This is the CDTV, It is a 16 bit home computer styled in a set top box design but what is it?
CPU: Motorola 68000 @ 7.14Mhz.
Memory: 1 Meg Chip Memory.
Chipset: Enhanced Chip Set. (ECS)
OS: Kickstart 1.3 + CDTV module.
Debute: March 1991 (At CES, Las Vegas)
Launch Price: £499 (CDTV, Joypad & 2 titles)
CDTV: CDTV unit & joypad.
Pro pack: keyboard, mouse & diskdrive.
Amiga.. Isnt that a Zip drive?
Well for starters the CDTV is an Amiga, which was one of the most popular home computers in the mid 80`s to the early 90`s.
The Amiga is based around Motorola`s very popular 68000 CPU (With late Amiga`s using the faster 32bit 68020, 030, 040 & 060 versions) used in Apple Macintosh, Sinclair QL (First ever multitasking computer which used the 8bit 68008) and Atari computers but the Amiga was the best computer out of these because it used custom made chips to take away CPU intensive tasks like disk drive access, sound generation, memory access and video output, These custom chips could operate totally independant of the main CPU, accessing the computers memory and running there own tasks, only calling the CPU when the task was done. This made the Amiga more powerfull than its competition and lead to standards such as CDXL found on the CDTV (A movie format which didnt use the CPU but instead the CD-Rom streamed the file to memory where the graphics and sound chips read the data and plays the movie.)
To know about what the CDTV is you have to know what an Amiga is, Specifically the Amiga 500 and Amiga 3000
The 500 was your normal home computer which was launched in the late 1980`s, It had 512Kb (0.5 MB) of memory and a first generation graphics chip set (Original Chip Set) and was the follow up to the first ever Amiga, The A1000.
The Amiga 3000 was the Amiga`s flag ship (Top of the range model) in the early 90`s, It was a 32bit design using Motorola`s new 68030 CPU, used a second generation chip set (Enhanced Chip Set) and included an SCSI interface (SCSI is a superiour harddrive interface, faster than IDE and capable of having more drives on a single interface) on the motherboard.
But what about the CDTV?
The CDTV was Commodore`s first attempt at making a CD-Rom equiped computer and when it launched in March 1991 at the winter CES in Las Vegas was the first ever computer to come as standard with a CD-Rom drive.
The CDTV is at heart a cross between an Amiga 500 (Most popular Amiga at the time) and an Amiga 3000 (The flag ship), The CDTV uses the same super fast memory, Enhanced Chip Set, keyboard design (PCB / case but not connector or colour) and DMAC (Direct Memory Access Chip) as found in the 32Bit Amiga 3000 but used the same OS (Operating System), CPU (16bit 68000 @ 7.14 Mhz), amount of memory and the same 16Bit arcutecture (design) as the Amiga 500.
The CDTV was developed at the same time as the Amiga 3000 but was launched just after, It was developed by a division within Commodore called "Special Projects", This division normally deals with one off none mass production projects.
Guy Wright, Who made the welcome disc had this to say about "Special Projects":
"The special projects section was separate from the rest of Commodore - financially, emotionally, and even physically. We had our own entrance at the very back of the Commodore plant and a small two floors area that had originally been warehouse space."
The CDTV was not to be sold as a normal computer to normal computer users, instead the CDTV was to be designed for a new market, one which at the time had not really been explored all that much, it was to basically be a set top box, a device that does not look out of place next to a video casset recorder or hi-fi system, designed so anyone who could operate a television remote could instantly use it.|
That is why the CDTV looks like it does, it could easily be mistaken for a standard (harmless) CD player. It was also the first ever black Amiga and was originally designed with a TV remote syle controller. (But this was dropped for the more usable joypad packaged with every CDTV)
As with all designs the CDTV evolved over development, the first prototype was the CD-A1, it doesnt look to different to the normal CDTV, The casing is very similer although it may be a little narrower (As the volume buttons are on the drive) and there is no ventalation slots on the top or on the sides, The front display is different, The volume controls are under the CD-Rom instead of on the right hand side, The reset button on the bottom right has power/reset marked on it, Could you turn the CDTV off with the reset button? Not the way the final CDTV was made but the prototype may have been able.
Picture of the CD-A1 Prototype
This prototype was very much a hack, Commodore had used standard, Well tested chips but the motherboard was a new design and with that lots of problems, wether this prototype ever worked is doubtfull. How many CD-A1's exist is unknown but the ones that have are probably in the hands of the original developers.
The next CDTV shown to the public was very different, infact it was almost the final version, The CD-Rom is replaced with the final version, The Volume buttons are in the right place (Under the Commodore lable) and the case now has ventalation. This unit was shown to developers and also reviewed in Commodore Format.
The first thing you will notice about this picture is the remote, Its a TV remote, Well no actually its the first IR controler, It is a CDTV specific one, It has a numeric pad, Audio CD controls and power / Genlock buttons.
This is the only time the CDTV was shown with this remote and it isnt known if it works but it wouldnt be hard for them to have made it, The IR interface was still causing trouble and no doubt there were other problems but it was shown working in the Commodore Format review, It played Tetris on a TV.
The power / reset lable is still there and there are lables on the power and drive read lights and there is a lable under the C= Commodore lable on the top right hand side, It reads Interactive Graphics Player.
The final design, The external work was finished well before the motherboard design was debuged. The first CDTV to have this design was functional but the sound distorted at anything but the quietest sound, The IR port had a major work around, the socket has a Motorola 8 Bit CPU with small EMPROM mounted on top, Infact the signals to connect the CPU to the motherboad remain on all motherboards.
A Prom Flash card was fitted to the motherboard which ment that updating the Prom as software bugs were worked out was a simple 15 second job,This card was later available to all developers on the CATS Developers list. (Visit the "upgrading" section for more info on the Prom Flash card)
The CDTV went through some debugs after this but no more major changes occured.
The "Interactive Graphics Player", CD read and power lables were all removed which is about the only external change.
The CDTV went on to launch around the world, normally at The World Of Commodore shows, In the UK the CDTV was launched at the WOC 1991 in Earls Court, London.
In America the CDTV was launched in March 1991 Winter CES in Las Vegas.
The CDTV had a big launch at Commodore show's all over the world, 3rd Party companys were left to advertise in magazines but they only advertised it in Amiga magazines, Selling to the sold, Even when Commodore advertised they were aimed at Amiga 500 owners, offering discounts for A500 trade-in's.
This being so it sold more in the first month than the A500 did, Amiga's most popular model, but this didnt last and soon people started asking why it didnt have OS2.04 and a PCMCIA slot like the A600 that was just launched and with in a year the CDTV was considered a flop but it was still sold up to 1993 and Commodore secretly developed the CDTV's replacement, The CDTV CR unfortunatly due to the bad name the CDTV got the CR was never launched and the CD32 was launched in early 1993 supporting many of the features found on the CDTV CR, After the CD32 was launched the CDTV started its drift into the background and by late 1995 the CDTV was not supported by software or hardware developers.
The CDTV's potential was never really realised, It is a very powerfull computer with good quailty sound and excelent video quality.