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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved

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"The Chinese Amiga"

WonderTV 6000
By Fabian Jimenez
fabian@cais.com
October 14, 1997
- In mid-October I had the opportunity to visit the offices of Regent Electronic Corporation (REC) in Piscataway, New Jersey for a demonstration of their Wonder TV A6000. Regent is the subsidiary company of Lotus Pacific Inc. who caused a stir recently when they announced their plans to make and sell Amiga based set top boxes. Conducting the demonstration was company official David J. Fei (pictured), and engineering assistant Ted Zhang.

Development of the Wonder TV A6000 first began with an announcement about two years ago that Escom, then the rights holder for the Amiga, had agreed to sell the rights and use of the Amiga technology to Tianjin Family-used Multimedia Co. (TFM)(aka NewStar) for the Asian market. After a series of purchases and buy outs, the eventual developer of the Wonder TV A6000, Rightiming Corporation, was purchased by Regent Electronics. This unknown succession of companies caused confusion to most Amiga users (and Gateway for that matter) when REC came out of the blue with their press release in early July announcing their plans. This article will not focus on their dispute with Gateway 2000.

The idea of a Wonder TV A6000 is nothing new. Rumors have circulated for a long time about companies wanting to make Amiga based STBs, most infamous was VIScorp's effort. The Wonder TV A6000 however is poised to actually deliver such a device to market. Unlike VIScorp, REC is aiming directly at the Chinese consumer market by presenting the Wonder as an educational and Internet device. VIScorp's STB was to be a cable TV box distributed only by cable companies. REC's Wonder is a "multi-purpose" device including features such as the ability to play MPEG movies, Karoke CDs, music CDs, Amiga games, as well as send and receive faxes. Development of the Wonder being centered in New Jersey is no mistake either. A hotbed of Amiga talent close by was used extensively by REC.

WonderTV StandPhysically the Wonder TV A6000 is unassuming to the typical Amiga owner. Externally it looks much like the CDTV. Internally, the Wonder is much like an expanded CD32 (see sidebar for specs). However, one has to analyze the target market and goal to understand the potential this machine has to capture the Chinese consumer market. The Wonder's built in capability to use PC keyboards, play MPEG CDs, and accept two input microphones are popular options Amiga owners pay extra for today.

One would question why doesn't the company consider marketing PCs or WebTV based devices? The first item suffers problems of affordability, and the second suffers problems with governmental control issues. The state of the Chinese market is much like the computer market in the United States in the mid-1980s with consumer interest in home computing in China is exploding. However, conventional PCs are priced too high for the consumer. David explained that the Wonder is in the price range that most middle class Chinese can afford. Undercutting the cost of the competition, something Commodore exploited well in their day. The Wonder TV A6000 saves these families the expense of VGA monitors since it can use TVs. Statistics show more and more urban Chinese citizens own color TVs.

Units like WebTV suffer from the fact that they require specialized servers to operate. There are Internet service providers in China, however they are directly controlled by the Chinese government for obvious social reasons. The advantage that the Wonder TV A6000 has here is that it can connect with any ISP. It is not known if the Chinese government will allow private ISP ventures in China anytime soon. REC completely side-steps this issue.

David told me that REC has worked closely with several Chinese companies to provide a service called "Near Video on Demand". NVOD provides the viewer with the ability to choose programming when they wish to view it. To meet this goal, REC is developing cable modem technology to include this feature in future versions of the Wonder. David also states that REC has the contacts and relationships needed to get all the needed acceptance with the Chinese government. Along with thess contacts, REC has also lined up several large Chinese consumer firms to produce the STBs based on the Wonder TV A6000's chipset and technology.

Well? So how is it? Is it an Amiga?

Yes, it is an Amiga, and it does work well for what it needs to do. As stated before an AGA unit with an 020 (030 optional) CPU wont exactly knock the socks off the typical Amiga user. However, in the demo I was provided the Wonder did run existing Amiga programs without any problems. REC is in talks with several Amiga software companies about selling their products in the Chinese market. Sorry, no names at this time. They as well have their own contracted firm in China promising to provide needed applications by the time the Wonder TV A6000 is released.

TeleWeb MenuWhen the unit is first turned on, you are presented with a CD-32 like boot screen as the machine loads the software off the CD. The Wonder will be able to also run software off Amiga floppies and hard drives. The Wonder has built in support for IDE devices like hard drives and the 4x CD ROM installed into every Wonder unit.

After booting, the user is presented with a menu screen as pictured here (sorry for the poor quality of the photo). Options include: Setup, Education, Amiga Fax, Help, Reboot, CD MPEG, Office, Gameland, and of course Internet. It is within these options that individual existing or REC in-house Amiga applications will execute these tasks. Several popular Amiga programs were shown running, but exact titles have not been finalized at this time and thus are not worth mentioning since they could change.

Under the Internet option, REC has decided at this time to use their own TCP stack and Internet clients. There clients are functional and do not use MUI or Class Act gadgets. As you can guess these clients are not yet as robust or attractive as ones you and I use. IBrowse, Aweb, and YAM are far more sophisticated. Internet browsing on a HIRES PAL screen isn't that desirable either. However, for the Chinese market they will do the trick. Plus they have a nice Mahjong and War of Four Internet clients!

The Wonder TV A6000 is slated for release by the end of this year in China. Chinese New Year is usually in late January or early February, thus giving REC plenty of time to generate profits from sales. The final price has not been finalized, but it is expected to be the about what you and I pay for a plain Amiga 1200. At this time the Wonder TV A6000 will only be available for the Asian market, but it does support multiple languages as well as the NTSC and PAL video standards. It's Unicode support for the Chinese and Korean characters was something REC had to add to the Amiga OS to support them.

After the demo and a brief chat it was time for me to head on back to Washington. I want to thank David J. Fei, Regent Electronic, and Lotus Pacific for allowing me to see their Wonder TV A6000 considering the controversy involved. I do wish them the best of success in meeting their goals, and the hope that one day such a device would be available for the enjoyment of most Amiga users worldwide. I am also glad to see that the Amiga will be introduced to a whole new group of users in light of the other failed ventures. The Amiga lives!

View WondeTV Schematics (9.74k)
View WonderTV Flyer (87.7k)

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