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VBXE - Is this upgrade for you?


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Let me summarize what this is about first of all because it is quite interesting on a few things I'm about to talk about.

For those that aren't aware, the VBXE/VBXL is a video enhancement upgrade board that you install into your Atari XE or XL computer line that sandwiches in the middle of where the ANTIC IC is placed. What it does, is provide enhanced video features for games & programs that support it with higher resolutions and much more colors on the screen at once. The VBXE/XL boards have been around for nearly a decade so it isn't a new or recent upgrade option and can be purchased from several places but at about $100 for the board (at the time of typing this), it isn't a cheap upgrade but for what it does and providing a nice RGB output, isn't that unusual in cost compared to similar upgrades. Still, is the VBXE right for you? Let's talk about that...

I will be honest upfront in that I only installed my VBXE into my 130xe the other night. Therefore you would be right to ask and to be thinking "How can he already have some opinions on something he has only had for a few days?". That is a very valid question to ask. However, it does take me to the first issue regarding the VBXE:

- Lack of programs and games that really use it. There are quite a few demos that show off various features that are only possible with a VBXE along with a handful of games. But not nearly as you might think or possible expect from something that has been out and available for as long as it has.

- Mainly designed for use on PAL Atari 8-bit computers. Many of the demoscene programs and games expect to be running on a PAL Atari 8-bit computer and not NTSC. As a result, some games might exhibit some glitching in places graphically and many of the demos will refuse to run at all and just give a message on the screen that NTSC isn't supported and do not go further on loading up.


- Palette differences. The VBXE/XL allows for full compatibility with original games and programs but there is a small caveat that I've not seen listed on pages that sell the VBXE/XL boards. The issue is that the VBXE has a different palette programmed into it as compared to actual NTSC GTIA chips. As a result many games will show differences in their colors as compared to what you might be used to. In some cases, it doesn't make much of a difference and might not be noticed. In other more extreme cases it is quite obvious. Below is a comparison of this between two game title screens where the left is through s-video output and the right from the VBXE RGB output. 


There is a jumper on the bottom of the VBXE to select between PAL and NTSC. Mine arrived already set to PAL but switching this back to NTSC did not make any difference that I could see. The only difference in setting them is that some PAL games that do work on NTSC end up looking even more glitched than usual and usually missing some colors or sprite information. So I advise leaving that jumper in whichever position matches the computer type you are using it with.

- Corrupted graphics when powering on or resetting the computer. As the VBXE is a separate video output device in the system, it seems as those the board might not initiate properly when powering on the computer or when pressing reset. The pics below show my Fujinet menu screen how it should look and how it might come up showing corrupted graphics. This never occurs when using composite or s-video from the actual monitor output and only happens from the VBXE output side. A reset will usually clear this in most cases although sometimes a full power off/on is needed.

fuji_screen.jpg.043fb8cf0827268b7d8860f2e84e6535.jpg    vbxe_corruptions.jpg.d03281be5d0db705f68c27b689d49273.jpg

- Several games have received graphical updates that take advantage of the VBXE's enhanced abilities. Below is one of the more impressive and extreme examples of this from a recently released home brew port of the game Bomb Jack. There is a version that supports the standard Atari 8-bit computers and a version specifically for use with VBXE enhanced computers. Note that the title of the game is different between the versions, but it is the same game programmed by the same people.


- However, not all games are as enhanced. The following example is of the two different versions of the game Jet Set Willy that has been ported to the Atari 8-bit comptuers. In this case the VBXE allows for a more faithful port graphically of the ZX80 Spectrum original vs the port done for the Atari 8-bits that works within the limitations of the original Atari hardware. So in a case like this, it is more about preference on playing a more faithful port vs any enhancements.



So there is my overview of the VBXE add-on for the Atari 8-bit computers. In summary it has some excellent features that it can bring to the Atari 8-bit line that almost makes the games and graphics approach 16-bit VGA and more. But even after nearly a decade of having been on the market there is still only a handful of programs that a gamer would find use for and with some exceptions, the non VBXE versions of the games would likely be enough for most enthusiasts. I do really like the enhanced clarity you get from using the RGB output over the s-video and certainly over composite. It has to be said that my captures in these pictures don't really do justice to the output since my capture device seems to introduce some noise that isn't present on my actual TV screen when playing and jpg compression isn't doing any favors either.

I will finish this post with a compilation of some other screen captures taken from the VBXE on my 130xe from some programs that support it along with a few pics of my VBXE install.



Overhead view of my 130xe mainboard with both VBXE and UAV boards in place.



Side profile of the UAV and VBXE boards installed. Due to clearance issues, I had to reinstall the UAV without any sockets to make it as low profile as possible. This isn't that ideal since it means the UAV is a pretty permanent part of this computer now.



As per most of my RGB setups, I've elected to remove the original RF modulator and installed a 9-pin mini din wired for use with Sega RGB cables. This did require me to bypass the 75Ω resistors on the VBXE RGB output lines since those resistors are present in the Sega RGB SCART housing already and if left in place on the VBXE would have resulted in a darker and more duller picture output.




Here is was the first initial tests of the VBXE with the s-video output from the UAV on the Left on the small CRT and RGB output from the VBXE on the right using my Retrotink2x SCART on the LCD.


Edited by CrossBow

See what I'm up to over at the Ivory Tower Collections: http://www.youtube.com/ivorytowercollections


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I have considered porting some of my prior games over to VBXE, but there are a few obstacles that had been prohibiting the idea from going forward. First thing, is the limited and much smaller market than the whole Atari 8-bit community that does not make it worthwhile to make VBXE cartridge games. The second obstacle is that very few people have these, that it is difficult to find people trusted by myself and Video61 to beta test any games modified to use it. This was discussed a few years ago on another that Atari place and did volunteer to help test it. When I did have a few test Tempest Elite, It did not take long for me to see that one of them was passing along copies. So I had to cut off beta testing from anyone that refuses to submit information about themselves beyond just a screen name. Some of them when I told them that they need to get in contact with Video 61, they freaked out, did not hear from them until later they made public posts over there just to bully about me not trusting people. I have to allow free copies because I am there seeking help from others. Like Hello, this was not unexpected from a place full of untrustworthy people that allow bullying, harassment, and uncivilized behavior. 
If people want to see more VBXE ported games, and have a nice cartridge, they will need to post about it, tell myself and Video61 if they want it. I know what VBXE is capable of. I am really surprised there have not been many games ported to take advantage of better graphics. 


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Well, I did find out that the palette issues with it on NTSC consoles is a well known issue and has been for years. But apparently due to the fact that most of the demoscene stuff and quite a lot of the more recent homebrews all require the use of PAL 8-bits, it was never considered a priority to create a core for the VBXE with NTSC palettes on it. Apparently if you have one of the U1MB upgrade boards in place, they did include an option on it to apparently program a new palette file to compensate but I hadn't really planned on getting one of those for as little as I play on my 130xe.

As for testing of games, I've done quite a few lately mainly on the 7800 side of things. But that is largely in part because I have a Dragon Fly cartridge and it supports a crazy amount of different bank schemes for different games along with the added hardware in it to play covox, dual pokey, and FM music. I don't know what testing would be possible on my 130xe as I'm limited to just my FujiNet cart that I mainly use and I have an UnoCart for the 8-bit that is much faster at loading games, but also more limited in what it supports.

I can understand the hesitation with letting folks test your games and programs. I don't know how feasible it is, but I would think it a good idea to put an ID code of some sort embedded within the coding so that if it were to be leaked out in the open, it would at least be possible to know who provided that initial leak or obviously was careless in who might have had access to their stuff and let it get slipped. 

See what I'm up to over at the Ivory Tower Collections: http://www.youtube.com/ivorytowercollections


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CrossBow, you are in the United States, Oklahoma, correct? I am going to ask you to email us at Atarisales, or send me a private message before going forward with anything.
For starters, I am considering VBXE versions of a few games like Delta Space Arena and Bug Invade. More games could be ported depending on how everything works out. It will be awhile before I be able to do anything as I am busy with finishing up another Atari 8-bit game. I already sent out a few emails to see if another person can help me beta test VBXE programs and to see how games will be distributed. 

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I don't have any issue with that. That is how I was approached to start testing games on the 7800 was via PM from the authors there and all discussions, bug reports..etc all happen within PMs for the most part dedicated to the game or program being tested at that time.

See what I'm up to over at the Ivory Tower Collections: http://www.youtube.com/ivorytowercollections


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Thankyou for discussing the idea of doing some VBXE programs. However, as expected, my associates have elected not to be involved with marketing VBXE. This is due to the small number of people out there with modified Atari 8-Bit systems. I am still open to making some Fast Basic sample programs with assembly routines that manipulate VBXE graphics. I need to look to see if someone already programmed something. 

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