Yes I'll take another photo soon!
So far we have done a number of hardware reviews now from products such as the UCassette, to The Future Was 8bit's SD2IEC. Well now we have something incredibly special to show you, a hardware device which is sure to be the next best thing in portable C64 retrogaming. It's the C64P; a C64DTV based laptop that has been sent to us by The Future Was 8bit! (Please note that this is an early press build and any issues are likely to be addressed for full retail )
The first thing that strikes you is the incredible detail from this device, even though it was originally a notebook, probably containing windows xp. The Future Was 8bit has gone to great lengths to replace everything inside, from an SD2IEC, a different PCB, new 7" TFT, keyboard interface and a C64 joystick input. It may look like a brand new notebook/laptop on the outside but on the inside it's brimming with hardwork. Just take a look at the next one that's in development!
So that's the general gist of the internals out the way, lets take a look at the external attachments. Here on this picture you can see the SD card, the Diskswap button and the SD2IEC button Root/Reset. Which is very handy with multi-disk games as the developer mentions : If you want to load a multi-disk game from the SD card, exit to Jiffydos, press ESC(Esc is RUN/STOP) and it should load and run FB64 from the SD card. Navigate to your DIR containing your multi-disk games and press Q. Then press the disk swap to select first disk and SHIFT-ESC. Another great thing about it is, if you want to load other homebrew titles or demo's just take out the SD and copy them from a PC to the SD card, all accessible through the browser which I'll get to later.
On the rear of the device you have even more important accessories, the all important power connection for power through the mains or charging up your C64P. You also have a port which looks like a keyboard connection for external devices - disk drives/printers/SD2IEC + video/audio out. However I didn't have a cable to test this out, but for those wanting to run on the big screen they can. The dial is for volume control and I must say I prefer to have it at full volume as the audio output is very good indeed, it certainly sounds like a SID chip.
Moving on to the right side we have two joystick ports and retro joysticks can be attached such as my original Amstrad joystick which works wonders. Not only is it great for playing games, but you can also use the joystick to scroll through the menu's, just like a real C64.
And here we have the most important part, the C64P itself all open and ready to be played. Does it not look simply beautiful? Note the front lights indicate power, charge and loading and that lovely TFT screen with screen cover keeping it safe. Although that can be removed!
Turning on the C64P and you are greeted with a menu screen which is very much like an original SD2IEC on C64. There are a number of available selections such as Jiffydos/DTV, Basic, CBM and a multi selection of already to run games. For those of you who want improved loading times it's highly recommended to load JiffyDOS/DTV which is an enhancement that gives your C-64 or C-128 the disk access speed it has always needed. However this is when I ran into my first issue, the touch pad.. It is very sensitive and clunky to use, there were times when I'd barely scroll down using the touch pad device and it would take it as a double click and I'd end up in a menu or running a game that I didn't pick. It may be ok for games, but I'd highly recommend using the keys or at best a real joystick.
Back on track, loading JiffyDTV (JiffyDOS) and you arrive at the screen we all remember. That command entry screen for originally loading disk based games or tapes. Now another issue was the keys were not laid out correctly. For example: I wanted to load the SD2IEC through JiffyDOS/DTV I had to type LOAD"*",8 but because the keys were almost like a US keyboard to a UK one, it ended up as LOAD@*@. Thankfully pressing the @ keys and you end up with the right ones. It's fiddly, but it becomes second nature to find the right buttons to press.
Before we delve into playing the games, as we mentioned before you can download homebrew titles such as new games or demos onto the SD card, as you can take it out and copy to it via your PC. Even though this SD card did have a number of games, I wanted to make a homebrew dir and a music dir on my PC which was very easy to do. As you can see below, the first picture is what the main root dir looks like and the next is the list of game folders and my homebrew dir. Each homebrew dir has a game folder, then the file itself so I can run it later on my C64P.
So onto the loading and this hardware device really shines! If you end up doing what I did, go into JiffyDTV (which loads up games very quickly) type LOAD"*",8, type RUN then in the main browser select the game you want and run it, it's that simple. The colours of the games themselves are fantastic with a high quality sounding speaker that really feels like a real C64. What is really missing though is a headphone jack, if I want to take this out of town, not everyone wants to hear the sound of mr 8-bit, sure I love it but not everyone.
You may however notice a few issues when you first load the games up, not so much as a problem with loading times but more so the screen. The first problem I found was terrible back light bleed, deep blacks come out as bright grey and it's not really black unless the C64P is almost flat on the floor looking at an angle. But the developer has assured me that the latest screens are a little sharper and hopefully not so much back light. The other issue is the huge amount of space wasted on the sides, there's so much potential to use all of the TFT but this is an issue which I have later fixed myself, which I'll get on to again later. Remember this article is every step as I have used it, from the time I switched it on, to the latest battery charge.
Through all those slight issues which need to be addressed it's still a brilliant bit of kit, as I said before, sound is spot on with great detail in the games themselves, bar the black-grey backlight problem. Another positive are the controls, when using the keyboard or joystick they are spot on and react with precision. Numbers even work, so if you want keyboard and it says press 1, then press button 1.
Joystick works brilliantly, for games and the menu!
But again through the positives there is another negative, that touchpad is awful. I don't believe it's just a problem with this C64P because I have known issues with real notebooks and laptops, which need to be sensitivity adjusted through windows, but I can't here. It either moves when you want it to, or doesn't, it clicks on options when you only wanted it to scroll and so on. So for purists I'd really only stick with the keyboard or joystick. But hey it can't all be bad as even my friends Dog enjoyed it!
I think she wants to eat Bombjack!
Next up, I'd thought i'd give as many of the music demo's and one file demos a try, as many have said that some demo's don't work on SD2IEC's and this is true. Edge of Disgrace did not work on any of my previous SD2IEC's nor did it work on this C64P. Which to be honest I expected, but what did disappoint was the fact that Comaland by Oxyron worked so far as it put out some great tunes but was completely garbled. Now Comaland actually works on the SD2IEC originally sent by The Future Was 8bit and the C64SD by Mansoft. Thankfully all the single file demos did work, Settlers Remix & The Smurfs Remix worked great, sounded amazing too
Moving back to the screen resolution, here is what I found out. If you use the Infra Red Remote that came with the C64P you can adjust the screen zoom. So if you, like me, don't like those huge borders of wasted space then just select a wider zoom. Having the entire width of the game screen use all the available space is just brilliant. Now if only I could do that on my Amstrad CPC 6128, i'd be in heaven. Just press a button and zoom, FANTASTIC!
Full screen zoom also works amazingly on games such as X-Force, with all that pew pew pew and high quality sound coming out of the tiny little C64P Speakers. It even helps some of the backlight and is less noticeable. This is also one of my favorite games of 2014 being played, I play it most nights.
The Infra Red Remote does need some work though as even when I replaced the battery sometimes it would not communicate with the C64P at all. I'd press all the buttons, click the power button and nothing, Thankfully it's stuck at full zoom now which is what I like, but if the device does stop working I'd probably have to get a different one. Oh and it would've been nice to have a light on the Remote to note if it was on or off.
Another big issue I've just had which is a little concerning and I'm not sure if it's the power supply or the connection at the back but when I did finally run out of charge through usage. I struggled to get it to power up even when the PSU was attached. I plugged it in and took it out and nothing, there was no indication that it was actually charging or it was plugged in at all. I have had this issue before on some big brand laptops and it's usually not the PSU but the connection made at the back. As when I did finally get it to show the charge light and power up, I had put the PSU connection at a different angle. Moved it slightly and it stopped charging again, hopefully this wont be an issue on new builds.
Also this from the developer : Well, I should mention that if you are not familiar with the C64DTV you need to know that it isn't 100% compatible with the C64. You'll find plenty of stuff that does work well, and even some programs that have been tuned to preform better on a DTV than a real 64. A C64DTV can display more colours than the original C64 (256), and it also has more memory (2mb).. it's even possible to accessed it and used as a REU.
I think it's an amazing bit of kit, it's what C64 owners will really like the world over, from new gamers to those that remember the C64 so well. It's almost as if Commodore actually released this themselves as the next best thing from an original C64. I've also had a number of hours on the C64P from living room usage, to half asleep on my bed completely stuck into BuggyBoy.
The detail is just great with the games themselves and the sound quality is top! I am so impressed with it, that I'll never sell it, ever. It's unique and I can see why the last bidding of the previous C64P went sky high. They want this and I can see why. Having a C64 in your hands and being able to take it on the train, on the bus with a battery life for 2-4 hours and not carry a huge TV is a huge bonus. Who needs an iPhone? Who needs an iPad? When you've got the C64P
But there are some issues that really need to be addressed with the next batch. The black light bleed which is off putting for purists, deep black preferred. The touch pad sensitivity needs to be adjusted, as at the moment it's not picking up the difference properly between a click and a scroll. The PSU issue is concerning but it may be just a fault with my early design. Lastly the remote control needs to have a light to say if it's on or off and a head phone jack so I can turn it up while in bed.
Worth a buy though? YES!!!!!!!
C64p v1 specification
7" TFT (480x234 Pixel) 4:3/16:9 + Infra Red Remote
Mouse pad emulates a 1350 Joystick mode mouse in port 2
Joystick Port x2
IEC (Disk/Printer) Port (Rear)
Diskswap button (Left)
SD2IEC button Root/Reset (Left)
C64dtv Reset (Bottom)
C64dtv firmware upgradable via Joy2
LED - Green - Power
LED - Orange - Charge - Bright full charge rate - Dim trickle charge
LED - Blue - SD2IEC
1800mAh Battery (Runtime approx. 3.5hrs depending on system load)
Audio/Video out (Option, the output isn't switched so the display is dimmed)
100-250vAC Asus Charger
Custom firmware has been applied that supports a number of built in DTV games, plus JiffyDos, Basic and FileBrowser
Colour fix has been applied
Keyboard Twister NG (US) with CTRL-ALT-DEL reset
I didn't include a power low indicator in this version.. But the screen will shutdown before the power system shuts off, this at least gives you a chance to get it back onto charge if you are deep into a game! ;)
C64p v1.2 specification update
1. Touchpad swapper. Touchpad emulates the Joystick mode 1530 mouse and defaults to PORT2. Change over button is mounted between the joystick ports. One press, and it changes port. Port number is indicated via the LED’s on the right of the keyboard.
2. Screen, improved. Latest C64p screens are a little sharper..
3. Keyboard twister also has CTRL-ALT-DEL reset fuction. I’m not 100% sure if the review in CIA had this at testing. Press model has a hard reset button underneeth, ommitted on future C64p.
Where you can you find out more about the C64P? From the fantastic Future Was 8-Bit website, who has sent us this fantastic product for review
Xmas 2014 batch will be the LAST v1.x