There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s where the Amiga was the standard for computer graphics. Remember SeaQuest? That was an Amiga. The intro to Better Call Saul? That’s purposefully crappy, to look like it came out of an Amiga. When it comes to the Amiga and video, the first thing that comes to mind is the Video Toaster, hardware and software that turns an Amiga 2000 into a nonlinear video editing suite. Digital graphics, images, and video on the Amiga was so much more than the Video Toaster, and at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East, [Bill] and [Anthony] demonstrated what else the Amiga could do.
Today, getting an image onto a computer is as simple as taking a picture with a smart phone. Digital cameras were rare as hen’s teeth in the late 80s and early 90s, so the options for putting digital stills on a screen were a bit weirder. This meant scanners, capture cards, and bizarre video setups. Full-page flatbed scanners cost a small fortune in the bad old days, so the most common way to get pictures onto a computer were some strange devices built around 4 inch wide linear CCDs. These were hand-held digital scanners, a truly awful technology that deserves to be forgotten.
These handheld scanners had a single linear CCD and a small ‘one dimensional mouse’ on the underside of the scanner. Open up the included software, drag the scanner across an image, and eventually an image will appear on the screen. These handheld scanners rarely worked well, and for some reason the image produced from this scanner was ‘squished’. If you needed images in the early 90s, you could step up to a flatbed scanner. [Bill] and [Anthony] had the smallest and cutest flatbed scanner I’ve ever seen, a Sharp JX-100. This scanner also delivered color images over a serial connection. In 1990, this scanner cost $700.
There’s more than one way to skin a cat, and if you didn’t have a scanner, you could take a picture instead. Consumer digital cameras were terrible, but that didn’t mean you couldn’t find a cheap TV camera and digitize the output. That’s what [Anthony] and [Bill] did, using a black and white security camera to take color images of an Amiga 500 board.
How does a black and white camera produce color images? With a color wheel, of course. [Bill] and [Anthony] brought out a piece of kit built by NewTek, creators of the Video Toaster, that’s basically a black and white camera with a color wheel controlled by a servo. By taking three pictures through red, green, and blue color filters this Amiga 1200 can take full color images. Sure, the resolution is only as good as standard definition TV, but if you need images on your Amiga, this is the cheapest way to go about it. The entire setup, sans Amiga, cost $200 when it was released.
[Anthony] and [Bill] always have a great showing at VCF East, usually with an exhibit dealing with the artistic side of the Amiga. It’s a great look at how far technology has come, and a glimpse back at what the state of the art in computer video was 25 years ago. [Anthony] and [Bill] put together a video of them tearing through their old computer storage to find some of this hardware for the festival. You can check that out below.