Commodore PET Mods At VCF West 2016

28193708113_821f852139_zHere at the Vintage Computer Festival, we’ve found oodles of odds and ends from the past. Some, however, have gotten a modern twist like [bitfixer’s] recent Commodore PET project upgrades.

First off is [bitfixer’s] Augmented Reality upgrade. By the power of two iPhones and one raspberry Pi, the user dons a Google-Cardboard-esque heads-up-display and can visualize a 3D, ASCII rendering of the world before them. Not only does this view show up in the HUD, however, it’s also streamed to a Raspberry Pi whch then serializes it info a video display on the Commodore PET.

TRON Legacy, can you tell??

This hack builds on some of [bitfixer’s] prior work getting ASCII video streaming up-and running. Of course, the memory on the Commodore PET is nowhere near capable of being able to process these images. In fact, streaming and storing the video data onto the PET’s memory would fill it up in under one second! Instead, [bitfixer] relies on some preprocessing thanks to the far-more-powerful (by comparison) Raspberry Pi and iPhone processors that are capturing the images.



Next off is [bitfixer’s] full-color video display on the same Commodore PET. Again, leveraging another RaspPi to encode and reduce the video to bitmap images, the Commodore PET simple grabs these images and streams them to the screen as fast as possible–at a beloved 5.8 frames per second.


24 thoughts on “Commodore PET Mods At VCF West 2016

  1. I was recently reminded that in that era there were articles about interfacing laserdisc players to 8bit computers. Not for data, but as images which would appear on screen, having come out of the laserdisc player as video. You could also control music cassettes via the cassette interface, again getting access to the sound without the computer having to store or control the sound as digital.

    I bet at PARC or even Doug Englebart’s work, they were doing things along these lines, controlling microfilm readers to have long term storage of information before the hard drives were big enough.

    It was hard to imagine a future where permanent storage was so cheap that you could get a USB flash drive for ten dollars that holds 32gigs. I didn’t get a hard drive until the end of 1993, for a Mac Plus, and it was 80megs and cost a few hundred dollars.


    1. I know they had a video feed to every workstation and did some early work on multimedia, but can’t specifically recall at the moment what video storage tech and control options they had. Think maybe they were working off a video tape carousel but can’t swear to it.

      1. It could be LaserDisc. Early encoding methods could let you freeze one frame on-screen, so all you’d need is a LD player you can control over a serial connection. (That’s all Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace were.)

      1. Until the internet came around, I was happy building PCs using castoffs when other upgraded. Sort of like buying a 3-year old car, someone else paid list price, I got it out of the dumpster.

        1. Last time I managed to do that was about 2005ish. TbredB on an AMD 760 board I got tuned up to as fast as the nForce 2s, of course 64 bit was the bleeding edge stuff to have, but it’s really only just beginning to make a difference for normal stuff now. That one got too slow to tolerate in 2013 sometime.

          1. Ooops, I should have specified “for my main machine”.. the one that has to work at the speed of thought with an up to date OS…. I guess I still do it… have C2D and X2 machines in service that are mainly discards.

        2. The last computer I actually bought was a CPC6128 back in the 1980’s

          I have worked as a computer maintenance engineer, network maintenance engineer and Internet developer (and other jobs) and I always just use parts that are lying around or being thrown out.

          The computer I am using now was a dead server (RAM DIMM) so new RAM and quad core CPU. I am not a gamer so I don’t want the power/thermal issues of high end graphics especially as this PC is small form factor.

          You can go a long way by fixing/upgrading older computers. My laptop was discarded in my direction – new SSD RAM and CPU and it’s good but not terribly fast. The PC I am using is fast enough for FPGA synthesis and that is the most demanding thing that I do on the PC.

          1. Around that same time. I was involved in some semiconductor research, and the lab had this Sun 3/150, which they kinda held in awed reverence, like it was a Cray XMP. I had to run some graphing stuff on it and was informed what a privilege it was to use it. I mean the monitor was a nice one, high res, but the rest of it was by then meh, I was running an Amiga with the same CPU clocked 70% faster at home, and also had a 120Mhz Pentium class PC. Sure enough though it had it’s place in the lab, was packed out with data acquisition cards so doing useful stuff.

      1. I thought that was an example of how not to do it :-D … well in the sense of pushing the boundaries of a tech that looked dead in the water at the time and was being rapidly superseded by CDs.

        1. Ooops, potential insult to retro fans not intended. It’s cool to explore limits of older tech. What I meant was, that if you wanted to master a project for the ages right now, would you stick it on minidisc? (I woulda said DVD but they might be around for a while yet) I think that’s about the right analogy for a contemporary tech that has same relative amount of market penetration that laser discs had, and is pretty much end of life.

      2. Isn’t that how Sega Genesis and TurboGrafx 16 worked with LD based games? LaserActive line by Pioneer, just a few games were made for LD player. Right now horribly expensive on eBay and still not dumped or emulated yet.

  2. “Next off is [bitfixer’s] full-color video display on the same Commodore PET.”
    Ehmmm… this would be awsome, because the commodore PET shown on the photo in this article is not capable of color (the screen itself is a monochrome green monitor). The image on top of the article with the C64 has many colors but isn’t mentioned in the article, perhaps there are some models mixed up. A pitty that this article does not show any more details because this all is mighty interesting.

    Please hackaday could this article be expanded or have a follow up?
    Or like Johnny would like to say “input, more input!”

    PS: perhaps with some clever color wheels some color could be faked out of a monochrome green screen.
    Just like the vectrex 3D imager… wow that would be cool. Project idea anyone?

    1. I tried to google for that C64? or is it a 128? It has a different color to the C64’s that I have seen. Nut nothing. The VCF West doesn’t seem to have put any pictures up.

      The original space invaders had two stick on bands of colored cellophane on a black and white picture tube. Green at the bottom and red on the top.

      1. The computer at the top of the article is a C64 (has 16 colors, 25×40 chars OR highres screen of 320×200)
        The computer at the bottom of the article is a PET 2001 series (fixed charset in ROM, 25×40 characters, no highres)

      2. It’s an early “beige breadbox” C64, might look darker there due to contrast or ageing. Maybe you didn’t get that generation in straya, may have been too busy satisfying Euro and US demand before breaking into that market.

  3. There WAS a Commodore PET Color hack back in the day.
    Also… you know that a C64 with a 16 Megabyte REU can display full motion video at 320*200 with 4 bits per pixel (through awful lots of cheating) – image quality is roughly en par with the last Sega CD titles (when they finally managed fullscreen@>12fps) ah and the 16 Megabytes gets you 1 minute of video. No audio besides a sid file (no rastertime left for digitized audio). But that 4fps Star Wars looks pathetic compared to it.

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