VTech Laser 200
The VTech Laser 200, rebadged as a Dick Smith VZ200
|Release date||November 1983|
|Units sold||200,000 in Australia|
|Media||Cassette tape, Disk drive|
|Operating system||BASIC V2.0|
|CPU||Zilog Z80A clocked at 3.58 MHz, Motorola 6847 video processor|
|Memory||6-22KB USER-RAM + 2KB VRAM, 16KB ROM|
|Display||32×16 (8 colors), 128×64 graphics (2 background, 3 foreground colors)|
|Input||45 key Keyboard|
|Dimensions||29 × 17 × 4cm|
|Predecessor||VTech Laser 110|
|Successor||VTech Laser 310|
The VTech Laser 200 was an early 8-bit home computer from 1983, also sold as the Salora Fellow (mainly in Fennoscandia, particularly Finland), the Seltron 200 in Hungary and Italy, the Smart-Alec Jr. by Dynasty Computer Corporation in Dallas, Texas for the USA, the Texet TX8000A (in the United Kingdom), and the Dick Smith VZ 200 (in Australia and New Zealand).
The machine ran basic games on cassette such as "Hoppy" (a version of Frogger), "Cosmic Rescue" (Scramble), "VZ Invaders" (Space Invaders) and Moon Patrol. The Laser 210 / VZ200 computer was discontinued in 1985.
The VZ200 had little impact in the UK where it sold at a similar price to the 16 kB Sinclair Spectrum and in USA where a Timex TS1000 could be bought for $30. It gained a measurable following in other countries where it was supported by the distributor and where Sinclair Research was too disorganised to have any impact.
It gained some following in Australia and New Zealand, and in some countries in northern continental Europe. In Australia it was bought mostly to learn programming ; the only other widely available systems being the Commodore 64, whose BASIC was crude and glacially slow, and the much more expensive Amstrad CPC.
At its UK launch, Texet claimed that the £98 TX8000-branded version was the cheapest colour home microcomputer on the market. However, this was not enough to ensure its success against the dominant ZX Spectrum and similar machines already on sale.
The "Dick Smith"-badged VZ 200 was more successful in Australia, where it proved popular as a first computer.
An improved version known as the VTech Laser 310, or the Dick Smith VZ 300 featured a full travel keyboard and 8K ROM software based Floppy Disk Controller, was released in 1985 and continued until 1989.
The VZ200 was designed and built by Video Technology Limited (VTech) in Hong Kong, known even back then as a manufacturer of electronic toys.
It appears that the intention was to look similar to the Sinclair ZX-81 as it has the same type of one key commands but has some extra features, namely, 6 kB of RAM (ZX-81 had just 1 kB), redefinable characters (with the ZX81 you were stuck with those supplied), a bitmapped mode allowing block by block animation (the ZX81 only had character movement) and beeper speaker (the ZX81 was silent).
The resemblance is superficial however, since it is a version of the much earlier Altair 8800 style systems produced in the 1970s, and similar to the Mattel Aquarius, built onto a single circuit board and with a MC6847 video processor and a simple telephone type IC latch used to produce basic (but loud) single channel square wave sound effects via the built in piezo loudspeaker. Although crudely made and poorly specified, it was a sound, reliable system with a good variant of BASIC and a fast and reliable cassette loading algorithm.
Based on a Zilog Z80A CPU driven by a television colour burst crystal (3.5795454 MHz) (in PAL, NTSC and Secam), it offered 16 KB of ROM containing Microsoft BASIC Level II, 8 kB RAM (2 kB for video memory) for the PAL model, whilst the NTSC and Secam models had 6 kB RAM (2 kB for VRAM) and eight colours.
The resolution of the VZ200 was 256 x 192 pixels as a grid of 32 x 16 character blocks which were 8 x 8 pixels in size. The visible resolution on the start screen was 256 x 128 since lines were not used so that it would work with both PAL and NTSC television systems (NTSC has fewer lines) and because of a lack of video RAM. The unused lines showed as a border on television sets capable of showing them. It was however possible to use the extra lines with machine code programming, the lack of video RAM remedied as on the Atari VCS by paging out and swapping the video RAM and drawing the extra lines on the second scan of the television screen (television screens are built up in two scans, half the lines in each scan). There were two bitmapped modes : 32 x 64 addressable blocks (1 character block wide x 2 pixels within borders) in eight colours and 32 x 128 addressable blocks (half a character block wide by 1 pixel) in four colours.
Because there is only 2 kB of VRAM, only one of the video display modes of the MC6847 Video Display Generator (VDG) chip is available, effectively disabling the bitmapped higher resolution 256×192 mono colour mode. There were a few unofficial "mods" developed that increased the VRAM and enabled the 256×192 mode that the MC6847 was capable of, a number of programs were written (mainly) by German user groups that used this particular modification. Rather crude sound effects could be achieved by a built-in push/pull piezo speaker via its BASIC, though 1-bit synth and sampling sound can be produced through both raw Z80 assembly as well as libraries within the Z88 Development Kit.
The BASIC interpreter used a modified Microsoft Level II BASIC (similar to the TRS-80).
Laser 310 / VZ 300
The Laser 310 was released in 1985 throughout parts of Europe and the United States. It was named and sold as the "Dick Smith" VZ 300 throughout Australia and New Zealand. Also based on a Zilog Z80A CPU with a slightly updated 16k ROM version, it was driven by a television colour burst (3.54 MHz) crystal. It came with 16k of RAM for programming, along with the same 2k of Video Ram as that of the Laser 200.
Within a year of the Laser 310's release, an 80k disk drive unit was released on to the market, of which two could be connected to the computer at the same time. A plug-pack cartridge containing the DOS ROM was required to operate the drives. The DOS ROM and diskette drives were backwards compatible with the Laser 200. A number of other VTech designed plug-in peripherals were also available for both the Laser 200 and Laser 310 computers. Among them were joysticks, cassette drive, light pen, printer plotter, 75 baud MODEM, word processor cartridge, and the 16k and 64k extended RAM cartridges. As numbers of users grew, so did the number of home-made kits which were on offer, which included a Speech synthesizer, SN6847AN music synthesizer, EEPROM programmer, data logger, 300 baud MODEM, full 101 keyboard, and a RTTY Ham radio kit.
With both of their releases in Germany, England, USA, Italy, Australia, New Zealand and a few other countries, commercially based software titles grew and were distributed throughout various outlets in their home counta syets store fronts throughout Australia and New Zealand sold many titles, including educational and graphical games, finance programs and various software utility tools, most of which have been found and transferred for the use in the various emulators. Unfortunately there are a number of known software packages that have simply been lost through the age of time.
Dick Smith Electronics ran a program buying software from local programmers and selling them through their stores for $12 a cassette. Most VZ200 programs were written in Australia, it is the equivalent of the Sinclair ZX-81 in Australia (which was never really available because of production problems in the UK), a system which many early programmers learnt on. The lack of foreign competition tended to encourage local programmers, programmers having little success competing with foreign programs on the most popular system, the Commodore 64.
A number of emulators have since been written for these models of computers:
- MESS VZ/Laser emulation by Juergen Buchmueller and Dirk Best
- JEMU by Richard Wilson
- JVZ200 by James Tamer
- VZEM (Windows and DOS versions) by Guy Thomason
- Pocket VZ (for the Pocket PC) by Guy Thomason
- Android VZ (for the Android OS) by Guy Thomason
- Download page to a number of them is here
- Video Technology LASER 200 / 210 OLD-COMPUTERS.COM Museum
- Bennett, Bill, Texet TX-8000 review Archived 2004-05-15 at the Wayback Machine, Your Computer magazine, April 1983. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- Dick Smith VZ-200, thepcmuseum.com. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- Video Technology Laser 310, old-computers.com. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to VTech Laser computer.|
- DSVZ200 - VZ200 emulator
- VZEM by Intertek - The official homepage of the VZEM emulator
- JEMU - Java based VZ200 & VZ300 Emulator
- A contemporary review - from Your Computer, April 1983
- Laser Beams In At Just £70 - from Personal Computer News, August 18 1983
- The VZ200 - Tutorials and Programming
- A VZ200 Wiki - Information
- Clockmeisters VZ/Laser310 page
- German VZ dedication page with 600+ German VZ software titles.
- Bushy's Absolute everything VZ page.
- Steve's VZ page.