Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Google Chromecast Review

Although it has been out in the states since last year, the Google Chromecast has recently been released in the UK.
The chromecast is basically an HDMI dongle which turns a less than smart TV into a smart TV, in a very usable way. Inside the box is the unit itself and a very minimal set of instructions for use.
Also included are other parts, a 5V mains adapter and USB - MicroUSB cable (required to power the unit) and an HDMI extension lead (optional to improve fit behind a TV and / or wifi reception).
That's basically it, put all those together and plug it in.
The unit then needs to be configured, so you take your phone, tablet or laptop and go to the website to get the appropriate software.
So the instructions on the box were all that was needed to get going, it all seemed to work without a problem, with only the wifi network details to setup. Once connected, my unit then went away and updated itself.
After that, it's just a case of pressing the 'chromecast' button on any supported app to transfer it to the TV. A good example is the Netflix app, your phone or tablet basically becomes the remote control for viewing content.
It's not that the movie is going from Netflix to the tablet and then to the TV, the tablet tells the chromecast what to do and it goes to Netflix itself and gets the content and shows it. All the tablet has to do is update the scroll bar and wait for you to press pause, so it can go to sleep and save power.
The only problem I had was having to wake up my Nexus 7 to move onto the next episode each time as I was binge watching House of Cards Series 2. (that and I didn't seem to be capable of taking decent photos of it in operation, sorry about that).

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Commodore 264 (C16 and Plus 4) Diagnostic Cartridge

A while ago I made up a Diagnostic Cartridge for a Commodore 64, by replacing the ROM in a spare Cartridge. I've have a few Commodore Plus/4 computers in for repair, so I looked around for a similar ROM image for the 264 series of computers. I found and excellent page from someone who wrote their own, Diag264. Next I found a donor cartridge, in this case a duplicate 'Atomic Mission' with a peeling label, and carefully removed the original ROM.
I then burned an EPROM with the DIAG264 image and installed it in a socket on the original board.
Finally, it needs a suitable label.
This can then be used with any of the 264 series computers, the Commodore 116, the Commodore 16 and the Commodore Plus/4.
The Commodore Plus/4 never really took off, it wasn't compatible with any of the Commodore 64 software, nor many of the peripherals due to different connectors being used for cassette ports and joysticks. It did have some built in software (the 'Plus/4' in the title), but I've not used those much.
DIAG264 tests the RAM and the 4 ROMs in the Plus/4, as well as various other hardware. Some of these test fail as I have yet to build suitable loopback adapters required for some tests.
Although in the same case style case, the  Commodore 16 is not as it may appear a cut down version of the Commodore 64, but in fact a cut down version of the Commodore Plus/4, and so was also not compatible with any of the C64 software.
Testing skips the two extra ROMs present only in the Plus/4. It also correctly detected my Commodore 16 which I have upgraded to 64K (which means it can run Plus/4 software, but I still can't call it a Commodore 64).
Finally it includes various graphics tests for the TED chip at the heart of all these 264 series machines.
So there it is, another test cartridge to add to the toolkit, with thanks to the original author of DIAG264.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Atari 65XE USB Keyboard

Another computer converted to be a USB keyboard to add to the list. This time an Atari 65XE, the updated version of the 800XL. The 800XL was the first colour computer I had, bough for me by my parents for Christmas 1984 (maybe 1985?), after my initial ZX81(s).
Here we have a 65XE, a cost reduction and a case modernisation exercise. Gone is the PCB keyboard with mechanical keyswitches, and in comes a membrane keyboard. The case was shortened a bit and the 5 silver buttons down the side on the 800XL are now diamond buttons on the top. The cartridge slot was also moved to the back.
Wiring up the keyboard was fairly simple, just a case of getting the right connector for the keyboard flat flex. The only slight issue was that 4 of the diamond keys are switched to ground, rather than being part of the matrix, like the first key, the 'Help' key. The power LED also shares that ground, so it cannot be directly added to the matrix. Bit of code tweaking and that was taken care of.
The keyboard controller mounts under the keyboard quite snugly. The original computer had two joystick ports on the side, just the right spacing for my USB joystick controller, which was designed for Spectrum +2's and Commodore 64s.
I'll fit a hub to connect both the USB keyboard and USB joystick controllers, and offer a couple of external USB ports for a mouse or other USB devices. I'll be offering the Atari 65XE USB Keyboard and Atari 65XE USB Keyboard with Joystick ports in my Etsy store, and also a version with a Raspberry Pi integrated.