Photo of the Week - Know your History! (04 - Spectravideo SV-328 (1983))

Bill Loguidice's picture

Welcome to the fourth of the ongoing series of exclusive photos here at Armchair Arcade from my private collection, the Spectravideo SV-328 from 1983. There are two systems pictured with a variety of accessories, all described in greater detail below.

The photo's main page.
The full-size image.

Without further ado, here are some neat facts about this week's photo (feedback welcome!):

Most enthusiasts will remember the Spectravideo SV-318 (chiclet keyboard, detachable joystick in the corner) from the many advertisements in magazines of the day, rather than from seeing actual units of the poorly distributed system in stores. The more robust SV-328 (full keyboard, more memory), pictured, would have been a competitive system had it been released just a bit earlier and with better distribution and support. As with many systems during this time in the same 8-bit computing class, it was unable to overcome the competition from the juggernaut Commodore 64 (C-64), let alone other popular systems like the Apple IIe, Atari 800 and TI-99/4a, all of which had better backing and support.

Spectravideo was founded in 1981 by two Swiss immigrants to the United States, Harry Fox and Oscar Jutzeler, and was originally christened Spectravision. The company entered the game market in 1982 with several game releases for Atari's Video Computer System (VCS) console and Commodore's VIC 20 (Vic-20) computer, as well as a popular and inexpensive black joystick called the Quickshot. The Quickshot's success enabled the company to begin making their move into the burgeoning home computer market.

In 1983, it released the rare CompuMate, a keyboard add-on for the Atari VCS that will be covered at a future date that gave the console basic computing abilities, and the SV-318, a low end stand-alone computer system. Spectravideo followed that up later in the year with the SV-328, a system that was more powerful and flexible than the lower-cost SV-318. Unfortunately, the SV-328 would also be the last system Spectravideo would release in the United States.

The SV-328, an enhanced machine targeted to more serious users than the SV-318, retailed for twice the price of the earlier system. It offered 80K of expandable RAM, of which 16K was reserved for graphics, and a full-stroke 86-key keyboard, dropping the unusual joystick/directional pad found on the 318 in favor of a numeric keypad. The potential to rapidly and widely expand the system led the company to market it as “a computer system you’ll grow into, not out of” in its advertisements.

Unfortunately, despite glowing reviews in magazines like Creative Computing and lots of advertising, Spectravideo just couldn’t achieve a foothold in the U.S. market, which was most likely a result of relying too much on independent distributors and first-party software development. Even after the company discontinued the SV-318 in early 1984 to focus on the SV-328 in conjunction with aggressive price drops and value-added bundles, the systems were never able to catch on.

The Spectravideo SV computers were capable of displaying up to 16 on-screen colors in 256 × 192 resolution, with sprites. Sound was controlled by a General Instruments AY-3-8910 chip, which allowed for three channels of sound at eight octaves. Software was mostly available on data cassettes and cartridge, though 5.25" floppy disks were an option. The default operating system was a particularly robust version of Microsoft Extended BASIC, though owners with the right expansion options could also run CP/M.

Ultimately, Spectravideo and the SV-328 are probably most famous for being the inspiration for the MSX computer standard, which, despite promises to the contrary, never saw a compatible product released in the United States. Like Japan (and to a far lesser degree, Southeast Asia and Europe), Spectravideo embraced the MSX standard in 1984, releasing its well-received SVI-728 overseas, which took many of the best features of the SVI-328 and enhanced them for maximum compatibility. Unfortunately, by 1985, due to limited domestic sales for the SVI-318/328 and overwhelming competition, US operations were closed down and moved to Hong Kong. The company’s last computer, the impressive hybrid MS-DOS- and MSX-capable SVI-838 (also known as the X’Press 16), was released overseas in 1986. Spectravideo then decided to turn its focus exclusively (and successfully) on peripherals for other computer and videogame systems worldwide.

For those interested in the Spectravideo SV-318/328's capabilities, it is similar to MSX (MSX 1) systems, which are similar to the ColecoVision and TI-99/4a. In fact, besides releasing a few games for Coleco's popular console, Spectravideo also released a little seen add-on for their SV systems that allowed for the use of ColecoVision cartridges.

04 - Spectravideo SV-328 (1983)

Upper left, note the boxed NOMIS game, on cassette. Two other boxed cassette programs are under it. To the right is the "Spectravideo Computing" book from Ian Sinclair, a publication from the UK. Below that is the proprietary cassette recorder, which, while it has a similar looking plug to the Commodore 8-bit standard, is not compatible. Below the manuals are more cassette software, which, to the left, showcases another form of packaging, and to the right shows several loose cassettes in a box. To the right of this, towards the bottom of the photo, is the Justwrite Jr cartridge, which is the only non-cassette I have. Moving up, we see the simplified Mini Expander, boxed and the graphic tablet, also boxed. On top of those boxes are some of the software manuals. Moving up, we see an unboxed SV-328, with its rear ports showing. To the left, by the numeric keypad, are the on-off switch and joystick ports, similar in layout to a C-64. The cartridge port is on top above the numeric keypad. The keyboard itself is very well designed.

Above the unboxed SV-328, is an SV-328 still in the packing foam, looking kind of new. The robust power supply is on the upper right and the standard TV switchbox is to the upper left. Moving to the upper right is a boxed data cassette. Below that is more loose software on cassettte. The boxed joysticks are actually branded for MSX systems, so I need to test their compatibility on the SV-328, which I believe takes standard Atari-style joysticks. To the left of the joysticks is a Centronics printer interface. Below that are some stickers and a brochure showing the SV-318, with its famous removable joystick/cursor key area.

The collection pictured is fairly robust given the relative obscurity of Spectravideo supply. I'm missing some major elements like the full-sized expander and a few other items, but overall, it's about as good as can be expected. I still need to verify the function of both units and determine what duplicates I have, as I plan on trading one away soon for a replacement VideoBrain and software.

CONCLUSION

The Spectravideo systems and many others are mentioned in my upcoming book, along with exhaustive looks at 40 other systems. Be sure to keep visiting Armchair Arcade for ongoing coverage, as well. See you next time!

Comments

Bill Loguidice
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More info...

I used my new digital camera for this photo. The 5 megapixel Sony I had did not allow for manual white balance, while this new 7 megapixel Panasonic I just got, does. I think it makes a big difference in color accuracy and I'll be using it going forward when taking photos for the book and obviously on Armchair Arcade. Certainly setting a manual white balance is not always practical, but certainly in "studio" settings like above it should be done whenever possible. I'll obviously keep refining my technique...

I may (may, may, may) post a video of this system in action later on, as I need to do testing for trade purposes anyway. I'm pretty much ready to start doing that and the regular scanning as well...

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
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Rob Daviau
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Would love to see vids of systems in action!

Just my 2 cents Bill, I would love to see various retro systems from the point of turning them on, the loading process
and then a little of the gameplay.
Though I have experienced many systems I would love to see what it is like starting up some of those
retro systems I didn't have myself!

Keep up the great work Bill!

Bill Loguidice wrote:

I may (may, may, may) post a video of this system in action later on, as I need to do testing for trade purposes anyway. I'm pretty much ready to start doing that and the regular scanning as well...

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Oldschool games, some people just don't "get it"...

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Videos
Oldschoolgamer wrote:

Just my 2 cents Bill, I would love to see various retro systems from the point of turning them on, the loading process
and then a little of the gameplay.
Though I have experienced many systems I would love to see what it is like starting up some of those
retro systems I didn't have myself!

Keep up the great work Bill!

---------------------------------------------------------------------

Oldschool games, some people just don't "get it"...

I'm glad you said that, as that's exactly my intention. I wanted to go from startup to loading to gameplay. That's the only way to really show off the system, especially when it's direct capture. I'll have to see how things go though, as I want to put as little effort into this as possible. I'd want to do little to no editing on each capture, but not leave anyone lost. I'll see what process I eventually settle on.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
This sure is an unusual

This sure is an unusual computer. I had one in the 80's. It was sold on a home shopping channel for some crazy cheap price. No software, but it did have the manual for Microsoft BASIC, which is all I really needed -- something to learn on, that wouldn't run out of memory all the time like my VIC-20. Was pleasantly surprised that it had sprite graphics, sound & joystick inputs in BASIC so I could make passable games & other fun things as a 10 year old.

Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
My cousin had one in the 80's

I remember my cousin Ron having one like that in the 80's. He had quite a load of CP/M software for it and quite a few games. I remember him saying that it was very much like the MSX systems but not 100% compatible. His dad had bought one thinking it was an MSX system I believe.

I am not sure if the SpectraVideo systems are remotely compatible with MSX? Is the Microsoft basic and are the graphics commands comparable to MSX commands? Or is the MSX system more like a distant cousin that only shares some basic principles?



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
More Spectravideo
Mark Vergeer wrote:

I remember my cousin Ron having one like that in the 80's. He had quite a load of CP/M software for it and quite a few games. I remember him saying that it was very much like the MSX systems but not 100% compatible. His dad had bought one thinking it was an MSX system I believe.

I am not sure if the SpectraVideo systems are remotely compatible with MSX? Is the Microsoft basic and are the graphics commands comparable to MSX commands? Or is the MSX system more like a distant cousin that only shares some basic principles?

It is said that the SV-328 directly inspired the MSX standard. It is marginally compatible at the BASIC level and some of the hardware is basically the same, but all-in-all, the vast majority of software/programs and hardware requires some type of conversion. The first true MSX system from Spectravideo was the 728, which adhered to all requirements for the standard. The 318 and 328 were obviously pre-standard and most definitely their own proprietary formats. Again, though, it's in the same basic capability family (shared chip classes) as the TI-99/4a, ColecoVision/Adam, Sega SG-1000, Tomy Tutor and MSX (1) systems, and shared many of the same problems (for instance, while they featured nice graphics capabilities, scrolling could be an issue).

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
======================================

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