LGR – MSX 2 Computer System Review


[typing]
[new wave music] In the early 1980s, Kazuhiko Nishi had a fantastic idea. Being both the director of ASCII Corporation and Vice-President of Microsoft Japan, it was obvious to him that the as yet untapped
home computer market was ripe with potential. But the companies making computers
in Japan were all doing their own thing. None of the machines were
compatible with one another, making for a confusing and fragmented market. So in a partnership between ASCII and Microsoft, a set of unified standards for
microcomputers was announced in 1983, called MSX. Short for “Machine with Software eXchangeability,” MSX computers would all be
compatible with one another, regardless of who manufactured it. As long as it had that MSX logo, then software and peripherals
designed on a Sony MSX, for instance, would work just fine on a Canon,
Sanyo, Goldstar, or whoever else’s. This led to a massive boom
in popularity of MSX software, and up to 9 million MSX
computers were sold in Japan alone, with millions more being sold in Europe, Brazil, the Middle East and elsewhere. Curiously, other than a couple obscure machines, they were never really sold or marketed in the US. But in Japan and parts of Europe,
these computers thrived, with hundreds of models being released
in both the original MSX standard and the MSX2 and 2+ standards a few years later. It wasn’t until 1995 that they
finally stopped making them, once the IBM PC compatibles
had throughly taken over. For this particular review, we’ll be taking a look at the
MSX2 standard of computers which first released in 1986. To be precise, the machine I’ll be looking at is the Philips VG-8235 which my friend Jaap generously
donated to me from the Netherlands. As far as what you can expect to pay for one, this particular model currently
seems to sell for $150 or so, but an MSX2 can range anywhere
from 60 bucks on the low end to $500 or more on the high end. Of course, other than a few extra features
that manufacturers built into their machines, I could just as easily be reviewing
any number of MSX2 computers here, due to their standardized design. As a result, I will just be talking
about this in rather general terms, unless something unique needs touching on. Like this keyboard, for instance,
which is pretty awesome, in that the angle is adjustable, even though it’s integrated into the chassis. Some MSX computers had
detachable keyboards instead, but this one is a nice trade-off
between the simplicity of integration and the freedom of external peripherals. Another fascinating tidbit with this Philips machine is the New Media Systems badge, which was their research and development division. A technology used in these machines eventually led to the development of Philips’
Compact Disc Interactive computer system, better known as the CD-i. The other external features on display
here are all pretty standard, though. Along the top, you’ve got a soft reset button, LED indicators for power,
caps lock and floppy drive activity, as well as the first cartridge slot, used largely for games from
both the MSX1 and 2 standards. Once again, there is the keyboard, which features all the standard
function keys for MSX machines, as well as those omnipresent cursor keys, used for both games and editing text and code. Unfortunately, the travel on
the keyboard keys isn’t that great, and the rubber domes underneath are pretty gummy, meaning that it’s not as
satisfying to type on as it could be. However, it makes up for that by
including this handy little tray at the bottom, giving you an excellent place to store your Smarties. Over on the right side, you get two joystick ports of the standard 9-pin variety, used on most 8-bit computers of the time, and above that, you get a 3½-inch floppy drive, which unfortunately in this case
is only a single-sided 360K deal, instead of the double-sided 720K type featured in most other MSX2s. And around the back, you get a
pleasing selection of inputs and outputs, starting with the secondary cartridge slot, which is normally screwed shut for some reason. You also get an RF video output using a BNC connector, a port for hooking up tape drives, a Centronics-compatible printer port, SCART A/V output, CVBS monitor output, a sport for attaching external floppy drives, a power switch that switches things powerfully, and an AC adapter port which thankfully uses a standard two-prong design, since the PSU in internal. And being from the Netherlands,
this of course uses 220-volt power and outputs using PAL video, so if you’re from the US, then you’ll
need some converters to actually use it. This is not a problem with Japanese computers, since they use basically the
same formats as we did in the US. Looking inside the VG-8235,
or other MSX computers, won’t lead to many big surprises for the most part, due to their standardized architecture. What *is* interesting is how
they combined the functions of many integrated circuits into one, with a chip known as the MSX Engine. In this case, it’s the Yamaha S3527, which includes the parallel I/O chip, standard MSX functions like DRAM,
joystick and cartridge slot control, and a PSG sound chip. The sound is produced by a custom
Philips audio generator, in this case, although it’s still compatible with the
classic general instrument AY-3-8910, and produces three voices of 8-bit sound. Other features like the real-time clock, 48KB ROM, 128K RAM, and 128K Yamaha V9938
video chip are found elsewhere. The MSX2 features enhanced
graphics over previous models, with 16 and 256 colors simultaneously in 512×212 and 256×212 resolutions, respectively. And last but not least, there’s the Zilog Z80A CPU running at 3.58 MHz, a more-than-formidable brain to tie this all together. There is no hard disk, of course, and there’s not even an operating system built in, so you’d have to rely on either a cartridge or floppy disk in order to do much with this. The MSX machines were
designed with MSX-DOS in mind. And seeing as this was developed by Microsoft, it should be no surprise that it’s
largely compatible with MS-DOS 1.0. This is incredibly convenient
if you’re an old-school PC user, since not only are the floppy disks largely compatible, but that means the learning curve is pretty low, since the commands and file
types are pretty much all the same. And of course, if you’re like me,
then a huge draw here is the games. And most of these tended to come on cartridges, especially those from the MSX1. They didn’t often come in very elaborate
boxes like a lot of PC games at the time, but they still look incredibly cool to me. Probably just because they’re Japanese, but that’s okay. With the MSX2 and floppy drives
being built into most of them, you also had the option to
play games via diskettes, which of course made copying games incredibly easy. And, MAN, there is one amazing library
of games to copy for the MSX2, and here are just a few of my favorites. Lastly, if you want to dive in without
getting messy with the hardware, or maybe you have a system like
mine with a subpar floppy drive and a video signal that has to be converted, then emulation is your hero. Programs like blueMSX and
fMSX are fantastic emulators that allow you to play with just about any game for any computer that uses the MSX standard. There’s also a massive following
for these machines to this day, so rest assured there’s no shortage of information, hacks and homebrew projects that keep the dream of Kazuhiko Nishi alive. In summary, the MSX2 series is a
friggin’ sweet selection of computers. If you can get your hands on them. Although, I wouldn’t necessarily
recommend this exact model, just because of the lacking floppy drive and things like the, uh, weird sound chip and things. I mean, you know, it works. It’s fine. But you can always do better, and there are things like the MSX2+
series that I would very much recommend. Or just an upgraded, slightly better MSX2 Although I really do just like this one anyway. I like any of these MSX computers. Um, they don’t suck, basically. And they really hold their own up against
a lot of the 8-bit competition from back then. It’s just a shame that they didn’t
ever really come over to the US, other than like the Yamaha and Spectravision and… That was it. There was like two of ’em, as opposed to the hundreds in other countries. This is where companies like
Konami and Hudson got their start before they started doing things for the NES and such. So this thing is not only historical,
but it’s also just a lot of fun to mess with. Again, if you can get a hold of one. I, uh, ha ha… Eh, that’s gonna be the thing. But, if you’re into these vintage computers
and haven’t given the MSX series a try, then do it! As far as Japanese computers, or… Well, you know, some of them are European, but, you know, Japanese in
origin kind of computers go, this is one of the easiest to get into. The software was plentiful and it was sold in a lot of
other countries that speak English. And, you know, if they don’t speak English,
then chances are there’s like a– an English translation or something for the game that you’re wanting to play. So, now that is pretty much all for this episode. And if you enjoyed this video on a
piece of classic 8-bit computer hardware, then why not check out some
of these others that I have done. Not just 8-bit stuff, but a lot of classic computers and games and software and all sorts of stuff. That is what Lazy Game Reviews is about. So just peruse the channel, or subscribe to be notified
whenever future videos arrive. You can also feel free to interact with
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supported me have been amazing. Thank you so much! And as always, thank you very much for watching.

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