A 6502 Version Of The
Winter Consumer Electronics Show: January, 1981
David D. Thornburg
P. O. Box 1317
Los Altos, CA 94022
At a time when most normal folks are taking down the holiday decorations, and preparing for the new year, those of us who haunt the trade shows were anxiously preparing for our January fix — the Winter CES (Consumer Electronics Show) held in Las Vegas. Unlike specialized trade shows, like Comdex, the CES has exhibits covering almost all consumer products that are likely to contain silicon. Because of the continuing recession, only 55,000 people attended this show which was held in the Las Vegas Convention Center and in two nearby hotels. Rather than describe some of the more novel products, such as the talking microwave oven (with, would you believe it, a Japanese-English accent), or the solar rechargeable flashlight (look, I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried, so believe me!), I decided to mention some of the products of greater relevance to COMPUTE! readers: the 6502-based microcomputers which were displayed.
As far as hardware is concerned, the big hit of the show was the Commodore VIC-20 (your fearless scribe is preparing a review of this machine to appear in a forthcoming issue of COMPUTE!). At a suggested retail price of $299, it is apparent to me that Commodore has the technical ability to give the Radio Shack Color Computer a solid run for its money. In fact, I expect VIC sales to place Commodore firmly in the number two spot for total machine placements, and perhaps to even edge up on our Texas friends. The styling is beautiful and the price is right, but even more importantly, Commodore is going all out to support the cottage industry that has kept the PET well supplied with software. Watch for the FCC approval, followed by the VIC showing up in your corner computer store sometime in March or April.
Software had its day at CES also. Atari showed both their new PILOT cartridge (see this month's Computers and Society column), and also showed their word processor package. Both pieces of software are very well done, and should do much to help Atari on its accelerating growth curve. While I didn't see any new Atari hardware on the floor, there were rumors of some nice new things hidden away in their hospitality suite. It is apparent that Atari is in this game for the long haul.
Those of you who are waiting for the keyboard portion of the Mattel Intellivision (complete with a 6502-based computer with 16 K of RAM and a Microsoft BASIC) will have to wait a little longer. Once again they say that deliveries will begin in March — only the year has changed.
The absence of Apple and OSI from this show was noted. Apple has apparently decided to focus its efforts in the small business market, and leave the home computer market to fend for itself for awhile. I saw lots of Apple folks at the show, however, so they can't have totally lost interest in the consumer market. OSI, on the other hand, has had nice exhibits at this show for quite some time, and I have to assume (without checking it out) that their absence was due more to their recent acquisition than to any plans they have to depart from the low-end market.
The 6502-based hand held computer from Matsushita (which will be marketed both through Panasonic and Quasar) was shown running a communications interface hooked up to the Source. It appears that the software for this computer is almost finished, and that we can expect to see it hit the market in a few months. Considering that this computer, with modem and coupler, will have a retail price in the $1,000 range, I find its small keyboard and one-line liquid crystal display to be annoying. On the other hand, if you want the ultimate in portability, this might be just the computer for you.
It was interesting to note that all the other computers at the CES (excepting the TI 99/4) used either the 8080 or Z-80 microprocessor. There were no new 16-bit computers introduced. For those of us who have invested in 6502-based systems, it is heartening to see that this processor continues to be among the most popular. It is clear that our investment will retain its value for quite some time.