Thursday, March 23, 2017

Practical Issues with a Tandy 1400 LT Laptop Comptuer

Recently I acquired a Tandy 1400 LT Laptop computer, so as tradition seems to demand, I will talk about my impressions of the machine, tips on how to use it and mistakes to avoid.  The Tandy 1400 LT is Tandy's first IBM PC compatible laptop.  As the 1400 LT is so very much a mostly-improved clone of the IBM PC Convertible, it makes sense to compare the two products.

In April of 1986, IBM released the first PC compatible that could conceivably be called a laptop, the IBM PC Convertible Model 5140.  In 1988, Tandy released its own version of the PC laptop, the Tandy 1400 LT.  The Tandy machine had many notable improvements over the IBM machine :

Sunday, March 12, 2017

First World Problems : Finding a Good Movie Theater Screen

Here is a problem : You live in an area where there are a almost a dozen movie theaters showing first run films within a 25-mile radius of your house but you are almost an hour away away from a major city.  You want to see a large budget, action and spectacle heavy film.  This means you want to see it on a big screen with a powerful sound system.  The same screen may not be necessary for an intimate drama or a raunchy comedy, but when it comes to action, bigger is usually better.

The biggest films, especially action/adventure films, tend to be shown on more than one screen, at least on opening weekend.  Today, many of the big films are converted to 3-D, even though most were not shot with 3-D in mind.  In the theaters around me, there will be separate screens devoted to the 2-D version and the 3-D version.  A couple of theaters near me have a giant screen.  Showcase Cinemas and AMC refers to their giant screen as IMAX (licensing the trademark) and Regal Cinemas calls their screen RPX.  These will always show the 3-D version of the film.  In the upcoming years, there may be a battle between the two chains and their competing 4D technologies, (Showcase uses MX4D, Regal uses 4DX) but that is the subject of another blog entry.

I saw Kong : Skull Island on the local-ish Showcase Cinema's IMAX screen.  Some commentators have derisively called these screens "LIEMAX" because they are smaller than a true IMAX screen.  While there are dedicated IMAX theaters in my state with the enormous screen, they are much further away than the local IMAX.

The local IMAX gives a very good presentation compared to non-IMAX sized-screens.  I saw Star Wars Rogue One in the 2-D version at the Regal Cinemas theater and was very disappointed with the size of the screen.  Not only was it small, it was noticeably offset from the center of the room.  I have a suspicion that these shoebox theaters may only be using 2K projectors, the industry standard is to use 4K projectors.  The movie deserved better.

The problem is these cinema chains only show the 3-D version of the films.  If you want to see a 2-D version of the film, you are often left with small screens and small theaters that just don't do the action on-screen justice in this day and age.  While the 3-D conversion of Kong was without major flaws, the glasses I had to wear were uncomfortable and tended to fog up around the bridge of the nose.   You simply cannot take off the glasses and expect to enjoy what is on the screen, it will appear blurry thanks to the dual projection of the 3-D images.

I find that 3-D does not particularly add much to a film that was not shot with 3-D in mind.  On the other hand, when the film was shot with 3-D in mind and projected on a huge screen, as was the case with Gravity, the experience is incredible.  Moreover, a 3-D conversion does not reflect the director's intent unless the director supervised the process. There are also 4D conversions of films that add moving seats and other tactile sensory perceptions, but that kind of gimmickry only reflects the studio's intent, not the director's.

While I am on the subject, Showcase Cinemas has a dizzying array of theater options.  Depending on the theater, you could have choices of a 2-D screen, a 3-D screen, a Lux Level option for each ( with food service), an IMAX 3-D screen, an MX4D screen (motion seats and sensory effects) or an XPLUS screen (featuring Dolby Atmos sound).  There are also a few SuperLux theaters that seem more focused on comfort and food than a pure or traditional moviegoing experience.  Offering a comprehensive experience with a restaurant, bar, comfy seating and in-movie service does seem to be the trend in upscale movie theaters.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The 1541 Ultimate II+ Flash Cart - Running Carts and Disks Images on the C64

My friend Cloudshatze generously ordered me an 1541 Ultimate II+ Flash Cart (U2+).  The 1541 Ultimate flash cart series has been around for quite a few years, but the U2+ is the latest iteration of the device.  It was released in December, 2016.  In this blog entry I will give information about it and my experiences with it.

Cartridge Bankswitching Outside the NES

Bankswitching in cartridge based games is most famous on the NES, especially its Japanese version, the Famicom.  The NES, Famicom and their unofficial clones were popular in many parts of the world, but the inherent limitations of its 8-bit CPU required software developers to devise ever more complicated systems to increase the amount of memory the system could address.

But the NES did not invent bankswitching.  Most, but not all, 8-bit home consoles, home computers and handheld systems had cartridges with extra hardware to allow the system to address more memory.  In this article I will trace the evolution of that hardware outside the NES and give links to sites and documents where the user can find more technical information.

Friday, February 10, 2017

My Commodore 64 Saga Part II - Disk Drives and Disk Images

In Part I of this series, I covered some of the basic functionality of the Commodore 64 and my trials and tribulations in getting mine to work properly.  In Part 2 I will talk disk drives and disk images.

Before I can talk about the Ultimate-1541, I need to discuss the Commodore 1541 Disk Drive and how the C64 deals with floppy disks, the other major storage medium for NTSC C64 users.  The Commodore 1541 Disk Drive is an external 5.25" floppy disk drive which connects to the C64 via the 6-pin serial port.  The 1541 had its own power supply and its own 6502 CPU, 16KB of ROM and 2KB of RAM, it was essentially a computer of its own.  The disks used were standard double density disks, but the drive was a single sided drive like the drives for the contemporary Apple and Atari home computers.  The IBM PC used single sided drives for the first year of its existence.  Like the Atari drives, you turn on your drive first, then the computer.

Unusual Film Formats on Blu-ray

Blu-ray disc may not have been as successful as DVDs, but its capabilities have allowed it to embrace and do some justice to unusual film formats.  Let's discuss some of them.  For screenshots, I will refer the reader to the article with the appropriate links (when available), which has excellent, multiple full-HD screenshots for most of the films I will be discussing here.  All Blu-ray covers are taken from or with one exception noted below.

My Commodore 64 Saga Part I : Initial Observations, Restoration and Repair Attempts

A couple of years ago, I had traded my Atari 800 for a Commodore 64.  The C64 was a breadbin model and while it had a power supply, it did not come with a disk drive or any software other than a single cartridge.  When I took it home, I noticed that the keyboard was extremely stiff with some of the keys on the left side barely registering to keypresses.

Friday, February 3, 2017

EverDrive GBA X5 - The Ultimate GBA Flashcart

In July of 2016, Krikzz finally released his long anticipated EverDrive flash cart for the Game Boy Advance.  He called it the EverDrive GBA X5 and sells it for $99.99 on his site and through his authorized vendors.  I bought mine on his annual Black Friday sale for 20% off, so it ended up costing me $87.00, shipping to the USA (from Ukraine) included.

The "X5" in the name represents a new branding of his product lines.  His new products will be released with an X3, X5 and X7 designation.  Each designation indicates the feature support of the flash cart relative to a desired feature set for flash carts.  The designation is not tied to the products released for any particular console.  For example, the Mega EverDrive X7 has save state support whereas the X5 and X3 do not.  Furthermore, the MegaEverDrive X7 and X5 support saving games without resetting the console whereas the X3 requires pressing reset to save or you lose your save games.  Krikzz has not officially used the X designation for his products except those released for the GBA and Sega Genesis.  There is no such thing as a GBA X7 or X3 and Krikzz has no current plans to make any other GBA flash carts.