"The Chinese Amiga"
By Fabian Jimenez
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.
Physically 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
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
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.
When 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
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!
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