John Gilbert reviews a possible competitor
THE ORIC ONE has been proclaimed by its manufacturer as the machine of the future. In the same breath it says that it is a machine which was designed to run in direct competition with the Spectrum.
The machine is impressive in many respects but its general performance during bench-testing was less so. Oric is manufactured in two versions. The first, and most inexpensive, is the 16K model. If, however, you want to do serious work with the machine it is a good idea to buy the 48K version, as Oric Products International does not plan to upgrade customers' 16K machines.
At the launch, the price of the Oric was set below that of the Spectrum and the specifications far exceed those of the Sinclair machine. The keyboard is bigger and more robust than that of the Spectrum but the keys are just as difficult to operate.
There are several output ports accessible through the back of the machine. The cassette interface uses a three-pin DIN socket for communication with an ordinary cassette player. The cassette interface will work at 300 baud for slow but reliable operation or at 2,400 baud for fast but less reliable saving and loading. The cassette interface works well but is not as accurate as the Spectrum output.
Next to the cassette port is the RGB - red, green, blue - monitor interface. It will allow you to plug a monitor straight into the back of the system with no other pieces of equipment added.
Also included in the range of ports is a Centronics interface for a printer and an output bus from which joysticks or external ROMs can be run. That set-up is more durable than that of the Spectrum but we could not make the Centronics interface work with a Seikosha printer, as the Oric always crashed.
The initial power-up of the machine can pose problems to a beginner to computing. The Oric will often produce very spectacular crash displays before it decides to settle down for the introductory frame to be displayed.
When the power is switched on, the computer will display the number of bytes available through the system. Initially there are 47,870 bytes but when programming starts the user will have access to only 40K of memory.
|'The Oric has been seen as a threat to the Spectrum. That may be true in the long run but at present there is a dearth of software'|
Unlike the Spectrum, the Oric has two main modes which allow memory to be used for text - program and data - or for high-resolution screen display. On the hi-res screen alphanumeric characters can be displayed only using string slicing and conversion of strings to their ASCII code values. It is therefore difficult to mix text and graphics if you are a beginner.
The Oric allows full re-definition of the character set. The alternative character set can be switched on through the Basic command LORES and the normal set can be switched back using the same command.
Oric International has implemented MicroSoft Basic on its new system. That version of the language seems to be an industry standard at present. The Oric implementation of it is certainly more powerful than Sinclair enhanced Basic. Most of the commands on the Oric can be mimicked on the Spectrum but the Oric also allows the user to write extended Basic subroutines, which will be implemented by defining new Basic commands. It is, therefore, possible to create your own extensions to the Basic language.
One extension which could be made in the language is the addition of Basic statements which would handle file input and output. On the Oric you have to save the variables area to save files but on the Spectrum you use LOAD DATA. This is not ideal for beginners who know little about memory maps and machine code.
The Oric One compares well to the Spectrum but there are several difficult areas. One is the manual; the booklets are being despatched with amendment sheets. In the first versions of the manual, some of the programs would not run as listed.
The author of the manual also seems to have devoted too much space to machine code programming on the 6502 processor. That space could be better-used by explaining the Basic language a little more coherently. At the moment the manual does not do justice to the machine.
The Oric has been seen as a threat to the Spectrum. That may be true in the long run but at present there is a dearth of software for the machine. The Spectrum has a tremendous software and hardware backing. It also has the name of Sinclair on it. At the moment Sinclair seems to have nothing to worry about but if Oric produces the promised peripherals in time, Sinclair could well have a fight on his hands.