed the path from my search from laserdiscs systems to the AUCNET NIA-2001. And that this was my best search, which gives AUCNET NIA-2001 and Pioneer UC-V102, and that I would talk about UC-V102 in a future post.

The future is now.

MSX2 Pioneer UC-V102
(another one compatible with Mitsubishi ML-G30 keyboard)

UC-V102 is a MSX2 computer by Pioneer. It doesn't have the MSX logo in the cabinet and the boot logo was disabled, but when you turn on this machine it goes directly to the BASIC prompt. No special firmware, just the good ol' MSX-BASIC 2.0.

MSX-BASIC prompt in Pioneer UC-V102
Pioneer is well known by the MSX community as the maker of two MSX1 models that have as special features the capacity to control some laserdisc players and superimpose their video output with the one generated by the computer. Pioneer even created a MSX BASIC extension called P-BASIC to control that special features.

Pioneer PX-7 + LD-7000 (picture from MSX Magazine 1984-07)

So, it's natural that Pioneer will be a great MSX2 supporter: the V9938 have greater graphic capabilities, more colors, more resolution, digitizer and genlock support, etc. In an exhibition in 1987, where some MSX manufacturers did show their new systems, Pioneer is there and showed the O-THE System:

News article from MSX Magazine 12-1987, featuring the "new" MSX2 from Pioneer

After that, no more news from Pioneer to the MSX world. There is no official MSX2 from Pioneer.

The Videodisc fever

Cover of BYTE Magazine
The videodiscs are a set of media and technologies that had the first commercial launches in the late 70s and comes to the present day with the DVD and Blueray disks. Some need a physical needle touching the disk, others uses the laser as a needle, some use digital formats, and others analog formats, some have a uniform data density, other have uniform spin velocity, etc.

But all they have a very important feature: you can watch an arbitrary scene, without the need to reel the tape to the correct position, which is a need in all the other video media of that time. With that, you can instantly goes from "scene 2" to "scene 10" and then goes back to "scene 3". This navigational capability and the high quality video makes the videodisc media the ideal for training courses, simulation machines, information kiosks, expositions and games.

CPR simulation system. There is an Apple II
behind the curtains controlling this system.
(Picture from BYTE Magazine 1982-06

Interzinc VIGS - Videodisc Gunnery Simulator
(Picture from Interzinc propaganda)

The early videodisc interactive systems are totally custom, with a computer interfaced directly to the player circuits. But the industry was quick and soon we had players controlled by RS232 and other easy interface options. Some players can load small programs from the media disc and be used stand alone, these are known as "Level 2" interactive systems. The interactive videodisc industry made a standard with "Levels", the laserdisc+computer set is the "Level 3", and is the level in use when you need more sofisticated control and additional capabilities.

Picture featuring the O-THE System in use for Computer Aided Instruction (CAI)
You can see the UC-V102 (video controller), the SS-D1 (video buffer) and the Laserdisc Player
(Picture from MSX Magazine 10-1989)

So, Pioneer did not sell UC-V102 as a MSX, but as a Videodisc Controller for "Level 3" interactive systems. I don't know if it was sold as an individual product, all documents that I found sells it bundled with other Laserdisc products as a integrated system: LD/VS1 in western countries and O-THE System in Japan. The target market was not the home computer, but the interactive videodisc systems market. This was a good move, the UC-V102 was one of the few MSX computers sold in North America.

It's interesting to see that the UC-V102 is the less "hidden" of Hidden MSXs. In the MSX Magazine 12-1987 article, it was identified as a MSX2. In the north american articles that I found about LD/VS-1 it's disclosed that the UC-V102 is a MSX2 computer, like this one:

"Compatibility of interactive videodisc systems"
Future Systems, 1987, Miller, Rockley L.

One of the authoring packages available for UC-V102 in western markets  is a version of CDS/Genesis system called "Genesis/MSX". And even MSX Magazine shows the computer again, in 1989, identifying the O-THE System as a "use of MSX" and compatible with the "MSX2 specification".

That's not a hidden machine!!! It's surprising that this system was unknown by MSX community for so long time, but besides the absence of MSX logo, there is no effort to hide that UC-V102 is a MSX computer. But what's inside this machine? That we will see in a next post.


  1. Im impressed with the level of detail and amount of work you put into this "archeology project", and I am eagerly awaiting next update..

    1. Thanks Jimmy! Finally the "next update" happened. I hope you enjoy it.