Wrapping up 2018
Following the last update with an X-Ray of the project featuring all the major tasks done and pending, we’ve spent four weeks working hard on the keyboard to advance towards the final milestone, plus extra work on the ever-changing manual content and expanding the features of the firmware, which is now on version 2.00.X. Without further ado, let’s get on to it!
The keyboard progress
Last week we’ve got the keyboard membrane attached with the silicon domes that provide the spring action of the keys, now readying the membrane for assembling inside the keyboard frame and metal backplate. With this done, our partner can work on the final assembly to allow us to test it inside the case, and move to keyboard production.
The ‘Keyboard Keys Printing Test’ task in the plan from the last update is now done, with sample keys laser etched for resolution testing. In the final product, after the keys are etched with the laser, they are painted with a bright white over the etching to ensure the original look of the Spectrum Next. The etching and painting together create a unique surface and shape for each key (thus a unique feel), and they ensure the letters never fade as it can happen with traditional tampo printing with much usage.
We’re now waiting for a full sample of the keys, fully painted, along with the assembled keyboard for compatibility testing with the case. We are pretty sure there won’t be any problems of fitting the keyboard with the case, since there wasn’t a problem with the board itself -- the case dimensions were perfect the first time around thanks to Rick and Phil’s diligent work, the same should apply to the keyboard.
Fingers crossed the next update we’ll have the keyboard done!
Phoebus, Garry, Allen and Jim have been hard at work getting the firmware improved with the extra time created by the keyboard delay. There are a lot of updates and new features already added to 2.00.X, and we are planning on shipping the Next with this core out of the box. Check out the partial features set:
The following things have been fixed:
- Peripheral compatibility on the expansion bus is continually being refined. Being able to fully disable divMMC post boot now allows peripherals like the plusD to function correctly.
- The Drive button no longer resets the Next if divMMC is disabled.
- The DMA now allows for longer sampling rates at all speeds. Additionally it returns all idle cycles to CPU in burst mode and implements a daisy chain for multiple bus masters. Finally, wait states stretch read/write cycles rather than insert delays between read/write cycles.
- Timex hi-res mode is no longer offset by 1 px to the left.
- Compatibility with some ESP modules which could hang the Next on reset has been addressed.
- Setting volume 0 on the AY modules actually makes the AY silent.
- The UART has been improved significantly and now setting the LSB of UART pre-scalar (BAUD rate) only affects LSB.
- Soviet clone compatibility has been improved. Specifically the border timing has been fixed and proper power decoding on 0x7ffd (i.e. “Kpacku Deluxe”) has been implemented.
- NextReg 7 now returns the actual CPU speed and NextReg 0x18, 0x19, 0x1A and 0x1C are actually readable.
- The membrane module has been completely redone allowing for all types of membranes to be used. Dual layer original 48K, triple layer 128K/+/+2 and the new dual/split contact Next layer membrane. This fixes significant issues, allowing the production of the keyboards to finally conclude.
The following capabilities have been added:
- L2 Priority colours: By setting the first bit of the second byte in a palette entry, this colour now overprints everything regardless of the order of layers, thus providing for a non-cpu time cost solution for environmental masking.
- Darken/Brighten modes (by implementing layer colour mixing) has been implemented. SLU modes (111 and 110) with lighting and shadow effects requiring no CPU time also.
- Full 14MHz speed for ULA modes. Prior to this the CPU would drop to 7MHz every time the Next was writing to the screen. This gives a significant CPU boost to older games and non L2 software.
- Multi-core capability. Firmware can now select a specific core (0-31) to start (Firmware update is pending for this functionality).
- The sprite engine has been redesigned from the ground up allowing for up to 64 sprites per line, 4 bit colour sprites and up to 4x scaling on the X and Y axes.
- Z80N has been enhanced with six more instructions: 5 x barrel shift/rotate and 1 JP.
- Each AY can now be made monophonic (via NextReg 0x09 bits 7:5)
- NextReg 0x03 writes with bit 7 set now accepted in any mode to change timings (bits 6-4), NextReg 9 bit 3 disables the Kempston mouse port ($DF) and read of NextReg 0x3 bit 7 now returns the next palette byte to be written (0=RRRGGGBB, 1=B-low) and NextReg 0x15 bit 5=1 enables clipping in over border mode for the sprites.
A monumental shout out and huge thanks to the team who have made all this possible. These fixes and enhancements are brought to you by tireless and unrelenting work of:
Allen “Santa Claus” Albright, Jim “St Nicholas” Bagley, Garry “Father Christmas” Lancaster
Latest cool stuff on the Next
Since this is the last update before Xmas, it’s the best time for going over some of the latest developments in the software side of things, as a lot of amazing games and apps have been cooking for the Next.
Atic Atac Tribute
Kev Brady is teasing the Spectrum Next Games group with a Next version of his PC tribute to Atic Atac. Nothing much is available so far other than this intro video, but… Just look at it!
Adrian Cummins is at it again, fresh from Dungeonette and Deltastar, with Montana Mike -- an Indiana Jones inspired bash of a game taking full advantage of the Next sprites and speed.
You can grab all Adrian’s games at Itch.io here: https://softamuse.itch.io/
Fancy connecting the Next to videotext? Well, Robin Verhagen-Guest has the solution with NXTel -- check it out:
Hollow Earth Hypothesis
Lampros Potamianos is hard at work on his Jules Verne inspired Hollow Earth Hypothesis, putting the Next video modes to good work.
If you want to check out more games, demos and apps, head to the Gaming on the ZX Spectrum Next group and join the discussion.
2018 is a goner…
When? And here we are: the year when the cased Spectrum Next should be with you has come and is almost gone, leaving our Christmas stockings empty of the full cased Next. We’ve shared with you how frustrating this has been for the entire team (not nearly as frustrating as it is for the backers), but now we can at least get more solid on the shipping date thanks to the recent developments on the keyboard.
With the convergence of all the last bits of the project, we’re keen to ship the Next as soon as we can -- and that’s looking like Q2 2019 the latest. We’ll burn the midnight oil to shave as much time from production as we can (never compromising on the quality!) and try to ship it earlier than Q2, but just to make we don’t promise and fail to deliver, that’s the official date.
A huge thanks for the patience, support, deserved criticism, feedback, love and… Just being the incredible community of the Spectrum Next you’ve helped build.