VSU news

by mtini on 08-09-2008, 14:48
Topic: Hardware
Languages:

In the last week you almost couldn't have missed the interesting discussions in our forum regarding the VSU and graphics chips/extensions in general. Ricardo Oazem, a Brazilian MSX developer and one of members of MSX company Tecnobytes, has just announced that his new MSX hardware project is almost finished. It concerns the VSU, a new mammoth extension made out of 4 V9990 chips, 2 V9958 chips and an OPL4 chip. The V9990 is currently used in the Sunrise Graphics 9000 while the V9958 is the videochip of the MSX2+ and turbo-R. The OPL4 is currently being used in Sunrise' Moonsound cartridge. At the moment, a Graphics 9000 and a Moonsound together are already quite a fantastic combination for games and demos but the VSU clearly goes beyond that!

More detailed specifications:

  • 4 V9990 chips, each with 512 KB of VRAM
  • 2 V9958 chips, each with 128 KB of VRAM
  • 1 OPL4 chip with 1MB SRAM
  • 1 FPGA
  • More than 80 sprites
  • Masking effects in FPGA
  • All accessible by OUT from any programming language (BASIC, Pascal, Assembly etc.)
  • VGA output
  • S-video output

To get a bit of an impression, a number of videos has been made available at YouTube. Without a doubt, we will hear about this rather spectacular project in the future. Oazem has announced the VSU to be available in March 2009, stay tuned!

Relevant link: demonstration movies: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.

Comments (45)

By RobertVroemisse

Paragon (1235)

RobertVroemisse's picture

08-09-2008, 14:57

For sale: 1 Moonsound + 1 GFX9000
Available for sale in March 2009

By jltursan

Prophet (2195)

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08-09-2008, 15:37

Can sound strange given the whole incredible specs; but for me the most impressive fact about the VSU is that it doesn't need a separate video output, all that chips sharing the same output is really great!

By Raster

Rookie (25)

Raster's picture

08-09-2008, 16:39

An extra CPU seems to be missing. It's gonna take some real horsepower to drive that combination of chips.

By luppie

Paladin (854)

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08-09-2008, 17:00

I'll guess that thats the job of the FPGA

By MicroTech

Champion (386)

MicroTech's picture

08-09-2008, 17:31

Although this is an impressive piece of hardware, I consider it very wasteful.
It is already "difficult" to have software for GFX9000 which has "only" 1 x V9990... I imagine it can be very puzzling to drive 4 V9990 and 2 V9958... which do not share VRAM.
IMHO the FPGA part is the more interesting... I think a 1chipMSX-derived board would be preferrable: with VHDL code to implement both V9958 and V9990.
Anyway this is only my opinion... VSU is really astonishing.

By ARTRAG

Enlighted (6287)

ARTRAG's picture

08-09-2008, 17:38

and what about adding a M68000 or a small Pentium ?
just to support the z80....
oO

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

wolf_'s picture

08-09-2008, 17:42

You may end up with a PC powered by an MSX power supply unit Tongue

Actually there was some piece o' kit back in the 80's iirc, it was a cartridge you could stick into your MSX and you could play NES games then. The cart was of course in itself a NES, which only used the PSU of the MSX. Cool

By SLotman

Paragon (1215)

SLotman's picture

08-09-2008, 17:53

You guys missing the point...

You load everything into VRAM once, then it's a matter of sending commands to copy data (which doesn't use much CPU - and won't have those horrid waits for the VDP to finish them, as you can change to another VDP and set it to copy more data) - or update the tiles in the tilemap. Stuff like copying data from RAM to VRAM will be a thing from the past... You will actually get MORE Z80 to work with!

Take a look... that mickey demo was made in BASIC, and it's several SCREEN 8 planes! IN B-A-S-I-C. Now think what can be done in ASM!

And btw: it's 80 sprites PER LINE Smile

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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08-09-2008, 17:59

You will actually get MORE Z80 to work with!
Well, that depends on the game, won't it?

If you need to update all the planes (10! 4x2 on the v9990 chips and 2x1 on the v9958 chips) because you want animations in them then you've got a lot to update. If you only choose to update the front/action plane (containing all the collision checks) and you don't update the background (e.g. a rotating image) then you're probably not going to get to do a lot apart from your front plane actions. Question is: how complex do we want to go?

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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08-09-2008, 18:07

Check the Mickey Mouse thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfMbWi3TBPM

How much is actually happening on screen? While I dunno the source, or what chips have been used here, I'd say: the action/frontlayer is probably a big G9k VRAM map which only requires you to change the scroll registers to the appropriate coordinate. So, this means no custom plotting tiles when you scroll out of the screen.

So far, it can indeed be done in BASIC. Question is: *what* can be done in assembly if you want a great number of actions and activities in your graphics? This level may look big because the scroll is slow, but what if your level is supposed to be super-big? (either because of an adventure argument or simply because the scroll is fast (think Jazz Jackrabbit)), then you can't just store the whole map in VRAM and you actually have to work with tilemaps (like we do now already on any MSX). If you also want the same tilemap thing to work for other layers, then I do wonder whether the Z80 can cope with it..

By Maggoo

Paragon (1195)

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08-09-2008, 18:08

I can see the point of this, it would make programming nice looking games without having to worry about many contraint like the VDP command speed, limited sprites, lacks of different planes. I liked the V9990 a lot but honestly the need to have 2 monitors or a switch between them always put me off doing more than experimenting with it. If you want to use this device to the fullest you will need more than a Z80 of course but this is not the point I guess. As demonstrated, it allows user to make very nice looking games in Basic. BTW, how are the ports working ? Is the V9938 still accessible through the same I/O ports ?

By karloch

Prophet (2067)

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08-09-2008, 18:09

Can sound strange given the whole incredible specs; but for me the most impressive fact about the VSU is that it doesn't need a separate video output, all that chips sharing the same output is really great!Not to mention the VGA output. That's a very interesting point. It would be a nice hardware even for classic software.

By dvik

Prophet (2200)

dvik's picture

08-09-2008, 18:54

Its an amazing piece of hardware, but to be honest I don't think a Z80 is good enough to actually make good use of the possibilities with the VSU.

With the very nice graphics potential of the VSU you probably also want to have a good physics engine and AI. For this you really need something more than a Z80. I like the idea of adding a PPC or an ARM7 or something, to help out with physics and AI. Then the Z80 can be the hub in the system...

By GhostwriterP

Champion (511)

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08-09-2008, 19:39

uhm... gonna pas on this thing. It is fun no doubt but, nope not for me. I stick to just one v9990, nice and simple. But it is compatible with gfx9000 right? So no worries every one can still play my games!

ps: any potentional market growt for buying my verry expensive games wich gonna make me very but then I do mean very rich is great news. Wink

By Edwin

Paragon (1182)

Edwin's picture

08-09-2008, 19:56

The FPGA actually makes things much more interesting. Depending on how it's wired, you could use it to make those chips work a lot harder. I'd like to know a little more about how it can be used inside the VSU.

By [D-Tail]

Ascended (8233)

[D-Tail]'s picture

08-09-2008, 20:24

Its an amazing piece of hardware, but to be honest I don't think a Z80 is good enough to actually make good use of the possibilities with the VSU.

With the very nice graphics potential of the VSU you probably also want to have a good physics engine and AI. For this you really need something more than a Z80. I like the idea of adding a PPC or an ARM7 or something, to help out with physics and AI. Then the Z80 can be the hub in the system...You see, that's the thing. The bottleneck always lies somewhere; the current V9938 VDP is too slow for the Z80. Then again, when the VDP is upgraded, the Z80 is too slow. Reasoning, we should all move to R800 equipped turboR computers but then it's still too slow. Let's upgrade the CPU again and find that the 6 VDPs are then insufficient. This whole story can go on forever. I see the VSU as a suitable and worthy addition to the current repository of MSX hardware, especially because it is compatible with both Moonsound and GFX9000.
This makes for comparisons with the MSX turboR standard, it is compatible with MSX, MSX2 and MSX2+, so, there's more content for those machines. Albeit not exclusively.

By Ivan

Ascended (9123)

Ivan's picture

08-09-2008, 21:19

If VSU is going to be sold at a reasonable price (less than a GFX9000), I will buy it for sure. And I do agree with SLotman that the fisrt video is quite impressive, given the fact that the demo has been developed in BASIC.

By ro

Guardian (4125)

ro's picture

09-09-2008, 09:34

that Mickey sure takes a lot 'o loading time . . .

By ivke2006

Resident (53)

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09-09-2008, 16:39

Technically it's a very nice project, but I think the msx community wil not benefit from this hardware.
IMHO it's over the top, and therefore to expensive so not enough will be sold to get some serious user base and the remaining software developers will devide even more over the several MSX hardware generations.

If the developer would spend his talent on a 50-100 dollar graphic card or 80-140 dollar for a graphic/music combo, then the potential user base would be much lager.

Or together with some other talented people create a new stand-alone msx computer with cheap components but still more powerfull then a Turbo R with v9990.

Components like: eZ80 on 50 MHZ, V9990 or similar VDP (incl. backward compatibility with at least MSX 2 VDP), USB Connection, SD-card reader.

I would spend my money on that but not on this nice but unnecessary VSU, sorry...

By FiXato

Scribe (1520)

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09-09-2008, 20:50

I would settle for a VSU Light Wink just a combination of GFX9000+Moonsound combined into 1 cart.

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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09-09-2008, 20:52

exactly..

oh, and a CF/SD reader and a bit of normal user RAM perhaps ^_^

By Ivan

Ascended (9123)

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09-09-2008, 21:01

Price is a major factor. A very low price would mean hundreds of users with that card and dozens of MSX developers creating nice stuff.

By msd

Paragon (1372)

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09-09-2008, 22:23

Are there still a lot of v9990 and opl4 chips to be found to use for the VSU?

By SLotman

Paragon (1215)

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10-09-2008, 02:52

Lot's of V9990 and OPL4 still available. Oazem has purchased over a 100 of them Smile

By anonymous

incognito ergo sum (109)

anonymous's picture

12-09-2008, 16:26

Current MSX developers have still problems to finish a MSX1 game...

Who is going to develop software for this monster?

By msd

Paragon (1372)

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12-09-2008, 16:52

I think that a board with a v9958,v9990 and an opl4 would already be very intteresseting, but maybe more is better Tongue

By dvik

Prophet (2200)

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12-09-2008, 17:29

If the price is right, I'd definitely buy one. Getting both moonsound and gfx9000 on one cartridge is definitely interesting. And who knows, maybe someone would actually take some time to develop a good game that use the features to the fullest Smile But even without tons of super duper games, its still a good alternative to the existing moonsound and gfx 9000 carts, especially since its all in one.

By Yukio

Paragon (1541)

Yukio's picture

12-09-2008, 18:54

Very nice, but I still want a "FM Sound Stereo" for use on regular MSX personal computers ...

After all, stereo output should be good enough!

By msd

Paragon (1372)

msd's picture

12-09-2008, 20:39

With the opl4 you have stereo fm sound Wink

By Ivan

Ascended (9123)

Ivan's picture

14-09-2008, 10:11

You are missing the point guys... really... In the last few years all sw/hw projects that have succeeded had a low price: Matra "shockwave" cartridges, MSX dev cartridges, other games on cartridge like Manbow2 (with SCC bulit-in!), IDE interfaces (few people own a Mega SCSI due to its high price), MP3 cartridges, etc, etc.

Make a cheap -yet powerful- videocard for MSX and the GFX9000 will be history.

By nerlaska

Master (166)

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14-09-2008, 19:55

I would like to know how the VSU priorize the VDPs output signal. I suppose that there is a VDP that will cover all the screen if i put a white box (for example)
And i would like to know how the resolution and screen modes work with all the VDPs because each VDP could have a different screen mode, right?
In any case is very interesting to have 4 V9990 or more but really i don't understand why 2 VDP9958 .. i only will have one VDP9958 and only to mantain MSX/2/2+ compatibility.
Another question is ... 4 V9990 + 2 V9958 + 1 FPGA + 1 OPL4 .. how big is the PCB?

By pitpan

Prophet (3131)

pitpan's picture

16-09-2008, 10:26

I've just one remark: the TMS9918 programming is so easy when compared to the V9938. V9938 is not as complex as V9958 new screen modes. V9990 is far more complex than V9958. Now imagine how complex could it be to code for a system with a bunch of mixed VDP, each with its own separate VRAM. Problem here is the increased development complexity, not the higher specs. Of course, lack of implementation within the community would be an unbearable handicap.

If you have an MSX, then code for an MSX and expect MSX games. If it is another thing, then it is not MSX. I could connect my MSX to a PC and use the MSX as a "terminal" for playing PC games. Is then the NVidia GeForce a new MSX graphic card?

By nerlaska

Master (166)

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16-09-2008, 16:43

In my opinion ... the logical evolution for MSX is the V9990 + OPL4 ..i think that TurboR XT had have this chips or it seems the more reasonable evolution.
Furthermore, now there are more or less over 100 GFX9000 and MoonSound sold in all the world (maybe more? i don't know, am i wrong?)
I think VSU is a great idea but .. will be better idea to join in a MSX expansion (1 V9990 + 1 OPL4) with mixed output (something like the Video9000) to mantain the work of Sunrise with the V9990 and the OPL4. The combination: R800 + V9990 + V9958 + OPL4 .. my theorical TurboR-XT .. i think is a nice combination and enough to give another step in the software development for MSX.

By SLotman

Paragon (1215)

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16-09-2008, 17:51

I'll say it again for the last time: VSU will be cheaper than buying a GFX9000 and an Moonsound, it's all in one cartridge instead of two, and fully compatible with both.

And actually, developing for gfx9000 (or many of them) is easier than on MSX1, since you won't have to worry about sprites limits (80 sprites per line! And all of the GFX9000 sprites are multicolored ones!), you can easily do several layers without screensplits, and so on.

Again, that Mickey demo is in BASIC. Cant get easier than that.

The two 9958 are kept for two reasons: for people with MSX1 to be able to turn it into an MSX2+ with 9990 and OPL4, just by replacing the ROMs and connecting the VSU - and to be able not only to use BASIC/DOS/whatever on VSU, but also to give the option to "improve" some old MSX games, giving them more colorfull sprites, more layers, or whatever comes into the mind of the developer Wink

That's the more important thing... if you don't want to use all the VSU horsepower and just develope something for gfx9000 + moonsound, nothing stops you to do so! If you want to use only the two 9958 to make a pseudo "multi layer MSX1 game" - you can also make it.

It's just a new hardware - fully compatible with everything prior to it - that gives new possibilities to us, the developers. If you think it's "too much", then use only what you think it's "enough".

By Yukio

Paragon (1541)

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16-09-2008, 17:53

"I've just one remark: the TMS9918 programming is so easy when compared to the V9938. V9938 is not as complex as V9958 new screen modes. V9990 is far more complex than V9958. Now imagine how complex could it be to code for a system with a bunch of mixed VDP, each with its own separate VRAM. Problem here is the increased development complexity, not the higher specs. Of course, lack of implementation within the community would be an unbearable handicap."

This is probably because the MSX1 use tile mode, much like the game consoles and home computers of that time. The tiles even resemble re-adjusted 1-colour bitmaps ... Moving just one byte would represent a 8x8 block!

The sprites are also monochromatic constructions.

By SLotman

Paragon (1215)

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16-09-2008, 18:00

GFX9000 / VSU also uses tiled modes, but multicolored ones, instead of those 2 colors on every 8x1 block on MSX1... and the sprites themselves are multicolored, no "single color sprite"!

I can't see how that is more complicated than on MSX1.

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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16-09-2008, 18:55

And actually, developing for gfx9000 (or many of them) is easier than on MSX1, since you won't have to worry about sprites limits (80 sprites per line! And all of the GFX9000 sprites are multicolored ones!), you can easily do several layers without screensplits, and so on.

Making an MSX1 game that does justice to the MSX1 is easier than to make a G9k/VSU game that does justice to the G9k/VSU.

Again, that Mickey demo is in BASIC. Cant get easier than that.

Then again, the Mickey demo is technically not very impressive. It's easy to be impressed by the graphics, but the reality is that it's just scrolling layers (changing registers) and copy'ing mickey a bit. Nothing is really happening or changing. So, if you want to impress me: demo a big 'n complex game, which isn't just changing simple registers. 80 sprites on a line? Show me! With so many V9990 chips you don't even need sprites to double as extra layer, meaning that the sprites are really there for particle systems, enemies etc. Show me!

By Fudeba

Expert (113)

Fudeba's picture

16-09-2008, 19:54

When a new hardware is released, the software will most likely NOT explore it entirely.
I would take some time (maybe a lot of time... maybe the eternity). I believe we are used
to VDP limitations... with VSU the video will be not the limitation for sure, but the Z80
(or R800). The limits of what can be done with the VSU will be dictated by the main
processor.

On the other hand, some programmers are not interested in what impress someone,
but in developing beautiful looking, nice and *easily programmed* games and software...
something that has nothing to do with limitations.

Personally, I like to program MSX because its concept is simple, I like to develop in ASM
(and MSX ASM is very straightforward) and I curse everyday the VDP limitations I have to
cope with. I do not program MSX because it is "limited". I am not concerned in squeezing
MSX1 (that's why I seldom develop MSX1 exclusive software). And don't tell me to
develop PC software; I am used to PC and I do not think it's a cool machine to develop
games. PC has much power? Yes. PC is nice to program? I don't think so... (my opinion).

Of course many MSX developers do not agree with me, but I keep my focus on the result,
a good-looking and enjoyable game... and not "wow, how could he do this using only a
PSG and a dumb VDP?". Of course the "wtf! factor" is a nice thing to explore, but I do not
think in it as the only one.

I will be very GLAD if impressive games could be developed using simple BASIC
commands... I will be very glad bringing other plataform's games using VSU, and
will be very glad even if no one ever reach the limits of VSU. I do not even expect it
to happen.

Agree with me or not, this is your choice... this a personal POV after all; but it is
always COOL to have options to choose. No one will ever be obligated to program
for VSU in the same way no one was ever obligated to develop turbo R software.

Peace!

By Edwin

Paragon (1182)

Edwin's picture

16-09-2008, 21:30

I agree with SLotman. If the whole thing costs less than a moonsound and a g9k, then you have at least won a slot. All the other extras are nice for when they get used. And an FPGA to maybe get you whatever someone dreams up. Bring it on I'd say!

By nerlaska

Master (166)

nerlaska's picture

17-09-2008, 06:00

Well .. of course .. if VSU is cheaper than GFX9000+Moonsound and have 4V9990+2V9958+FGA+OPL4 ok!! for me is great .. the only problem in my opinion is the size of the PCB .. i think that will be tremendous. Or am i wrong? In any case somebody in relation with VSU could answer my questions? Smile

**I would like to know how the VSU priorize the VDPs output signal. I suppose that there is a VDP that will cover all the screen if i put a white box (for example)
And i would like to know how the resolution and screen modes work with all the VDPs because each VDP could have a different screen mode, right?**

Thank you very much.

By anonymous

incognito ergo sum (109)

anonymous's picture

23-09-2008, 22:49

"Making an MSX1 game that does justice to the MSX1 is easier than to make a G9k/VSU game that does justice to the G9k/VSU."

I see.... So, why is so difficult to get fine MSX1 games if it's easy? In my opinion 80% of the MSXDEV's games are absolute crap. If developers can't still design and develop a good MSX1 game (easier than G9k, according you), how could they create good games for this monster?

And... it's slow for a single-VDP MSX to fetch data through the VDP ports so.... I can't imagine a Z80 (or even a R800) sending OUTs to 6 VDPs at once.
I think this thing could have been a good idea if it used address-mapped VRAM instead using port access.

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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23-09-2008, 23:13

I see.... So, why is so difficult to get fine MSX1 games if it's easy? In my opinion 80% of the MSXDEV's games are absolute crap. If developers can't still design and develop a good MSX1 game (easier than G9k, according you), how could they create good games for this monster?

Yes, easier, not easy. As specs increase so does the todo of game developers. I mean, don't you know the golden rule of money? Machines break down just right when you have fresh new money, and a new machine costs exactly all the money you've just got. Same principle applied on gaming. Increase the specs and suddenly people dare to make bigger games, with more images, more animations, bigger maps, etc. etc. And in a way, it's perfectly normal to have such a mindset. Otherwise people would be making simple games which are in reality just MSX1/MSX2 games with more fancy graphics. That may be a thing to do, but it wouldn't really do justice to the capabilities of such a new chip. So, that's why I said that to do a very proper MSX1 game is easier to do than a game which fully squeezes the last drop from a G9k (let alone a VSU).

And yes, there may be only a handful o' groups/individuals who control the MSXdev food chain in terms of quality. Then again: it's all about Running Naked in a Field of Flowers - the more Running Naked in a Field of Flowers the better!

By JohnHassink

Ambassador (5417)

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24-09-2008, 14:25

80% of the MSXdev games crap?
Quite a harsh judgement IMHO.
I'd say at least 80% is actually enjoyable.
What do you expect?

By wolf_

Ambassador_ (9778)

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24-09-2008, 14:44

I think playability or quality may be different things in his point of view. Manic Miner is very playable and very nice, but also heavily outdated (call it 'retro' if you wish) when it comes to artwork. The game doesn't compare to -say- Nemesis 2, Shalom etc. It's all purely what one's anticipating on. In any case, he thinks 80% is crap, which is his own view on the thing. Someone else may indeed think that 80% is good. But if each year you're waiting for the next Konami-quality game, then yea; there may be only 1, 2 or 3 entries that may qualify for that. Not that it matters, as long as we Running Naked in a Field of Flowers together!

By JohnHassink

Ambassador (5417)

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24-09-2008, 15:01

Yeah let's Running Naked in a Field of Flowers