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Add-ons that FAILED for the various "Classic Computers".

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No matter what your brand of "Classic Computer", can you think of an item that was heavily advertised, apparently much anticipated, but then then sunk like a rock when released?

 

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The TRS-80 Voice Synthesizer and VOXBOX were massive failures.  They never even bothered to make versions for anything after the Model I.  $400 for the Voice Synthesizer was insane (almost $1300 today) and I think Eliza was the only RS program that supported it.  VOXBOX speech recognition wasn't as bad at $169, but supposedly an experimental toy.

 

Alpha Products also had a voice synthesizer with big full page color ads in magazines.  You would think it would have been a hot item, especially with War Games being out at the same time, but I don't think it had much support either.  Price was very reasonable at $70.

 

When you think about it, the I, III and 4 didn't really need a voice synthesizer, it had many games with clear speech.

 

Now the Orchestra 90 Music Synthesizer did great and it's one of my favorite peripherals.

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Sort of a failure, but still a cool unit? The Commodore REU. I had such high hopes, but other than GEOS, I really can't remember anything that really used it. 

  Don't get me wrong. A 512K REU with GEOS 2.0 rocks and makes a very nice 90's mac alternative especially with the 128 version, but again. I can't think of anything that used it. I was hoping for massive games, faster load times, and so on, but none of it happened.

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12 minutes ago, Turbo-Torch said:

When you think about it, the I, III and 4 didn't really need a voice synthesizer, it had many games with clear speech.

Yes!  I remember some games like Robot Attack that had speech, and WITHOUT the need for a speech synthesizer, just a speaker hooked up to the cassette port.  I agree those insane prices were enough to turn anyone off, especially since the speech it did generate was lousy.

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Not sure how heavily advertised it was. But the light pen for my Vic-20 was a huge flop for me. Saw the Ad in a magazine, was instantly excited. Got it and it quickly was discarded. Never bought another light pen ever. 

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I suppose the barcode reader for the TRS-80 Model 100. I don't think it was that heavily marketed, but I found that a small chunk of the Tandy laptop section of Tandy Catalogs to be devoted to the barcode reader. But I've yet to find a single example of one in real life.

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More a peripheral than an add-on, but I'll vote for color printers. Especially the ribbon types. I recall several implementations of the idea.

 

Some had 4 color ribbons, and there'd be a stepper motor to move the ribbon up or down to get the different colors. Soon enough the ribbon would start mixing colors of its own volition with bleed-throughs and re-strikes. And you couldn't really refill the ribbon by spraying WD40 on it and using ink from a disassembled ballpoint pen or calligrapher's ink  - common tricks for those on a budget who liked making those 5-meter PrintShop banners.

 

Another one had separate ribbons entirely. You would print one color, reverse-feed the paper, change the ribbon, print again. Yikes! The mis-alignment was the number one annoyance factor here. Not to mention the time.

 

Color printing at home wouldn't become practical and affordable till many years later with the advent of continuous-feed cheap-china-ink refillable cartridge printers. No spongy cartridges either!

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3 hours ago, Arnuphis said:

Not sure how heavily advertised it was. But the light pen for my Vic-20 was a huge flop for me. Saw the Ad in a magazine, was instantly excited. Got it and it quickly was discarded. Never bought another light pen ever. 

Light pens were interesting and very practical input devices up till around the mid-80's, for specialty computers and applications. Think the SAGE and Whirlwind defense systems. The light pen or hand-scanner-sized optical input gun was used to designate targets on that huge round CRT-scope display.

 

I remember getting the Gibson LPS-II LightPen for my Apple II and was amazed at the novelty of it all. Drawing on the screen really captured the future right there in my bedroom. It came with "preliminary" PenTrack software. Software that would let you move a box around on the screen; lightpens always needed a bright cursor to follow. It had some demos where you could draw a line or pick up and move electronics CAD/CAM symbology around. But it was just demo software to proved the pen worked. Not much one could do with it.

 

Sometime later KoalaTechnologies, maker of the famous KoalaPad touch tablet we all know and love, bought out Steve Gibson's LPS-II system. They made a version of their MicroIllustrator that used the pen. I never got around to testing it out. But it looked cool.

 

Baudville released Blazing Paddles around the same time. It was very similar to the MicroIllustrator. BP seemed to support the largest variety of input devices of the time Mouse - Touchpad - Joystick - LightPen - KoalaPad - AppleGraphicsTablet. All of this was good and eminently marketable, nice commercial packaging. But the lightpen remained tethered to obscurity.

 

I suspect lightpens were fatiguing devices to use for anything more than occasional quick selections. And yes that would be the same Steve Gibson of GRC and SpinRite fame.

Edited by Keatah
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Weirdly, I kinda want one of those TRS80 bar code readers.

How about barcode readers designed for program entry?

Or that Quecat thing for entering URLs stored as bar codes? Does anyone have a copy of their infomercial? It was a weird sci-fi set up where a teacher addressed a class in the future, explaining how the Quecat revolutionized life in the early 21st century.

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The Tabor 3.25" floppy drive had the promise of cheap disks, had nice expansion cases for the IBM PC Jr and Apple II, and a couple of systems were planned to have Tabor drives installed. Went nowhere fast. Wasn't even selling when the remaindered products were sold at a significant discount. 

 

Phi-decks, cassette decks without the enclosure, were turned into high speed audio cassette systems with software control of all functions by several companies. All rapidly failed.

 

The universal storage add-on that never managed to achieve its promised cost reductions or speed was bubble memory. It did survive in a few small markets where the limited capacity and low speed didn't matter but the durability did. I think the Tandy Model 100 and related systems became the main target for commercial use; difficult to sell the average computer user on a storage system that was slower than a floppy but cost about $500 for each 128k bubble memory expansion. 

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6 hours ago, Keatah said:

More a peripheral than an add-on, but I'll vote for color printers. Especially the ribbon types. I recall several implementations of the idea.

 

Some had 4 color ribbons, and there'd be a stepper motor to move the ribbon up or down to get the different colors. Soon enough the ribbon would start mixing colors of its own volition with bleed-throughs and re-strikes. And you couldn't really refill the ribbon by spraying WD40 on it and using ink from a disassembled ballpoint pen or calligrapher's ink  - common tricks for those on a budget who liked making those 5-meter PrintShop banners.

 

Another one had separate ribbons entirely. You would print one color, reverse-feed the paper, change the ribbon, print again. Yikes! The mis-alignment was the number one annoyance factor here. Not to mention the time.

 

Color printing at home wouldn't become practical and affordable till many years later with the advent of continuous-feed cheap-china-ink refillable cartridge printers. No spongy cartridges either!

 

The 486 mom bought when I was a wee lad came with an epson color impact printer of this stripe.  It was a 4 color ribbon alright.  Rather than ballpoint pen, I used "Stamping ink" for self-inking rubber stamps, and a cotton swab.  Eventually the fabric would wear out though.

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I think the various add ons that Amiga pushed (like the CDTV to Amiga 500 conversion and vice versa) and CDROM drives were a pretty big flop as well. Amiga was really expecting those to save the company but eventually it didn't.

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I'm thinking about the Spartan (C64) that makes it behave like an Apple. From what I understand it was greatly delayed, not that much cost savings and possibly compatibility issues anyway.

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Printer buffers. A box of memory that was inserted in-line between the computer and the printer. This allowed the computer to dump data at a relatively high speed compared to actual printing speed. They essentially returned control of the computer to you much sooner than waiting out the entire print job. For all intents and purposes the buffer appeared to the computer as a printer.

 

Offshoots of the external box models were buffered interface cards or even memory cards that would fit directly inside the computer or printer.

 

They were somewhat popular in business settings but never penetrated the 8-bit home market. Seen plenty of advertisement but I never knew anyone with one beside myself. Not sure what happened in the 16-bit era or MS-DOS days. But by the time Windows got underway, print spooling was built-in to the operating system.

 

I have a MicroBuffer from PracticalPeripherals. Nice build quality, metal case, matched the Disk II drives with black faceplate and textured manila body. Cost me something like $199 - $249 for the base 64K version. It was almost a magical thing - because me and my buddies loved printing everything in sight it seemed. And now with the buffer we could set a printout going AND then play a game of StarBlazer or something. True multi-tasking at its finest. Another advantage was the control panel. The clear button was obvious, all stop and reset. The pause button was extraordinarily useful. Allowed you to pause to let a dot-matrix head to cool or to give you time to insert more paper halfway through a job. Or for manually skipping over the perforations between pages. And a copy button for making another copy. We loved that extra functionality.

 

Some 35 odd years later I would upgrade the very same buffer to 256K via 3 sticks of 64K each, thanks to ebay. Seen them listed once, and never again. Amazing what you can find if you're patient.

 

(I understand there was a serial version for serial printers and modems. Not sure how smoothly it work with a modem.)

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I'd say print buffers were fairly successful in the 8-bit business market, though maybe not so much for home use.  We used to lug Kaypros around at work as portable data loggers, and the buffers were very useful as they allowed us to send a report to the printer then get on with making data backups or whatever else we needed the Kaypro for without waiting for a 20-page report to come out of the very slow dot matrix printer.

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Miracle Piano on Amiga, always wanted that, but it faded out very quickly.

 

Had a similar keyboard for the C64, done some playing for a bit, but very soon it was just gathering dust in the corner.

Found a picture:

 

expanderpluskeybo.png

Edited by high voltage

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were any peripherals outside of printers/modems/drives ever really a success for classic systesm?   I can remember digitizers, light pens, Koala tablets, 3D glasses that were never supported beyond a handful of packages

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13 hours ago, leech said:

I'm going to say the XEGS Light gun.  I think there were like 4 games that used it?

I'd agree, but the qualifying factors here are "heavily advertised and much anticipated". And I remember that it wasn't readily available, at least here in Canada, unless you bought it with the XEGS. I had to buy a third-party modified Sega light phaser from a seller in Florida. And I think that there are certainly many more than four games for the A8 that use the light gun, even though some of them were released years (or decades) later.

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12 minutes ago, zzip said:

were any peripherals outside of printers/modems/drives ever really a success for classic systesm?   I can remember digitizers, light pens, Koala tablets, 3D glasses that were never supported beyond a handful of packages

Mechanical/physical keyboards for the 400?

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12 hours ago, Keatah said:

More a peripheral than an add-on, but I'll vote for color printers. Especially the ribbon types. I recall several implementations of the idea.

 

Some had 4 color ribbons, and there'd be a stepper motor to move the ribbon up or down to get the different colors. Soon enough the ribbon would start mixing colors of its own volition with bleed-throughs and re-strikes. And you couldn't really refill the ribbon by spraying WD40 on it and using ink from a disassembled ballpoint pen or calligrapher's ink  - common tricks for those on a budget who liked making those 5-meter PrintShop banners.

There was also the "thermal transfer" color printers like the Okidata Okimate series.  These didn't move the ribbon up and down to change colors, so they didn't have the color bleed.   They had a whole host of other problems instead.

 

The color ribbons were broken down into magenta/cyan/yellow/black "segments" that were able the length of a line,  so the printer would print that line then advance the ribbon to the next color.  Sound good so far?  well thermal transfer ink was basically a waxy ink that once it got melted on the paper, it was no longer on the ribbon in those spots.   So unlike a tradition ribbon that you can strike multiple times and still get ink,  it wasn't practical to reuse thermal transfer ribbon because sections of the ribbon would be missing ink and lead to poor quality.   Worse, if you printed a line that used only say red, the other colors would be wasted because you aren't going back to that section of the ribbon (there was a separate black-only ribbon for when you didn't need color)

 

Other bad things about these printers:  pretty slow compared to others,  only printed well on glossy paper.   If you used common "draft" computer paper, you would be disappointed.

 

They did have some good things about them-  you could print T-Shirt iron-ons with these,  they could also use thermal paper like was common on Faxes without needing ink.

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2 hours ago, zzip said:

were any peripherals outside of printers/modems/drives ever really a success for classic systesm?   I can remember digitizers, light pens, Koala tablets, 3D glasses that were never supported beyond a handful of packages

I would argue that digitizers were specialty bits of hardware and had only one use, to take pictures, thus only one piece of software needed. Anything like machine vision would come later, and not on consumer 8-bit machines. TWAIN API would come to the PC & MAC markets in 1992 - allowing image acquisition in a variety of paint and editing programs.

 

On the Apple II the KoalaPad would act like a joystick. The pad could even be read from Applesoft BASIC and the touched coordinates be put into X,Y variables with a range of 0-255. Some games could be played with it and I believe some educational titles actually supported it. It also could make use of overlays a'la Intellivision-style but I don't recall seeing them. And Dazzle Draw was yet another paint program for it.

 

What surprisingly gained some support was the Apple Graphics Tablet. It was a holy grail item for me back in the day. Came out in like 1979 or 1980, was way way expensive. Blazing Paddles and Dazzle Draw supported it in 1984 & 1985 respectively. Since it was RF based I wonder if it was "software upgradable" to handle DHGR?

 

2 hours ago, high voltage said:

Oh yes, I had a digitizer for my 130XE

I remember having a Digi-View for the Amiga. A very successful product for its time, launched a whole company that made video production equipment used in Babylon 5. NewTek did a similar design for the PC called Snappy. Didn't go anywhere because scanners and digital cameras (as input sources) were becoming popular and had higher resolutions in smaller packages. Any video source at the time was still too bulky.

 

Edited by Keatah

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19 minutes ago, Keatah said:

I would argue that digitizers were specialty bits of hardware and had only one use, to take pictures, thus only one piece of software needed. Anything like machine vision would come later, and not on consumer 8-bit machines.

True, but if it shipped with weak software, you were stuck with it,  image format coversion tools were not common back then

 

20 minutes ago, Keatah said:

On the Apple II the KoalaPad would act like a joystick. The pad could even be read from Applesoft BASIC and the touched coordinates be put into X,Y variables with a range of 0-255.

Come to think of it, I think on Atari it worked like a pair of paddles, and you could query the paddle 0 and paddle 1 for a value 0-255 which were your X and Y.   That meant you could probably play a game like 'Breakout' on it

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4 hours ago, zzip said:

were any peripherals outside of printers/modems/drives ever really a success for classic systesm?   I can remember digitizers, light pens, Koala tablets, 3D glasses that were never supported beyond a handful of packages

Maybe not so classic, but if you consider PCs, you definitely needed a Creative Labs Sound Blaster.  Actually, my first sound card was the Game Blaster that I bought for my 1000SL. 

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