The history of Spectravideo

SpectraVision was founded in 1981 by Harry Fox and Oscar Jutzeler, two Swiss clock/watch makers who had moved to North America in the 1950s. SpectraVision was a distributor of computer games, not a software house.  They had several contracts with external developers writing the games.  Their main products where gaming cartridges for the Atari 2600 VCS, Colecovision and Commodore VIC-20.
They also made the world's first ergonomic joystick, the Quickshot.  It was developed by Harry Fox and Peter Law,  patented in 1982 (
U.S. Patent D271220).   The Quickshot was a huge success all over the world.  It was followed by a number of other variations, all using the Quickshot brand.

 In late 1982 the company was renamed to Spectravideo due to a naming conflict with OnCommand's Hotel TV system called SpectraVision.  After the huge success with the Quickshot joystick, Spectravideo was ready for the next step.
In january 1983, at the Winter CES show in Las Vegas, Spectravideo lauched
both the Spectravideo CompuMate, and the SV-318 computer.
The CompuMate was a  hardware add on for the ATARI 2600 game console, turning it into a real computer.  It provided a touch keyboard, cassette recorder connection and Microsoft Basic.
Their first real computer was the Spectravideo SV-318.  It was their own design, based on a Z80 processor, 16k RAM, TMS9918A graphics chip and AY-3-8910 sound chip.   Microsoft provided the Basic interpreter, called the SV Extended Basic.  They also developed a special version of DOS called MSX-DOS.   Microsoft was late delivering the Basic interpreter, causing Spectravideo to miss the important holiday sale period.

The SV-318 was soon followed by the SV-328, a more powerful version with 64k RAM, full stroke keyboard and a numeric keypad, replacing the joystick.  The SV-328 also had CP/M support, licensed from Digital Research.
Spectravideo showed working models of the SV-328 at the 1983
Summer CES show in Chicago. 

The SV-318/328 was a combined effort of Spectravideo in the US (management & marketing), Bondwell in Hong Kong (manufacturing) and ASCII Corporation in Japan (systems software).  ASCII also was the Microsoft representative in Japan at that time.
ASCIIís president Kazuhiko Nishi (also known as Kay Nishi) saw the potential in the Spectravideo computer system.  He wanted to make a world standard for home computers out of the SV-328 design, called the MSX standard.   Spectravideo agreed with this, and ASCII started to make some small changes of the design.
In 1984 Spectravideo licensed this hardware technology to Microsoft.
This also gave Spectravideo a much needed financial boost as they where in rather severe financial trouble.

The MSX vision was creating a world standard for home computers.
There are two explanations for the letters in MSX: "Machines with Software Exchangeability", and "Microsoft Software Exchange".
MSX would use a common hardware design, allowing the same software and peripherals to be used on machines from different manufacturers.  

Kazuhiro Nishi also teamed up with his friend Bill Gates from Microsoft.  In the beginning Bill Gates was enthusiastic about the MSX project.  But as time went by, he realized that the MSX could be a threat to the PC and the MS-DOS business Microsoft was doing with IBM.

Check out this interview with Bill Gates and Kazuhiro Nishi on YouTube.

The Spectravideo SV-328 was the prototype for the MSX design.  But there were some small differences, making the 318/328 incompatible with MSX.   Some of the differences where the BIOS, I/O ports and disk format.  But this didn't stop Spectravideo from using the MSX story in their marketing of the 318/328.  Some of the marketing material for the SV-318/328 is more or less telling that the computers will run MSX software.
Here's a quote from the 1983
SV-318 flyer: "When you buy a SV-318, you will not only able to use all Spectravideo's own software and hardware - you'll also be able to take advantage of all the remarkable new equipment that will be coming from other MSX participants.".  Well, it doesn't say MSX software compatible, but its close enough.  The flyer also had the MSX logo next to the computer.   The same was true about the SV-328 flyer.   
Many customers where confused by this.
The SV-328 follow up, the 1984/85 SVI-728 where their first fully MSX compatible computer.
  The company was named Spectravideo International in 1984. Spectravideo was now represented all of Europe, US, Australia, South Africa and Israel.  
This also led to a change of all the model names, using
SVI in front of the model numbers.
Rumors are saying
the model numbers were picked based on their goodness in Chinese numerology. That is why many of them contain the number 8.
Spectravideo also revised the 318 and 328 hardware.  Among the changes was a single ULA chip instead of several TTL chips, reducing the motherboard footprint and cost
.   They also put the TV modulator inside the machine.   The revised machines where called the SVI-318MKII and SVI-328MKII.

In late 1984 Spectravideo launched their fully MSX compatible computer, the Spectravideo SVI-728.   
Spectravideo had then sold over 25.000 computers worldwide.


Spectravideo had a fairly good success in Europe and other parts of the world, but their US sales was poor.  Some was blaming bad distribution, and limited visibility in the stores.  Their financial situation wasn't in good shape either. 

Spectravideo closed its US operations in 1985.
This was a decision taken by Bondwell Holding, Spectravideos manufacturing partner and major shareholder.   Bondwell moved everything to Hong Kong.


The next product from Spectravideo was the SVI-738 X'Press, a MSX compatible computer with integrated floppy drive and 80-column support.
That was followed by a PC/MSX2 hybrid, the
SVI-838 XPress'16. 
Spectravideo left the MSX camp in 1986, and concentrated on
PC compatible computers, the Spectravideo SVI-256 and the SVI-640FH/FF.
For a brief moment in time, Spectravideo claimed a monopoly on MS-DOS computers in the US. The stock went up and the insiders sold out.

Bondwell also had their own Bondwell branded PC's.  The Z80 based  Bondwell 2, and the Intel 8088 based Bondwell 8 beeing two of them.
After a while Bondwell
abandoned the Spectravideo name, and started to use the Bondwell brand for all of its computers.
The Spectravideo brand was later sold to a UK based company, and the QuickShot brand sold to Tomei International.

Some of you might wonder what happened to the founders of Spectravideo.  In the late eighties Harry Fox worked for Vendex Pacific, developing US sales through his company Megasonic.  Vendex Pacific was a Hong Kong based computer company selling IBM compatible PC's (manufactured by Samsung) with a user friendly software package called HeadStart. Vendex Pacific was later sold to Philips USA, and renamed to Vendex Technnology Inc.
Fox was involved in various multimedia projects during the early nineties, among them Multimedia Publishers Group and Futurevision.  
During the mid nineties he was a director at Virtual Communities Inc, a company creating solutions for web-based communities.
Harry Fox also played a role in the dotcom wave in the late nineties. He was the cofounder and CEO of Versaware, a company specializing in E-Book's. He announced his resignation from Versaware in 2001, but remained a major shareholder.
Oscar Jutzeler however, went back to his roots.  He still has his watch shop, located just a block or so from where Spectravideo Canada was.

Today the Spectravideo name is used by a UK based company called
SpectraVideo Plc,  former known as Ash & Newman.
It was founded, in 1977, and took the Spectravideo name in 1988.
They now sell their own range of Logic3 branded products for computers, game consoles and iPODs.

 


This story is work in progress.
The information is partly based on information Thomas Karlsson collected from Spectravideo insiders
. I've also collected information from other internet sources, as well as printed marketing material and magazines* from the early eighties.
The Spectravision/Spectravideo namechange must have been in 1982, not in 1983 as many other sources claims.
The Quickshot box has "(C) Spectravideo 1982" printed on it, and

the US Patent 271220 is filed on nov.9th 1982, under the asignee: Spectravideo International Limited.

If you have any corrections or more details,  please drop me an email:


* A fully searchable database of 80's magazines can be found at:

http://www.atarimagazines.com/



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