Kenneth Kendall and Acorn take on the Daleks from America
Next time you hear a computer talk it could sound more like a BBC newsreader than the American Dalek noises we are accustomed to hearing.
Most currently available speech chips were developed several years ago for the American market. Now Acorn has applied the latest technology to ex-newsreader Kenneth Kendall’s voice and produced a BBC Micro that speaks BBC English.
According to one of Acorn’s engineers this has two advantages: “First of all it is British English and secondly the quality is much better.” Acorn will make the speech processor and a ROM containing useful words and numbers available in October for less than £30.
Later in the year they will produce a second ROM which will allow the BBC Micro to generate flowing phonetic speech which will sound remarkably like Kenneth Kendall.
Pac-Men snap at Vicmen
Atari’s lawyers are snapping at the heels of Bug-Byte’s Vicmen. Now Vicmen, which is similar to Atari’s Pac-Man, has been withdrawn from sale for fear of costly legal proceedings.
Atari knows the profits games like Space Invaders or Pac-Man can generate and are keen to prevent others profiting from their ideas. As more people learn to use computers it becomes more difficult to conceal the secrets of programs from prying eyes. Now Atari is resorting to legal action.
Tony Baden of Bug-Byte denies that Vicmen is a straight copy of Pac-Man but he is unwilling to commit limited resources to what might become a long and involved legal battle. “If we had unlimited funds we would like to fight it.”
Micros for primaries
Within two years every primary school in the land should have a microcomputer. The Department of Industry will supply 50 percent of the purchase cost of a Sinclair Spectrum, BBC Micro or Research Machines 380Z from a £9m fund.
Whereas secondary schools were required to send two teachers on a “computer awareness” course, primary schools will instead receive a pack containing a self-study guide, a microcomputer reader and 20 sample programs on cassette.
Acornsoft has released the first few programs of what is promised to be an enormous range of educational software for the BBC Micro. The initial programs deal with science, mathematics and English language and cost £8.65 per cassette and £13.65 per disc.
Wordcraft 20 is a Vic-20 version of a word-processor widely used on Pet computers. The system turns the Vic’s screen into a window that can be scrolled up, down, left and right over the text. If a typed line is wider than the screen then the window will automatically follow it. The user can manipulate single characters, words, lines or entire blocks. Wordcraft 20, which includes 8K extra RAM, is supplied as a plug-in cartridge for £125 from Audiogenic.
Black and white £90 Jupiter Ace goes far faster with Forth
Ex-Sinclair engineers Richard Altwasser and Stephen Vickers are launching a new high-resolution black and white computer for £89.95.
The Jupiter Ace will come with 3K RAM and be based around the 3MHz Z-80A. The real surprise though is that the new machine will not use Basic. “We feel that there are many drawbacks to Basic,” says Altwasser, “which is why we are using Forth — the language of the future.”
Altwasser claims that Forth is easy to learn yet executes far faster than Basic and at the same time encourages a modular approach to programming. This may make the Jupiter Ace particularly appealing to schools, colleges and scientific establishments.
Unlike many recently released machines the Ace will not have colour but sound has been incorporated.
Although the keyboard lacks a full-size space bar Altwasser describes it as a “full-size moving key” and criticises some of his rivals for producing “keyboards that feel like dead flesh — ours will be more positive.”
A 1,500-bit per second data-transfer rate should make loading programs from cassette quick and easy. Additional RAM and a printer interface will soon be available as well as a microfloppy drive.
Altwasser claims that the Jupiter can avoid the production delays which have plagued the microcomputer industry by choosing suppliers carefully: “We are not trying to make everything for three farthings.” The Jupiter Ace is available by mail order only from Jupiter Cantab.
New Genie conjures up 16K colour and sound
The already crowded £200 personal computer market becomes even more cramped with Video Genie’s launch of a £199 colour computer. Rob Stead, head of Lowe Computer Division, said “it’s a totally new product,” not just a colour version of the Genie II.
The Colour Genie, above right, offers 16K RAM, a full-size typewriter keyboard, 16 colours, 160 by 96 graphics resolution and 128 programmable characters. Other features include 12K of Microsoft Basic, 40 by 24 characters screen format conforming to Prestel teletext standard, and 1,200 baud transfer rate for cassette. Among the accessories available are a position-detecting light-pen, a printer and, to be released shortly, a Modem facility.
Multitech has 64K micro up its sleeve
Multitech has joined the £200 computer battle by launching the Microprofessor MPF-II, shown above, which is to be built in Taiwan.
Whereas six months ago the Vic-20 was the only machine offering colour and sound in this price range, the MPF-II will now have to take on the Colour Genie, the Dragon, the Spectrum, Atari 400 and Texas TI-99/4A.
The MPF-I was a hexadecimal code hobby computer, but the MPF-II is a fully-fledged personal computer. The ZX-81 sized box offers 64K RAM and six-colour high-resolution graphics with sound, based around a 6502 processor and games, education and business soft-ware will be available on plug-in cartridges and cassettes. Data can be transferred from cassette at 1,000 bits per second.
The MPF-II will output to any printer with a Centronics interface, and Multitech’s own thermal printer will print 40 characters per line at 50 lines per minute.
Other options include a full-sized typewriter keyboard to replace the MPF-H’s pocket computer-style keys, a calculator-sized remote controller and a speech synthesiser.
For an additional £100, Multitech has made available a Chinese-character processor which should be useful for translators not to mention Chinese restaurants and small businesses.
Dragon sounds off
If your dragon is a little hoarse or your Spectrum sounds off colour, Computer User Aids new soundboard may be of help.
Musical effects including bass, drums, chords and white noise can be generated on three channels, each with a range of seven octaves. The 1W amplifier can power a built-in speaker or a stereo output. Although the package includes software control for volume, tempo and envelope it does not require user RAM.
The unit costs £29.95 from Computer User Aids.
Sinclair worth waiting for
Clive Sinclair now admits that many customers have waited 12 weeks for their Spectrums rather than the 28 days still promised in Sinclair’s advertising. He claims that production is now running smoothly at 5,000 units per week and that the backlog will be cleared by the end of September.
In the meantime those who have given up waiting for the Spectrum can take advantage of recent price cuts to buy a ZX-81 for £49.95 instead of £69.95.
Next year a Prestel adaptor will be made available for the Spectrum. Using the Spectrum as a Prestel terminal, owners will be able to access nearly 200,000 pages of information.
Sinclair will produce the adaptor at a price “well, well under £100″. The company will set up a Prestel base of its own and others’ programs. Looking further ahead, Sinclair hopes to set up user networks under the Prestel “umbrella”, enabling Spectrum owners to talk to each other.
If telesoftware takes off in the way Sinclair anticipates it will, their company’s involvement could prove to be a shot in the arm for the ailing Prestel network.
Information Technology year, which was supposed to bring electronic mail to the people, has been forced to resort to postage stamps to broadcast its message. This is rather as if Caxton had resorted to writing advertisements by hand for his printing press. Those of you who have not made the transition to a paperless society will find that the stamps use more paper than ordinary commemoratives and that with the wonders of information technology it has become necessary to use three frames to display a message which any other stamp could display in one. The right-hand frame of the 26p stamp shows a high-technology supermarket charging someone £23.86 for a can of beans. Both stamps will be available on a specially designed first-day cover at most post offices from September 8.