The evolution of the MSX-standard

Some people dont have the slichtest idea how the MSX evolved, well here is a short introduction in the history of this standard. We start at the year 1982 and we'll inform you of the present status of the MSX.

It was the first attempt to create a computer standard which wasn't bound to one producent. This was quit unique at that time when every producer made its own computer that certainly wasn't aimed to be compatible with other marcs. Names like Amstrad CPC, Sinclair, Oric, Atari and Commodore spring to mind.

When the MSX1 standard was born in 1982 it was quite a revolutionary system. Based on the already well known Z80 CPU, the standard defined a wide range of peripherals and standarized components. 16 colors on screen with a resolution of 256 by 192 were at those times better than average. An 8-bit CPU at 3.58 MHz was fast. A standard cassette connection,a connection for a TV outlet, a monitor, a printer, two expansion slots and two joystick connections were buildin on the most computers.The other microcomputers producers charged astronomical prices for such extra hardware. Even a standard definition for rs232c was included for the BIOS.

When the MSX standard hit Europe more than 20 hardware fabricants launched their own MSX systems based on the standard. These were well known comercial producers like Philips, Sony, Panasonic, Sanyo, Yamaha etc. Some of these brands like Philips, Panasonic and Sony had a gamma of more then 10 different MSX's.

All around the world different vendors made theire own version of the machines according to the MSX standard. You could find different brands in Japan, Brasil and Arabia. Most of these machines never left the country's where they were produced.

The MSX was developped in thight co-operation with Microsoft and ASCII, who made the systems BASIC language and DOS environment. This fact explains way there are so many simularities between the MSX versions and the MS-Dos/Basic for PC. Hence, a 720kB MSX disk format is except for the bootsector fully compatible with a MS-DOS 720kB disk.

At the games front we find established firms like Konami, Panasoft, Falcon, Gainax, T&Soft, Compile, Bit², Sony, Philips, Koei, ASCII, Infogrames...

In 1985 a second generation of MSX computers saw the daylight in Japan. While staying with the trusty 8bits Z80 cpu at the same 3.58 MHz the Video Display Procesor was boosted with an enormously amount of extra power. The color pallet was enhanced coming from an simply 16 fixed colors to a simultanious display of 256 colors out of an 512 color palet in the so-called screen 8 mode (a 256*212 resolution). But even a better high resolution mode was made which, using interlace, could display 16 colors out of the 512 palet at a resolution of 512*424 pixels. A 3 1/2 inch drive was introduced as being standard first using a humble single sided 360 kB drive later enhanced to 720 kB double sided disk.

In 1988 production and distribution of MSX computers stopped in Europe. Meanwhile in Japan the MSX2+ production started. Just Sony, Sanyou and Panasonic continued the MSX-line with this new generation. Allas the introduction of this new machine was quickly forgotten due to non-interest outside of Japan. The major difference with an MSX2 was the introduction of a new standarized soundchip and another VDP chip. The extra 9 FM-channels made for a computer with 12 music channels, still quite impressive. The new VDP was most impressive, instead of the 256 simultaneous colors it was now possible to display 19268 colors simultanious, no new resolutions were available.

Panasonic : The only Turbo R constructor

MSX Turbo-R FS-A1 GT At the end of 1990 the fourth generation of MSX computers were born. The 16 bits Turbo-R remained compatible with the old MSX system by including two CPU's, the R800 and the old Z80. The new R800 is 14 times faster for regular instructions, 16 bits instructions are up to 30 times faster and some new instructions, like a 16*16 bits multiply, are introduced. The S9000, aka MSX-Engine, is the (co-processor) chip which controls operation between the 2 main CPU's of the system. Finally the speed of the MSX systems was considerably boosted.

This new MSX was a tecnical masterpiece. For even greater speed this machine had a Dram mode to bypass the slowdown caused by using ROM chips. The VDP was the same V9958 used in the 2+ systems, also the sound system was inherrited, but was extended with midi interface for the Turbo-R GT (The ST was a crippled GT system). Standard the internal memory capacity was quadrafied up to 512 kB. The Turbo R was, just as the 2+, only commercialized in Japan but a great number of them reached the other countries trough various import channels.

At the end of 1993 the manufacturing of MSX came to a halt even in Japan. The proffesional software houses had already lost their intrest in a system that officially was restricted to Japan.

From a commercial viewpoint the erra of MSX finnaly came to an end.
But the real MSX-user is an addict to the bone.

There is still a a vast usergroup all aroound the world. They don't obey commercial laws, they stick to their machine, using it as a hobby to program, to compose music, to make some graphics, in generally to have fun.

Big bussines has stopped, but the users continue the development of their system.

The hardware production continued ...

A range of SCSI interfaces is developped and commercialized by some user groups, drivers for Hard Disks, SCSI color flatbed scanners, Photo-CD roms etc are available. The MSX also can use the welknown handscanners.
An IDE interface for HD's and CD-Rom is made by Henrik Gilvad. When Gilvad dissapeared from the MSX scene, it was Jon Deschrijder who took over, he debugged not only the software and wrote the CD-ROM support for the IDE, he also fixed the hardware faults in the design.
The OPL4 is commercialized under the name MOONSOUND, given 32 channels stereo music. 4 operators can be configured per channel in different combinations of FM/AM modulation. Or if wanted, use 24 channels stereo samples !
The MSX scene is again in hardware problems over this piece of hardware. They stopped producing this chip so if you have a moonsound it better doesn't break!
A new VDP, the V9990, is in cartridge form usable as a second VDP. The new VDP chip can be used as a video coprocessor for copying, drawing flines,filling lines etc. This gives the video output a speed that eassily can compete with the modernst of videocards available for other systems.
There were concrete plans to produce a 32 bits MSX based on a new processor, the Z800. Too bad that chipmanufacterers stopped producing this little marvel.

The software production continued ...

The DOS environment is extended to DOS 2.32 including name complemention, extend conditional batch programming.
Borland gave the rights to Turbo Pascal free, so Frits Hilderink (from the MSX Computer Club Enschede) made a new version.MSX Turbo Pascal 3.3 is a fast command line compiler and will work on all MSX computers who can handle a diskdrive, it now works with memman, and has better graphic routines and memmory management.
Compjoetania produced Compass, the first complete assembler Integrated Develoment Environment (editor,assembler,debuger and monitor are now semless connected in complete package).
Games finnaly reached a proffesional niveau for example:
Pumpkin Adventure 3 A BIG game with a very complex story-line and a graphical niveau that blow us all away. These products that could match classicers like SD SNatcher and Solid Snake
Akin Although having also a very good storyline, the most striking about this release is that it had a BETTER AND SMOOTHER scrolling than even the best proffesional commercial Japanese games ever made for MSX2.
Core Dump Being a sequel to Akin, the scroll is even better and there is now an AI storyteller, so that you don't miss hints because you didn't follow a certain order in talking to people. Even the enemies have better AI to track you down, jumping over obstacles as they go along. And the multi-camera-window-scrollings are technically most impressive.
X-Tazy This is the game that asks for the most hardware ever needed for a game on a MSX. It needs a Turbo R, a HD, a GFX9000 and a Moonsound. It's a Nemesis like game, that could match modern arcade-games with easse. Full screen enemys in millione colors, accompanied by hundreds of digital speech and sound effects samples and great stereo music. The intro only needs aprox. 1 megabyte on your HD. Alas, the project is currently frozen.