The computers with the most impact were sold somewhere between 1982 with the Commodore 64 as the very first home computer and the Amiga 1200 as the last model in the 1990’s. We sold and repaired those computers, monitors, joysticks, printers and a selective package of software. It is a timeline parallel to that of video cameras and the developments within a few decades is at least as impressive.
The first Amiga computer was demonstrated by Rabbit systems in Arnhem in 1984 at a computer fair where we were walking around at the time. We were with a group of friends still using the Commodore 64 and 128(D) computers and looking for software and hardware offers for those computers. Rabbit systems had a stand right in the middle of the hall that day and I can still remember the moment very well when the ‘bouncing ball’ demo was started. Under the wooden table on which the Amiga 1000 was displayed were two huge speakers connected to the computer. The demo was started and, for the first time in the Netherlands, the sound of the bouncing ball popped through the hall with a heavy bass. Everyone turned around and wanted to know where that sound was coming from. After seeing that first demo, everyone….was in love with that new friend: Amiga.
The price of the first Amiga 1000 computers was not for everyone. It was somewhere around 4,000 guilders. But Rabbit systems sold many of them that day. The first Amiga 1000 models were imported directly from the USA and had NTSC video chips built in. That meant the owners could also only use the software from the USA. Commodore Netherlands did not sell the NTSC model, they waited until the PAL model was ready for the EU. From then on, things moved quickly. Rabbit systems had now specialised and also became an importer and wholesaler. Not much later, the Amiga 1000 PAL was in our shop. Still far too expensive for the home market, but it gave us a fantastic head start in experience and everyone wanted to see it.
The Amiga 1000 was succeeded by several models: The Amiga 500, 600, 1200, 2000, 3000, 4000. The Amiga 500, 600 and 1200 were intended for the home market, for consumers who mostly played games and wanted to write some letters with a word processor, which they then had printed on paper with a rattling needle printer. Epson was a popular brand in those days.
The larger models; Amiga 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 were intended for power users. These models were expandable with different hardware cards, from the Amiga 2000 onwards, they even had different slots in the computer where, just like in a PC, cards could be inserted to make the computer faster (processor update) but also cards for processing audio and video images. The Amiga 1000 only left our shop when the era of the Amiga came to an end. Today, it stands next to me in my study as a reminder of our time when we were fully pioneering with these computers.
The gatekeeper was the Amiga 1200. The most compact home computer that, despite its size, still had some hefty expansion options up its sleeve. You could buy various expansion cards for this computer to expand memory, for example, or build in a floating point co-processor. But the top one was the card with a huge Motorola 68060 processor and 128 megabytes of memory. I myself once paid 850 guilders (c.a. 400 Euro) for 64 Megabyte. That was cheap back then.
The Amiga 1200 was also capable of holding a 2.5-inch hard disk. A small compact hard disk on which you could then store over 3,000 floppy disks. You could then put those floppy disks in large bins at the bottom of the cabinet or in a desk drawer because you no longer needed them. By the way, each floppy disk was good for 880 Kilobyte (0.88 Megabytes) of data. By comparison, in my cameras I use 128 Gigabyte and 256 Gigabyte cards. 1 Gigabyte is 1024 Megabytes.
The Amiga 1200 is on top of its predecessor the Amiga 1000. Both still work, but they need internal refurbishment. For instance, the Amiga 1200 has unfortunately turned a bit yellow in some places. But, the internal electronics still work as before. Besides the 1200, I also have an external 1011 disk drive that is completely original. Everything will get a careful refurbishment, hopefully without polishing out the original shape.
In the days of the Amiga computer, a computer day was organised several years in a row in a large hall of the Herderin in Hasselt. A group of enthusiastic Commodore fans settled down at a table in the hall to exchange their skills and experiences. A sizeable group was very adept with games, but there were also others who were busy making music with audio samples or generating images with the first graphics software: Paint 3D and Sculpt 3D where the next step was made with these computers: raytracing. This was the precursor to the first 3D animations. Eric Graham created the first 3D rendered demo with Sculpt 3D in 1986.
Amiga computers, like their successors: PCs, were constantly being developed. Motorola developed ever-faster processors and Commodore itself developed the internal chipsets. The Amiga could display full-screen video with overscan and simultaneously play two-channel stereo sound or four-channel mono sound. A wide choice of colour modes and screen resolutions between 64,000 and 614,400 pixels were available.
There were three generations of chipsets: OCS (old chipset; Amiga 1000), ECS (improved chipset; Amiga 500, 600, 2000, 3000) and AGA (advanced graphics adapter; Amiga 1200, 4000). The OCS chipset had a palette of 4096 colours, ECS and AGA 16 million colours. OCS and ECS had 32 colour registers, AGA had 256.
The most commonly used graphics modes for animations were:
* Indexed colours with 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 or 256 colour registers.
* EHB (Extra-Halfbrite) which could display 64 colours with only 32 colour registers. The 32 extra colours were half the brightness of the colours in the registers.
* HAM 6 (Hold-And-Modify) could display 4096 colours with 6-bit pixel op-codes. The op-codes could either select a colour from 16 colour registers or hold a colour from the previous pixel and change its red, green or blue channel with 4-bit precision.
* HAM 8 (Hold-And-Modify) could render 262,144 colours with 8-bit pixel op-codes that could select colours from 64 registers or change an RGB channel with a precision of 6 bits.
Amiga animations were often distributed as freeware on floppy disks. One popular series of freeware floppy disks was Fish Disk. Because of the low bandwidth of floppy disks, animations had to be short so that they could be fully loaded into memory before playing.
The most commonly used file formats for animations were IFF ANIM and MovieSetter. Games often used proprietary formats for their animations.
Commodore Amiga computers were produced from 1985 to 1994. In its heyday, Amiga was Western Europe’s leading home computer and was wildly popular with us. I dare say that for a lot of young people, these computers laid the foundation for a future in IT. Be it hardware or software development.
What remains are the memories of a fantastic time when we did all kinds of things with these computers and I will try to share some of those experiences here on my blog from time to time. In between, I try to find everything back in our attic. There is still a lot of everything there. Boxes of old computers and parts, cables, floppy disks, books, service manuals of various Amiga computers. Recently I found back the Amiga 1000 and 1200, books, original software, like HiSoft DevPac, but also one of those good old original Joysticks, with switches. The only thing missing is a monitor that fits.
A challenge is also the parts for these computers. They are scarce, many are discoloured and the prices are almost equal to those of a new Amiga computer. And no my collection is definitely not being sold. I want to hear that start-up sound of the Amiga 1000 again…..
The computer day was reported in the local newspaper at the time with the above pictures attached. There was no shortage of interest on those days.
Until the next one!