Imported from our friends in the UK, the Sinclair was one of the more popular computers in the 80s.

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Using a Spectrum in North America?

Postby Ze_ro » Sun Mar 08, 2009 1:14 am

So, for whatever reason, I've become interested in getting a Spectrum. However, since I'm in North America, I'm left with a few problems.

First of all, what model should I be looking for? I'm looking for an actual Spectrum, so no Timex's. The +3 would seem the obvious choice, being the last one that was released... but how useful is a 3" disk drive? Can you even still get disks for it? I've also heard that the +3 has some compatibility issues. Because of this, I'm leaning towards either a +2 or a 128k. I already have a tape drive that would work nicely, and the size of the +2 seems a bit excessive, so I'm thinking of going for a 128k. Aside from nostalgia, is there any real reason to get the original Spectrum? What kind of a price should I be looking for? It seems easy enough to find systems with a few extras for less than $50 on eBay, though shipping from Europe will obviously inflate that quite a bit.

Now, video... from what I've seen the original Spectrum only has RF out, and none of my TV's support PAL, so that's no good. The 128k and newer models look to have an RGB video port. Am I correct in assuming that this will work nicely with a 1084S?

Aside from a tape recorder and a joystick interface (which I actually already have), is there anything that is considered necessary for a good system? Is it worthwhile getting a microdrive, or are these things useless? I'm curious about the Multiface devices, since I've always enjoyed mucking about with such things on the C64... how much do they usually go for?

--Zero
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Postby Ice Breaker » Sun Mar 08, 2009 8:25 am

Technically, if you can get an emulator cart, the TS2068 will function 95% of the time on Spectrum games. I've tried a few with decent results. Either way, for loading, I just use my old 15GB iPod. There are convertors to convert Sinclair tape files to WAV or MP3.
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Postby Ze_ro » Wed Mar 11, 2009 4:22 pm

Yeah, I know I could go the TS2068 route, but I want the real Spectrum experience, with an actual system. That's half the nostalgia as far as I'm concerned (is it still nostalgic when I never owned one in the first place? Hmm...)

As for files, I was actually considering writing a program for my GP2X or Pandora which would convert a .tzx file into the appropriate signals and send 'em out the headphone jack. Somehow, it always seemed very wasteful to convert binary files to larger WAV files, even when storage is cheap these days.

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Postby SteveW » Wed Mar 11, 2009 5:10 pm

What you could always do is get yourself an iPod Shuffle, and load it with a heap of games that have been converted to audio form. Then... put the iPod into Shuffle mode. It'll load a random game to play, so you'll never know what you're getting! It's like Speccy pot-luck!
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Re: Using a Spectrum in North America?

Postby Ze_ro » Wed Feb 01, 2017 9:31 pm

Alright, I've recently decided to take the plunge and I bought a Spectrum... so now I'm in a good position to answer my own questions here. Perhaps this will be helpful for someone else in the future? Or maybe you guys might find it interesting? Anyways, here goes...

Ze_ro wrote:First of all, what model should I be looking for?

Turns out that it kinda doesn't matter. While there are some important differences, I don't think there's any wrong choice here. Ultimately, you have six models to choose from (plus motherboard revisions, but I won't cover that): Original 16k, Original 48k, 48k Plus, 128k, +2 and +3.

The original 48k is by far the most popular, easiest to find, and likely the cheapest. It's also the most compatible, as it was the lowest common denominator, so developers had to make sure their stuff would at least run on it. It lacks a lot of the extra features of the later models, but none of that is a showstopper, and can generally be accomplished via modding (more on this later) or add-ons. The only probably that might be considered insurmountable is the lousy keyboard... though you won't generally be typing anything anyways, so not as big a deal as I originally thought it might be. Personally, I feel the look of the original models is the most iconic.

The original 16k is exactly the same machine, but with less memory. There aren't many 16k compatible games from what I've seen, but keep in mind that for about $10 worth of chips and 2 minutes of soldering, you can easily upgrade it to 48k. This would likely be a great low-cost choice if you don't mind mucking about a bit.

The Spectrum+ is another 48k machine, and in fact uses the same motherboard as the regular 48k, so it's mostly the same story here. It has a better keyboard, but the keys are still pretty mushy and bad... but there are other benefits like added cursor keys and a bigger space bar that help out a lot. There's also a reset button added, which the original never had (yet still no power switch... you're expected to yank the power cord to turn it off). This is the model I ended up getting.

The 128k increases the memory of course, but there's more to it than that. Probably the best part of things is that they added a sound chip, the AY-3-8912. It's certainly no SID, but it's a big improvement over the terrible beeper in previous models. Also added is a video port with RGB signals readily available, and also serial and MIDI ports that you'll probably never use. This machine has a larger ROM, which was needed to hold 128k BASIC as well as the original 48k BASIC for compatibility with older programs. As you might imagine, this means there are some compatibility issues and some added complication with switch BASIC's... I'm not sure how severe any of these issues are though. Uses the same keyboard as the Spectrum+. This is also the final model actually made by Sinclair, while the later ones were actually Amstrad designs... in case that matters to you at all.

The +2 actually adds quite a bit to the feature set. Of course, there's the built-in tape drive... this is nice to have, but if it ever breaks then it's just a big tumor. You also get a REAL keyboard finally, as well as joystick ports... features that were seriously overdue. On the downside, it's WAY bigger than previous models, and there were more ROM changes which introduced more incompatibilities.

The +3 is mostly the same, but swaps out the built-in tape drive for a disk drive. Seems like a great idea, but it uses those dumb 3" Amstrad disks. Not very practical in this day and age. ROM was extended greatly to add a disk operating system. In theory, this would be the "best" model, but the extra features are wasted if you're just playing 48k games, which is most of them. Ultimate, probably a waste of money.

I'd say the +2 is probably the best choice for the money, with the 128k placing second... but any model is good, really.

Now, video... from what I've seen the original Spectrum only has RF out, and none of my TV's support PAL, so that's no good. The 128k and newer models look to have an RGB video port. Am I correct in assuming that this will work nicely with a 1084S?

It turns out that it's amazingly simple to perform a composite video mod on the 16k/48k models. You literally just cut two wires, and solder two more together. I don't think there's any practical way to get better than composite from these models (at least, not without entire encoder circuits), but the graphics are pretty low-rez anyways, so I feel composite is perfectly fine.

Of course, composite video still leaves you to deal with PAL-NTSC conversions. I lucked out here, with one of my LCD TV's actually supporting PAL very nicely, so I didn't have to do anything else.

Using the RGB out from a 128k/+2/+3 *should* work fine on any 15kHz RGB monitor, including Commodore and Atari models, without any worries about PAL colour signals or any of that nonsense. I dealt with a similar issue on a CD32 and it worked out nicely with RGB.

Aside from a tape recorder and a joystick interface (which I actually already have), is there anything that is considered necessary for a good system? Is it worthwhile getting a microdrive, or are these things useless? I'm curious about the Multiface devices

Forget about Microdrives, and forget about the ZX Interface 1 or 2. The Interface 2 has joystick ports (which is nice), but the ROM cartridges for this thing are super pricey these days, and totally not worth bothering with.

Every game seems to support keyboard input, so ultimately you don't NEED a joystick interface... but they're pretty cheap and easy to find. Note that there are different protocols out there, and not every game supports every protocol, so depending on what model you get, you might still have issues. Some adapters will have switches to use different protocols, or maybe different ports for different protocols. Kempston seems to be the most popular here, if you have the option.

There are also CF and SD card adapters readily available that are probably a great purchase. They seem to load games almost instantly, which is refreshing compared to 5-min load times from tape. I think the design of these adapters was publicly released, so there are MANY different models available out there. You might want to look for one that incorporates a joystick port in it as well, since you only have one expansion port available.

---

One thing I didn't ask in my original post was regarding power adapters. Of course, the machine runs on DC, so instead of using a 220-110 stepdown converter and an original power supply, you're better off getting a native 110V supply that provides the right voltage. The model I got requires 9V, 1.85A, center tip negative. When I looked through what I had in my collection, I found a Sega SC-3000 power adapter that did 9V, 850mA, tip negative, and had the right sized barrel connector... but then quickly switched to a Master System supply that used the same connector and does 9V, 1A, tip negative. This is still well short of the current draw, but it seems to work well enough for what I did. Maybe not a great long-term solution though.

--Zero
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