I’ve shied away from all the ZX Spectrum revivals so far, which might be odd for a ZX Spectrum buff of my order of magnitude, but none so far picked my personal interests. Bluetooth keyboards and handhelds just aren’t my thing.
ZX Spectrum Next is different. Let’s break it down (and just if it wasn’t clear, this is why I personally love the project, not some objective assessment):
- The design is based on the ZX Spectrum+, which is the one that I grew up with. It’s also not a copy, but inspired by and quite modern/sleek. It was the first piece of hardware I saw that I’d genuinely want to own for its looks.
- It’s not a shiny piece of hardware with an emulator running inside, but a recreation of actual ZX Spectrum hardware, all the way down to the Z80. I’m not going to claim I understand how this FPGA technology they’re talking about works, but it creates all the same weird glitches and edge cases the real Spectrum did (these things drive emulator developers nuts, because it’s hard to simulate in software). It’s fully compatible with all the weird real-hardware hacks.
- Not only does it offer perfect compatibility, it is also upgraded to bring new abilities to the ZX Spectrum world. It’s essentially the next product in the ZX Spectrum lineup, as if Sinclair didn’t go bust and kept on iterating and upgrading. It comes with 512kB of memory (a nice continuation of the 16k/48k/128k predecessors) but can be upgraded all the way up to 2.5MB.
- All the increased abilities let you take ZX Spectrum development to the next level. This is not only a machine to play existing games, it’s something you are more than encouraged to write new ones on. The demo scene has been creating new games all along, but this could bring a bigger user base to it and continue the evolution of complexity using the more powerful hardware. You can even get rid of color clash (not sure why anyone would commit such a crime, but …).
- You can buy just the board without a case. This is so like the 80s when you could get a kit that you assembled yourself instead of buying a normal consumer version. Even more, the board actually fits into the original spectrum case. Other expansions are possible, even ones where the only option is to solder things on your own (the perfect reason to ask your mom and dad to pass this essential skill on to you).
There are way more selling points (HDMI output, SD card reader, serial interface over wi-fi, hardware sprites, a dev kit/IDE, open source firmware …) but these sum up why I’m in favor of the Next over similar projects.
I’m now wondering how hard it’ll be to mod existing games to use the new graphics modes, which would be a really cool exercise for pixel artists. Usually you need to recreate the game code when developing remakes (which is a nice exercise for coders, not artists), but this might enable some quick hacks to just run original Z80 code with enhanced graphics. So far I’ve seen Cybernoid II recolored and it looks great. We’ll see. This is exactly why I like the Next: it gets me excited about the possibilities of tinkering with it, just like my ZX+ did back then.
You can head over to Kickstarter to see the main video and tiers (99 GBP just the board, 175 GBP for the normal base model … same price as back in the days btw). Here I’ll show you what’s more interesting to me, seeing how the thing works in practice.
As a disclaimer, I’m not sure yet if I’m getting one for myself at this moment (I hope to at least get one after it’s released). I wish I had a TV to hook this into, but I’m pretty much in travel mode right now, without a permanent living room. So far I might have to stick to the software dev kit. I’d love to port Pixel Art Academy to it, lol.