The Kickstarter 2 campaign is live -- head here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spectrumnext/zx-spectrum-next-issue-2 - The ZX Spectrum reborn: a new machine, fully compatible with the original computer, and packed with improvements and expansions.
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Proof of Concept
Explorations that test ideas and functionality.
Demonstrates the functionality of the final product, but looks different.
Looks like the final product, but is not functional.
Appearance and function match the final product, but is made with different manufacturing methods.
Appearance, function, and manufacturing methods match the final product.
Spectrum Next: The Evolution of the ZX Spectrum
We love the ZX Spectrum. Why wouldn’t we? It was much more than just a computer: it was a machine that sparked a gaming revolution, neatly housed within its iconic design powered by sheer simplicity. The Speccy was, and still is, on a league of its own.
Decades have come and gone and the Speccy is still alive and kicking. New games are being launched all the time, the demoscene carries on pushing the hardware limits to the unimaginable, artists keep on creating great 8-bit eyecandy and music with it. Alongside this there are thousands of awesome games in the back catalogue to play.
Meanwhile hardware hackers around the world have expanded the ZX Spectrum to support SD card storage, feature new and better video modes, pack more memory, faster processor... Problem is, these expansions can be difficult to get hold of, and without a standardised Spectrum, no one knows what to support or develop for.
Here is our answer: The Spectrum Next - an updated and enhanced version of the ZX Spectrum totally compatible with the original, featuring the major hardware developments of the past many years packed inside a simple (and beautiful) design by the original designer, Rick Dickinson, inspired by his seminal work at Sinclair Research.
What’s inside the box
Spectrum Next is an expanded and updated version of the ZX Spectrum, fully compatible (software and hardware) with the original. You can play any games, demos, use original hardware, you name it. And it also runs new software created more recently to make use of expanded hardware, including new graphics modes and faster processor speeds.
The Spectrum Next is fully implemented with FPGA technology, ensuring it can be upgraded and enhanced while remaining truly compatible with the original hardware by using special memory chips and clever design. Here’s what under the hood of the machine:
Processor: Z80 3.5Mhz and 7Mhz modes
Memory: 512Kb RAM (expandable to 1.5Mb internally and 2.5Mb externally)
Video: Hardware sprites, 256 colours mode, Timex 8x1 mode etc.
Video Output: RGB, VGA, HDMI
Storage: SD Card slot, with DivMMC-compatible protocol
Audio: 3x AY-3-8912 audio chips with stereo output + FM sound
Joystick: DB9 compatible with Cursor, Kempston and Interface 2 protocols (selectable)
PS/2 port: Mouse with Kempston mode emulation and an external keyboard
Special: Multiface functionality for memory access, savegames, cheats etc.
Tape support: Mic and Ear ports for tape loading and saving
Expansion: Original external bus expansion port and accelerator expansion port
Accelerator board (optional): GPU / 1Ghz CPU / 512Mb RAM
Network (optional): Wi Fi module
Extras: Real Time Clock (optional), internal speaker (optional)
Yes, we know. We got to thank Rick Dickinson, the designer of all things Sinclair, for dedicating his time and amazing team to come up with a spiritual successor to one of the best and most loved industrial designs ever. We think the job is done!
Rick also took great care to create a keyboard that’s more responsive and features higher bandwidth input than the original, using a butterfly mechanism to power a tactile response to any fingertip touching its keys. No more stuck keys while you type!
Who is it for
The Spectrum Next is aimed at any Retrogamer out there and Speccy enthusiast who prefers their games, demos and apps running on hardware rather than software emulators, but wants a seamless and simple experience contained within an amazing design.
The Spectrum Next is much more than just a renewed trip down the memory lane: there’s a world of new software out there that requires upgraded hardware to run -- from games to music and video players, from operational systems to ultra demos -- stuff that has been made for specific expanded hardware that most ZX Spectrum lovers never tried before, and can be quite difficult to find or install.
It can also become the new standard for the ZX Spectrum development, enabling developers to create content knowing where it will be experienced. And this makes all the difference: it’s a brand new future for the Speccy!
And while we’re looking at the future with the Next, by no means it forgets its roots: it has full support to tape loading and saving (fancy hearing that game loading?), it works with old CRT and VGA monitors (while also supporting modern HDMI output) and it’s compatible with original hardware expansions.
The Spectrum Next is ideal for anyone who loves the original Speccy but also wants to experience a new level of hardware, including faster processor, more memory, storage, network access and more.
Future-proof for another few decades
We did a good job with the Spectrum Next, but it wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t made it to last. While you can use the Next with old CRT RGB monitors, it also support VGA and modern HDMI monitors and TVs, future-proofing the computer for decades to come.
We added the option to add a Raspberry Pi Zero as a slave co-accelerator board, taking the Spectrum Next to a whole new level. In other words, with a Raspberry Pi Zero slotted into its place, the Spectrum Next can use the RPi memory, CPU and GPU to do its bidding. Imagine what demosceners can do with this… An OpenGL ZX Spectrum? Who knows!
It also (probably) sets the world-record of cheapest accelerator in the world, as the incredible Raspberry Pi can be bought by £5 or less. It doesn’t get any better than this…
I love it… but I want to stick it inside my original Speccy
Well, aren’t you a true retro spirit? Yes, you actually can do that! We made it so that the Spectrum Next board is compatible with the old cases. We won’t sugar coat it: There will be some drilling, cutting, hacking and gluing involved, but if you’re a hobbyist up for the challenge (at your own risk!) it can be done for those who want it. You can check out our own stab at it at the prototypes gallery or in the videos at the bottom at the page.
The brains behind the project
The Spectrum Next was born out of the incredible (and hacky) minds of Victor Trucco and Fabio Belavenuto, Speccy enthusiasts who have been keeping all sorts of retro hardware alive for the past 20 years. Once they created the hardware and software to make it run (the project was then called TBBlue), Rick Dickinson joined the group to wrap all that goodness into one heck of a design that any true Sinclair fan should fall in love with.
Rick Dickinson An industrial designer of unparalleled talent, Rick’s seminal works include the ZX80, ZX81, ZX Spectrum, Plus and QL. Over the decades his creations have stood out of the crowd and survived the test of time, remaining icons of design to this day. If you think the Spectrum Next looks gorgeous, it’s all his doing.
Victor Trucco One of the most gifted retro hackers on the planet, Victor is responsible for an endless string of open source hardware aimed at keeping our beloved oldies alive. Perhaps his mostly recognised project is the multisystem cartridge emulator, enabling many consoles to use a single device to load games from SD cards.
Fabio Belavenuto Recognised as a key figure in the MSX hardware scene in Brazil, Fabio is a computer scientist with a not-so-hidden passion for the Speccy (the MSX vs Speccy in Brazil was analogous to the C64 vs Speccy in the UK). He’s the co-creator of the TBBlue Spectrum board, the starting point of the Next hardware.
Jim Bagley One of the most celebrated ZX Spectrum developers, Jim is the coder behind classics such as Cabal and Midnight Resistance among many others. He also holds a Guinness World Record for cramming Dragons Lair into a ZX81. Jim is responsible for several functions of the Next (such as new video modes and sprites), and drives the development requirements for the platform.
Henrique Olifiers A game designer and the co-founder of Bossa Studios, makers of Surgeon Simulator, I Am Bread and Worlds Adrift, Henrique is a retro gamer whose very first title was created in a ZX Spectrum clone (TK-90X). His passion for games and demoscene powers the developer relations of the Next project.
Check out Victor and Fabio's hardware work at www.victortrucco.com and Retrocomputaria (tip: in Brazil, where they live, the ZX Spectrum is represented by clones called ‘TK90X’ and ‘TK95’). For all things design, head over here for Rick Dickinson’s company. And for a super trip down the memory lane of you favourite games, check Jim's website here.
Stretch goals galore
You made the Spectrum Next happen, we got fully backed on the very next day of the start of the campaign. As a reward, we'll make sure to make the Next a better machine the more people backs it. Here it goes:
A charitable enterprise
Yes, the Spectrum Next is amazing. And it also does extra good: part of all revenue generated by the project, in perpetuity, will go straight to the Royal National Institute of the Blind. We owe big thanks to the Amstrad / Sinclair brand holders who granted us the right to use their IP in exchange to this donation for one of the greatest charities around.
Does it work? Does it actually exist?
Glad you asked! Yes, the Spectrum Next has been in development for some time now, mainly because the team wanted to come to Kickstarter only when all the details have been ironed out and the machine already worked. We did this in order to reduce risks and surprises along the line, and to show the community the Next hardware working before asking for backing. And here it is:
Another advantage to the approach of developing the hardware before crowdfunding the production, is that some great developers have been working with the prototype boards and creating new software for the Next, even before its launch. They have also been suggesting new features, such as 256 colours sprite modes and hardware scrolling for instance. Check out an example:
Here's the Next running some Speccy games and demos:
We hope the ZX Next will lead to a new generation of games made specifically for it, on top of amazing ports of old classics taking advantage of more speed, memory, colours... Our imagination is the limit!
Features on the move
When we first conceived the Spectrum Next, it was a very different, much more humble machine. During the past 12 months we've been collecting feedback from the community and expanding the machine's features based on suggestions and requests.
This process will continue during production even after the Next's launch, as its firmware will be constantly upgraded to improve the machine and include more things it's able to do -- such as the Jupiter Ace and ZX81 modes already available.
It's also important to note that some aspects of its board layout have been changed (such as the joystick port moving to the front of the computer for easier access), and might still be improved before final production. For us all that matters is that we make the best possible version of the Spectrum Next within the price point of the original Speccy.
Most importantly, once launched, the Spectrum Next will be fully open source, including its firmware and schematics, meaning the community will be able to take it further into the future by improving both its software and hardware!
A world of new games and apps
The Spectrum Next wouldn't be half as exciting if it didn't spark a new generation of games and apps taking advantage of its features. We've been working with developers across the world to create and update games and apps for the Next. Check out a few of these:
A New Dizzy Game Directed by the Oliver Twins, creators of the original Dizzy series, and produced by Dmitri & the Crystal Kingdom Dizzy Spectrum remake team, this new Dizzy title will be made exclusively for the Spectrum Next, taking advantage of its features. Here's the full team and credits for the game:
Dmitri & the Crystal Kingdom Dizzy Spectrum remake team Jarrod Bentley – responsible for the original Crystal Kingdom Dizzy in-game 8 bit graphics. Piotr ‘PIT’ Gratkiewicz (More of PIT’s artwork at: zdlugopisa.blogspot.com) for illustrations.
This new game is produced as a hobby by all involved – no one is being paid for making this. They all have busy day jobs! As a result we are delighted to provide this New Dizzy game for FREE to all backers.
We must also give a massive thanks to the Oliver Twins and Codemasters. This game will created and distributed under license. All rights reserved. “Dizzy” is a trademark of Codemasters. (c) 1986 - 2017. The Oliver Twins and Codemasters generously donate all their royalties to Special Effect & The National Videogame Arcade on any Dizzy games sales.
ESXDos One of the best OS for the Spectrum by Miguel Guerreiro, updated and expanded for the Next, making use of its full features.
REX Next Jas Austin's celebrated Speccy classic gets a mini follow-up made for the Next. One of the best-looking (and playable) games ever, now poised to look (and play) even better!
DreamWorld Pogie The Oliver Twins and Lyndon Sharp working on a special version of DreamWorld Pogie making full use of the Next palette, sprites and hardware scrolling.
Garry Lancaster's +3e OS Garry is working on a new version of his celebrated +3e OS for the Next's SD card, packed with more performance and features.
No Fate The team behind the amazing Castlevania: Spectral Interlude are working on a new Beat'em'Up for the Next called No Fate. If their Castlevania work is anything to go by, this should be a hit.
Nodes of Yesod Another Speccy classic updated for the Next by its original creator, Steve Wetherill. Time to check out that black monolith once again!
More projects soon to come!
Risks and challenges
The Spectrum Next project is a complex endeavour, including the tooling of molds for the case and keyboard, production of PCB, assembly, quality assurance and so on. We will use our skills and experience across our team to ensure risk is low in this area.
We’ll use our best efforts and experience to keep the production on track, hoping to ship the machines as fast as we can and within schedule.