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I was going through my back-issues of Loadstar disk magazine, which I have on compact disc, when I came across a really interesting article on the first issue of Loadstar for the Commodore 128. It was an article on how to make your own RGBI video cable out of a standard RCA cable, so you can utilize the 128’s eighty column mode without having to have an RGB compatible monitor.

The article goes on to explain that the drawback to using the 80 column mode this way is that you bypass the RGB signal and are only accessing the 80 column monochrome channel. So, all you are left with are three colours: black, white and gray. Anything in colour is translated into these three so-called colours. The article gives a detailed table of how these colours are translated.

It then goes on and provides you with a parts list of what you will need to make this cable, along with Radio Shack SKU numbers for these parts, as well as their prices (back in the day). You are even given a diagram as to which pins to use, on the DB-9 connector.

So, with this information, I decided to make one of these cables for myself.

The only DB-9 connector I had was this breakout board style connector. But it should work well to test things out. If this cable works well, I can make up something more permanent later.

The RCA cable I used was just your standard cable you'd use to hook up your video signal (from your DVD, VCR or whatever player) to the video cable on the back of your T.V. - the yellow plug cable. I cut one end of the yellow RCA plug off and stripped the casing back to expose the two smaller wires inside. There's a “center” signal wire and an “outside” ground wire.

I proceeded to connect my RCA cable, as described in the article (center wire to pin 7 and ground wire to pin 1 or 2) and then taped everything up with electrical tape. Then, I plugged the 9 pin DIN end into my 128 and the yellow RCA plug into my RCA/S-video to VGA converter box, which then plugged into my VGA monitor via it's VGA output. If this works, it will be the first time in a long time, that I get to run my 128 in 80 column mode. I was really hoping the results were good.

And, wouldn’t you know it, the signal on my LCD monitor was clean and quite sharp. It looked better than what I expected it to be. The display would have been even sharper, if I were using an RGB monitor, but the composite signal still produced text that I could easily read. Of course, the real benefits of 80 column mode come into play when using software specifically written for the extra wide screen. Like DraCopy, for example. I much prefer the side-by-side interface, in 80 column mode, when compared to the top-bottom interface in standard mode.

But, what about the issue with everything in monochrome? So far, it’s only been a minor annoyance in games. For example, BurgerWhop. This is one of my favorite 128 games, but it’s only playable in 80 column mode. It looks great, but some of the burger ingredients are black, which makes them invisible on the black screen. A minor annoyance for, what I consider to be, the best version of Burger Time available on the Commodore 64 or 128, which I could only play on an emulator, until now.

However, gaming wasn’t the main reason why I wanted to utilize 80 column mode, on my 128. It’s the applications that I wanted to run, which I couldn’t do before; applications like GEOS. GEOS, for the most part, is a monochrome application. So, it looks perfectly fine in 80 column mode, with this RCA cable. I’m quite confident that most of the other business applications, for the 128, will also look just fine in monochrome.

I did come across a couple of issues (colour-wise) with applications published in Loadstar 128, like MasterFile II. However, they were easily fixed by changing a few lines in the BASIC code. That's one of the nice things about software in Loadstar: for the most part, they publish software in such a way that you can easily examine and tinker with the code.

It is really surprising at how important a resource Loadstar was for the average Commodore user, back in the day, before there was the Internet. I’m finding that there is quite a bit of useful information, even for today, locked away in it’s electronic pages.

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reviews/80_column_cable.txt · Last modified: 2023/02/08 19:47 by David