Jump to content
4cade

Strange Vaporware - the Atari VCS Adapters for the VIC-20

Recommended Posts

While researching my documentary on the many types of Atari VCS hardware, clones, and add-on adapters to allow other systems to play Atari, I had to include the attempted cartridge adapters from Cardco and Protecto that were advertised in the early 80s, but of course ended up being vaporware. 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/3/2021 at 7:25 PM, 4cade said:

While researching my documentary on the many types of Atari VCS hardware, clones, and add-on adapters to allow other systems to play Atari, I had to include the attempted cartridge adapters from Cardco and Protecto that were advertised in the early 80s, but of course ended up being vaporware. 

 

 

On your actual YT page I commented that this story really fascinates me. I can’t imagine that Protecto actually ever intended to produce these things themselves... which makes me think they really did buy (or thought they bought) a stock of these from some supplier who wished to liquidate them, which makes me in turn think it is more likely than not that some number of units, however small, wound up actually existing.  After all I think Protecto was one of the outfits involved in liquidating the C65 after Commodore’s collapse, and there were only 200 or so of those, and they didn’t get them all (I know I have read the Software Hut in suburban Philadelphia, much closer to Commodore’s HQ than Protecto was out in Illinois, got a few of the C65s), so there is a precedent for Protecto acquiring a small lot of some piece of hardware they then sold off.

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
16 hours ago, carlsson said:

Protecto? I thought it was a Cardco product originally, though Protecto may have advertised that they would sell it.

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/265054-atari-game-cartridges-to-vic-20-adapter/

 

That’s what I mean.  4cade’s video talks about Cardco, then mentioned Protecto advertised a similar product sometime later.  4cade follows others in calling it vaporware, since no extant examples are known.  What I am saying is that the very fact that Protecto advertised a VIC 20 adapter that would play 2600 cartridges as something they had for sale suggests to me that some of these units by Cardco were actually produced and DID exist, even if they never got past a small test production run, since Protecto would not have developed and manufactured the product itself, and was a known reseller of dead stock of even small or late-prototype stages, like the C65.

Edited by mozartpc27

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aha, I see. I agree that Protecto mainly were liquidating other's stock. Perhaps Cardco at that point had fallen apart, and Protecto were to liquidate whatever they may have in store, including products not yet released. With the lead time for advertising, they might have gotten info about products not yet available.

 

Essentially this adapter would be a complete 2600, possibly minus the joystick input. The VIC-I chip doesn't even have the ability to overlay external video, so it would need its own RF output. Like I wrote in that previous thread, perhaps by early 1983 it still seemed like a feasible and lucrative product but the market changed a lot in the spring and early summer of 1983 so if any product at all came out, it must've been prototypes only. By the fall of 1983, both the VIC-20 and the 2600 were on their way out of the market, so designing a similar product at a later time sounds like a waste of resources.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
12 hours ago, mozartpc27 said:

What I am saying is that the very fact that Protecto advertised a VIC 20 adapter that would play 2600 cartridges as something they had for sale suggests to me that some of these units by Cardco were actually produced and DID exist, even if they never got past a small test production run, since Protecto would not have developed and manufactured the product itself, and was a known reseller of dead stock of even small or late-prototype stages, like the C65.

I'll admit - I couldn't find much about Cardco and Protecto - I was glad to share a little context of what they did before their Vic-20 adapter ads, but would've included more. I saw in multiple instances they were deemed vaporware, but I certainly acknowledge anything is possible, we're always making new discoveries when new hardware miraculously surfaces. And that would be freaking cool. 

 

But my question would be, and maybe you two know - did Protecto EVER sell any of their own products at any time? Or is it known that they never did and ONLY sold hardware they bought out to resell? Because I can imagine a company doing both, even if they don't do much in-house; for example, Zircon bought out the stock of the discontinued Fairchild Channel F in 1979, just like Protecto was known for doing; however, they released carts that were not only old stock, but some new ones, and they also redesigned the controller, and sold the new design not only to Fairchild customers but also as an Atari 3rd party controller. 

 

11 hours ago, carlsson said:

Essentially this adapter would be a complete 2600, possibly minus the joystick input. The VIC-I chip doesn't even have the ability to overlay external video, so it would need its own RF output. Like I wrote in that previous thread, perhaps by early 1983 it still seemed like a feasible and lucrative product but the market changed a lot in the spring and early summer of 1983 so if any product at all came out, it must've been prototypes only. By the fall of 1983, both the VIC-20 and the 2600 were on their way out of the market, so designing a similar product at a later time sounds like a waste of resources.

Someone commented on my video that it couldn't work because of the video signal, but that didn't seem to make sense to me; the Sega 32X was able to get around that issue. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've got no idea how the 32X works, but if there is no video overlay/bypass functionality from the cartridge port, the best they could do would be an Y cable that takes composite video from both the VIC and the 2600 adapter and perhaps combines those or uses a mechanical switch similar to those TV/game switches before it generates a RF signal if required. Or two separate RF cables that connect in said TV/game switch.

 

Regarding Protecto, supposedly they had their own Voice Synthesizer for the VIC-20, and possibly other products like 40/80 column cartridges? The later one is similar to a 2600 adapter in that it has its own video chip (usually a 6545 or 6845 CRTC) and its own video output so you either swap cables or run double monitors.

 

Here is an example of this (using a Zero Electronics 40/80 card, not related to Protecto).

40col-screen2.thumb.jpg.4a2888f063db08b0315e0dded91e2e7b.jpg

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

For comparison, I understand that the STIC chip in the Intellivision does have a video bypass function so you can either replace the video with an external source (like in its System Changer for 2600 compatibility), or overlay video onto the built-in signal though it is harder to synchronize. I believe the VDP chip in the ColecoVision also has an input for external video overlay which makes it easier to slap onto 75% of an Atari 2600 onto it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, 4cade said:

But my question would be, and maybe you two know - did Protecto EVER sell any of their own products at any time? Or is it known that they never did and ONLY sold hardware they bought out to resell? Because I can imagine a company doing both, even if they don't do much in-house; for example, Zircon bought out the stock of the discontinued Fairchild Channel F in 1979, just like Protecto was known for doing; however, they released carts that were not only old stock, but some new ones, and they also redesigned the controller, and sold the new design not only to Fairchild customers but also as an Atari 3rd party controller. 

My turn for an admission: I don't know.  carlsson, though, seems to have provided some good information that perhaps Protecto did produce some stuff itself; I was unaware of anything Protecto was involved in that actually originated with them.  Even if Protecto did sell some items under its own brand, that does not, of course, mean that they were the actual manufacturer - perhaps they simply acquired hardware and worked out a license to brand it themselves, or bought out things from companies that were totally defunct and so they could brand the items however they wanted without repercussion (unlike, for example, when they liquidated Commodore B-series computers in the mid 80s).

 

Here is a full Protecto Enterprizes catalogue from 1985 that features a printer interface to convert Commodore printers to Centronic interface that the catalogue indicates is manufactured by Cardco, so they did do some level of business with Cardco.

 

I don't own a VIC-20 or a VCS (I have the Coleco ADAM actually, with the VCS Expansion module), but I am fascinated by this mystery now.  Protecto has always been a bit mysterious to me; this makes it only more so.

Edited by mozartpc27
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aha. Check page 19 which has both a voice synthesizer (for the C64 however) and the Protecto 80, a C64 expansion for 80 columns. Most probably those were OEM products from a bulk manufacturer.

 

I read that Cardco was based in Wichita, Kansas while Protecto was based in Barrington, Illinois. For a second I wondered if the two would be closer related than so but probably not.

 

Let's see: a 2600 mainly consists of the 6507 (smaller address bus than 6502), the TIA chip and the 6532 RIOT which has the on-board 128 bytes RAM. If the video chip had its own frame buffer or VRAM like e.g. a TMS VDP, it probably would be possible to put it on a cartridge, redirect the IRQ routine (not sure if NMI interrupt needs to be changed) and have the CPU execute code that calls the video chip on the cartridge. It sounds like I'm describing a CreatiVision adapter at half the CPU speed. The TIA approach with chasing the beam might not be fast enough if the CPU and I/O are built in, and TIA external (not to mention addressing issues even if you come up with a way to substitute the RIOT functions with what the VIAs can offer). Someone who is really tech savvy probably would want to think this over.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, carlsson said:

I believe the VDP chip in the ColecoVision also has an input for external video overlay which makes it easier to slap onto 75% of an Atari 2600 onto it.

The TMS-9928A (the 9918A with Y-Pb-Pr output) has EXTVID input for overlay.  I found a video game which uses this to combine the video of two VDPs.  I found some schematics for the ColecoVision which are not easy to follow, but it does not seem the VDP is used to handle the external video.  Between these schematics and the service manual, it appears the external video is sent to the RF modulator, and within that the internal or external video is selected by the EXT_VID_EN control from the accessory port.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Aha. In any case, there is no such equivalent signal on the VIC-20 cartridge port. There are two pins named CR/W and VR/W but those have different usage.

 

So how did ordering from Protecto work? I see that one should mail or call in your order. If you called them, they probably would tell you right away if the item didn't exist in stock but if you mailed an order together with a check, money order or credit card details and the items you had ordered could not get delivered, I presume they would not cash in your means of payment. How did it work if only part of your order was available, can the recipient of a check choose to only cash in part of it?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, carlsson said:

How did it work if only part of your order was available, can the recipient of a check choose to only cash in part of it?

 

A cheque cannot be cashed for a partial amount. 

 

They would cash the check, and then send a company check to refund any balance owing.

 

Some years ago, I subscribed to a local magazine. It was cancelled after like six months. I had prepaid for a year, and I received a nice thank-you letter from the publisher, together with a cheque refunding the balance of my subscription payment. (The publisher continued in business with other titles, but not this particular magazine.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I suppose in a system that so frequently uses cheques, there are no particular subcharges to cash in a return check? Over here there has always been, and in particular even worse these days, huge penalty fees (surely up to $15) for cashing in payout checks unless you have an account in the bank you visit, and sometimes not even that helps. On the other hand, it is an extremely uncommon form of payment and I think with modern solutions barely anyone considers using it anymore.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, carlsson said:

In any case, there is no such equivalent signal on the VIC-20 cartridge port.

I suspect the VCS adapter for the VIC-20 would have used soft-switching similar to the BI-80 expansion for the C64.  Or it would have used a hard switch, perhaps connected to the VCS adapter's power switch or something of that nature.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/8/2021 at 4:34 AM, carlsson said:

I've got no idea how the 32X works, but if there is no video overlay/bypass functionality from the cartridge port, the best they could do would be an Y cable that takes composite video from both the VIC and the 2600 adapter and perhaps combines those or uses a mechanical switch similar to those TV/game switches before it generates a RF signal if required. Or two separate RF cables that connect in said TV/game switch.

 

Regarding Protecto, supposedly they had their own Voice Synthesizer for the VIC-20, and possibly other products like 40/80 column cartridges? The later one is similar to a 2600 adapter in that it has its own video chip (usually a 6545 or 6845 CRTC) and its own video output so you either swap cables or run double monitors.

 

 

The 32X was utilized by having the video output of the Genesis plug into the 32X, then the 32X had a video output that went to the TV. Perhaps a VIC-20 add-on could've functioned in that manner?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

2:50.. Isn't the heavy sizer and light sixer's shield configuration the same? ..with the weight savings coming from the cheaper plastic & cost cutting there?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 minutes ago, Keatah said:

2:50.. Isn't the heavy sizer and light sixer's shield configuration the same? ..with the weight savings coming from the cheaper plastic & cost cutting there?

 

Interesting, I've not heard that - if you can point me to a source, I'd like to hear more. I did see several places that cited the RF shielding; it certainly tracked with what I have read about other consoles - the rush to produce consoles in the mid-70s led to a crunch at the government agency that approves RF shielding in a product for consumer release. Some pong consoles were pretty much ruined by the resulting backlog, causing some companies to miss the crucial holiday season for release. This also happened with the RCA Studio II, which was to come out for the '76 holiday season, but due to the testing delay, was released in early '77, where it was DOA (though with the superior Channel F on the market, probably would've been anyway).

 

So when I read that the heavy sixer had excessive shielding that could be removed on the successive design, it made sense. A console that doesn't pass the shielding test, having to adjust and re-design and resubmit for approval, the delay could cause them miss the holiday season themselves which could be catastrophic. So it makes good business sense to err on the side of putting too much shielding in, rather than too little and risking it. But it's an interesting question, again I'd like to hear more about it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There's many photos of both heavy and light sixers floating around here on AA.

 

As a kid, I clearly recall both heavy and light having the same shield configuration. Both being overdone so to speak. Heavy aluminum. Cost-cutting on shield parts wouldn't happen till the 4-switch design came out. 4-switchers and anything later have this thin cheap-ass flimsy metal shield. Not the solid aluminum box.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/9/2021 at 6:32 PM, Keatah said:

There's many photos of both heavy and light sixers floating around here on AA.

 

As a kid, I clearly recall both heavy and light having the same shield configuration. Both being overdone so to speak. Heavy aluminum. Cost-cutting on shield parts wouldn't happen till the 4-switch design came out. 4-switchers and anything later have this thin cheap-ass flimsy metal shield. Not the solid aluminum box.

Well, I'm impressed - I certainly wouldn't have known of such a thing when I was a kid, so you got that on me. I'll definitely look into this more - perhaps you're right, and this is another common misconception. But I'd say that regardless, it's notable that it wasn't just a cost-cutting measure - clearly it was unneeded, so even if the shielding reduction took place with the 4-switch update, it seems likely that the original design was made to err on the side of too much shielding, rather than aim for 'just enough' shielding. I'll look for those pics; if you run across them again, feel free to post a link here or DM me. And thanks for letting me know about this, don't hesitate to let me know if you find other errors. 

On 7/9/2021 at 6:53 PM, Keatah said:

Loved the spot on the UltraVision console!

Oh, thanks - I really appreciate hearing that. The Ultravision isn't exactly a buzzworthy topic, seeing as even many retro gamers don't even know of it, but it was so crazy I had to include it, it's such a cool weird bit of console/portable history. Glad you liked it, I may do a video just on the UV down the road sometime and spend a little more time on it. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/307533-atari-rgb-light-sixer-repair/

..describes someone's attempt at repairing a light-sixer. The heavy shielding is quite evident.

 

To us kids in the early 80's the UltraVision was more of an ideal idea. A mythical construct even. We wanted something that would play every game ever made. And the UltraVision concept was the best attempt at that.

 

Inspired me and my gang to try and make one. We disassembled a bunch of consoles and mounted them in a cardboard and wooden box. Something like a barcade, but bigger and more clumsier, and more flimsy too. We had like 4 or 5 consoles AND a small color CRT  monitor going. With speakers and a 10 watt amplifier. IIRC we had Intellivision, Atari VCS, Colecovision, and two or three other consoles.

 

Because of our infantile soldering skills and other workmanship issues the damn thing kept burning out. Wires falling apart. All sorts of overheating smells. Switches that would get pushed in, fall on top of something, and short stuff. And worse. A rickety thing we just gave up on and hauled curbside after it sat out all winter and spring.

 

But fast-forward to today. An AIO is easily doable thanks to emulation and powerful modern hardware.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 7/13/2021 at 7:38 PM, Keatah said:

https://atariage.com/forums/topic/307533-atari-rgb-light-sixer-repair/

..describes someone's attempt at repairing a light-sixer. The heavy shielding is quite evident.

Thanks for the link/pic, Keatah - while I'd like to be able to compare the two shielding constructs - is it possible that they're the same size but the light sixer's were thinner metal? - but due to the images, I'm inclined to think you may be right. 

 

Whoa, that story of your homebrew combo hardware console blew me away! Please God, tell me you have some pics, I'd LOVE to see that!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...