VideoBrain Family Computer Model 101 - Semi-Forensic Photo Blowout!

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Bill Loguidice's picture

As followers of Armchair Arcade well know, I've been discussing the groundbreaking, but unsuccessful and rare, VideoBrain computer system, which was developed in 1977, for quite some time now, including most recently here, and of course initially here. As you may also know, I've recently combined my two VideoBrain computers into one working franken-unit, and, as a result, had an opportunity to photograph some of the system's more intimate details. What follows below are those photos. In the next Armchair Arcade TV episode, I'm covering Midnight Mutants for the Atari 7800, which will be followed by episodes on Teenage Driver for the Ohio Scientific computer, and coverage of the games and software for the VideoBrain (Midnight Mutants will hit first--I'm not sure which of the other two will follow right after). You'll see in one of the VideoBrain photos below a game variation in the Gladiator game, which, for 1977, might have one of the most impressive in-game special effects I know of for the time. In any case, enjoy these photos, and don't forget to click through any you want to super-size:

The main board, with the top metal shielding removed. The cartridge connector attaches where the two white bars are:
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The underside of the main board shielding. Note the RF unit in the lower left, which provides an amazingly clear picture:
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The bottom of the plastic case:
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I'm not sure what function this serves, but this works in conjunction with the main board and is some type of sub-unit that is found on the side of the system (EDIT: Lance Squire suggests it may be the power regulator and fuse panel):
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The side panels (you only need two). Oddly enough, while the main system casing is a slick black, these side panels are a rough brown:
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This is the top underside of the unit. The cartridge port is pictured up top, with the loose cartridge connector with two broken off pins on top of it. Note the four controller ports in the lower left. The separate panel pictured at the very bottom has the power supply connector on the far right, followed by the Channel 3/4 switch and expansion port as you move left:
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The top side of the unit, showing the broken keyboard and cartridge door opened, with the green cartridge connector, loose. The separate panel pictured at the very bottom has the power supply connector on the far right, followed by the Channel 3/4 switch and expansion port as you move left:
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The main board with the shielding removed:
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The system box, which you've seen before:
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The software, expansion unit, and a joystick:
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A closer look at the ultra-rare Expander 1. I will be testing the working condition of this soon with the Money Minder cartridge. If it works, I'll try to have it shipped out to be reverse engineered.
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(note the joystick without the plastic shaft screwed on)
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The Money Minder cartridge in its large box:
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The working unit, prior to putting the side panels on and tightening all the screws:
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(note the Gladiator cartridge in the cartridge slot)
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The working unit, just prior to putting the side panels back on:
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The side panels are now on:
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With the bottom of the case assembled:
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It's alive! (Gladiator is running):
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A close-up of the Gladiator game variation involving spaceships (not actual gladiators like in the main game), with the cool special effect I was referring to (I will of course have direct feed video when I cover this on Armchair Arcade TV):
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The full album is here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/loguidice/sets/72157624767088544/with/49106...

My VideoBrain inventory consists of the following, boxed complete:
- VideoBrain Family Computer 101 (including all documentation, two joysticks, power supply and RF adapter)
- Gladiator (EN01)
- Music Teacher 1 (ED01)
- Wordwise 1 (ED03)
- Money Minder (VB-1000)
- Pinball (EN02)

I have the following loose:
- VideoBrain computer (broken, no power supply)
- 1 joystick with missing plastic screw-on shaft
- Expander 1
- Checkers (EN04)
- Checker (EN04)

Comments

Tempest (not verified)
VideoBrain

It's nice to hear from the one other VideoBrain collector out there. ;) I had to go through two different units to get a working one, but in my case it was a dead power supply that tripped me up. The connector on the power supply is a strange industrial twist style plug. The whole system is full of odd design choices, like all the designers really weren't 100% sure how to put a computer together. It's a strange beast to be sure.

I love your Money Minder box, I'm still missing that one. I think APL/S Programming Language and the Expander 2 are the last things I need for my collection. The rest of the games that are listed in the manuals I think are vaporware. I finally got confirmation that APL/S did exist as I bumped into someone who owned it back in the day and he gave me some VideoBrian newsletters that have programming tips for it.

You can check out my collection here: http://www.atariprotos.com/othersystems/videobrain/videobrain.htm

Tempest

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Yep, I've referenced your

Yep, I've referenced your stuff on the VideoBrain before, Tempest, as it's been the only really solid info to date other than the contemporary books I've referenced in a previous blog post. APL/S definitely existed, but I don't think any of us have found anyone who actually has one. I hope it's not gone for good in that great dustbin in the sky, as that's the only way to make the thing a "real" computer when used in conjunction with an Expander 1 and a cassette deck.

n/a
Mark Vergeer
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Joined: 01/16/2006
LOL

Love the 'semi forensic' theme you got going here in this 'autopsy'!

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SlapDash (not verified)
Tempest, you know that's not true!

You know that there's at least one OTHER collector out there than you two! Sure, I may not have as many of the ultra-rare stuff, and I haven't seen the thing in over a decade now, but I do have 13 of the carts for it; that shows some dedication, ne?

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
VideoBrain collectors unite!
SlapDash wrote:

You know that there's at least one OTHER collector out there than you two! Sure, I may not have as many of the ultra-rare stuff, and I haven't seen the thing in over a decade now, but I do have 13 of the carts for it; that shows some dedication, ne?

You make at least five, we know of actually. Three of us own the Expander 1. By chance, do you own the APL/S cartridge? We have yet to ever track anyone down who owns one. Regardless, owning 13 VideoBrain cartridges is no small feat. Do you have a list?

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Jim Peterson (not verified)
VideoBrain APL/S

Since this site hasn't been active for over a year, I assume it's no longer monitored, but I just stumbled onto it and in the slim chance anyone still cares,,,
Yes, there is at least one APL/S Cart. I have had a mostly complete VideoBrain set since 1977, including APL/S. Unfortunately, I misplaced the APL/S guide booklet during a move several years ago, and have not been able to replace it. The Cart still works perfectly though. I have Expander 1 and all but a couple of the other carts. I'm still looking for Expander 2 (& program) and the joystick and p/s boxes, but I have everything else and it all works.

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
It exists!
Jim Peterson wrote:

Since this site hasn't been active for over a year, I assume it's no longer monitored, but I just stumbled onto it and in the slim chance anyone still cares,,,
Yes, there is at least one APL/S Cart. I have had a mostly complete VideoBrain set since 1977, including APL/S. Unfortunately, I misplaced the APL/S guide booklet during a move several years ago, and have not been able to replace it. The Cart still works perfectly though. I have Expander 1 and all but a couple of the other carts. I'm still looking for Expander 2 (& program) and the joystick and p/s boxes, but I have everything else and it all works.

You mean topic, not site, of course, but you'll be happy to know that there has been good progress behind the scenes with this stuff. I was able to send my Expander 1 on to Sean Riddle who was able to disassemble and dump the contents of the Expander 1, as well as my Money Minder cartridge (both since returned to me). All that's still missing is finding someone with an APL/S cartridge, such as yourself. It's a crying shame about your missing instructions, but having the cartridge is HUGE.

Are you familiar with the channel_f_and_videobrain Yahoo groups list? You may wish to consider joining that and posting about your cartridge. If we can somehow get your cartridge dumped, it would go a long way to someday recreating the cartridge and actually making the computer usable for people beyond just as a videogame machine. The APL/S cartridge combined with an Expander 1 would finally make the thing usable as a real programmable computer with storage...

I can also put you in touch directly with Sean Riddle if you'd prefer. My direct email address is bill@armchairarcade.com if you're interested in any of the above options, which I (and other fans of the VideoBrain) sincerely hope you are.

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
As is typical for me, I never

As is typical for me, I never did get around to posting direct feed videos from my VideoBrain. Lance Squire just did, though:

As I commented on the "[channel_f_and_videobrain]" Yahoo Groups! mailing list:

Yeah, for 1977, this is actually rather impressive. The floating is an odd animation technique, if you can even call it that, but it is smooth, and as I mentioned in 2010, the barricades special effect on the space-based board is particularly impressive and would have been impressive into the very early 80's. The musical score at the beginning, while grating, is something that I can't recall any other game of the time even attempting, home or arcade. For all its warts - that bizarre keyboard among them (though again, to be fair, it is a full stroke keyboard with the keys more or less in logical places, unlike say the Commodore PET) - there was no other off-the-shelf computer of the time anywhere near its price range with color graphics and sound, the Apple II being about the only one I can think of, and that was not really in this price range. Also, the fact that it accepted cartridges before the release of the Exidy Sorcerer (1978) and before both the Atari 400 and TI-99/4 (both 1979), says a lot about the forward thinking of the system, not to mention the four joystick ports.

There are two things I think could have made this computer far more popular - a company with a stronger financial backing in order to advertise better and get better distribution (though these did make it into at least a few Macy's, it appears) and either a BASIC in ROM or on cartridge at release. I think the big appeal to owning a computer in the late 1977/78 timeframe was expandability, and that's something that the VideoBrain lacked out of the box. Betting on APL/S was by far their biggest flaw, though, in my opinion.

Anyway, here's what they should have done with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and in consideration of the competition at the time. A simple BASIC in ROM and a built-in standard cassette interface, adding no more than $50 or so to the retail price (max $100). Offer a more advanced BASIC on an expensive cartridge. Heck, if you had that, you could even offer APL/S as well without any detriment. The lack of a readily available expansion and well understood programming language are the two things that also halted any chance of a post bankruptcy community forming, like what happened with practically every other computer I can think of, even other relatively obscure ones like the Interact.

(He mentioned he'll be posting a cleaner version of the Music cartridge video)

EDIT: He put up Video Artist as well, showing all 16 colors in use at once:

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MrPete (not verified)
re: APL/s for the VideoBrain

I can assure you APL/s was real. I helped write the software!

It was a very... unusual project. I used every trick in the book to get some kind of semi-reasonable performance. I think we achieved all of four floating point multiplies per second. Yowza! :-D

Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
APL/S

MrPete wrote:
I can assure you APL/s was real. I helped write the software! It was a very... unusual project. I used every trick in the book to get some kind of semi-reasonable performance. I think we achieved all of four floating point multiplies per second. Yowza! :-D

Thanks for checking in. A few more copies of the cartridge have surfaced since my posting, but sadly, the owners have refused to have its contents dumped so it could be leveraged by the few of us who are active VideoBrain owners. If you still have a copy of the cartridge or know someone who does and are willing to have it dumped, the community would be quite thankful! It would obviously be huge to be able to use the VideoBrain like the real computer it was supposed to be, i.e., programmable.

n/a

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