C64 DTV – a retrospective

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The debate of which computer was best was common place amongst friends in the school playground during my youth. Back then it was the old battle of the Commodore 64 vs Spectrum vs Amstrad CPC. My loyalties fell into the Spectrum camp and I loved my little machine dearly.

Saying that though I was always curious about the other formats out there as there was a rumour going round that they were better than my Speccy, Sacrilege!!

I stayed in the Sinclair camp for many years, always keeping an eye on the competition and defending my machine daily against the onslaught of “Mine is better than yours…” banter which had become a way of life in the early 1980’s.

Many years passed and even though I had never owned a Commodore 64 my life still seemed complete, until that is until I bumped into Commodore 64 TV plug and play device some years ago and my nostalgic memories of playground battles came rolling back…

The device in question is called the C64 DTV (Direct To Video) and had been available for some time in its NTSC incarnation when the PAL version hit the UK stores.

computer_c64_dtv1_02 (1)The first thing that impressed with the C64 DTV was the secure pyramid plastic packaging it came in to protect and showcase the device inside.

The manufactures went for a leaf switch version of the Competition Pro 5000 as the interface to the 30 games held on the Commodore 64 circuitry held within. The build quality and feel of the joystick is extremely good when compared to the half hearted attempts of some of the competition such as the Namco arcade device which probably would win an award for the worst joystick ever, if such an award existed.

On the back of the joystick is the on/off button with a nice bright red LED signalling to the player when the device is on. Above this switch are a series of red buttons. The first, smaller, button when pressed resets the C64 DTV. The further 4 buttons, labelled A- D, serve specific extra functions within some of the games whilst playing in addition to the movements of the joystick and two buttons.

The fairly lengthy lead that comes out of the front of the device ends in a composite video (yellow) and mono (white) jack. There is therefore the requirement that you have a TV with composite connections or a suitable SCART adaptor.

Installation of the device is a simple affair. Unscrew the battery cover on the bottom of the joystick, place 4 AA batteries inside (not supplied by the way!), reattach cover, hook up the joystick to the relevant connections on your TV, switch on and away you go.

On start up the highly recognisable Commodore logo is displayed followed by a number of static screens acknowledging Mammoth, the producer of the device, the respective copyright holders of the games and everyone else involved in the production of the device.

Commodore_C64_DTV_full
For previous C64 owners, the first nostalgic feeling then hits home – The TV screen is filled with the default blue display screen of the original C64 including flashing cursor, number of bytes free and the READY status. Load “*”,8,1 is then typed across the screen, followed by LOADING and then the game selection menu is displayed accompanied by a very catchy SID tune.

Many of the games have come from the Hewson and Epyx stable with the rest being filler. This collection does not by any means represent the best games that were available for the C64.

The menu can be navigated with the up and down movements of the joystick. A game is selected by pressing the left fire button. The game loads almost instantly, no 4-5 minutes of waiting like on the original C64.

There are some hidden extras within the C64 DTV which can be accessed by wiggling the joystick from side to side while the start-up screens are displayed during power up (or after a reset). Instead of the device taking you to the games menu an alternative numbered list of programs is displayed that can be selected and run.

Selecting the first program will give you the C64 Basic prompt. Here you can gain access to further hidden extras within the C64 DTV by typing in commands on a keyboard which is displayed on the screen when the left fire button is held down. Go on experiment!!

c64dtv-power

A little bit of customisation

The inside of the C64 DTV is effectively a single chip version of the C64. With this in mind a number of individuals have hacked the device to be work with many of the origianalC64 peripherals, like the Commodore 1541 disk drive, as well as enhancing the video output of the device to S-Video.

Being a Speccy fan through and through I should really give this little device a bad review, but I can’t.

For the UK retail value of £19.99 at the time you were supplied with an amazing device that replicates the look, feel and sound of the C64 games you played as a kid. Over twenty years on and some of the games are still as fresh and addictive as ever. A few of the supplied games may never have been of ‘classic’ status, but there are enough AAA titles available in the pack to make up for that.

The joystick itself is solid and nostalgic in look and feel. It may take a little getting used to though if you have been playing games with the ergonomic designs of the XBOX and Playstation controllers of today.

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