TI-99/4A

Just got a few Ebay bundles (all TI oriented) this past week for about $99 shipped to satisfy my tinkering and nostalgic pleasures. 🙂

An original TI/99 4A computer, boxed, 22 carts (mostly games, extended BASIC, and a couple of learning aids I can use when they put me in a retirement home), BASIC and extended BASIC quick reference guides, a video cable to plug into my RCA A/V ports on a Sony HDTV (nice picture!), and a joystick adapter to allow 1 or 2 Atari-style joysticks to be used (thankfully). The boxed computer arrived in excellent condition and was “won” for only 99-cents; the A/V cable for its convenient hook-up and superior picture was $9. 😛

I already played a few game carts, very cool and capable… but their look and feel play like a good homebrew on silicon. Not bad, but not addicting either… likely influenced by the price I paid for it today, though. If I paid retail pricing for this stuff back then, well, I probably would not have felt so justified. TI should have gotten some licensing rights from any of the arcade manufacturers; heck, I can see with its faster and superior processor and with its separated video, TI could have done some direct ports of many arcade games and done them real justice in the home computing space.

I recall being somewhat lustful of this computer back in the day when I was shopping, like the many millions of electronic consumers. I just bought Atari VCS as a family gift for Christmas 1981 with an Asteroids cart and I was hooked on the Dark Tower game we got from our parents. But I was enticed by BASIC programming from our high school computer math class, and those games only increased my thirst to learn computer programming.

At a local Apex outlet, they had a home computer stand with each of the competing models sitting side-by-side: Atari, Coleco, Commodore, and TI. Only the TI had a demo cartridge running in it always, showcasing its capabilities, and it was seducing to watch. But Atari and Coleco were backed by so many alluring gaming titles in their wonderful packaging. And while Commodore VIC 20 absolutely looked like the poor cousin of the group, the printed specs with William Shatner on it sold me that its stock features and future looked the brightest… and its $300 entry point made it obtainable.

So what detracted me most from the TI-99/4A was its “entry” price of $500. Its casing and game cartridge slot were really cool, and while it has a quality keyboard, it was still small and unfriendly for the (potential) programmer in me. Then came its built-in BASIC, ugh. I was turned off by its high entry price, limited and expensive expansions, etc.

The Atari 400 was slightly less expensive and had a lot more titles, but even a worse keyboard; plus you had to buy BASIC at the time for around $50, and it had limited and expensive expansion options. And while Coleco would be a “step up” from Atari VCS, it very much looked like a gaming console trying to pass off as a computer.

I’ll really enjoy a $100 worth of TI-99/4A home computing today… but it’s no “wonder” that the VIC 20 ate their lunches back then, followed the next year by a crushing blow the C64 delivered for the rest of the decade. And it’s also no wonder why the Atari and TI crowds are still jaded by C= today. 8)