Video is a key component of computers. When we are dealing with retro computers, the video becomes critical. Indeed, old computers, or consoles for that matter, were designed to work with cathode ray tubes (CRT). As you guessed, the problem is that we cannot buy CRTs these days – or at non-exorbitant prices from specialized resellers. Although I saved a few CRTs for this very reason, they age quietly aging in the garage since it is hard to justify wasting such space today. The next logical step is to use an LCT TV or monitor. But we are not out of the woods yet, because once we set our mind to commit sacrilege, we are hit by the second mega curse of retro computing: compatible LCDs are diapering rapidly. Indeed, modern LCD driver electronics don’t bother handling lower vertical frequencies used by old systems. No problem, we can upscale the signal using an expensive device. I have tested several over the years, and two models proved to be usable. The old Micomsoft XRGB-3 and the recent OSSC. I could use any of these for my project. Sure thing. But wait, I am not embellishing my Apple 2 Platinum, I am pimping it!
With my Apple //e enhanced, I am happily using the AIIVGAS VGA adapter by a2heaven.com. It works well with my LCD Visio TV as it has an RGB PC input (VGA). But this interface is also diapering, replaced by the omnipresent HDMI. I finally choose the new VidHD by Blue Shift Inc., an HD video interface for the Apple 2 (released in 2019). It perfectly fits the pimping theme of this post series as it works in a very different way. Indeed, the card directly generate 1080p HDMI output without any conversions (supports resolutions of 1920×1080 pixels or 1920×1200 pixels in 50/60Hz 1080p – minimum –, 1200p, 1440p, 1600p or 2160p).
To do so, it uses (reads it 60 times per second) the content of the Apple 2’s video memory. Now we are talking! The VidHD supports the following modes: NTSC/PAL, IIGS RGB, HDTV, HDTV black & white. The card exposes via its menu (CONTROL+6) many options to tweak its current feature: scanlines, color emulations, formats, etc. Because this is a new design, several hardware interfaces present on the card are not yet used (Wi-Fi/Bluetooth, eight 3.1v and eight 5v GPIO pins, and USB2). The firmware of the card can be updated easily using the micro-SD card reader. VidHD works well, but it required some tweaking and didn’t work well with my older monitors. That was an RTFM user issue though.
The construction of the VidHD is noteworthy. It uses a single-board computer (SBC) mounted onto the Apple 2 expansion board as a daughterboard. The SBC runs a Linux kernel and owns all the modern interfaces (HDMI, radio, and micro-SD), where the host card handles the Apple bus and exposed the GPIOs. To cool the SBC’s main processor, an original cut-out in the host board allows the use of an embedded and flush with the surface heatsink. Without dismounting the daughterboard, it is hard to identify its origins. However, I think it is an Orange Pi Zero Plus 2.
To me, an extra benefit of using the VidHD is the dual-screen experience. This way, I can have a different display setting on each screen. Unfortunately, it is not a real dual-display in the sense that I can have two different contents displayed at the same time from the Apple 2, but this is an 8-bit micro after all.
Next time, we will pimp the core of the Apple 2: the 6502 microprocessor. Stay tuned.