The Commodore 64 community has been reinvigorated with the recent launch of TheC64 Mini, bringing vintage 8-bit gaming back to the general consumer looking for an easy to use plug’n’play solution. However, the Mini was not the first Commodore 64 themed project in this century to entice us middle aged boys and girls to put on the ‘rose tinted glasses’ of yesteryear and reminisce about how good gaming was back in the 80s. That honour goes to the C64 Direct-To-TV (otherwise known as the the C64 DTV), designed by Jeri Ellsworth, which was released back in 2004.The first thing to point out is that the C64 DTV is a single chip implementation of the Commodore 64. What this means is that games running on this console are executed in the same way as if you were using an original Commodore 64, providing a more authentic experience that many hardcore retro gamers look for with their vintage gaming.
The C64 DTV implementation chip is running a 6510 CPU, VIC-II, SID, Programmable Logic Array and two Complex Interface Adapters. The RAM and ROM memory are separated chips, which allows the RAM to be expanded to 128 kilobytes while the ROM is 2 Megabytes in size, as opposed to the 20 kilobytes found in a real C64. The larger size ROM not only contains the basic, kernel, character roms, it also stores the games, game menu, boot screens included with the C64DTV.
The C64 DTV circuitry is encased in a replica of the Competition Pro Joystick, perhaps one of the most iconic joysticks of the 8- bit computing era. The overall feel of the joystick is superior to that of TheC64 Mini equivalent and can be described as solid, providing confidence that it can withstand bit of a beating. It feels quite good in the hand for a joystick and is quite responsive but admittedly your hands will still cramp up after a long playing session.
The unit is powered by 4 AA batteries and its power switch is located on the back of the joystick base. Above the switch is a series of buttons, which include a small reset button and 4 function buttons that can be used for some of the games. The C64 DTV connects up to a TV or monitor via a very lengthy lead with a composite video connection and mono audio jack.
On starting up the C64 DTV, the screen will display the famous blue C64 basic screen its READY status and its flashing cursor. Load “*”,8,1 is then automatically typed across the screen, followed by LOADING and then the game selection menu is displayed. Looking through the game menu via the joystick, you will find a list of 30 games on the PAL version of the C64 DTV and you may notice that software houses of Epyx and Hewson are well represented. While the list of games won’t appease everyone, I would consider the games list to be good even though many classics are missing.
If you were planning on making a cup of tea while waiting for the game to load well then you better find someone else to make it for you because the games load up almost instantly. Games that originally came in a multi-disk format have been arranged into a single file as there is no ‘please turn over disk and press any key’ messages to be found while trying out games like Summer Games and California Games.
Playing the games is a pleasant experience and you certainly do get a sense that you are playing on a real Commodore 64 computer and you start to wonder how good this device could be if your own roms could be added with ease. For those of us who have our C64 setup with RGB Scart or S-Video, it is disheartening that the C64 DTV does not provide us with similar options out of the box but to disregard this product solely on this basis after all, most of us were happy using the RF tuner 30 years ago.
While the C64 DTV was originally on offer at an affordable price back in 2004, these days unopened boxed editions can go for a price that even exceeds TheC64 Mini. The C64 DTV is a great novelty in its retail form and probably should be a part of any avid Commodore followers collection. Compared to TheC64 Mini, the DTV suffers from offering a smaller number of titles and component output, but it is superior in that game play control is quite responsive and a hardware based C64 implementation. Whichever of the two you prefer, it would be hard to deny that both products do a good job in bringing 8-bit Commodore computing back to our living rooms.
If you have both units, which do you prefer? Let us know by leaving us a comment.