ZX Spectrum NEXT !


Hi, friends! Today I would like to tell about one thing, about which I’ve been asked to tell long ago. But I kept silence, because that thing hasn’t not fully come out in all its glory yet, so to say.
I even have not familarize with the board, but anyway, the project is very interesting, so I cannot avoid it anymore and not to tell about the thing: ZX Spectrum Next. Everyone, who are in touch with Spectrum, have heard about it, no doubt, but very few know about what it is and which stage is the project at. So, ZX Spectrum Next. What is it for? All the matter was started because Spectrum has a very vibrant and active fan-base. They play games on it, make all the interesting things, and very much adore it. They don’t plan to forget it, but still, time inexoraby passes, and using of Spectrum becomes inconvenient and problematic these days. Even if nobody expects fully modern usability from Spectrum, but anyway one wants to get a quality picture, which will look decently on modern TV, at least. Again, one don’t want to spend an eternity to load something from tape. I want to specify, that I will talk exclusively about original hardware, not our beloved clones. Now then, altough you could you RGB connection since 128K Spectrum model and get and a bearable picture, but anyway, on modern TVs and monitors it’s not perfect and then again, not every modern TV has a SCART input, leave aside those monitors. Surely, if you have straight hands and some knowledge about electronics, then everything is real. But simple users usually just want to play that “Jet Set Willy” or “Dizzy” without any techno-magic.
The similar situation is with loading from tape. All these recorders and cassettes are absolutely archaic. Yeah, that’s very nostalgic and old-school and everything. But when it’s used frequently,
all the charm disappears, because it’s unreliable and veeeery slow. Surely, you can load games from a phone or a tablet, and so forth, But it’s very doubtful pleasure, which, again, involves some magic when tuning the volume, some questions with cables and all that stuff. Of course, after gaining some experience, these questions are not that difficult, but anyway, many people slip up on this stage of getting familiar with Spectrum. Don’t even get me to start about those machines from Amstrad period, which don’t have an input for external audio signal, so, you have to use those Chinese car adapters with all the consequences. Besides the mentioned “delights”, some models have another nuances, which I’ve spoken about in the previous video, dedicated to Spanish games, Which very few people have seen, though the topic is interesting. So, if you haven’t seen the video about Spaniards, then welcome. Getting back, all these problems are solvable. With the help of some additional devices you can connect Spectrum via HDMI, get stereo sound, instantly load games from SD-card, connect Spec to the Internet and so forth. But it doesn’t look aestatically pleasing and it’s not convenient, when there is a ton of hardware attached to the back of your Spectrum, because any slightest movement can break the contact, hanging the computer. More to say, Spectrum connectors have a tendency to get dirty. That’s why some Spectrum entusiasts have decided to fix the existing state of affairs and to make a Spectrum, which will match modern reality. Nobody wanted to make ZX Spectrum fully modern, of course. There are powerful new PCs for modern tasks. In opposite, Spectrum is valuable as it is: 8-bit, vintage and nostalgic, but nonetheless, convenience and some development was nessesary (I will tell about it later) Initial idea of making new Spectrum, which would replace original 80-s machines for everyday use in Spectrum fans’ homes and would make an evolutonary push in 8-bit industry by implementing new features have come to two enthusiasts. They were: widely known Victor Trucco, famous for his hardware inventions for Spectrum and Fabio Belavenuto, key person in Brazil MSX scene, Which has a soft spot on Spec as well. So, these two guys have begun to develop a new Spectrum. The project have received a name “TBBlue” And after the release of the first working board version and after all nessesary core software had been written, one legendary man, Rick Dickinson, have joined the team. He was a designer, which have given looks to all original Sinclair Spectrums and ZX80 and ZX81 computers. And no matter what, but the design of Sinclair machines has always been awesome! Jim Bagley, coder of such famous games as Cabal and Midnight Resistance, also joined the team. He worked on development of new video modes and hardware sprites The last on the list, “last but not least”, as Brits say, is Henrique Olifiers, game designer, co-founder of Bossa Studios and big fan of Spectrum, which joined the team to work on software part. All in all, the team, that have gathered, was no-nonsence. Now, I’d want to tell about technical specifications of the new Spectrum. Here we have some these features: Z80 Processor, implemented in FPGA, with clock frequency of 3.5 Mhz in standard mode and with 7 and 14 Mhz in turbo mode. By the way, initially there meant to be a 28 Mhz mode, but it was canceled due to system instability. There is a whole 1Mbyte of RAM in Next, which can be extended to 2Mbytes, although it was planned to be only 512Kbytes and first boards have exactly that RAM size. I’d like to remind you, that Z80 can manage only 64Kbytes of RAM without any tricks. Sound in Next is managed by mind-boggling 3(!) AY chips with stereo output. Besides the standard Spectrum graphics capabilities here we have: graphics mode with 256 colors per pixel, which is called “Layer 2”, hardware sprites and scrolling. All in all, there is everything that was badly needed in classic Spectrum. By the way, especially tricky minds can improve this 8-bit monster capabilities by plugging Raspberry PI into the board, which will add CPU with 1Ghz clock speed and achieve 512 MBytes of RAM, which is an astronomical number for Spectrum. I can’t really tell what is it needed for. You can connect a new Spectrum to a TV set or a monitor via three methods: RGB, VGA or HDMI. SD Card works as HDD here. But saving to and loading from tape are also available, there are corresponding sockets for that. In addition, there is a standard Spectrum extension port with all corresponding features. Besides that, you can plug additional ps/2 keyboard, joysticks (by the way, 3-button ones from Sega MD are supported) And for special buffs, there is an optional Wi-Fi module All this hardware should be put into modern-authetic-nostalgic case, designed by Rick Dickinson. However, board size allows hardcore nostalgators to put inside the very first, “rubber” Spectrum case. But in this case, one should to saw and drill that poor old case a bit. But it worth the effort: it turns to be rather authetic. When the project have aquired its shape, Henrique Olifiers have started the kickstarter campaign and the project have aquired a huge sum of money: 723390 pounds for the period since April, 23 till May, 23 of 2017. (That’s almost a million dollars, by the way) 3113 backers invested their money into project of reviving Spectrum and that’s a lot for Spectum scene, which is really small. The price policy was as such: caseless(i.e. board only) Next costs 119 pounds, Basic variant costs 210 pounds, and full-blown kit, which means Raspberry PI, Wi-Fi module and so forth installed, have a price of 275 pounds. All in all, it’s not cheap. Now, to the main course: is ZX Spectrum Next out or not yet? It’s OK to say that it’s partially released: according to the schedule, it’s almost a year since Next should have beed sent to backers, But only buyers of minimal kit(board only) have received their computers. Some people have bought more than one computer, specifically for selling, and because of that, they almost instantly appeared on ebay, with a sky-high price, of course, but nonetheless, they were bought the as quickly as possible, and now buying of Next board can easily be problematic. All in all, it’s OK to say that it was all right with the first batch, although after the delivery there were some questions and troubles. In general, they were incompatibility problems with third-party keyboards, connection problems with some TV sets, in particular, sometimes there was no sound through HDMI connection Surely, there were some bugs and imperfections in NextOS. By the way, Spectrum Next supports our beloved TR-DOS and “Pentagon” mode. So to speak, all these problems were expected and natural for such new and unpolished product, which was developed with efforts of a few people. And here we should show some respect to the developers: they have updated the firmware, and have solved the problems of compatibility and connection After some time, all problems have been solved and shortly, all those guys who had some troubles have managed to connect their Nexts and to configure them properly, and so forth. So, boards are boards, but most backers have waited for Next in all its glory. And here they ran into some serous trouble: first, the Chinese company that managed the case and plastic parts, began to experience some troubles and that was the cause of first delivery schedule failure. And than, the hell broke loose: that company broke the contract without any explanation. That was a serious blow, which automatically meant, that the team needed to find new supplier of plastic parts, establish production process from scratch, etc. And after all that, the final blow was the death of a team member, legendary Rick Dickinson, who managed exactly the above: keyboard and case. All those things naturally leaded to a very long shipment delay, and the full version of Spectrum Next isn’t in Spectrum fans’ homes up to this day. Thats where all the rumors have started to appear, and even I was asked(for some reason) if the Next is a stillborn project just like Spectrum Vega. And that’s where I fell into stupor. Comrades, who said that Spectrum Vega has not been released? Where have you got that shit? It has been succesfully released and often comes up on ebay. Yeah, another matter is that it’s functionally poor, absolutely useless and expensive emulator. But the console have been released. The portable Spectrum Vega+, though, has truly sad story. Now, to the question if Spectrum Next is a fradulent or simply failed project. Will it be ever released, and if so, when? I can’t be 100% sure, but as a person, who tracks the situation a bit, I’ll share my opinion. So, first: I think that Spectrum Next isn’t a stillborn project. There are very respectable and famous minds behind it. Even during the darkest moments developers never disappeared from sight, but comprehensively told about the current state of affairs. Will Next ever be released? “Yes, it will” and I’m almost certain. Of course, if there won’t be any force majeure. When will the Next be released? I don’t know. But I hope, that it won’t be later than late 2019. At this moment developers are working on fixing and improving some keyboard nuances, which they reported in recent update on project status. They’re probably the last nuances before the sending of case and keyboard to mass-production And besides that, there was a recent update of the operating system. All in all, project doesn’t look abandoned or fradulent, and there is almost no resent about a year delay in the official group: everybody are patiently waiting, and there are almost no haters. But the lack of haters in Next’s home country is compensated by a fierce rejection, which it gets in Russia. It looks like bashing Next is a question of honor for every 2nd Russian spectrumist. Though, I should note, that between shouts of agressive beggars, which wouldn’t ever buy Next, sometimes there are dire critics from the guys, which are adequate and have a knowledge of hardware. I have a very little knowledge of electronics. OK, to be precise, I understand absolutely nothing. So, there won’t be any reasoning. I just mention again the fact, that there are not only closet critics, from our Spectrum scene but also reather reasonable ones. Also, I want to mention, that we have our Next, which is called “ZX Evolution”, it also has many features and can do many things. So, what’s more progressive, ZX Spectrum Next or ZX Evolution? I don’t want to judge, because I don’t have any of them. But there are some points, where Spectrum Next definitely wins. First, it’s astonishing appearance. Yeah, cased Nexts are not for sale yet, but there are prototypes. And I hope, that mass-production will start soon. Our evolution don’t have such original design, even potentially, and can only be inserted into standard PC cases. I don want even to talk about putting Evolution into original old Spec. But nobody even needs it here. Yes, I understand, that it’s not the main thing and real spectrumist shouldn’t even bother about that and all that things. But the wrapping does matter for such a affluenza-affected guy like me. I like when things are nice and shiny, and have pleasant looks. The box also fells to the same catagory, as it’s simply eye-candy. PR and hype around this computer are, IMHO, also definitely work for the better, because, thanks to popular attention, and technical capabilities, Next has all chances to become new standard in retro gaming and demo-scene. I’m not stating, that it will be so, but there are definitely some premises for that. ZX Evolution, on the other hand, despite all its features, have failed to become the new world standard, which all ZX game developers should follow. It have stayed a fairly rare computer, which is owned by only a few people, in comparison with Next preorders quantity. By the way, this is the reason why we making our extended version of Power Blade specifically for Next, but not for TSConf(advanced firmware for Evolution). By the way, Henrique Olifiers have written about our game in his updates on Kickstarter, but for some reason have caled it “Power Blade 2”. But it’s forgivable: he’s a Spectrum fan, and is not expected to sort out NES titles. More to say: I’ve been asked, how can we make a game for Next without having any, with out any chance to test our game? Nope, guys, our developers have their own Next, and even not only a single one. Surely, they are boards, but still, we have them. By the way, there is a full video walkthrough of the 1st location in the playlist, dedicated to Power Blade development. It’s fully colored specifically for Next. I won’t glut the channel with similar videos of the same level, so, it’s available via link only. If anybody interests in Power Blade development progress, look at playlist, or subscribe to our group, link is in video description. But let’s get back to our business: ZX Evolution also has huge advantage in comparison with Next, and it’s the price. Yeah, Evo cost is rather high as well, but it’s far from Next’s prices. It’s clear, that Next is a ready-to-use product, not a DIY, like Evolution, but nonetheless, price difference is significant. Now, let’s get to the question whether it’s worth to plan purchasing of Spectrum Next after its release, and if so, where to get it. All the hassle is because Next isn’t planned for free sale, so, only those who backed the kickstarter campaign, will get their computer. There is a possibility, that, if there will be demand, the team will make a larger batch. I don’t know, will it be so, or not, but there is some demand definitely. A huge number of Speccy fans failed to back the campaign on Kickstarter, but nonetheless, they want to become happy owners of Spectrum Next. Which means, that right after the release it will instantly appear on ebay for some sky-high price. Judging by the hype, which could be seen after the board release, I doubt that the price will be much lower than $500. That’s why I’m not dreaming about Next, I can’t allow myself to spend $500 on a toy. More to say, I’m not deprived of Spectrums, anyway. Even if I’d have spare $500, it’s unlikely that I’d spend it on Next, because at this moment there is nothing to play on Next, besides classic Spectrum games. I’m not interested in any of Next titles, absolutely. They’re mainly only mediocre AGD games. So, being inhumble, I should mention, that Power Blade is still the top project for Next, although we don’t utilize all Next’s powerful features. And that’s it. Anyway, it would be interesting to try Next and I’m really curious about it. That’s all, what I can tell on topic for now. Good luck, everyone!

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