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RCA

RCA Corporation, originally Radio Corporation of America.

RCA was Datanetics’ first customer, purchasing a single batch-fabricated array keyboard for $600 in 1967. At one point, Meryl Miller from Datanetics reported that they provided a small order of keyboards to RCA in 1968; Datanetics were reportedly told that “a few of them were used aboard U.S. Navy submarines.” Later he suggested that RCA only ordered prototypes or samples.

Products

VP-600 series

VP-600 is a series of flat-surface membrane keyboards. Advertised at the same time as their VP-3000 series data terminals, the keyboards and terminals were identical in size and shape. VP-600 series keyboards were in effect a simpler derivative of the terminals. The VP-3300 User’s Manual (see the VP3301 page at Aaron’s Virtual Computer Museum) indicates that the membrane material is polycarbonate. A May 1980 advertisement in Byte Magazine (vol. 5 no. 5) states, ‘A finger positioning overlay combined with light positive activation key pressure gives good operator “feel,” and an on­board tone generator gives aural key press feedback.’ Flat surface keyboards tend to require high operating pressure, which the RCA advertisements suggest was not the case for the VP-3300/VP-600 keyboards. A July 1981 advertisement goes on to say that these keyboards are “redesigned for lighter key activation and improved typing capability”.

The date of introduction is a little unclear, but 1979 seems the most likely. An eBay listing for COSMAC VIP system literature included a VP-600 ASCII Encoded Keyboards brochure reported to be from 1979. The Electronic Systems Computer Products Catalog 1980 lists two models (VP-600 and VP-610) both said to be available in June 1979.

The rated lifetime for the keyboards was given as 5 million operations in 1981, and 10 million operations in 1982. Two-key rollover was provided. Output could be parallel or serial; parallel keyboards had 7-bit buffered TTL-compatible data lines, while serial output could be RS-232C, 20 mA current loop or TTL-compatible.

Variants of VP-600 were also sold as the Cardinal Technologies KB670 ASCII keyboard. The two examples depicted in the eBay listing have ambiguous manufacture dates of “88” and “108”, suggesting possibly August and October 1988. Damage to one of these units suggest that the aforementioned “finger positioning overlay” is simply an additional layer with a cutout for each key, so that the operator can feel the outline of each key. Cardinal Technologies itself was a buyout of part of RCA in 1987.

A separate eBay listing for a RCA VP601 parallel output model appears to give the FCC ID as AHG9WRVP601, an ID not found in the FCC database at present.

Models

The following models were advertised in Electronic Systems Computer Products Catalog 1980:

Model Type Description Price Price (2021)
VP-600 ASCII Keyboard Fully encoded, 128-character ASCII alphanumeric keyboard. 58 light touch keys (2 user defined). Selectable. “Upper-Case-Only”. $49.95 $162
VP-610 ASCII/Numeric Keyboard ASCII Keyboard identical to VP-600 plus 16 key numeric entry keyboard for easier entry of numbers. $69.95 $227

The following models were advertised in November 1982 in Computer Design magazine:

Model Description Price Price (2021)
VP 616 EIA RS232C compatible, 20 mA current loop and TTL outputs; six selectable baud rates. Standard keyboard plus 16-key calculator. $78 $214
VP 611 Similar to VP 616 with 8 bit parallel output. $59 $160
VP 606 Same as VP 616, less calculator keypad. $65 $178
VP 601 Same as VP 611, less calculator keypad. $49 $134

The prices given are “OEM quantity prices”; the minimum order quantity for these prices is not stated. The “16-key calculator” of VP 616 appears to simply refer to the numeric keypad (as per the other descriptions).

Documentation

All documentation was scanned by Bitsavers except where otherwise noted.