Computers I’ve owned – Binatone TV Master Mk-IV plus 2

16 Nov

OK not strictly a computer but a retro pong based machine & was a very popular ‘tennis’ game console from the late seventies, first manufactured in 1976 by Binatone. The Binatone  TV Master Mark IV, was one of the most popular in the UK.

Like the dozens of other TV games that hit the shops in the 70s, it would play ‘Pong’ style games (Pong being the worlds 1st ‘popular’ arcade videogame!) made famous in the arcades and homes by Atari & such. It’s a monochrome console, since many people still owned black & white TV’s, and was cheaper to produce being based around the same AY-3-8500 (TV Game on Chip) that was used in almost every other TV game, and hence was also affordable, costing from memory about £15 to buy from new.

At the time  it was quite a futuristic looking machine as a lot of games consoles (including the Atari2600) or home technology of the time used plastic & fake wood to make them look elegant. This was very much the 1970’s version of the Xbox or Playstation if you want to enjoy video gaming as it was in the 70s, before the Atari 2600 & home computers took over.  it featured 4 different games, it has a variety of adjustment switches, such as Ball Speed, Angle & Bat Size which can alter the difficulty of the games and turn the sound off.  The paddle controllers, which consist of a simple rotary control, can be stored away in the underside battery compartment.

The games themselves were basically all the same… the pong format with a square block – representing a ball – bouncing around the screen with a bat – which was a small solid white line – controlled by a paddle. Flicking the switch to select a different game meant that the game was changed so for example “tennis” was basically pong – with a solid white line acting as a wall top & bottom & 2 bats controlled by paddles.  “Squash” was the same game with the player 2 paddle removed & a solid wall down the right side of the screen allowing for a 1 player game or a 2 player game could be selected which added a second “bat” to the left of the screen. there was also a football game where the player controlled 2 bats simultaneously  & the side walls extended with a smaller opening. The basic gameplay remained where if the “ball” went off the screen it scored a point for your opponent. Should you get to 15 & you had to reset the game to start again with the score at 0 – 0 then try again.  The remarkable thing was there was also a lightgun available & a game called Target which was essentially clay pigeon shooting where the “ball” was larger & disappeared once it registered a hit & added to the score. the same light gun was later used on some 8 bit machines albeit with a different plug attached on the end of the lead.  The target game was only featured to versions of the console known as the Plus 2 which was the system i owned.

The TV master series are first generation black & white pong consoles.  The TV Master MK IV system is the same as the Colour TV Game except that the games are in black & white, while the Colour TV game displays colour games.  The console also features a compartment underneath to store the TV cable & also the paddles could be stored inside it if the console didn’t have batteries fitted.  The machine came with a small mains adapter or could be run from if i recall 6x D sized batteries – handy if you wanted to take the console with you if you went on holiday – although if you were camping you would also need a battery operated TV – or if there wasn’t a socket spare but the battery consumption was quite high.  The paddles were quite small & basic, featuring a basic pot control to determine the position of the players “bat” on the screen & prone to failure but easily repaired using switch cleaner or replacing the pot for a better made one if you could solder the lead to it. In addition to this the supplied power supply was also prone to failure, but easily remedied as some power supplies were available (probably still are) which had a voltage selector switch & multiplug so you could power your battery run devices from the adapter if it had a socket to connect one on you battery operated device.

You may think being old you’d need an old TV or bespoke monitor to play on one today, however like most games machines of the time & during the 80’s it connected to the TV via the RF cable or ariel input & then was a case of tuning a spare channel to the console  as you would if you tuned in a new TV station. usually it was around the 35mhz mark later used by Channel 5 & what many home consoles & Video recorders were set to which was around the middle of the tuning dial.  if you have a modern TV, simply set the TV on analogue input & the switch on the console & tune in the TV but don’t worry, gaming in black & white was normal & you could always turn the TV sound off as it came from a bleeper on the console itself & played through a speaker on the console, again this could be turned off by a selector switch on the machine as the beeps got annoying after a couple of rounds of tennis.  Sadly on modern digital flatscreen TV’s you can’t use the lightgun as it would require the use of a CRT screen to function.