July 29, 1993: Apple releases the Macintosh Centris 660av, a computer packed with innovative audiovisual features. These include an AppleVision monitor with microphone and speakers, and a port that can work as a modem with a telecom adapter. It also comes with the first Apple software to recognize and synthesize speech.
At the relatively low price of $2,489, this was one of the first great affordable multimedia Macs.
Macintosh Centris 660av: Way ahead of its time
Apple called the Mac’s new speech-recognition and speech-synthesis software PlainTalk. It proved revolutionary at a time when most computers didn’t even make it easy for users to record sound without peripherals.
Coming a full 18 years before Siri, PlainTalk wasn’t just dictation software, either. It was the first step in a possible foundation for a speech-based operating system. Using the Macintosh Centris 660av, you were able to open files by saying “Computer, open.”
PlainTalk was yet another reminder of how far ahead of the game Apple was. It was even immortalized in Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier” song from the album OK Computer. (The record’s title was another PlainTalk voice command.)
The Centris 660av didn’t stop there, though. Due to Quadra’s AT&T DSP processor, it was possible to process large amounts of video and audio data. One popular use was adding text and graphics to videos. The computer could even support 16-bit TV input/output. If you held down Cmd-Opt-T-V during startup, you could mirror the display on a TV screen. This let Mac users record what they were doing on-screen using a VCR.
What was right and wrong about Apple in the ’90s
The Centris 660av sums up a lot of what was both right and wrong about Apple in the mid-1990s. The computer was an extraordinarily great Mac with some truly revolutionary features. Today, in a world in which live streams and voice-activated devices are everywhere, it shows how far ahead of its time Apple really was.
But the Centris 660av also shows how confusing the Mac product line was getting, less than 10 years after the computer’s introduction. As if the complex product name wasn’t enough, the Centris 660av was renamed the Quadra 660av just a few months later.
There’s a reason why it seemed so revolutionary when Steve Jobs returned to Cupertino and started giving Apple’s new computers straightforward names again.
Do you remember the Mac Centris 660av?
Want a closer look at this groundbreaking Mac? Check out a scan of the original Mac Centris 660av instruction manual (.pdf). And if you really want to relive the glory days of 1993, you typically can pick up one of these vintage Macs on eBay for around $100. They don’t come up for sale too often, however.
Did you have a Centris 660av? Leave your comments and recollections below.