PAL: Past My Limit
NTSC: No Trouble Seeing the Colors
Zx spectrum: masterpiece that keeps on giving
(wish it weren't so expensive)
I had a TS-2068 several years ago and what I can tell you is that the main (and annoying) difference is that they have distinct code in ROM - mainly the addresses - meaning that the 2068 will NOT run ZX Spectrum assembler programs. It may be easily fixed using a cartridge with a Spectrum ROM in it inserted into the right side slot. By the time I had the computer a friend of mine made a few of those cards and I was lucky to get one. In short such kind of cartridge will turn your 2068 into a Spectrum and you can run practically everything.
As far as I know when you bought a Timex from Portugal you could choose between two cartridges in the package: a word processor or the ZX compatibility one. I think that looking for this you can find one (try eBay) or a similar third-party stuff like the one my friend made. Perhaps you can even find it here in the forum, IDK.
But in this case the question is: what's the point to get a TS-2068 to make it work as if it would a ZX Spectrum? I loved my TS but honestly I wouldn't buy one nowadays. I certainly would pick a Spectrum.
I agree with you. But we should keep in mind that it was the 80s. The personal computing history was just beginning and there wasn't yet a consensus about the need of compatibility. Actually by that time they still didn't believe that one day there would be computers in every house (and in every pocket) and computers were only a toy for nerds (mostly kids and teenagers). I was one of them!
When TS-2068 was released they didn't want just launch Spectrum in the American market even because the American market already knew the Spectrum and certainly there was a bunch of them already running in the desk of some American nerds. They had to make more than that and just put the old Spectrum into a new fancy case wouldn't be enough, then they enhanced it with a double joystick interface, a sound CPU, more memory and a cartridge slot, and, of course, the great good looking silver case. So now you know exactly in what the 2068 is better than the Spectrum. Of course all those changes had a price - the loss of compatibility. But as I mentioned before it wasn't considered a real issue. First because we have to remember (again) that it was the 80s and there wasn't this need of compatibility. They didn't even know if the computer fever would long. Also, there wasn't yet ANY computer industry standard by then, so it's a bit of an overkill to say that Spectrum could represent a standard. Ha! I know, there was a few thousands of Spectrum machines running (mostly of them in Europe) but it was far from be a "standard" - we should keep in mind that the standard in personal computing only came with the IBM-PC because the huge name and reliability of IBM. Yeah, it's not easy to establish a industry standard.
Anyway, by the time everything that the agonizing Sinclair wanted from the new Timex Sinclair 2068 was the salvation for the company. Unfortunately, as we knew shortly later all those efforts didn't work and the 2068 proved to be a fiasco and too little later Sinclair closed the doors being brought back from the dead by a subsidiary in Portugal that re-released the TS (Timex Sinclair) family under the new TC (Timex Computer) designation. It worked for a little while but it was inevitable to reach a quick end. Along this time they released the TC-2068 that could be purchased with the "ZX Spectrum compatibility cartridge". The last attempt of keep the project alive was made in Poland and the computer was released with the designation of TC-2086.
Look this excerpt from Wikipedia:
However, these changes made the machine incompatible with most Spectrum machine-code software, which is to say virtually all commercial titles; less than 10% would run successfully. In an attempt to remedy this, many TS users built a cartridge with a Spectrum ROM for emulation. The emulation was sufficiently accurate that it was able to run the majority of software produced for the Spectrum. Later, Timex of Portugal produced a Spectrum emulator cartridge that would auto-boot. This cartridge did not fit in a TS2068 as it was higher than TC2068 cartridges. The TC2068 casing was changed to accommodate this.
You can find more of this history here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timex_Sinclair_2068
Actually the cartridge WAS just exactly what you said: a small board with a Spectrum ROM to bypass the original one. I didn't heard of no one by the time that had just replaced the ROM directly in the board but I am glad to know that it was such a simple task. I think that the need of the cartridge is because it seems to be too much more easy to insert a cartridge into a slot than go after a chip (I wouldn't know where to start in the 80s), then unscrew the bottom of your computer and mess with a circuit board. Sounds scary and risky for the regular user - including myself by that time.
Here a picture of the infamous "emulator cartridge":
My "cartridge" wasn't that beautiful though. It was an ugly card without any box around that after inserted into the slot remained with a good inch outside preventing the cover to close. And I remember that it was exactly it: a card with a ROM (actually an EPROM in my case) and a few wires. Just that.
Mine was not compact as this one though.
- Posts: 2879
- Joined: Mon Sep 26, 2011 10:56 am
- Location: Looking forward to summer in Somerset, UK...
Yes, Sinclair did try to sell some ZX Spectrums in America. But soon discovered that it was not practical to make the alterations to meet the FCC requirements. Timex Sinclair (Timex selling computers under license from Sinclair) also discovered this.
Timex Sinclair did sell the ZX81 packaged as the TS1000 with a metal coating on the inside of the plastic case, a different TV modulator and a 2k byte RAM chip (instead of the ZX81’s 1k bytes of RAM). The keyboard also had different names for two of the keys.
As I understand it, Timex Sinclair intended to launch a ZX Spectrum like computer, called the TS2000 (I think). But because of the FCC requirements, it became clear that a lot of redesign would be needed. So they produced the TS1500, a TS1000 in a ZX Spectrum case (but with different case colouring, and the TS1000 keyboard legends) and added 16k bytes of memory on the main board as standard.
Only later did they design the TS2068 for the American market.
The TC2048 is a TC2068 with less RAM. The TC2068 is the European version of the TS2068 which has various differences compared to the TC2068. The TS2048 was never sold as far as I know.
All these (TS2068, TC2068, TC2048) have a different custom chip to the ULA found in a ZX Spectrum. This custom chip has extra video modes. However, not much software was produced that made use of this. Timex also put the sound chip at a different I/O address to that used by third party sound expansions intended for the ZX Spectrum. So again, no compatibility.
Then the Spanish ZX Spectrum 128k used a different memory banking system, and another different I/O address for the sound chip.
It appears that Amstrad, when they designed the +3 / +2A, did not even know about the Timex Sinclair machines, or at least, did not know about their capabilities.
Timex originally showed a "2000" that was cosmetically identical to the Spectrum and, for reasons not entirely clear, decided to upgrade the computer for the American market. Initially, there were to be two models, one with 16K, the other with 48K. In the end, only the 48K model launched.
FCC concerns may have been an issue but making the Spectrum FCC compliant would have meant some shielding (as evidenced by the 1500). I think the larger drivers were market expectations for a "real" computer (expressed pretty well in the press at the time).
I haven't seen evidence that Sinclair tried to sell the Spectrum in the US. Their agreement with Timex was that once sales exceeded a certain number, Timex was able to take over the US market. That's what led to the switch from the ZX81 to the TS1000. Timex had first crack at US rights to any subsequent designs.
The most obvious difference was the case. If any of you are Next backers, you know how much time and effort goes into making a new case and keyboard.
The Spectrum keyboard was roundly panned in the American press. I think the kindest thing said about it was "dead flesh". And the lack of a space bar was a real issue that stigmatized the 1000. I think that helped the decision to put a more "real" keyboard in the computer. Reviewers called it a "chiclet" keyboard (chiclets are a kind of gum, small and square). They noted it was an improvement but not as good as on the Apple, Commodore, etc.
We were also at an inflection point where some kind of sound hardware was expected (Atari and Commodore certainly influenced that). And two joystick ports. It definitely helped that the Spectrum had decent graphics keywords. Timex added keywords for sound, joystick support and few other things. By comparison, graphics and sound on the Commodore 64 required learning machine language.
They also added (in theory) support for bank-switched memory and for a system expander. The memory support turned out to be flawed (Wes Brzozowski did a series of articles in Time Designs Magazine about that). And the expander never came.
As for Spectrum compatibility, there were a bunch of options: a cartridge that went in the dock slot, a ROM that sat on some interface plugged into the back and a replacement dual ROM board (both TS and Spectrum) that used a reed switch and magnet. For a lot of users, Spectrum compatibility was desirable because of the sheer quantity of Spectrum games.
As others have noted, the ULA was replaced with a different device (SCLD) that added some features. BTW, the same happened with the 1500: the board was redesigned and the ZX81 ULA replaced with an SCLD. The ROM was slightly re-written to support the cartridges and that introduced a bug in the 1500.
Even with the incompatibilities, many American users stuck with their 2068s after Timex exited the market and continued to develop software and hardware specifically for it for a number of years.