A graphics booster for the C128

OK, here’s a question for you: In the 80s, what system was capable of resolutions up to 720×700? Was it is the Amiga, the Atari ST or the humble Commodore 128?

The answer is, quite surprisingly, the C128.

Well, to be correct, it was the C128 enhanced with the “Graphic Booster”, which was a small hardware/software expansion for the C128(D). The hardware was only needed for the C128 and the C128D as the C128DCR already had the necessary hardware inside to run the program. More precisely, the DCR had an enhanced video controller, the 8568 with 64K of video RAM (see “How the C128 was incompatible… with the C128“), making the hardware component of the “Graphic Booster” unnecessary (which is also why you could buy this package with or without the hardware components).

On the software side, you got Basic 7.0 “update 2”, which like Walrusoft’s Basic V8 (see “The Commodore Basics“) upgraded your Basic with a set of extra commands.
The disk would boot-up automatically and provide you with a menu containing a couple of demos and a selector for working with one or two monitors in up to four resolutions.
Choosing the two-monitor option would allow you to develop on one screen in 40-character mode and have the other screen operate in 80-character mode and render the corresponding graphics.
The four resolutions that the “Graphic Booster” supported were 720×700, 720×600, 640×720 and 640×600.
It could achieve these high resolutions by adopting an interlacing technique, which meant that for optimum use at high resolutions, a monochrome monitor was recommended. Nonetheless, we’re talking 1988 here (the year the “Graphic Booster” was released) and at that time the Amiga was capable of 704×564, the Atari ST 640×400, the IBM compatibles 720×350 (Hercules) and 1000×350 (EGA). Quite amazing I’d say for a computer that costs only a fraction of its competitors!

It gets even more amazing, if we take a closer look at some of the extra Basic commands. For instance, the command “COLOR X,Y” would allow you to enter a value from 0 to 256 for X, which would select one of the pre-defined foreground-background combinations (16 foreground and 16 background colors). Entering a value from 0 to 15 for Y would determine the fading of the colors.
The two combined would hence provide up to 4096 color combinations with seamless transitions.

Storing and retrieving the graphics to disk was easy as well thanks to two other new Basic commands “SSHAPE” and “GSHAPE”. The graphics were stored as SEQ-files taking up 257 blocks. Load and saving was quite slow, so a REU like the 1750 could come in handy (reducing load and save times to a mere second).

The only downside was that it was really up to you to make the best use of the enhanced graphics (ie. develop your own applications), as there were not a great many applications that would support the Booster’s capabilities at first. There was a patch available for Starpainter 128 and it was announced that Geos 128 and Protext would go and support it as well but that was about it… luckily this picked up a bit afterwards and for the price, you really did not have to think twice: 100 Euro for the complete package (including the hardware set) and 70 Euro for the software.

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