Yamaha UPA-01 Playcard card reader alternative

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By gw0udm

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31-05-2020, 19:50

Hi all

I've just bought a Yamaha CX5MII and I got a few carts with it including a UPA-01 for reading the Playcards and a few cards with it. However I don't have the CR-01 card reader unfortunately. I've also suddenly got interested in the whole Playcard system and i've bought a keyboard of the same era (a PC-1000) which also uses Playcards.

So my question is - does anyone know how the CR-01 playcard reader interfaces with the UPA-01? It uses a simple 3.5mm mono jack plug, and I'm guessing that it is based on a fairly simple tape head based reader. There are plenty of USB magnetic card readers around so I was thinking about maybe trying to hack one of those to just get the audio out. However obviously don't want to fry the cartridge either!

Does anyone have any info on how the card reader worked and I might be able to replicate it?

Grateful for any thoughts

James

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By Nprod

Expert (88)

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01-06-2020, 10:25

According to this page, the data is stored as audio in the same way as the magnetic tape in a regular audio cassette. The page suggests using a "telephone pickup coil", but i think that if you already have a portable cassette player you can connect its output, then press Play and just swipe the card onto the playhead. Your idea of hacking a USB magnetic card reader is probably the best.

By gw0udm

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04-06-2020, 00:19

Thanks, I was thinking along similar lines. You can also get some very cheap 'phone jack adaptors' for reading magnetic cards in mobile phones which might do the trick although they are a bit shonky. I have just got hold of a Yamaha PC-1000 which is one of the few 80s keyboards which uses the Playcard system which is a very interesting item. I

By jaybird110127

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04-01-2021, 13:12

I just saw this topic. While I'm not into MSX computers, I am very much into the Yamaha Playcard system, I own several keyboards. There is a modification you can make to a Yamaha PC-100 to allow archival of the audio from the magnetic tape on a playcard. A few friends and I have done this with over 200 playcards, and successfully fed them back into the keyboard using one of those suction cup pickup coils used in reverse, hooked up either to the headphone jack of an amplifier at a very high volume, or to a speaker output of an amp at moderate volume. One of my friends has also decoded how the raw binary data are encoded, but hasn't yet reverse engineered anything further. Does anyone know if the code to decode playcard contents is entirely in the UPA-01 ROM or if there's additional hardware in that module that does some of the decoding work?

By gw0udm

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12-01-2021, 23:49

Thanks for this. I've not unfortunately been able to make any progress since I posted this and I've not found any sign of the actual card reader. I strongly suspect that the reader is pretty dumb - probably just a tape head which is what they have in the keyboards.

I have a small collection of Playcard keyboards, I have a PC-100 and a PC-1000 and quite a decent stack of Playcards. I have seen some stuff about modifying the PC100 to provide in effect a square wave output for archival and I was toying with the idea of doing this and feeding it into the UPA-01 just to see what happens.

There is a good website about it here:

http://www.crumblenet.co.uk/keyb/packdata/playcards.php

This chap had also done the backup trick using the suction cup and had even posted the files on his website but it appears Yamaha told him to take them down which is a shame.

http://www.crumblenet.co.uk/keyb/pcarchive-removed/

If I could get old of some of the audio files (do you have some?) I could try playing those straight into the UPA-01 and see if it can decode them.

Meanwhile i'm going to keep looking out for a CR-01 but I doubt I'll ever find one! I did buy a USB card reader with the intention of hacking it back to bare bones but I haven't done that yet. You used to be able to buy swipe card readers for mobile phones which had a tape head and an audio jack but I can't seem to find any these days, the world has moved on.

GReat to hear that others are interested though! I think this is a fascinating system.

JAmes

By Manuel

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13-01-2021, 00:03

I'm also interested to learn how this works. Perhaps it can once even be emulated in openMSX.

So, what is on these play cards? Just some note-data?

By jaybird110127

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13-01-2021, 11:00

Hi again,

Yes I have those audio recordings and a few more besides. However, I also have something even better if you're on Windows. Visit the website http://www.dtech.lv/techarticles_playcards.html to find a bit of information about raw binaries, and a Windows command line utility, not open-source unfortunately, to convert raw binaries into wavs, ready to be fed back into a keyboard! But wait a minute, how do you get the raw binaries in the first place? Hint: This utility is more than it seems, run it without any arguments and you'll see what I mean.

Unfortunately there's no utility to convert from wavs to binaries yet. I'd be very interested to know if you can get these to read with your UPA-01! I'm totally blind, so even OpenMSX isn't of much use to me unfortunately, since it as far as I know doesn't provide the text screen in a manner accessible to screen readers.

Enjoy!

By jaybird110127

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13-01-2021, 11:03

Oh forgot to mention: The Yamaha Playcard magnetic strip stores information about cords, drum fills, etc. for one of the ten built-in auto-accompaniment rhythms. It also stores the melody track and a so-called obbligato (harmony) track. Also I believe it stores info about what key the song is. And it also stores the tempo setting for optimal playing of the song (which the PC-100 doesn't use, though all other keyboards do!) I'm almost certain there's a space saving mechanism whereby part of the music that repeats isn't actually stored again, but just referenced.

Hope this helps.

By jaybird110127

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13-01-2021, 11:09

Wow sorry for comment spamming like this! I just remembered, I'm pretty sure the MSX emulator I tried several months back, and had to resort to OCR to read at least some of the MSX screen, was MSXBlue, not OpenMSX. If OpenMSX has a way to make its text screen accessible to screen readers, I'd love to know about it!

By Manuel

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13-01-2021, 11:35

Why do you need a screen reader and which screen are you talking about?

openMSX can copy the current content of text mode screens into the clipboard. But I am not sure what screen you mean.

By jaybird110127

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13-01-2021, 12:15

As an explanation, I'm totally blind, so I use special software called a screen reader. This software uses synthetic speech to convey the information and controls on the Windows screen. An equivalent for MacOS and iOS is built into the operating systems. Unfortunately, screen readers can't read everything. They do great with programs that use standard Windows controls, E.G. text boxes, menu bars, dialog boxes, etc. You can generally make them work with programs that use nonstandard or custom controls, as long as they put the text on the screen in a standard way where screen readers can find it, sorry I don't have all the technical details. Where screen readers fall apart is with programs that, as I understand it, draw on the screen directly, which is what I suspect most emulators do. Even in those cases, in recent years OCR has become available, but it isn't perfect, and has to be invoked every time it's needed, rather than being a feature that just updates the recognized text as changes occur.

On Windows, for many years the most popular screen reader by far was also the most expensive, JAWS (Job Access with Speech), a demo of which can be downloaded from www.freedomscientific.com. However, there's a free, open-source screen reader which has gained a lot of ground of late. It's called NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access) and it can be downloaded from www.nvaccess.org.

The problem with most if not all computer emulators is that, even if the emulated system is entirely text based, normally the emulator doesn't provide the raw text on the emulated screen in a way that can be detected and interpreted by screen readers. Sometimes, like with the Apple IIe emulated under MAME, you get lucky, and the emulator can actually emulate the speech synthesizer hardware we blind people used back in the days when those computers were mainstream, so the emulated system itself provides all the feedback we need. However, and someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm not aware of any screen reader solution for MSX, and even if one did exist, just my luck, it would preclude use of the UPA-01!

As for copying the text screen to the clipboard, that's a nice feature to have, and it could certainly be used to make the emulator accessible…sort of. The reason I say "sort of" is that there are disadvantages of doing it this way. I think there may be an NVDA addon which speaks the contents of the clipboard when it changes. However, I assume the whole screen is put on the clipboard each time, which would mean that it'd have to read the whole screen even if just a tiny change were made. What I'd love to see is either OpenMSX making the text available in a way screen readers can detect it, or failing that, maybe a second console window where the text is simply printed.

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