Home computer was a class of personal computer entering the market in 1977 and becoming increasingly common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as accessible personal computers, more capable than video game consoles. These computers typically cost much less than business, scientific or engineering-oriented desktop personal computers of the time, and were generally less powerful in terms of memory and expandability. However, a home computer often had better graphics and sound than contemporary business personal computers. Usually they were purchased for education, game play, and personal productivity use such as word processing.
Advertisements for early home computers were rife with possibilities for their use in the home, from cataloging recipes to personal finance to home automation, but these were seldom realized in practice. Often the home computer user was required to learn computer programming if no packaged software was available for a particular application; a significant time commitment many weren’t willing to make. Still, for many the home computer offered the first opportunity to learn to program. The line between a ‘business’ and ‘home’ computer market segments has blurred, since the computers typically use the same operating systems, processor architectures, applications and peripherals. Another change from the home computer era is that the once-common endeavour of writing one’s own software programs has almost vanished from home computer use.
Radio frequency interference
After the first wave of computers landed in American homes, the US Federal Communications Commission began receiving complaints of electromagnetic interference to television reception. By 1979 the FCC demanded that home computer manufacturers submit samples for radio frequency interference testing. It was found that “first generation” home computers, which often included their own screens, emitted too much radio frequency noise for household use. Some manufacturers appealed to the FCC to waive the requirements for home computers, while other manufacturers (with compliant designs) objected to the waiver. Many manufacturers had to supply an external RF modulator to allow their units to connect to a home television receiver. Eventually techniques to suppress interference became standardized.
As many older computers have become obsolete and in some cases nonfunctional, it has become popular amongst enthusiasts to virtually “recreate” these machines, their environments and popular software titles with emulation software. One of the more well-known emulators is the Multiple Emulator Super System which can emulate most of the better known home computers. One system for which many emulators exist is the MSX. A more or less complete list of home computer emulators can be found here. Games for many 8 and 16 bit platforms are becoming available for the Wii Virtual Console.
Retrocomputing is gaining in popularity, with many enthusiasts using real Commodore 64 hardware to perform modern tasks such as surfing the web and email. The 64 has also been repackaged as the C-One and C64 Direct-to-TV, both designed by Jeri Ellsworth with modern enhancements.
As of 2008, game consoles are beginning to incorporate most of the most common uses for PCs in the home – all of the current console generation feature music playing capability in addition to gaming and the Wii and PlayStation 3 can be used to browse the web. The Xbox 360 also features instant messaging. Through the web browser component, word processing, email and photo editing is available using Web applications. As cloud computing develops, future home computer users may opt for the all-in-one simplicity of a console or set top box over a standard PC, leading to a new era of home computers as distinct from business computers. Laptops are becoming popular for use in the home, which may redefine the term personal computer itself as a truly personal accessory, similar to an MP3 player or cell phone.
Many enthusiasts have started to collect home computers, with older and rarer systems being much sought after. Sometimes the collections turn into a “museum”, often the collections are presented on web sites.
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