Well I’d eat my hat. If I had one…

I admit I was a little be sceptical when I first came across this post. PJ appears to have been on a similar quest to myself and during the search came across a package called OTLA ( available here ) When you start to read about the principles behind the package, it starts to make some sense, but seeing is believing.

Loading Harrier Attack as a .WAV ( or tape  ), previously took about 96 seconds, which for a Spectrum game isn’t terrible. Using the same .TZX file and feeding it through OTLA produced a worryingly short .WAV – 15 seconds!

Playing the resulting .WAV into the Speccy produced a higher pitched tone than normal with a lot more than usual screen border flashing, but after 15 second, it miraculously completed loading. I was * really,really* surprised.

Its not perfect. Similar to PJ’s experiences, I tried a couple of other games and had problems. For example, I wanted to compare Chequered Flag’s standard load times with a OTLA produced .WAV, but couldn’t get out a file that didn’t throw up a load error.

So, a very positive step. I could, if no other better alternatives appear, attempt to get hold of .TZX/.TAP  versions of my software collection and then convert those to OTLA ‘optimised’ .WAV’s. I could then follow PJ’s example and have a small MP3 player attached to my Sinclair, loading games far more consistently and quickly than maintaining tapes and tape players.

Mission accomplished? Only time will tell.

Now the fun really begins. Tape2Wav

After reading some other Blogs and Forums, its looks like a pretty good chance that the Rubber Key Speccy is poorly in either the ULA or RAM departments. All of the chips seem visually OK, with everything seated or soldered in place, so without swapping another ULA and/or going through a long winded diagnostic process ( such as here ) I’m unlikely to get it working any time soon. Maybe its a task for later…

I could swap the ULA out of my Spectrum+. However I’m being a bit cautious, as the Plus is in pretty good condition and I’m not overly enthusiastic about swapping the ULA and running the chance of frying the ULA /destroying the Spectrum/letting out the Magic Smoke. So, the next logical ( obvious ?) step is to use the Plus as the 48K’s ‘understudy’.

So, down to business proper. Plugging in the Spectrum Plus and powering up gives a satisfying “(c) 1982 Sinclair Research Ltd ” response and hitting a key drops to a prompt, of sorts. All as to be expected.

Initially I thought I’d give Tape2Wav ( available, along with a multitude of useful utilities from here)  a try, mostly as a benchmark of the slowest method.  I went through the conversion process and fed out the WAV from my laptop….. With absolutely no effect. Nothing. The Spectrum flashed an alternating Blue and Red border, but refused to do what you’d expect. After a bit more ‘faffing’ it became obvious the border flashing occurred if I wiggled the audio lead from the laptop to the Speccy… So now I’m getting cheesed off – this should be the easy bit. ‘Why can’t you just work!!???!!’.

I needed to work out if the problem was the audio lead, the Spectrum or my Laptop. I also couldn’t dismiss a fault with Tape2Wav ( although the output ‘sounded’ OK with the audio lead disconnected ) or the .TAP file…

In a desperate act, I dug out my Speccy Tapes (exactly what I was hoping to avoid) and 30+ year old Sanyo DataRecorder. Not expecting a whole lot of anything, after all the tapes were probably wiped clean or the tape desk’s heads/belts wrecked, I hooked it all up like it was 1984. First attempt was to load “Chequered Flag” and low and behold, 10 minute later, it was loaded. I’m *really* surprised.

TapeLoader

Surprise aside, this wasn’t what I set out to do. Messing about the ancient tapes and a cassette deck that Indiana Jones is sniffing around, wasn’t part of the plan.

It turns out the audio cable was faulty, but also the audio out on my laptop is possibly broken as swapping the cable and not quite pushing the connector in all the way got some life out of the Speccy when playing a .WAV file. Is Its also possible I’m banging my head against a problem with stereo out on the laptop and mono in on the Speccy? – I need to investigate further.

After all this I did manage to load a game ( the old classic Harrier Attack ) from my laptop using a .WAV file. Tape2Wav works,it does exactly what its supposed to, but its ultimately its not really any better than audio tape as it still takes 5-10 minutes to load.

The search continues…

Errr…. This isn’t good, I’m not happy

So I had dug out the two Speccy’s that I intend to utilise. The +3 appears generally OK, with power up resulting in the expected Loader screen.128Plus3
The 48K however doesn’t appear happy in the slightest. Its been a while since I’ve powered this one on, in fact I’m struggling to remember if it ever worked, so I guess I need to work out what’s making it sick before it takes any further part.

48K

What’s the story???

So, I’ve decided that I would participate in the July Retro Challenge, as a way to motivate myself into spending a little bit more time ‘tinkering’ in a structured way , rather than procrastinating on projects and spending the evenings watching T.V. .

I registered my interest with Mark last night, to get the ball officially rolling and to prevent myself squirming out of participation.

My project, of sorts, is to dust off a couple of Sinclair Spectrum’s and use them to investigate some methods of loading games, that doesn’t resort to using old audio tape.  Basically I want a cheap, easy and reliable way to make a Spectrum a usable games machine, without waiting around for 15 minutes only to find the volume knob was set wrong.

I know this is not a particularly novel, original or probably overly challenging goal, as it has been achieved in the past, but I’d like to have a meander through the options and find one that makes me happy. Fingers crossed I’ll find the time and not get too distracted by summer evenings…