Book Review:"Son of Cheap Video"
Publisher:Howard W. Sams, 1980
Reviewed by: Harvey B. Herman
To quote the author, "This is a you-build-it hardware book for hardware freaks...If you are not one of us, go away". I will assume that if you are still reading this review after seeing that quote that you will enjoy this book. It is intended for "poor folks" who like to tinker and construct useful things from a few chips and not much more. Specifically, it allows you to add a complete video display to a KIM-1 or the like for only $7 using five (count them) integrated circuits. Amazement is too mild a word for my reaction to that statement; flabbergasted is more like it.
The book is intended as a sequel to the author's earlier volume, "The Cheap Video Cookbook". Many references in the text to the earlier book suggest that it would be a good idea to have it close by to fully appreciate this effort. A legitimate criticism of the first circuitry concerned the amount of memory space used (28K bytes). What he now calls "scungy" video (I like the man's style) takes up 1K bytes for a 12x80 display - an impressive reduction in memory overhead.
A succession of projects is described in the book beyond scungy video. Lancaster shows how to combine cheap video with a "snuffler" coil on the outside of your TV set to free up processor time for normal comupting. This method locks the program and the display so picture jitter can be reduced with considerably less display program overhead. He includes a circuit for an EPROM programmer and describes how to use it in an extended music display example. Because the book leaves several projects as exercises (e.g. EPROM burning software) the book could be used as part of a course on microcomputers. Some of the construction hardware can be purchased from PAIA electronics (Oklahoma City, OK 73116) and could be conveniently provided to the students taking such a course.
I have not meant to leave the impression that the book is only for the KIM-1. Any of the enhanced-KIM clones (SYS or AIM) could benefit from the ideas in "Son of Cheap Video". Lancaster also includes chapters on 8080/Z80 systems, Heathkit H8, and Apple II (lower case display project). However, the book it not for every microcomputer owner as the initial quote suggested. Nevertheless it is well written, even entertaining in spots, can teach most of us a few things and save us money to boot. I recommend it highly.