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The SP0256-AL2 Speech IC was a popular solution for text to speech translation but is now out of production. There where several other chips that entered the market but as far as I know did not have the popularity or quality of the SP0256-AL2.

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  1. Did any computers ship with the SP0256-AL2 speech chip or its equivalent?
  2. Were there any computers that provided native speech support?
  • I'm not aware of any computers that shipped with one. They were a popular add-on, of course (e.g. the popular "Currah uSpeech" add-on for the Spectrum was based on this chip, as I believe were many other similar devices for other machines), but don't remember it being a default feature in any computer. – Jules Sep 15 '18 at 17:06
  • Practical use of these appliances was actually pretty limited - Nice gadgets, but not a real use case. Most µSpeech boxes I know were fun in one Christmas week and then vanished into some drawer, never to be seen again. There simply wasn't software around that made good use of them. – tofro Sep 16 '18 at 9:50
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Did any retro computers ship with the SP0256-AL2 speech chip or it's eqivilent?

Short answer: None.

At least not with the SP0256 and not in reasonable numbers. The TI 99/8 was developed with a build TMS52xx Speach chip, but canceled before general delivery. Similar was the Atari 1400XL, equipped with an SC-02, was canceled early on and only sold in small numbers.


More detailed answer:

The SP0256-AL2 Speech IC was a popular solution for text to speech

Yes, it was used by several early machines, including the Magnavox Odyssey2 or by Tandy for their TRS-Line.

There where several other chips that entered the market

Most notably Texas' LPC series, based on the same principle, and eventually sould most units of all, not at least due the omnipresent Speak & Spell/Math/Read series and the TMS5200 used in the Speech Module for the TI-99/4. It's still manufacured today, although they have recently stoped to take orders for new ROM designs, as better speech output can nowadays be generated by software on cheap microcontrollers.

Another line was Toshiba's T6721A as used in Commodore's Magic Voice module. As well as OKI's MSM52xx series.

Also, the GI didn't just make the SP0256. There was a SP0250 before and a SP0264 (*1) and SP1000 later on.

but as far as I know did not have the popularity or quality of the SP0256-AL2.

The SP0256 was early and quite successful, but soon became superseed by the way more flexible and natural Vortax system (SSI-263 / SC-01 / SC-02). While the SP0256 used a special kind of compressed digital format - the same as TI did, but to a higher resolution), was the SSI263 system based on an analogue generator and filter system to generate its sounds.

The SP0256 was big in 1982, but the SSI-263 already took over in 1983/84 and sales lasted way into the 1990s. Cards where made for many systems from Apple and Commodore all the way to the IBM-PC.

1 - Did any computers ship with the SP0256-AL2 speech chip or it's equivalent?

No. At least no mainstream computer I know of (*2). There have been specialized appliences for the blind during the 80s and 90s, but nogeneral public ones.

2 - Where there any computers that provided native speech support?

That depends what one calls native speech support. TI did offer the speech synthesizer module for the TI 99/4 right from the start. Also the ill fated TI 99/8, due for release in 1983, had the TMS52xx speech snthesizer already build in (*3). Quite similar the Atari 1400/1450XL systems whichhad a SC-02 based speech synthesizer integrated and supported by the OS - again a project canceled early. (*4)

Then again, speech could be done even on an Apple II speaker. (mostly) Software based solutions (like the SAM, the grandfahrer of many) are around since quite some time, but they where always third party add ons. Apple included a modified version called MacinTalk with the first MacIntosh, so while not hardware (beside the mono 8 bit DAC the Mac used for sound), it was supported native by the build in OS and out of the Box (*5).

In 1985 the Amiga OS included not only a TTS engine from SoftVoice (a company founded by the oiginal Autors of SAM/MacinTalk), but also offered a great deal of OS integration to use this seamless from applications. So while the MacinTalk API was always considered 'internal' by Apple, the Amiga OS was eventually the first to offer a build-in TTS as standard service - and didn't close down before delivering :)) Possibly as a reaction to this Atari delivered in some markets also a SoftVoice based TTS with their ST series machines, so not realy native integrated.

Apple later integrated MacinTalk during the 1990s into their PlainTalk speech recognition system. The original developers went on to create TTS software for the PC.

Soon after the success of the SC-02, next to all contemporary computers where able to do software based TTS (with a DAC type sound card). So the need for hardware add ons/build in circuitry vanished. From there on hardware solutions where only needed in loc cost specialized appliances (and TI's LPC series ruled the market) - wich eventually completly vanished in the early 2000s, when even controllers in the sub nickel price region where fast enough and had ROMs big enough to do it themself.

Bottom line, these chips just held out in a small period of time (~1982-1985).


Sidenotes:

  • SP0256 and other chips are still available. There is even a guy who opened a new webshop selling them.

  • Sebastian Macke even ported SAM to the web - go and try it right away!


*1 - The SP0264 was obviously choosen to counter the huge success the SSI263 was - well, the chip also includes some of the extensions Vortax made.

*2 - Which leaves quite a lot I do not know of.

*3 - Only 250 boards where etched and less than 200 where made into working units - but they are out there!

*4 - In fact, both projects show that (biuld in) speech synthesis was considered the next big thing for (home) computers during the early 1980s. Sad for us, this was also the time of the great video console crash and the home computer price wars, destroying many great ideas and companies.

*5 - Anyone remembers the 'Glad to be out of that bag' statement during the Mac's presentation? That's why Jobs wanted MacinTalk to be part of the basic system.

  • 1
    On the subject of improvements to the TI-99/4A, I was recently impressed by this project which built a TI-99/4A clone using a TMS99105 processor clocked at 20MHz. Amazingly, it seems that some original games were almost playable (probably due to time spent waiting for the VDP to respond rather than internal processing). :) – Jules Sep 15 '18 at 17:57
  • The TI got a special place in my heart ... as some may already have noticed. I never had one when they where new, but I did spend quite some time looking at the architecture. And yes, it's easy to make improve it :)) Speaking of great stuff: he F18A is an awsome 9918 replacement project - and targeting many VDP issues :) codehackcreate.com/archives/592 – Raffzahn Sep 15 '18 at 18:03
  • Also, I believe Commodore was going to release a TED computer with a speech chip. Same one used in the TI speech synth IIRC. I believe it was going to be the successor to the Plus/4. Then Tramiel left Commodore and TED went away shortly after that. – cbmeeks Sep 17 '18 at 14:34
  • @cbmeeks yes, there were plans for the 364 to have a build in speach synthesizer. But unlike the TI and Atari no unit was ever got out of the works (TI) or went even for (limited) sales (Atari). BTW, the cancelation of everything beside the C64 was already done under Tramiel. – Raffzahn Sep 17 '18 at 14:55
  • @Raffzahn according to Bil Herd, Tramiel took that "infamous" picture of him holding the new TED machines and within a few days, left Commodore. Why would Tramiel cancel the TED line that he just started up? – cbmeeks Sep 18 '18 at 15:04
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The CEMCORP / Burroughs / Unisys ICON (Ontario, Canada - 1984) had a TMS5220 on the main board. Fairly advanced for its time (80186, 384 KB RAM, colour [EGA] graphics, multitasking, running QNX) this educational computer is now extraordinarily rare to find in working condition, for several reasons:

  • The ICON workstation is useless without the accompanying server connected over ARCnet

  • Very little software was written for the ICON

  • The entire educational fleet of ICONs was scrapped in 1994, and Ontario's archives refused to preserve any of the systems.

There are a couple of known-working ICON systems left, but no emulators or disk images available. Later machines were PC-compatible and mostly ran MS-DOS or Windows.

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