TRH9000: an Open Source video card based on the original GFX-90005 min read
The V9990 was once pointed as the new VDP chip of choice that should have been released together with the MSX Turbo-R in 1991. Yet today, it is uncertain if it is actually true, but the fact the MSX Turbo-R was released with a VDP no other than the very same used in its predecessor, the V9958; and based on the fact the V9990 is not exactly retro-compatible with it, but in fact some sort of “complementary upscale” chip, the story makes a lot of sense.
Stories apart, the point is: it is not possible to replace the V9958 by the V9990 and have a functional MSX as it is somewhat possible with the V9938 and V9958 (the VDPs of the MSX 2 and MSX 2+ respectively). The V9990 can surely operate as an additional power module for its predecessors and even other VDP’s, but for it to be possible an entire video card circuit must be implemented to integrate the chip features to the equipment and allow a functional MSX machine to operate with it.
The first successful cartridge that managed to bring the V9990 to the MSX was the GFX-9000, developed and released by Sunrise in 1994, designed exactly as an expansion cartridge and functioning as an additional independent video controller for the system.
Since the inception of the GFX-9000, a few other cartridges have been released and sold through the years…
Unfortunately, the V9990 is not a low cost chip, neither easy to find, reason why V9990 expansion cartridges are generally expensive, and many MSX users dwell with the idea of investing in a hardware that only a handful of software can actually use.
The TRH9000 project aims to change exactly that. By creating a viable open source hardware that anyone can easily reproduce as a home-brew equipment. The idea is to make it more viably accessible, then hopefully users will feel more compelled to own it, which could transpire in more developers finding the V9990 features attractive to produce new games and projects targeting the video chip advanced capacities, thus opening a new era in MSX software development.
The open source project is an initiative of Cristiano Goncalves and has been receiving incredible support of many savvy and well-known hardware designers in the MSX Bazillian scene.
The project is available on GitHub at https://github.com/cristianoag/trh9000, and the first revision is already available at https://github.com/cristianoag/trh9000/blob/main/Docs/TRH9000_Schema_Revision_0.pdf.
It is a very interesting project to follow closely and hope it will succeed. In the MSX history, only a handful initiatives made a real difference in the scene, and an open source V9990 project – if viable and easy to produce – can be the one bringing new oxygen into the standard’s flame and opening a new wide avenue for projects and revamped products to be produced. Just imagine some of those incredible games from more advanced platforms, the ones we always wanted but could never see running on an MSX machine exactly because the slowness of the MSX traditional VDPs, now finding its way to the MSX Standard thanks to the V9990 and its open source implementation.