Yet times, they are a-changin’ and it’s surprisingly difficult to get a vintage computer like the Amiga 500 to play nice in a world without floppy disks, yet stuffed to the brim with HDMI and USB devices.
Luckily the A500 I got came with the A520 TV modulator add-on. This piece of kit is much derided on the internet for its piss-poor image quality. In all fairness, the image quality is fine if you just want to play games on your TV. For any real work, like programming or using software like Deluxe Paint or Pro Tracker, you’re probably much better off with a real monitor or a custom SCART cable.
Mind you, though: first-gen Amiga’s don’t work with regular PC monitors. Amiga supports all manner of wonky display modes that VESA never heard of so stick with the Commodore 1084 if you can find a decent one, or pop open the case of your machine and add a flicker fixer.
The A520 plugs into the back of the computer, adding about 15 centimeters of bulk to the keyboard’s already considerable depth. I find this mildly annoying, as it prevents me from installing the computer in the place I had in mind for it. For now, the machine temporarily lives on the table in front of the living room TV much like a big game console with a keyboard on top.
Hooking up the A520 is simple, if your TV can take composite video. Most TV’s can nowadays, considering mine was the absolute cheapest of the bunch three years ago. If it can’t, you may have to revert to the old-school analogue TV signal the A520 puts out.
Composite video in consumer equipment is usually transported across single cables with a yellow RCA connector on both ends. The signal coming from the A520 isn’t exactly high-end, so you’ll probably be fine with whatever cable you can find. Plug one end into the ‘Video out’ port on the side of the A520 and the other end into your TV.
Right now, I’m using one half of a stereo audio cable to get a picture because I’m out of proper cabling. There’s 5 meters of cable between the Amiga and the TV, and the only really annoying issue is fuzziness when there’s blue lettering on a black background. For casual gaming even this improvised set-up is usable.
If your TV is incapable of accepting composite video, it will accept a regular analogue antenna feed. You may need to make this cable yourself, but it’s easy. Buy the length of coaxial cable to need to bridge the distance, fit the required antenna plug on the TV end and an RCA plug on the other. Plug the RCA connector into the ‘video out’ on the back of the A520, put the antenna plug into your TV and tune in to channel 36 (in Europe, that is). You should have a picture, but I can’t comment on the quality.
The best way to get from an Amiga to a TV is by the use of SCART in RGB mode. The signal will go from your Amiga to your TV completely undisturbed, giving you a crisp clean image on a TV that supports SCART in RGB-mode.
Sound, fortunately, hasn’t changed much over the years. The Amiga has a set of completely standard RCA connectors that you can simply hook up to any garden variety amplifier to enjoy stereo music and sound effects.
Floppies? Get out of my shop, you savage!
It should come as no surprise that the 3.5 inch floppy disk is as good as dead. I had to make a run to the computer shop anyway for some cables, so I ventured the question: would you happen to have any 3.5 inch floppies left for sale?The shopkeeper’s apology was accompanied by some very loud laughter from the tech support guys who were working behind another counter. Fortunately I was able to find some at a reasonable price from the internet.
You should realize that the Amiga was conceived long before the internet took hold outside academia and the military. Apart from an RS232 serial port and a Centronics parallel port, there’s very little connectivity to the outside world available on a standard Amiga 500.
I spent ten minutes on the phone explaining to another computer salesman that -yes- my computer actually DOES have a 25-pin male RS232 port. When I told him the computer in question was built in 1989 his message changed from “utterly impossible, doesn’t exist, never has!” to “ah, alright, sorry, can’t help you with that then”.
So now I have yet another outstanding mail order. This time with an electronics components shop. I actually like how shops that sell actual components that go into electronic appliances are not surprised when I ask for a plug that’s been out of mainstream use for over 15 years.
No USB or ethernet ports either
USB only became available four years after the last real Commodore Amiga rolled off the assembly line. Yet USB is also the only connector I have on my laptop that even remotely resembles RS232 and I must have a way to move the boat load of Amiga floppy disk images I’ve collected over the years of using an emulator over to my actual real machine. I have my hopes set on doing this through a USB-to-serial converter, with a null-modem cable tacked onto that and the mail-ordered db9 to db25 converter attached to the back of that whole assembly.
This frankencable should allow me to transfer files from my 21st century laptop directly to the Amiga and create pristine real floppy disks ready to face some more decades of slow magnetic decay and bit rot. The jury is still out on the process, because right now I’m still missing a few vital parts so do stay tuned for the next update.