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Why no keyboard for the 5200?


SRGilbert

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One reason I can think of is that there was a lot of internal competition between the console and computer divisions within Atari. A 5200 keyboard and disk drive interface might have been technologically feasible, but they would have encroached upon the 400/800 computers' "territory", since they would have provided computer-like functionality on a machine that was based on the same technology as the 400/800 computers.

 

The 7800 keyboard wasn't considered to be as much of a "threat" to the computer side because the 7800 – and the software that was being developed for the 7800 keyboard, such as OSS BASIC – was sufficiently different from the home computers. The internal Atari culture also seems to have changed somewhat by the time the 7800 came on the scene.

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If one wanted an Atari computer that had a keyboard and played games, they would have bought the 400, 600XL, 800, or 800XL. There would be no reason to give the 5200 a keyboard if that system was just going to be sold primarily as a game system. The games for both the 5200 and the 8-bit computers were identical or similar enough, though some games for the 5200 took advantage of keypad functions on the controller that would make a similar version on the 8-bit computers pretty hard to control unless a person was sitting right at the computer, and even then the control would be like modern game system emulation on a personal computer.

Edited by Vic George 2K3
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Another thing was that the 7800 was developed by GCC who didn't have to deal with all the internal crap between divisions at Atari. Plus it was developed a little later in time. Things at Atari changed rather quickly throughout the company's history.

 

Allan

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Had such a thing been done, the software support would seem to have to fall to the PCS (Personal Computer System) group, but the console was under the videogaming group, so there might've been turf wars.

 

Several Atari employees of that era I've spoken to think that Atari made a huge mistake going into the PCS business, and should have taken the chipset for what ended up in the computers and 5200 and gotten out a more powerful replacement system for the VCS closer to 1980.

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Several Atari employees of that era I've spoken to think that Atari made a huge mistake going into the PCS business, and should have taken the chipset for what ended up in the computers and 5200 and gotten out a more powerful replacement system for the VCS closer to 1980.

Supposedly that was the original plan.

 

Allan

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During the runup to the crash, Coleco was heavily promoting their upcoming "computer expansion module #3". While the ADAM was never successful, it gave Coleco a big edge in the propaganda war. So Atari missed a huge opportunity not making the 5200 an extension of their already successful computer line. (Had they done this successfully, the 7800 probably would have never happened, and Tramiel would have probably focused entirely on the computers. )

 

And its one thing to say 5200 and 8bit were basically the same now, it would have been quite another back then, when everyone had to buy the same software over again.

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  • 5 years later...

Very interesting thread. In the years since this last post, lots of things have happened in the hobbyist market that could be adapted to the Atari 5200 for example one guy interfaced a wireless USB keyboard into a TI computer, I imagine something like that could be done now with mostly off the shelf components.

 

Using an Arduino or Raspberry Pie I bet it would be possible to simulate an Atari 400 or 800 and give the 5200 some new capabilities. I t sure looks like there is lots of room inside that case to hide some modern day enhancements.

 

Who knows a couple of years from now you might be able to play a head to head version of a game over your WiFi capable 5200! After all with an AtariMax cartridge new games are just a download away.

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From a programming standpoint, the keyboard circuits are there, but they're repurposed to scan the keypad, start-pause-reset keys, and the top trigger button.

 

I'm not an expert, but I would expect that those changes might make it difficult or impossible to use a real keyboard on the 5200 without some serious hardware tricks. If nothing else, they would probably make using a keyboard and a controller at the same time impossible.

 

Again though, I'm not a hardware expert, so maybe I totally wrong about this.

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I'm not exactly sure yet how the Atari 400 / 800 / 5200 keyscan routines works. The only dual keyboard experience I have is with the TI-99/4A and there were two different homebrew types of keyboard interfaces made for that system, both allow the original keyboard and supplemental keyboards to be hooked up at the same time.

 

One of the things I really get a charge out of is seeing what hardware hackers have able to do with various 'classic systems'. Since the 5200 appears to essentially be a stripped down Atari 400, I figured the 5200 platform is a diamond in the rough and has lots of potential room for future growth.

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The 5200 basically treats each controller as a separate keyboard, and you can only scan one at a time. For multiplayer games, you have to continually rotate through the controllers. Maybe there's a better way I don't know about. The top trigger button is actually read as if it were the Shift key on a keyboard.

 

I'm convinced this is why so few 5200 games actually make use of the second trigger. Reading it is kind of a pain, honestly.

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  • 3 weeks later...

i got 2 ideas

 

#1 to reduce complexity you dont want it to look excessivly complicated to a technophobe

 

#2 games are licenced and sold differently between game consoles and home computers

 

 

Ain't that really the truth about #2. And not just between consoles and home computers but also on the physical media too! That's how the SuperCharger got to market their own version of Frogger, on tape!

 

I also suspect that's how the Vectrex got Pole Position even though Atari seemingly had exclusive home rights to that game. There must've been either no clause preventing a home version on a vector monitor based system or Atari passed on it for some other concession from Namco.

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During the runup to the crash, Coleco was heavily promoting their upcoming "computer expansion module #3". While the ADAM was never successful, it gave Coleco a big edge in the propaganda war. So Atari missed a huge opportunity not making the 5200 an extension of their already successful computer line. (Had they done this successfully, the 7800 probably would have never happened, and Tramiel would have probably focused entirely on the computers. )

 

And its one thing to say 5200 and 8bit were basically the same now, it would have been quite another back then, when everyone had to buy the same software over again.

 

True, back then we suspected that the 5200 was a repackaged 400 or something, but couldn't really prove It.. at least until the hackers started "porting" 5200 games to 8-bit (well that's what confirmed it for me anyway). Atari reworked some of their games to look better on the 5200, adding to the confusion.

 

In hindsight, if Atari was going to go the route of having the 5200 be the consolized 8-bit computer line, it should have been compatible with the 8-bit computer line from the start, cartridges and controllers.

 

One issue was licensing that made this complex. Back then companies might license cartridge rights and disk/tape rights separately. This is why there were multiple versions of Frogger from different companies on the VCS and 8-bit. Also Nintendo licensed games separately for console and computer. Notably Donkey Kong. Coleco had the console rights, Atari had the computer rights. Atari sued Coleco when DK was running on the Adam. Had the 5200 been cartridge compatible with the 8-bit, Atari would be open to the same types of lawsuits.

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They should have just made a sleek black version of the 400, perhaps without the lid but with the existing membrane keyboard and no SIO2 Port and pushed it for the 5200's price point instead of the 5200. It already had a good library. Then the XEGS and 5200 would never have been needed.

 

SIO2 capability could also have been retained or with a different format connector to not step on the 8-bit line's toes...

 

I love my 400. It's really just a great game console with an occasional use keyboard. It gets more play than any of my other Atari consoles.

Edited by Zonie
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  • 6 years later...

You know what am amezed about,not only is the 5200 based on both the atari 400 & 800 computer systems ,heck even the atari 600xL and atari 800XL are probably identical hardwarewise ,and even the later atari XE is nased on the same hardware as of that from the atari 400 computer,wich i sometimes could hardly believe wich is really mind blowing,because some games on the atari XE like mariobros etc,,, are better then on the atari 5200,not only that but both mariobros and donkeykong on the atari 400 are much better then those nes versions,wich in comparision is actual not only remarkible considering the nes is in most ways more powerful then those atari systems,but it’s a BIG SHAME that even Nintendo didn’t make their own games so close to the arcade versions of it in comparision to those atari versions,sure those nes versions are certainly better then those 2600 versions but that’s it,

heck am AMEZED that even both the atari 7800 versions of mariobros and donkeykong are more infirior to the atari 400 versions of it(infirior sound,missing cut scenes and missing 1 level)

considering the atari 7800 is more powerful then those early 8bit atari computer systems,

oh well am still happy owning those console versions of it from both atari & nintendo,but still,,,

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9 hours ago, johannesmutlu said:

You know what am amezed about,not only is the 5200 based on both the atari 400 & 800 computer systems ,heck even the atari 600xL and atari 800XL are probably identical hardwarewise ,and even the later atari XE is nased on the same hardware as of that from the atari 400 computer,wich i sometimes could hardly believe wich is really mind blowing

Backing up for a moment: it's more accurate to say that the A8 range is based on the 5200.  The 5200 was scheduled to replace the 2600 roughly three years after its launch, but Atari, having already designed the hardware for what would become the 5200, decided to use that platform to move into the home computer market.  That was in 1979; the 5200 eventually went on sale in 1982.

 

As for differences between the A8 and 5200: no PIA on the 5200 so no SIO, a completely different OS ROM, incompatible controllers, an expansion port on the 5200 that isn't replicated on the A8s, etc.  Sure, they share SALLY, POKEY, ANTIC, and GTIA, but there's more to it than just recasing an A8 and calling it good.

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11 minutes ago, x=usr(1536) said:

Backing up for a moment: it's more accurate to say that the A8 range is based on the 5200.  The 5200 was scheduled to replace the 2600 roughly three years after its launch, but Atari, having already designed the hardware for it, decided to use that hardware to move into the home computer market.  That was in 1979; the 5200 eventually went on sale in 1982.

Based on my understanding of the history of the A8 computer I agree with you.

 

On a side note (I know many will not agree with this) I always thought the XEGS was a better implementation of the "video game system" that can become a "computer system" idea. I get it, many don't like the colors of the XEGS, but it does kind of feel like a better version of what the 5200 should have been. It was just a few years too late to the game.

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On 9/25/2023 at 1:45 PM, johannesmutlu said:

You know what am amezed about,not only is the 5200 based on both the atari 400 & 800 computer systems ,heck even the atari 600xL and atari 800XL are probably identical hardwarewise ,and even the later atari XE is nased on the same hardware as of that from the atari 400 computer,wich i sometimes could hardly believe wich is really mind blowing,because some games on the atari XE like mariobros etc,,, are better then on the atari 5200,not only that but both mariobros and donkeykong on the atari 400 are much better then those nes versions,wich in comparision is actual not only remarkible considering the nes is in most ways more powerful then those atari systems,but it’s a BIG SHAME that even Nintendo didn’t make their own games so close to the arcade versions of it in comparision to those atari versions,sure those nes versions are certainly better then those 2600 versions but that’s it,

heck am AMEZED that even both the atari 7800 versions of mariobros and donkeykong are more infirior to the atari 400 versions of it(infirior sound,missing cut scenes and missing 1 level)

considering the atari 7800 is more powerful then those early 8bit atari computer systems,

oh well am still happy owning those console versions of it from both atari & nintendo,but still,,,

There is nothing that surprising. The XL and XE models are basically "400 & 800" designed to be manufactured much cheaper (as, with time, the 8-bit computers kept moving towards the downmarket position and lower prices).

As for the arcade fidelity, it depends on the effort the publishers were willing to invest in the arcade ports and on what to compromise. Asking questions such as do we cut the graphics, playability or both? Cheap ports for cheap systems...

 

Today's homebrews perform better, for example, yet their development takes considerably longer than it would have been economical in the 1980s.

 

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23 hours ago, pboland said:

Based on my understanding of the history of the A8 computer I agree with you.

 

On a side note (I know many will not agree with this) I always thought the XEGS was a better implementation of the "video game system" that can become a "computer system" idea. I get it, many don't like the colors of the XEGS, but it does kind of feel like a better version of what the 5200 should have been. It was just a few years too late to the game.

I would beg to differ. For a console, I assume it is a device that sits next or below a TV, and I only need to access it to power it on/off, or change a cartridge. With XEGS, the essential buttons are not present on the controllers, which makes things clumsy (5200 had it done right). And with the keyboard, XEGS has a larger footprint than just plain XE, which can do exactly the same. In any case, XEGS sold well enough, so it was a success.

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