written by Matthew Reed

Programma International advertisement

Programma International advertisement from the the November 1980 issue of 80 Micro

Many people considered the lack of high-resolution graphics to be the biggest deficiency of the TRS-80 Model I. The maximum resolution of the Model I was 128 by 48 by using block graphics. Many games made good use of that resolution, but it was still low compared to other computers.

80-GRAFIX was one of several high-resolution add-ons available for the Model I. Designed by Ted Carter, it was originally sold “exclusively” by Programma International for $149.95. 80-GRAFIX fit entirely within the Model I case and required only minimal soldering.

The Programma advertisements stressed that 80-GRAFIX was “simple to install” and provided screen resolutions higher than the Commodore PET and the Apple II.  But 80-GRAFIX didn’t actually provide direct access to a bitmapped high-resolution screen. What it did provide was the ability to completely remap the upper 128 characters of the Model I character set.

Programs could use these remapped characters to create new character sets (Arabic and Hebrew were demonstrated), inverse video, graphic screens, or even animations. Programming 80-GRAFIX was fairly simple and could be done from BASIC. Programma also sold software for 80-GRAFIX. One notable example was HIRES80, a machine language tool written by Ralph Burris to help design new character sets.

Micro-Labs advertisement

Micro-Labs advertisement from the September 1982 issue of 80 Micro

After Programma went out of business in 1982, Micro-Labs, Ted Carter’s company, took over support for 80-GRAFIX. In addition to new utilities and games, Micro-Labs also sold an updated version of 80-GRAFIX. Judging by the advertisements, there were three differences from the Programma version:

  • The price was $169.95.
  • There was a Model III version in addition to the Model I version.
  • Installation no longer required soldering.

But 80-GRAFIX didn’t remain the focus of the Micro-Labs advertisement for long. Their more famous products were the Model III Grafyx Solution and Model 4 Grafyx Solution high-resolution add-ons. The Grafyx Solution provided true bitmapped high-resolution graphics instead than the character set remapping of 80-GRAFIX. Unlike 80-GRAFIX, there was never a version of the Grafyx Solution for the Model I.

Micro-Labs continued to sell 80-GRAFIX until at least 1986.

Categories: Graphics, Hardware


Mark McDougall says:

An Australian-based company, Orcim Systems, produced a clone called the PCG-80 that extended the capability to 256 programmable characters whilst remaining software-compatible with the 80-Grafix.

My father had one installed in his Model I. There were a handful of games converted for it, mostly done by bedroom coders, including myself. I converted “Star Cresta” and “Jungle Raiders” – both games authored in Australia I believe.

I’ve just finished adding support for the PCG-80 to my TRS-80 Model I FPGA implementation. I was looking around for other Model I hires enhancements to add when I found 80-Grafix here – of course being backwards compatible I don’t need to do anything to support it!