Monday, May 23, 2016

NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station - part 2

The design of the two known MSX from Takaoka are very similar. Almost the same color palette (tedious beige) and structure. Until the NTT machine's arrival, I guessed the two metal boxes are the same, which is not true, one is a bit wider and lower than the other, and the NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station have more internal structures holding the cabinet together.

Top: NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station, Bottom: AUCNET NIA-2001

Front: First row: three buttons (Power, CAPTAIN, Telephone),
four leds (Power, CAPTAIN, Telephone, IC CARD), remote sensor,
two MSX cartridge slots (50 pins). Second row: keyboard
connector (DB25), two joystick conectors (DB9 male) and
the IC card slot.

Back: Power switch, two power outlets, ground, two phone jacks (RJ11),
a small metal plate, printer connector (Centronics 14-pin female), the phone
line selector (pulse, tone, etc), RGB connector, A/V connectors (RCA),
RF channel selector switch, and cable connectors.

Behind that small metal plate there is a lot of DIP switches.

And what's inside NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station?

Like the external design, the insides of the two MSXs from Takaoka are very similar.

AUCNET NIA-2001 internals: one big mother-board, MSX slots
connected by flat cables, a video daughter-board and modem daughter-board.

NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station internals: one big mother-board, MSX slots
connected by flat cables, a video daughter-board and modem daughter board.

The mainboard is the MSX computer, only the RF modulator and video outputs are in the video daughter board. The modem card is... a modem. So far I do not know how it is seen by MSX. The machine turn on and goes to CAPTAIN menu, even when the modem is not connected to the mainboard.

NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station uses a Sharp LH0080A (Z80 compatible) as main CPU, the PPI/PSG/etc are integrated in the MSX-SystemII (S1985 from Yamaha) and there are some Mask ROMs and a EPROM in the board. The three M5M231000 from Misubishi totals to 384KB of Kanji ROM. The BIOS and other code are in the socketed EPROM.

The small square chip at bottom is the S1985. The cable at
its side goes to front panel (where we can find the remote
sensor, three buttons and four leds). The CPU LH0080A is at
center, with the Mask ROMs at the left and the modem connector
at right. The small button at center-left is a reset switch.

Without booting in the MSX mode (and the remote controller is needed to do that) it isn't easy to know how much RAM is present and detected by the MSX. There are six RAM ICs from Mitsubishi and four empty sockets. The silk of those six RAM ICs are very washed, but I read 4464 on some of them. This is compatible with other sources that says the NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station have 192KB RAM.

About the empty sockets, two have a 4464 silk and the other two a 4416 silk. 256KB is a amount of RAM that makes sense. I believe the machine is ready for 256KB RAM, but sometime in development someone (NTT? Takaoka?) made the CAPTAIN software works fine with less RAM. And RAM costs money, so the machine goes to market with the not traditional 192KB RAM.

At top right there is a buzzer that can be switched on/off
by a external swith. At center you can see the four empty
sockets. The six RAM chips are at right. The bottom of this
board have the slot and power connectors.

The 4416 sockets are a bit more tricky to guess what would be their finality. But the 1986's article gives some light. The article's authors say the minimum requirement to use the designed CAPTAIN adapter is a MSX with 16KB RAM. And this is one of the many clues that NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station is a derived work of the equipment described in NTT's paper.

The modem have a speed unusual in MSX but common in CAPTAIN adapters: 4800/75bps. That speed and the Z80 SIO are more links between this machine and NTT previous research.

NTT CAPTAIN Multistation's modem board. There is a switch
to select the phone line type (pulse, tone, etc), a set of
dip switches that I don't know what they do and two phone
jacks, all those are accessible without the need to open
the machine. Talking about the ICs, there is a Z80 SIO
from Sharp (LH0084) and another big chip without any marks.

Close to video board we can see the Yamaha YM2413, the sound processor used in MSX-MUSIC and in many CAPTAIN terminals:

Yamaha YM2413 at left and the BIOS/Software 128KB EPROM at right.
Don't know yet what the 8KB EEPROM at center contains.

Why the adapter in "Videotex Terminal Based on personal computer" did not use the YM2413? Because it did not exist at that time. Yamaha created the YM2413 because the alternatives are too expensive. It's a simplified version of YM3812 (OPL2), which is compatible with the YM3526 (OPL). The YM2413 was released in July 1986, to be used in"data for tone with ROM" video text (captain) and teletext adapters, as we see in the "Digest Dempa, Volume 4":

"In July, the Nippon Gakki Company (Yamaha) will start marketing the YM2413 sound source LSI used for videotex adapters and teletext receivers. Sample price is ¥3,000 ($17). The YM2413 uses a frequency modulation surround source method to reproduce stereo sound and it incorporates data for tone with ROM, rhythm sound with tone circuits and D/A converter. Nippon Gakki will produce 50,000 units per month."

MSX users knows a similar story with the same results: MSX-AUDIO (Y8950, a cousin of YM3526) was too expensive and the MSX-MUSIC (YM2413) gives a "good enough" sound. MSX-MUSIC wins the market.

The small video board have nothing special:

RF outputs, channel selector, A/V jacks and RGB. Nothing to see here.

But, behind the small board, there is something special.

First row: 21.47 XTAL and 256KB of VRAM
Second row: Yamaha V9938 and V99C37 (!!!)

Whaaaaat?? Yes, there is the traditional MSX2 VDP but a lot of VRAM (256KB!!!) and another IC at its side. This makes me remember again the article which states that the CAPTAIN adapter contains:

"(1)MSX-VIDEO(V9938): MSX-VIDEO is a video display controller LSI, which has upward compatibility with the former VDP(TMS-9918A). MSX-VIDEO has many display modes, some of which are especially suitable for videotex application. In the adapter, MSX-VIDEO controls video RAMs and CDC.
(2)CDC(CAPTAIN Display Controller): CDC provides display functions peculiar to CAPTAIN PLPS such as miniblock coloring, 16 out of 4.096-color LUT, flashing, and multi-frame structure."

The V99C37 even had a similar name, it's called VDC, Video Display Controller. While the CAP-M-ST have big similarities with the hardware described in the article, there are differences too, the CAPTAIN adapter have a lot less memory:

"(3)VRAM(Video RAM) 32K Bytes x 3: The CAPTAIN image data of each frame is stored."

And the descriptions that I found about V99C37 on internet says that it provides a palette of "256 out of 260000 colors" (probably that 260000 is 262144, which are the color possibilities with 6 bits per color channel (R,G,B)). A bit more than "16 out of 4096". Finally, V99C37 can't be (in it's final form) the same CDC used in 1986 because it isn't available at that time:

(C)1987 ASCII

In "Japanese Semiconductor Industry Service", from 1988, it's stated that the firsts V99C37 are available from July 1987:

"Yamaha—An MSX personal computer CRT controller (V9938); CAPTAIN videotex processing capability when combined with character transmission display function CRT controller (V99C37) by ASCII Inc.; 400mW power consumption; 100-pin, 4-sided flat package; 84-pin PLCC being studied; sampling since July at ¥10,000 ($66.67)"

But there are too many similarities to be ignored. My guess is that V99C37 is an evolution of an early CDC design. Present a paper about a physical product in a 1986's conference... probably the CDC and the adapter are from 1985.

We had to wait another year, until finally the "integrated PC type having a decoder function CAPTAIN senior" that would be "developed in the future." It is good to see the various fragments coming together and forming a story

And, in next post, we go back to our  "MSX and video production" series.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station - part 1

A little interval in our series about MSX and video production. I got my hands in a NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station. And, while it isn't a hidden MSX, it's not a very common one and have some nice and bizarre features that needs to be shown.

A complete NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station system, with an
unconnected keyboard, an unconnected joypad, a good
view of its massive remote controller and an IC card
(picture from MSX Magazine 1988/01)

Some people in MSX's community calls this machine as only "CAPTAIN", it's good to notice that CAPTAIN is a videotex system (the acronym means Character And Pattern Telephone Access Information Network") and many different devices are built to connect to this network. We already visited other CAPTAIN adapter on this blog, but that device was not a MSX or MSX based.

The first time in this blog that we saw the NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station was in one of the posts about AUCNET NIA-2001. The AUCNET NIA-2001 is a hidden MSX TurboR machine that have an AUCNET logo on its front, JBTV registration on back side and everything else built by Takaoka. And no MSX logo.

The NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station is in a very similar situation: it have the NTT logo on its front, everything else built by Takaoka and, at least in the two units that I saw, there is no MSX logo (but the one in MSX Magazine's picture have a small MSX2 logo).

Where is the little MSX2 logo?

I don't know why some CAPTAIN Multi-Stations comes with and others without MSX logo, maybe waiting the license? But there is no effort to hide the MSX relationship. The boot screen shows an option to enter in MSX mode. You  need to type "* M S X #" in the remote control and, sadly, I don't have the remote control.

*MSX# : Personal Computer Start-Up

Mintwave, Takaoka's subsidiary and heir of computer terminal business, is silent about NIA-2001, but it keeps the NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station on company's history page:

1987: NTT向けキャプテンマルチステーション 販売
Translated by Google: "Captain multi-station sales to NTT"

No mystery here, NTT commissioned Takaoka to build this CAPTAIN terminal and release it at 1987. The MSX Magazine article about NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station is from January of 1988. And the silk in the back of my unit says the authorizations to use it as a communications device are from 1987:

This machine itself was built in October of 1987, I guess it's one of the first batches, since the CAPTAIN services in Kobe started at 1987-10-22:

Seal with the product's name: CAP-M-ST, the specification's number (?): 195,
power consumption: AC100V 30W, serial number: 17050419 and built date, 87-10.

With those dates the things become more interesting. In 1986, Kazuhisa Yanaka, Yukio Kobayashi and Takeshi Matsuoka, all from NTT, publish an article titled: "Videotex Terminal Based On Personal Computer". In this paper they talk about a new videotex terminal, using a MSX computer, an adapter with graphics functions and a ROM cartridge with the software.

The NTT researchers describes the adapter's hardware with a Z80 SIO for communications control, a modem with 4800/75bps, FM music (YM3526 + 16K ROM and 16K RAM ) and a combination of MSX-VIDEO (V9938) with 3 x 32K RAM and CDC (Captain Display Controller) to handle the display functions. This adapter could be connected into any MSX with at least 16K RAM.

The paper's conclusion was that "a high performance CAPTAIN terminal can be fabricated by adding an appropriate adapter and software to a common 8-bit personal computer (MSX PC), utilizing two LSIs: MSX-VIDEO and CDC", and (important to us) "An integrated type PC possessing a high rank CAPTAIN decoder functions remains to be developed in future".

Then, in 1987, NTT releases a new CAPTAIN terminal, one with computer functions integrated: the NTT CAPTAIN Multi-Station

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sony XV-T600 Picture Computer

We already know that home video equipment and MSX are very related things. And Sony made both, MSX and video equipment. The Sony's video equipment catalog is a good place to search for MSX machines. In our last posts, we show two Sony's video titlers: XV-J550 and XV-T550. And we know that Sony have many other hidden MSXs!

Then, searching for these hidden MSXs, I found this machine:

XV-T600 Picture Computer

This is the Sony XV-T600, a "Picture Computer", it cames with a small scanner that you can use to digitize any picture:

The XV-T600 Image Scanner

You can also draw your own graphics using the (optional) trackball and superimpose the pictures and graphics to a live video stream:

A nice Sony Trackball

Hey! This optional trackball that came with XV-T600 looks very familiar to MSX fans:

Sony MSX F1-System's advertising, showing the various devices
related to MSX made by Sony, including the GB-6 Trackball.
(page from MSX-Fan 1991-01)

Yes, like the XV-J550 uses a MSX mouse from Sony (MOS-1), the XV-T600 uses the Sony GB-6 trackball. And in the back of main unit, we have a MSX compatible cassette connector:

MSX compatible tape connector

If you are curious about this device features, you can see a XV-T600 "in action" in this video:

Now we only need to link the dots: MSX can digitze images, MSX trackball, MSX interface, Sony built MSX video equipment, this machine needs to be a MSX, right?

Wrong. XV-T600 is not a hidden MSX.

And what is inside Sony XV-T600?

Sony XV-T600 have the same dimentions, colors and overall design of XV-J550, which is not surprising, since those machines are part of the same line of video editing equipment.

Sony XV-T600 front.

Scanner and trackball connector (DB-9 male).
You can also select the appropriate video/audio source

Here you can choose video editing function and color do you want to use.

Sony XV-T600 back.
Here we have the audio/video inputs (two sets of three RCA connectors),
the many outputs and the MSX cassette connector.

After opened you can't see any of the ICs associated with MSX, there is no MSX-Engine or MSX-System, no Yamaha V99X8 video processor and no Z80.

And finally the opened device

The circuit board. It's easy to see that there is no Yamaha V99X8.
But the small QFP IC at bottom left could be a Z80, and the board
have a "shack" which can hide something.

Nope. Below the "shack" there is another QFP IC and both chips are from Ricoh

And this is the last significant IC on this PCB

The Ricoh processors are RF5C16Y and RF65C027Y. The first one is a Video Controller and the other I guess it's a 65C02 compatible. I did not find the datasheet but the component name (and previous Ricoh's experience with MC6XXX processors). The NEC D1510ACU-608 is a operational amplifier.

I didn't dump the ROMs and, to be honest, after seeing this is not even remotely a MSX machine I lost the interest on it.

Another one to the Not MSX category. At least I can enjoy the GB-6 Trackball.