Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Zeal E/PASO Communication Tool - part 2

In the first post about the Zeal E/PASO, we saw a bit of the history of personal computer network, and some informations about this communications terminal. In this post we'll see its insides and if it is or not a "hidden" MSX.

And What Is Inside Zeal E/PASO Communication Tool?

This is the board of Zeal E/PASO, it's very compact.

Magic. Pure Magic. That's what is inside this machine released in 1993 and sold until 1998. It's very easy to spot the Yamaha V9958 and the four RAM ICs (totalizing 128KB of VRAM), which means the E/PASO have the same video than a MSX2+, as other appliances that we saw before in this blog.

Yamaha V9958 and 128 512KB VRAM (4 x Hitachi HM514256)
(the RAM chips are all 256K x 4bits, but were used as if they have 64K x 4bits)

Close to the keyboard connectors we can see the MSX-SYSTEM chip. This Yamaha S3527 implements the PSG, PPI, slot handling and some additional logic. With it and the VDP checked, the only important piece missing to make a MSX is the Z80 processor.

Yamaha S3527 at top left, Hitachi HD64180RF6X at bottom
middle and, at right, a MaskROM and a EPROM.

And it's there, just behind the 12.288MHz crystal. It's a Hitachi HD64180RF-6X. It's a 16-bits processor made by Hitachi that keeps the compatibilty with Z80. It can run in "Z80" mode, which is almost the same of Z80 running at high speed, but it also have additional modes and could support up to 1MB without doing paging.

If we confirm that E/PASO is a MSX, it will not be the first using an enhanced Z80 as main processor. The first that comes to mind are the MSX TurboR machines, with the R800. But the A1GT and A1ST are not the only MSXs and not even the first ones to provide another CPU in addition to the Z80.

Victor released two MSX2 machines, the HC-90 and HC-95. Both are amazing machines with RS232C, video editing features, more memory and, of course, the turbo mode with the enhanced processor. They are the ultimate MSX2 machines.

The first item of this advertising from MSX Magazine 1987-04 translates to:
"(1) Turbo Mode to achieve the high-speed arithmetic processing"
Then it says that using the HD64180, running at 6.14MHz,
you will have 2.2 times the performance of other MSX2s.

The faster processor used by HC-90/95 is the HD64180, the same used by E/PASO. What E/PASO did first, is to use *only* the enhanced Z80.

There are some programs in the wild that uses some "bugs" and undocumented instructions of original Z80. Being a Z80 compatible, the HD64180 follows only the documented behavior of Z80, so the programs that uses the undocumented instructions won't work (or will freeze at random).

To have a high speed mode and the access the huge program library that the MSX have, the HC-90/95 have two processors: the HD64180 and a common Z80. You can select which processor will be active by a switch, at boot time. Changing the switch will choose the processor and the BIOS that will be used.

Victor HC-95's memory map, showing the two sets of BIOS/SUB-ROM
(this picture is from USB Secret Base)

The MSX TurboR machines have two processors, too. With two advantages over HC-90/95: you can select between Z80 or R800 by software and at will, not only at boot time.

E/PASO was a appliance built to run only the built-in software. The upside of being a appliance was that it had no need to run all MSX software, which means that there was no need of a additional Z80 to solve any incompatibility between the some software and the HD64180. To save money and keep the design simple, the E/PASO can have only the HD64180 as its main processor.

At right of HD64180 processor, the E/PASO have a Hitachi HN62321 MaskROM, with 128KB, and a EPROM with a sticker saying "E/P ver1.00". I guess the Hitachi is the Kanji-ROM and the E/PASO software is in the EPROM. Good, that this EPROM is on a socket,  that makes it easier to dump this software. I am very curious about what is inside this EPROM.

There is also two ICs labeled as "E/P 1" and "E/P 2", which I don't have any idea about what they are. At their left side we have a RAM chip, a Hyundai HY62256 with... 32KB. Seriously? This machine have only 32KB RAM!?!? This is the downside of being a appliance. A huge downside in my opinion, considering that this machine doesn't have a lot of internal space to put more RAM and almost no external expansion possibilities.

The modem circuitry is at PCB's left side. Looks like a separated world from the rest of PCB, and deserves it's own silk saying:  "ZEAL MODEM". This world have a modem in a chip (IST SC11024CQ), which needs to be used in conjunction of a modem controller (IST SC11043CQ). This set have it's own clock and a 32KB RAM (another Hyundai HY62256). Next to the RAM there is another IC labeled as "E/P 3". Like the "E/P 1" and "E/P 2", I don't have idea of what the "E/P 3" is.

If we consider only the components used in Zeal E/PASO, it's a MSX based machine. But, as usual, we need to check the contents of E/PASO's EPROM, so we can confirm the MSX architecture.

And we will take a look on this EPROM in our next post.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Zeal E/PASO Communication Tool - part 1

I wrote this post some time ago and was waiting for the end of "MSX and video production" series or a special date to publish it. Well, the "MSX and video production" is still going, but this weekend is a special date for MSX users in Brazil: It's the MSX Jaú meeting, the biggest and most famous MSX users meeting in Brazil.

So, I hope you enjoy the Zeal E/PASO Communication Tool and can see it at Jaú.

Today there is a urge to put all appliances connected through network and some manufacturers pushes the access to network services using the television as video display, or by providing the computer capabilities in the television itself (the so called SmartTVs), or with the aid of dedicated appliances (like the many Android-on-a-stick-with-HDMI).

Although this last try seems to be the most successful, it is not the first one to make the TV the gateway to the network. The connected world is an old dream and, from the late 70s/early 80s, the network services were selling to user the possibility of online shopping, electronic mail, access to libraries, etc.

Another dream almost as old as the connected world using the TV, is to provide a low complexity access to the "common Joe". With this easy access, the network could be used by everyone and not only for the computer literate. By many years people thought this objective would be achieved using videotex dedicated terminals. Those terminals are appliances connected to the phone line and the television. When you power on the terminal, you can use the videotex network. No need to suffer to install software or memorizing arcane commands.

See? The videotex decoder gives access to everything!
(from Popular Mechanics - November 1982)

But the videotex services aren't the only kind of last century's network, taking a another path we had the "online services".  Those companies started renting computational power to their customers (usually other corporations), then they began to provide network services and, some time later to provide network applications (as electronic mail, file transfer, news, etc), using the information and communication infrastructure that they built.

Eventually those services began to be offered to consumer by the same companies that were doing the corporate services (like Compuserve) or by new ones (like Prodigy), dedicated to consumer market. Most of the users of these networks are microcomputer users. And that online services user base was much bigger than the videotex services.

Article about "Modems" in INPUT Magazine UK Vol.2 N.20, in 1984.
The article highlights the "armchair" shopping, electronic
mail, worldwide connection, videotex, bulletin boards, etc.
The videotex is only one of many options.

While in the last paragraph we used two USA companies as examples, the same dynamic happened in Japan, where Nifty-Serve, PC-VAN, ASCIInet and others grew in popularity and NTT CAPTAIN kept a much smaller user base.

Some of those networks had national presence, others were very small, some had a very broad scope with dozens of internal groups and others were highly specialized in one or few topics. To be part of this world usually you need a computer, a phone line, a modem and a paid subscription to play games, change messages with your friends, buy tickets, etc.

Answering the article's question, theLINKS is a network
exclusive to MSX computers, with games, message boards, etc.
(Article from MSXFAN 1987-04)

Zeal Corporation, at NTT's request, made a CAPTAIN terminal in 1992. Having the online services as a target and trying to avoid the complexity associated with computers, in 1993, Zeal Corporation releases the E/PASO, a communications terminal which have the computer and modem integrated in one compact unit. A new try to bring "common Joe" to the network.

"The race's information in your hands!"
(this pamphlet highlights the E/PASO access to JRA-VAN)

The selling point of E/PASO was "パソコンいらずのお手軽通信ツール" which translates to "Easy communication tool. No need of a personal computer". To have the world (and racing) information in your hands, you only need to connect the E/PASO to the TV, the power outlet and the phone line.

In the diagram you can see how to use the E/PASO

It's funny to see that Kobe Port CAPTAIN tries to sell more terminals telling to their users that CAPTAIN Multi-Station isn't only a videotex terminal, but a full fledged computer. Zeal goes the opposite way, trying to sell their terminals telling to their users that it's only a terminal and they won't need a computer.

The major providers had instructions to connect E/PASO to their network (these lists cames with my E/PASO unit, don' t know if they are provided by Zeal itself or by each provider):

ASCIInet instructions and phone numbers for E/PASO




The E/PASO was sold until 1998, when it got replaced by the DREAM TV Web Terminal, which, while uses the same cabinet, is totally different inside, with a MIPS PR31500 central processor and running Windows CE. With the same basic function, but instead to provide access to Online Services, BBS and Videotex, the "DREAM" was designed to surf in the World Wide Web. Another try to bring "common Joe" to the network using the TV as display device (if someone is counting, this is the third try).

DREAM TV Web Terminal - Not a MSX

Of course we don't care about Windows CE machines in this blog, so let's go back to E/PASO.

I bought my unit without knowing nothing about it's internals. I saw that it was a communications terminal, thought that this could be a interesting machine and bought it. I had luck:

It's a beautiful unit. It's not a surprise that Zeal keeps using this cabinet "forever"

The terminal is very compact and light. The keyboard have a modern look and have a nice "notebook" touch. The functions keys are renamed to functions specific to communications terminals: Configuration, Writer, Notes, Print, ID, Disconnect, etc.

Front view of Zeal E/PASO

Side view with the power switch

Rear view, where E/PASO have all its connectors: power connector,
printer port (Centronics 14-pin), expansion port (Centronics 24-pin),
Video/Audio (RCA) and two RJ11 to connect to the phone and line.

Nothing in this side

The connection's diagram that we saw before doesn't show the expansion port, probably to keep it simple to E/PASO's users. The product specifications says that an optional CD-ROM or disk drive are available to be used with E/PASO. If it's true, the expansion port is the only connector where those optional disk drives could be plugged.

When the machine is turned on it shows a list with many network providers and their numbers. Testing the function keys I found other screen to change those network configurations and another one with some kind of text editor.

That is what we see when we power on the E/PASO

The E/PASO can also works as a CAPTAIN terminal (the CAPTAIN phone number are in the second screen of network provider's list), but I can't test it as there is no CAPTAIN network available. Sadly this terminal don't have the CAPTAIN Tones capacity, a small drawback for a so clever appliance. This is the first CAPTAIN terminal that I saw who have a sound output and isn't compatible with CAPTAIN Tones.

Next post we'll see the insides of Zeal E/PASO Communication Tool.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-T33F and XV-T55F - part 1

As our MSX and video production series showed, Sony made a lot of video edit gear based in MSX technology. We already wrote about XV-T550, XV-J550, XV-J770, XV-J777 and XV-J555. The only one that wasn't based in MSX was the XV-T600.

Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-T55F

The Japanese Wikipedia have a list with some machines that they thought was MSX based. This list is very good, every machine in there is MSX based by this blog definition:

特にビデオタイトラーでは、ソニーのXV-J550/J770/T55Fシリーズや松下電器産業のVW-KT300などの家庭用タイトラーのハードウェア 構成は明らかにMSXを応用・流用したものである。ただし、これらの機種では基本はMSXシステムをベースとしていても独自の実装がなされており、特に BIOSなどは大幅に簡略化されMSXとしての機能は望めないなど、簡単な加工程度では汎用のMSXシステムとして使うことは不可能である。それらの MSXベースのタイトラーは安価なビデオタイトラーとしてはかなり普及していた時期があり、一時期は企業VPや解説ビデオやインディーズAVなどの小規模 なビデオ関連の作品などにはMSXの漢字ROMフォントとまったく同じフォントを用いたテロップを多く見かけることが出来た。これらのビデオ作品は一部で は2009年現在でも流通している。

In that list there is still one Sony Video Titler that we didn't verified, the Sony XV-T55F. Being in the list is enough to buy this titler. But that's not all, you don't need to be a very perceptive person to see the likeness of XV-T33F and XV-T55F:

Two Sony Video Titlers, XV-T55F at left and XV-T33F at right

Yes, they have the same form factor. So, I had no choice but buy a XV-T33F. Until now, all the titlers were targeted to the home-pro/semi-professional market, this ones are for the home market, as we can see in the XV-T33F box:

See? You can put text and
drawings over your home

Or in XV-T55F's manual:

Even a child can use it!

The XV-J555 is a departure from design of other Sony Video Titlers, integrating in the same unit the titler, the mouse (replaced by a trackball) and the keyboard controller. The Sony XV-T33F brings the design innovation one step further, now all the interaction is done using a stylus. As they have almost the same external look, we can say the same about the Sony XV-T55F. For brevity, all the pictures below are of XV-T55F:

This is the Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-T55F,
at the background you can see the box of XV-T33F

There are only a few buttons at left and right.
Most of user interaction needs to be done using
the included stylus.

At bottom you can see the battery compartment and the
"rails" to fix a video titler operation's cheat sheet.

At back of this unit we have a place to store the stylus.

The cheat sheet is somewhere in my
house. But while I can't find it,
you can see the cheat sheet's place
and the stylus storage in this picture
from XV-T55F manual.

Nothing amazing here, but maybe the serial
number could be useful for someone.

I was not able to take good pictures of the video inputs and outputs. The Sony XV-T55F have RCA video and S-Video connectors. One set for input and one ofr output. There is no audio inputs or outputs in this unit. You can see this a bit better in the manual:

The video input goes to the
connectors at left, the output
in the connectors at right.
Sound is ignored by this Titler,
in the picture it goes directly
from camera to VCR.

For completeness sake, this is my bad photo of the video inputs.

And this one is the bad picture
of the video outputs and the
power cord.

While the integrated "tablet" is a new thing for Sony Video Titlers, this blog already have a post about other Video Titler with a similar look, the Victor JX-T500. And this is not good news: the JX-T500 isn't MSX based.

What's inside the Sony XV-T55F?

The XV-T55F case is easy to open, you only need to take care with the few wires connecting the boards that are in the lower half, to the buttons and tablet surface, in the upper half.

The  two boards design. At the left side,
the mainboard and, at right, the superimpose module
(pick this name from XV-T33F's Service Manual)

As usual, we don't spend to many time with the video board. In the XV-T33F's Service Manual, the board is called "superimpose module", so we'll use this name here.

The superimpose module board.
I don't see anything great
about it. It's connected to
the mainboard and to the two
small side boards where the
video connectors (RCA and
S-Video) are located.

Now is time to check the mainboard. Let's remember what makes a MSX: Z80 processor, video processor compatible with TMS9928, at least 16KB of VRAM and 8KB of RAM, MSX BIOS and an equivalent of Intel 8255 PPI and GI AY-3-8910, usually those last two items and some additional logic are embedded in a MSX-Engine or MSX-System custom IC. In our "MSX based" checklist the MSX BIOS isn't a need, but the machine needs to be able to run it.

The main board. Here the fun begins. The V9938 is easily
spotted at right and the Zilog logo in the QFP located
at top-center shows to us where is the Z80.

Four Texas TMS4464 DRAMs,
each one with 64K x 4 bits,
totalizing 128KB of VRAM to
be used by the Yamaha V9938
VDP. It's interesting to notice
that this VDP was made in the
35th week of 1991.

A quick glimpse in the mainboard  shows two items from our checklist: the Yamaha V9938 VDP (the same of MSX2) at the right side and the Z80 CPU at the top-center. The V9938 with a 128KB VRAM are good signs for a MSX2 compatible machine. The ICs at left are ROMs and RAMs which can contain an MSX compatible software, which is a good sign, too.

ROM and RAM ICs, from top to bottom:
Fujitsu MB834000B - 512KB Mask-ROM;
SONY LH537507 - ????KB Mask-ROM;
Texas TMS48C128DJ - 128KB DRAM;
NEC D431000AGW - 128KB SRAM;

A close look on these ICs shows two ROMs and three different RAMs. There is a 512KB ROM from Fujitsu, which we guess houses the Video Titler Program ROM and a bigger one, with 42 pins, from Sony. I didn't found any doc with the size of this ROM, but the other ROMs with 42 pins  that I found are huge, with several Megabytes. I suppose this IC is where the Kanji fonts are located, they need a lot of space.

The three RAM ICs are two SRAMs and one DRAM. The DRAM have 128KB and is the Main RAM of this Video Titler. I don't know why there are two separated SRAM. Those ICs saves the titles and drawings created by the user and are backed by the AA batteries. I guess the smaller of those SRAMs are backed by another power source and can survive the battery change process.

At top, the Zilog Z84C0008 CPU;
at middle-center a big custom
gate-array from Sony and at bottom
a small buzzer.

The Z80 CPU is a Z840008 from Zilog. I don't know in which frequency it runs in this titler but it's able to run at 8MHz. It seems the late video titlers needs a faster CPU than the traditional Z80@3.57MHz. In the Victor JX-T800 and in Panasonic VW-KT300 we have the Z80 it running at 6MHz. The Victor JX-T500 is more radical and the Z80 was replaced by a processor from the Motorola 68k family.

While the other Sony Kanji Video Titlers uses the Yamaha S1985 (MSX-System II) to provides the PPI, PSG and all slot handling logic, the XV-T55F have a big custom gate-array with 120 pins, the MB620839 from Sony.

Again, we already saw the same approach in Panasonic VW-KT300 and Victor JX-T800. We can only know if these custom gate-arrays really implements the MSX architecture finding the documentation (almost impossible) or reading the ROMs and search the code to initialize and access the MSX hardware, like the slot handling, configure PPI ports, mute the PSG, etc.

In the VW-KT300 we saw the initialization code inside the Video Titler Program ROM and confirmed that it can run an unmodified MSX BIOS. These tests still needs to be done in JX-T800 and, now, in XV-T55F. I marked the Victor JX-T800 as MSX based, but now I am rethinking about that. Until the ROM was read we can't really say anything about the machine itself.

Next post we'll look the XV-T33F internals and disassembly its ROMs which are already dumped and available at HansO's site.

EDIT 2016-11-01: Fixed the correct frequency of Z80 in Panasonic's and Victor's video titlers. In the first version of this post it was published as "XMHz".

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-J555

In this series about MSX and video production we saw many Video Titlers; one from Panasonic, two from JVC and many from Sony. Of those, only the ones from Sony uses all standard MSX chips and a MSX compatible BIOS. I still have three other video edit gear from Sony to show.

Today is the day of Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-J555

The Sony Kanji Video Titler XV-J555

The first thing that we can saw is: Sony tried something different this time, at least in design. This isn't the first time that we saw a MSX with an integrated Trackball; nor the first Sony video equipment with a trackball. But, definetly, this is the first Video Titler with an integrated Trackball that we saw in this blog.

Connections of Sony Picture Computer XV-T600,
look the trackball connected to the "joystick" port

National FS-5500, a MSX2 with integrated trackball

By now it's the Sony Video Titler with less external connectors. It have only one A/V input and one output, both with RCA and S-Video connectors. The compact design eliminates the need of the keyboard connector as all the controls are in top of this unit. And, obviously, the integrated Trackball removes the DB9 joystick connector.

All the controls that the other Sony Video Titlers have
in their mini keyboards are integrated in XV-J555

Only one set of input and output connectors. The switch at
right selects the video between the RCA and S-Video

This lack of connectors isn't bad as it sounds: the Sony XV-J555 is Video Titler, not a computer. With all controls and interfaces packed in a single unit, it saves in maintenance as it have less connectors to break; for home users, less connectors equals simpler to learn; to the "home-pro" user being in a single unit will save space in his desk (that already have at least two VCRs, a camcorder, maybe a digitizer and color corrector...).

Anyone who buys vintage computers with separated keyboards can say another advantage of the all-in-one design: less items to be lost in the attics, storage units and basements.

What is inside Sony XV-J555?

At left side the mainboard. At the right side, the top
have the power supply and the bottom the trackball

Although with an inovative external design, the inside of Sony XV-J555 is very boring. Maybe some electronic engineer or technician could highlights something impressive in XV-J555's mainboard, but to my untrained eyes the only interesting stuff here is how this board looks compact compared with the others.

To our "MSX based" checklist, Sony XV-J555 checks all items: it have a Z80 compatible from Sharp (LH0080A), the MSX2 video processor (Yamaha V9938), a huge amount of ROM ICs (5 in total) and, at solder side, an Yamaha S1985 (MSX-System II) with all MSX2 logic. I still didn't dumped the ROMs, but even without the dumps I am pretty sure that this machine is an MSX based appliance.

From top to bottom: two 8KB SRAMs from Toshiba (TC5564APL)
powered by the CR2032 battery at its right side; then we
have three Fujitsu MB834000A ROMs, which one with 512KB;
the last one is a SONY MaskROM LH53103A.

Here we can see the a 128KB MaskROM (SONY LH531067),
the CPU (Sharp LH0080A) and a 30-pin connector

The XV-J555 have the same ROM ICs than XV-J550 and I won't be surprised if it have the exact the same or a slightly updated contents. Comparing with XV-J550, the XV-J555 doesn't have the big OKI IC and the, nice for hacking, MSX slot connector. I still don't have idea what the OKI M71H003 does, but I guess the 30-pin connector in the XV-J555 is the MSX connector substitute: you can connect a 128KB ROM with the diagnostics software there or some other auxiliar board.

The V9938, the four VRAMs (128KB) and the two RAMs (64KB)

The trackball! Sadly one of the plastic holders was broked
so it doesn't rolls well, but it isn't hard to fix it. The
connection between the two boards is by nine tiny wires.
Yes, it's a MSX joystick port, only the DB9 isn't here. From
the trackball board there is a connection with the top side
of XV-J555, where resides the two trackball buttons.

The solder side of XV-J555 have the Yamaha S1985 (we already knew that), the Sony MB64H444 custom mapper and another two big Sony ICs. My guess is that one (or both) those Sony ICs are the OKI M73H003 substitute, but it's only a guess.

Sony XV-J555 solder side

Can't read the top IC, but I guess it's a SONY L7A0264.
The one at center-middle is the SONY MB64H444

Yamaha S1985 (MSX-System II) and, hey, another board from Mitsumi

The SONY CXD1358, this same IC is in XV-T550, XV-J770 and XV-J777

This board signalizes again that Sony XV-J550 is the "father" of all Sony Video Titlers that we saw in this blog. The custom Sony custom ICs that we saw in XV-J555 are shared by XV-T550, XV-J770 and XV-J777, only XV-J550 has a different configuration.

After all, plus one to our list of MSX based Video Titlers. Next step, another two Video Titlers to check!