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TurboGrafx-16

The , known as TurboGrafx-16 in the USA, is a video game console developed by the Nippon Electric Company (NEC) and released in Japan on October 30, 1987, and in North America on August 29, 1989.

There was no official PAL version of the system, but imported PC Engine consoles were largely available in France and Benelux major retailers thanks to the grey importer Sodipeng (Société de Distribution de la PC Engine, a subsidiary of Guillemot International). In the UK, Telegames imported a very limited batch of the US model as the TurboGrafx around 1990.

The TurboGrafx-16 has an 8-bit CPU and a dual 16-bit GPU capable of displaying 32 sets of 15 colors at once out of 512.

PC Engine

The PC Engine was a collaborative effort between Japanese software maker Hudson Soft (which maintains a chip-making division) and NEC. Hudson was looking for financial backing for a game console they had designed, and NEC was interested in entering the lucrative game market. The PC Engine was and is a very small video game console, due primarily to a very efficient three-chip architecture and its use of HuCards; credit-card sized data cartridges. "HuCard" (Hudson Card; also referred to as "TurboChip" in North America) was derived from Hudson Soft. The cards were the size of a credit card (but slightly thicker) and thus were somewhat similar to the card format used by the Sega Master System for budget games. However, unlike the Sega Master System (which also supported cartridges), the TurboGrafx-16 used HuCards exclusively. TG-16 featured an enhanced MOS Technology 65C02 processor and a custom 16-bit graphics processor, as well as a custom video encoder chip, all designed by Hudson. The HES logo found on the manual of every Japanese game stood for "Hudson Entertainment System".

The TurboGrafx-16 was the first console to have an optional CD module, allowing the standard benefits of the CD medium such as more storage, cheaper media costs, and redbook audio. The efficient design, backing of many of Japan's major software producers, and the additional CD ROM capabilities gave the PC Engine a very wide variety of software, with several hundred games for both the HuCard and CD formats.

The PC Engine was extremely popular in Japan, beating Nintendo's Famicom in sales soon after its release, with no fewer than twelve console models released from 1987 to 1993. It was capable of up to 482 colors at once in several resolutions, and featured very robust sprite handling abilities. The Hudson-designed chroma encoder delivered a video signal more vibrant and colorful than both the Famicom and the Sega Mega Drive and is largely regarded as the equal to Nintendo's Super Famicom, although that system was not released in Japan until 1990.

As graphics technology improved, gamers continued to stick to the PC Engine despite its shortcomings. Erotic games were a key factor in making the PC Engine popular, and this popularity was maintained far beyond the lifespan of a regular video game console. New games were released for the PC-Engine up until 1999.

Despite the system's success, it started to lose ground to the Super Famicom. NEC made one final effort to resuscitate the system with the release of the Arcade Card expansion, bringing the total amount of RAM up to a then-massive 2048K; a few Arcade Card games were conversions of popular Neo Geo titles. The additional memory even allowed the system to display rendered graphics like those used in the Donkey Kong Country series. The expansion was never released in North America.

TurboGrafx-CD

The TurboGrafx-16 was the first video game console in North America to have a CD-ROM peripheral (following the PC-Engine CD-ROM add-on in Japan, although the FM Towns Marty was the first console to have a built-in CD-ROM). The TurboGrafx-CD debuted at a prohibitive $399.99 (and did not include a pack-in game). Monster Lair (Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair) and Fighting Street (Street Fighter) were the initial TurboGrafx-CD titles. Ys Book I & II soon followed and was instantly recognized as the "must-have" TurboGrafx-CD game (and continues to be highly regarded today). However, the TurboGrafx-CD catalog grew at a very slow rate compared to the library of TurboChip (HuCard) titles.

The TurboGrafx-CD came packaged in a very large box, 85% of which was filled with protective styrofoam inserts. By some accounts, no other video game console (or peripheral) has been packaged in such an overkill manner. The TurboGrafx-CD did however come with a large plastic "carrying case" that could comfortably hold the TurboGrafx-16 base system, TurboGrafx-CD, all AC adapters, 2 – 3 controllers, and a few games.

Although the TurboGrafx-CD library was relatively small, American gamers could draw from a wide range of Japanese software since there was no region protection on TG-CD / PC Engine CD-ROM software. Many mail order (and some brick-and-mortar) import stores advertised Japanese PCE CD and HuCard titles in the video game publications of the era.

Region protection

With HuCards, a limited form of region protection was introduced between markets which for the most part was nothing more than running the HuCard's pinout connections in a different arrangement. There were two major after-market converters sold to address this problem, and both were sold predominantly for use in converting Japanese titles for play on a TG-16. In the Asian market, NEC went an extra step of adding a hardware level detection function to all PC-Engine systems that detected if a game was a U.S. release. It would then refuse to play it. The only known exception to this is the U.S. release of Klax which did not contain this flag.

This region system was explained at one time by Dean to Turbo Mailing-List members as such:

The explanation commonly given for this by NEC officials is that most U.S. conversions had been skill level reduced, and in some cases censored for what was considered inappropriate content. Because of that, they did not want the U.S. conversion to re-enter the Asian market and negatively impact the perception of a game. The poster child for censorship in this fashion was Kato-chan and Ken-chan released as JJ and Jeff in the U.S. With some minor soldering skills, a change could be made to PC-Engines to disable this check. Joan Touzet is credited with discovering the pin 29 mod and announcing it to the Turbo Mailing-List in 1996.

The only Japanese games that could not be played on a U.S. system using one of these converters were the SuperGrafx titles which also required additional system hardware to run.

The first converter to market was an Asian developed module labeled the Game Converter and marked with a model number of WH-301. English speaking fans historically have dubbed this device the "Purple Converter", or "Barney Converter" due to its purple color that is reminiscent of Barney the Dinosaur. While this device was most commonly sold in a purple color, there has been discussion of them being seen in other colors.

The second converter, named the "Kisado", was created and sold by David Shadoff initially to members of the Turbo Mailing-List in pre-ordered batches. Then later, some were sold through on-line retailers.

The main difference between these two converters is their design. The WH-301 extended out of the system and HuCards were inserted into a widened riser platform that contained the HuCard slot (almost one inch above the board). Because of this wide top area to the board, WH-301 adapters were incompatible with the Turbo-Duo as they would not fit into the card slot.

The Kisado was a straight board where the HuCard was inserted into a slot on the opposite end of the board that faced back towards the system. For TurboDuo owners the Kisado design is the only one that works with the system.

For CD games, it was an entirely different situation. While there was no region-protection on CD games, there were several different CD formats: CD, Super CD (SCD) and, later, Arcade CD (ACD). TurboGrafx-CD, equipped with the original System Card (version 2.01), could play all Japanese and North American CD games. A TurboGrafx-CD, equipped with the updated Super System Card (version 3.01), could play all Japanese and North American SCD and CD format games. The Arcade System Card (for playing Arcade CD titles) had two versions and was never released in North America.

The Arcade System Card was sold in two versions, labeled Pro and Duo. The Arcade Card Pro was specifically for pre-Duo systems although it was compatible with all PC-Engine systems (including the SuperGrafx), it included both the SuperCD operating system and the extra memory found in the Duo systems. The Arcade Card Duo worked with Duo based systems exclusively as it featured only the Arcade enhancments. This allowed the Duo card to be sold at a lower price. All Japanese released system cards worked in U.S. systems with the use of a HuCard converter.

Rivalry with Nintendo and Sega

In North America, the TurboGrafx-16 was first released in late August 1989, in New York and Los Angeles. Initially, the TurboGrafx-16 was marketed as a direct competitor to the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and early television ads touted the TG-16's superior graphics and sound. These early television ads featured a brief montage of the TG-16's launch titles: Blazing Lazers, China Warrior, Vigilante, Alien Crush, etc. Of course, the TG-16 was also in direct competition with the Sega Genesis, which had had its own New York/Los Angeles test-market launch two weeks prior, on August 14 (Note: the launch dates can be confusing. Part of the confusion, perhaps, lies in the fact that the TG-16 and the Genesis were both first test-marketed in New York and Los Angeles, then given national launches. However, it is known that the Genesis' initial test-launch occurred two weeks prior to the TG-16's.) The Genesis launch was accompanied by an ad campaign mocking NEC's claim that the TurboGrafx-16 was the first 16-bit console.

Another problem for the TG-16 was its relatively limited hardware. The Genesis came with only one controller, but it provided a port for a second; the TG-16 only had one controller port. Players who wanted to take advantage of the simultaneous multiplayer modes in their games were required to buy the Turbo Tap (a multitap accessory which permitted five controllers to be plugged into the system), in addition to the necessary extra controllers. Another problem in the battle against the Genesis was the pack-in games (game included with purchase): The Genesis originally came with the then-impressive arcade translation of Altered Beast (1989), which included big, bold sprites and colors as well as impressive digital sound effects. the TG-16's initial pack-in game was Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (1989), a modest action platform game that did not show off the capabilities of the TG-16 in nearly the same way Altered Beast did for the Genesis (or Super Mario World later did for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System [SNES]).

The Genesis' Japanese counterpart, the Sega Mega Drive, was less popular than the NEC console, the PC Engine. In North America and Europe, however, the situation was reversed, and both the North American Genesis and European Mega Drive are mainly remembered there for its rivalry with the Super Nintendo, not with the TurboGrafx-16.

Both Sega and NEC released CD peripherals (Sega CD versus Turbo CD), color handhelds (Sega Game Gear versus TurboExpress -- TurboExpress came out earlier than Game Gear and played the same cards as the console TG16, whereas Game Gear was a separate platform), and even "TV tuners" for their respective handheld systems. While Sega outperformed NEC in North America and Europe in both hardwares, the companies' peripherals and handhelds were not very popular overall.

In 1992, comic book-like ads featuring Johnny Turbo were published by TTi. The ads mocked Sega, in particular the Sega CD. However, by this point it was too late, the TG-16 had been defeated by the Genesis in the marketplace, which was by then dominated by the battle between the Genesis and the Super Nintendo.

Despite this former rivalry, many TurboGrafx-16 games are currently available via Nintendo's Virtual Console service.

Limitations in the 16-bit era

Although touted and marketed at the time as a next generation "16-bit" console, the TurboGrafx-16 was in fact based on an 8-bit microprocessor at its core, putting it at disadvantage with its competitors. Viewed as a hybrid, however, the system did feature a 16-bit video graphics chip, custom video encoder chip and FM sound chip, all heavily assisting its 8-bit CPU. This three chip architecture allowed for larger sprites, an expanded color palette, and improved sound capabilities above other systems available in the 8-bit console market when it launched, and allowing it to dip into the 16-bit market competition. It was however still an only 8-bit machine at its core, which hindered it in contrast with 16-bit game consoles of the era.

In order to reach a low price point in the market, the original TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine systems only supported RF modulation for audio/video (the competition had built-in support for stereo audio, and composite video. Most 16-bit systems also supported s-video and RGB output (with the purchase of specialized cables), although an expansion module was released to support these basic features, and later models integrated the functionality. Another limitation was the single controller port which required the purchase of a multi-player expansion adapter for an additional player (the expansion's ability to support up to five controllers was unusual for the time).

Struggles in North America

Initially, the TurboGrafx-16 sold well in North America, but it generally suffered from a lack of support from third-party software developers and publishers. One reason for this was that many larger software companies such as Konami supported the PC Engine in Japan, but also produced games for Nintendo. Nintendo at the time had engaged in anti-competitive practices that were later ruled illegal, such as enforcing exclusive contracts and punishing developers who developed for more than one system with "chip shortages" around the holiday seasons. As a result of this practice, many developers were compelled to pick the immensely popular NES over the upstart NEC console, resulting in a catch-22 for the TurboGrafx-16. Most developers would only consider taking a risk on the TG-16 if it became more popular, and yet it could not accomplish this because only a handful of North American publishers would support it. As a result, most of the games published for the TG-16 were produced by NEC and Hudson Soft.

Another reason for the TG-16's lack of success in North America was the system's marketing. NEC of Japan's marketing campaign for the PC Engine was mainly targeted to the largest metropolitan areas in the country. This proved to be quite successful there, but when the same kind of marketing was used in the much larger North American market, it resulted in a lack of public awareness outside of the big cities. The TG-16 ended up being far more competitive and popular in certain local markets such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, while in smaller and more spread-out areas, it failed miserably.

The TurboGrafx-16 was originally marketed in North America by NEC Home Electronics based in Wood Dale, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. As the system's popularity fell, the platform was handed over to a new company called Turbo Technologies Incorporated (TTI), based in Los Angeles, California. This company was comprised mainly of former NEC Home Electronics and Hudson Soft employees, and it essentially took over all marketing and first-party software development for the struggling system.

By 1991, the Sega Genesis had clearly surpassed the TurboGrafx-16, putting NEC's console in a distant fourth place in the video game market (Nintendo held the #2 and 3 places with the brand new SNES and the aging but still potent NES). NEC, who was relatively new to the market, had an increasingly difficult time convincing consumers who already owned a Sega or Nintendo system to give the TG-16 a try.

Compounding the problem was that the vast majority of the titles that made the system so successful in Japan were produced for the CD-ROM add-on. In the American market, this add-on was difficult to find outside of large cities, and it was widely considered to be overpriced (debuting at nearly $400). TTI tried to address this issue by releasing a combination system called the TurboDuo, as well as dropping the price of the CD add-on to around $150. Unfortunately, at $300, the cost of the TurboDuo was still too high for most American consumers, even when NEC took the bold step of including seven pack-in titles and a coupon book with the system. Despite all these efforts, the company failed to attract much of a mainstream audience.

Many of the CD games for the Turbo platform were innovative and well-received, but the cost of the add-on system was a strong deterrent to buyers, especially when the competition sold for considerably less. Some of the most popular Japanese releases, such as Demon Castle Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, Ys IV: The Dawn of Ys, Tengai Makyo II: Manjimaru and Snatcher, never made it to North American shelves (though the PC Engine version of Snatcher was converted over to the Sega Mega-CD in the US & Europe, but never was released in Japan).

In the handheld market, the TurboExpress further suffered from short battery life, a hefty price tag, and a large number of units that were missing pixels in their displays (due mainly to the fact that TFT LCD manufacturing technology was still in its infancy at the time).

TurboGrafx-16 and TurboDuo Magazines

The longest running NEC publication was sold in Japan under the name PC-Engine Magazine. While it occasionally featured extra pull-out material, its chief recognition among U.S. fans is the Hyper Catalogue that was released in 1993; it featured an index of all of the Japanese published titles to date.

Larry Flynt Publications (L.F.P.) published 14 bi-monthly issues of TurboPlay Magazine (June/July 1990 – August/September 1992) dedicated to covering TG-16 and TG-CD hardware and software. It was a spin-off publication of Video Games & Computer Entertainment (VG&CE), a popular multi-platform gaming magazine of the late 1980s / early 1990s. Every issue of TurboPlay was 32 pages in length and a yearly subscription cost $9.95. An advertisement for TurboPlay was included with every TG-16 console.

Sendai published four quarterly issues of TURBOFORCE magazine (September 1992 – Spring 1993). TTi had editorial control over TURBOFORCE and used it to promote the launch of the new TurboDuo console. Unlike TurboPlay and DuoWorld, TURBOFORCE was devoid of critical game reviews.

L.F.P. published three bi-monthly issues of DUOWORLD magazine (July/August 1993 – November/December 1993) before it was cancelled. DuoWorld was very similar in format to TurboPlay, but with a focus on the newly released TurboDuo console (i.e. TurboMail and TurboNews became DuoMail and DuoNews, respectively).

NEC also published a handful of newsletters (TurboEdge) and sent them to customers that sent in their TG-16 warranty cards or subscribed to TurboPlay. These newsletters were black and white, mostly text, and four to eight pages in length.

TG-16 on TV

During TG-16's 1989 launch, short TV ads appeared across North America. This advertising campaign would expand and become more extensive in 1990 with NEC promoting Bonk as the next big thing in video games.

In addition to the advertising in 1990, TG-16, TG-CD, and TurboExpress were briefly covered on PBS' Computer Chronicles (two episodes, including "Battle of the Consoles"). Later, when the TurboDuo was launched, it was featured in an episode on "CD-ROM and multimedia software".

Also, Video Power, a video game show (live action gameshow with The Power Team cartoon) syndicated throughout the country in the early 1990s, featured footage from video games at the end of many episodes. Blazing Lazers, Legendary Axe (and perhaps other titles) made it into two episodes. Video Power rarely featured TG-16 games (focusing on NES and Genesis, instead). In addition, the Nickelodeon game show Nick Arcade featured several TG-16 games in the Video Challenge portion of the show.

Legacy

Today, the TurboGrafx-16 is mainly known for its much-vaunted shoot 'em ups, its competition with the Sega Genesis, advertising flop Johnny Turbo, and the Ys & Bonk games. After the system died, NEC decided to concentrate on the Japanese market, where it had had much more success.

In 1994, NEC released a new console, the Japan-only PC-FX, a 32-bit system with a tower-like design; it enjoyed a small but steady stream of games until 1998, when NEC finally abandoned the video games industry. NEC would then partner with former rival Sega, providing a version of its PowerVR 2 Chipset for the Sega Dreamcast.

There is a niche collector's market for TurboGrafx games and Japanese imports, mainly centered around the system's many arcade ports of shooters. Spurring this interest is the fact that Turbo ports from the arcade tended to be closer to the original than Sega Mega Drive, SNES, or NES versions, in terms of graphics and sound. Hudson Soft also released some shooters which were exclusive to the Turbo, such as Super Air Zonk, Gate of Thunder, Soldier Blade, Super Star Soldier, Star Parodia (Japan). The most famous North American shooter is probably Blazing Lazers (Gunhed in Japan) and was featured in all of the early television ads.

After the demise of TTi, Turbo Zone Direct (TZD), a mail-order company, became the de facto source for new TG-16 / Duo hardware, accessories and software.

The brief "Johnny Turbo" series of advertisements have become part of gaming's pop culture. Many folks without direct experience with TG-16 consoles or its games have heard of the infamous "Johnny Turbo".

Several PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 games are available for download on Nintendo's Virtual Console download service. More games among the "best hits" of the system are planned to be released at as-of-yet undetermined times; the exact number or titles of games selected for future release is still unknown. There has now been at least one game released on the Virtual Console that was originally never released in America for the system.

On October 15 2007, the game Gate of Thunder was released on the Virtual Console in North America, marking the first Turbografx-16 CD game to be released on the North American Virtual Console.

Variations

Several variations on the TurboGrafx were released throughout the 1990s.

SuperGrafx

The SuperGrafx is a variation of the standard PC-Engine hardware. This system is very nearly the same as the original PCE, except it has a duplicate set of video chips (and an extra chip to coordinate the two), four times as much RAM, twice as much video RAM, and a 2nd layer/plane of scrolling. Since the CPU was not upgraded, most developers were unable to utilize the extra graphics capability, as the CPU just could not keep up. Only five SuperGrafx games (and one hybrid game - Darius) were released, and the system fell into obscurity.

Minor variations

Other members of the PC Engine family include the Shuttle, the LT (a laptop version similar to the Game Boy Advance SP, but considerably larger), the CoreGrafx I and II, the Duo R and the Duo RX. Contrary to popular belief, the CoreGrafx is not a European version of the PC Engine. It is simply a reengineered version of the original (white) PC Engine with an AV output instead of the original model's RF output. The PC Engine and its derivatives were never officially sold in Europe, although many systems and most accessories and games were available as imports. The PC Engine and its games had been extensively covered by most major European video game magazines and were surprisingly popular.

TurboDuo

In 1992 TTi (Turbo Technologies Inc.) released the TurboDuo, the North American version of the Japanese Duo. The system combined the TurboGrafx-16 and an enhanced version of the CD-ROM drive (the "Super CD-ROM²") into a single unit. The system could play audio CDs, CD+Gs, CD-ROM2 and Super CD games as well as standard HuCards. The Super System Card required for some games when using the original CD add-on as well as some of the Japanese variants of the TurboGrafx was built in to the Duo rather than requiring the card to be inserted at all times when playing CD games. The original pack-in for the Turbo Duo included the system, one control pad, an AC adapter, RCA cables, Ys Book I & II a CD-ROM2 title, and a Super CD disc including Bonk's Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, Gate of Thunder and a secret version of Bomberman accessible via an easter egg. The system was also packaged with one random HuCard game which varied from system to system (Dungeon Explorer was the original HuCard pack-in for TurboDuo, although many titles were eventually used, such as IREM's Ninja Spirit and NAMCO's Final Lap Twin, and then eventually a random pick).

TurboExpress

The TurboExpress was a portable version of the TurboGrafx, released in 1990 for $249.99 (the price was briefly raised to $299.99, soon dropped back to $249.99, and by 1992 it was $199.99). It was the most advanced handheld of its time and could play all the TG-16's HuCard games five years before the Sega Nomad could do the same for Sega Genesis games. Its Japanese equivalent was the PC Engine GT'. It had a 2.6-inch screen, the same as the original Game Boy. It shared the capabilities of the TurboGrafx, giving it 512 available colors (9-bit RGB), stereo sound, and the same custom CPU at 7.16 MHz. The optional "TurboVision" TV tuner included RCA audio/video input, allowing the user to use TurboExpress as a video monitor. The "TurboLink" allowed two-player play. Falcon, a flight simulator, included a "head-to-head" dogfight mode that could only be accessed via TurboLink. However, very few TG-16 games offered co-op play modes especially designed with the TurboExpress in mind.

A TurboExpress appeared in the movie Enemy of the State which it was partly centered on, despite the system's demise several years earlier.

Stand-alone systems

  • PC Engine (1987)
    • White, only RF output
  • PC Engine Shuttle (1989)
    • UFO-shaped system, unique expansion port (no CD option), AV output
  • PC Engine SuperGrafx (1989)
    • The only PC Engine unit to contain enhanced HuCard functionality. Only five games were released for it. (Two regular PC Engine releases, Darius Plus and Darius Alpha, were enhanced to utilize the extra sprite capability of the SuperGrafx.)
  • PC Engine CoreGrafx (1989)
    • Dark grey, blue label, AV output
  • PC Engine CoreGrafx II (1991)
    • Light grey, orange label, AV output, Identical in function to the CoreGrafx

CD-ROM accessories

Portable systems

  • PC Engine GT (1990)
    • Portable system, identical in shape and function to the US-released TurboExpress
  • PC Engine LT (1991)
    • Semi-portable system (no battery option) similar in size to a normal PC Engine or CoreGrafx. Uses a very large attached screen, and folds up like a laptop (hence the LT moniker)

Duo systems

  • PC Engine Duo (1991)
    • Combination PC Engine + CD ROM system, dark grey, has a CD door lock and headphone port
  • PC Engine Duo R (1993)
    • Same as the Duo, but white/beige, shaped differently, and lacks the lock and headphone port.
  • PC Engine Duo RX (1994)
    • Same as the Duo R, slightly blue in colour. The only PCE packaged with a six-button pad.

Others

Other region variations

  • TurboGrafx-CD - North American version of CD-ROM 2
  • TurboExpress - North American version of PC Engine GT
  • TurboDuo - North American version of PC Engine Duo
  • Turbografx - European (PAL) variant. Slightly different PCB layout to accommodate additional circuitry for PAL display, otherwise is identical to the NTSC TurboGrafx-16.
  • Vistar 16 (Korean)
  • Several clones

Unofficial variations

  • Various PC Engine Shuttle clones exist, with varying levels of compatibility with original PC-Engine games. One of the more common types is the "PC Boy".
  • New Tai Sang Corporation released bootleg HuCards which were sometimes patched to add features like invincibility. Unlike most bootlegs these closely resembled the original games in terms of packaging, even with color labels and manuals.
  • The PC Engine was never officially released in Europe, but some companies imported them and made SCART conversions on a moderate scale. In France, a company known as Sodipeng imported Japanese systems and added an RGB Cable called "AudioVideo Plus Cable". This mod improved the original video signal quality extensively and made the consoles work with SECAM televisions. In Germany, several importers sold converted PC Engines with PAL RF as well as RGB output. The connectors and pinouts used for the latter were frequently compatible with the Amiga video port, with two unconnected pins used for the audio channels.

Unreleased hardware

  • A modem was developed but never released (some working prototypes are in circulation, though).
  • A SCSI interface for the Duo CD-ROM drive to be used by a PC existed in prototype form only. (it was featured in a TTi-published TurboGrafx-16 oriented magazine in the US and Computer Chronicles #1043)

Peripheral compatibility

All PC Engine systems support the same controller peripherals, including pads, joysticks and multitaps. Except for the Vistar, Shuttle, GT, and systems with built-in CD-ROM drives, all PC Engine units shared the same expansion connector, which allowed for the use of devices such as the CD-ROM unit, game saves and AV output. See the External Links (bottom) for details on this connector.

The TurboGrafx and Vistar units use a different controller port than the PC Engines, but adaptors are available and the protocol is the same. The TurboGrafx offers the same expansion connector pinout as the PC Engine, but has a slightly different shape so peripherals must be modified to fit.

The Super System Card provides 192 KB of RAM, supplementing the built in 64K of DRAM found in the CD interface tray. The PC-Engine Duo/R/RX consoles have the Super System Card’s 192 KB of RAM plus the 64K of standard RAM and v3.00 BIOS software built in, and can play both CD-ROM² and Super CD-ROM² games without using any additional cards.

The Arcade Card Pro is designed for the original PC-Engine CD-ROM² and Super CD-ROM² peripherals, adding the 2304 KB of RAM required by Arcade CD-ROM² games. It could, of course, also play standard CD-ROM² and Super CD-ROM² games.

The Arcade Card Duo is for the PC-Engine Duo/R/RX consoles and adds 2048 KB RAM. Because the PC-Engine Duo series of systems have 256K of RAM built-in, this does not need to be provided and is why the Arcade Card Duo contained less RAM and was less expensive than the Pro version.

Note: Because the aforementioned consoles use the same BIOS revision as the Arcade Card Pro, it is not known (as a cost-saving measure) if the Arcade Card Duo includes the BIOS software itself, or if the existing built-in BIOS is used.

The various CD-ROM game types are:

  • CD-ROM² (pronounced CD-ROM-ROM) : Standard CD-ROM game.
  • Super CD-ROM² : Requires a compatible system or upgrade card.
  • Arcade CD-ROM² : Requires an upgrade card.

While the standard CD-ROM² and Super CD-ROM² had RAM for data storage which was accessed directly, the Arcade CD-ROM² cards accessed the RAM in a slightly different way.

Both the Pro and Duo versions of the Arcade Card worked in the same way. Just as with the Super CD-ROM², up to 256 KB of the RAM was able to be accessed directly by the CPU. The other 2048 KB was accessed indirectly by transferring data to the other 256 KB of RAM on the fly. This was done rather seamlessly, so that even though the CPU could only use up to 256 KB of RAM at once, data could be swapped to and from the other 2048 KB of RAM at any time. This technique of swapping data from RAM to RAM was much faster than loading the data directly from the CD into RAM, and offered developers a significant advantage over the previous System Card formats, as is evidenced by the many conversions of well-animated Neo Geo fighting games to the Arcade CD-ROM².

One technique that was used by games pre-dating the Arcade Card upgrade was to store graphics data in the 64K audio RAM (used for ADPCM samples) that was present. This RAM could be directly populated by the CD-ROM hardware (it had a direct DMA channel from the CD controller) without CPU intervention, and the memory could be accessed in an indirect fashion, similar to the Arcade Card, allowing data stored in it to appear as a 64 KB stream of linear data that could be easily transferred to the system RAM.

NEC also manufactured a very large line of personal computers, one of which featured a single-speed CD ROM drive identical to the PC Engine version. They were designed to be interchangeable, which is why the PC Engine's IFU-30 CD ROM interface could be purchased without a CD ROM drive.

NEC developed a prototype adaptor that connected a PC through the HuCard slot, allowing the PC to control the PC Engine's CD ROM as it would any normal SCSI drive. Due to falling CD drive prices and the increasing undesirability of a single-speed SCSI drive, it was never released. It was however previewed in NEC's official US TurboDuo magazine.

Video formats

All PC Engine hardware is natively NTSC, including the European version which creates PAL-compatible video with the use of a chroma encoder chip not found in any other system in the series.

Technical specifications

  • CPU: 8-bit HuC6280A, a modified 65SC02 (a separate branch from the 65C02, of the original 6502) running at 1.79 or 7.16 MHz (switchable by software). Features integrated bankswitching hardware (driving a 21-bit external address bus from a 6502-compatible 16-bit address bus), an integrated general-purpose I/O port, a timer, block transfer instructions, and dedicated move instructions for communicating with the HuC6270A VDC.
  • GPU: A dual graphics processor setup. One 16-bit HuC6260 Video Color Encoder (VCE), and one 16-bit HuC6270A Video Display Controller (VDC). The HuC6270A featured Port-based I/O similar to the TMS99xx VDP family.

Display

Resolution

  • X (Horizontal) Resolution: variable, maximum of 512 (programmable to 256, 352 or 512 pixels)
  • Y (Vertical) Resolution: variable, maximum of 242 (programmable in increments of 1 scanline)
  • The majority of TurboGrafx-16 games use 256×240, though some games, such as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective did use 512×224. Chris Covell's 'High-Resolution Slideshow' uses 512×240.

Color

  • Depth: 9 bit
  • Colors available: 512
  • Colors onscreen: Maximum of 482 (241 background, 241 sprite)
  • Palettes: Maximum of 32 (16 for background tiles, 16 for sprites)
  • Colors per palette: 16 per background palette (color entry #0 of each background palette must be the same), and 15 per sprite palette (plus transparent)

Sprites

  • Simultaneously displayable: 64
  • Sizes: 16×16, 16×32, 16x64, 32×16, 32×32, 32×64
  • Palette: Each sprite can use up to 15 unique colors (one color must be reserved as transparent) via one of the 16 available sprite palettes.
  • Layers: The HuC6270A VDC was capable of displaying one sprite layer. Sprites could be placed either in front of or behind background tiles.

Tiles

  • Size: 8×8
  • Palette: Each background tile can use up to 16 unique colors via one of the 16 available background palettes. The first color entry of each background palette must be the same across all background palettes.
  • Layers: The HuC6270A VDC was capable of displaying one background layer.

Memory

  • Work RAM: 8 KB
  • Video RAM: 64 KB

Audio capacity

  • 6 PSG audio channels, programmable through the HuC6280A CPU.
  • Each channel had a frequency of 111.87 kHz (while not in D/A mode) with a bit depth of 5 bits. Each channel also was allotted 20 bytes (32×5 bits) of RAM for sample data.
  • The waveforms were programmable so the composers were not limited to the standard selection of waveforms (square, sine, sawtooth, triangle, etc.).
  • The first two audio channels (1 and 2) were capable of LFO when channel #2 was used to modulate channel #1. This was used to achieve FM-like sound qualities.
  • The final two audio channels (5 and 6) were capable of Noise generation.
  • Optional software enabled Direct D/A which allows for sampled sound to be streamed into any of the six PSG audio channels. When a channel is in D/A mode the frequency is as fast as the CPU can stream bytes to the port, though in practicality it's limited to 6.99 kHz when using the TIMER interrupt with the smallest loop setting (1023 cpu cycles).
  • There is a method that combines two channels in Direct D/A mode to play back 8-bit, 9-bit, or 10-bit samples.
  • The addition of the CD-ROM peripheral adds CD-DA sound, and a single ADPCM channel to the existing sound capabilities of the TurboGrafx-16.

Game media

  • HuCard (Turbo Chip in North America): A thin, card-like game media. The largest Japanese HuCard games were up to 20 Mbit in size. The name was derived from Hudson Soft, the company who developed the game card technology.
  • CD: The PC Engine CD was the first home video game console to offer a CD-ROM accessory.
  • With only one exception, the SuperGrafx, all PC Engine hardware could play the entire HuCard library, and every CD system could play all of the licensed CD games - with the right system card. Some unlicenced CD games by Games Express required a Duo system, due to their games requiring both a special system card packaged with the games and the 256KB of RAM built into the Duo.

CD hardware technical specifications and information

  • Oki MSM5205 ADPCM chip with variable speed input clock, and 64 KB DRAM for audio sample storage. Only one channel of 4-bit compressed audio (decompresses to 12-bit, top 10 bits output through DAC) was supported.
  • Programmable, timer controlled, electronic volume attenuator to fade-out the CD-DA and ADPCM audio channels together or individually.
  • The PC-Engine CD-ROM interface tray has 64 KB of DRAM for storage of program code and data loaded from the CD.
  • The "System Card" contains the BIOS program used to boot CD media and provides functions for software to access CD hardware through a standardized interface. Later System Cards had extra RAM and updates to the BIOS.
  • The Duo series has the same BIOS ROM (v3.00) and RAM (256 KB total) as a PC-Engine system equipped with a Super System Card. The Duo implements the memory as a single 256 KB SRAM chip rather than the split 64 KB DRAM / 192 KB SRAM.
  • The list of known CD-ROM BIOS revisions are:
    • v1.00 - First release (HuCard, came with the PC-Engine CD-ROM interface unit)
    • v2.00 - Upgrade (HuCard, sold separately)
    • v2.10 - Upgrade (HuCard, sold separately) - bug fix?
    • v3.00 - Final release (built into several products and available as a HuCard - see below)
  • The list of known System Card releases are:
    • System Card, v1.00 - First release. Came packaged with the original PC-Engine CD-ROM² System. Also available as a standalone purchase, in case the pack-in System Card was lost or damaged.
    • System Card, v2.00) – BIOS update. The only difference between this and the original System Card is the BIOS code update to v2.00. Otherwise, it is the same.
    • System, Card, v.2.10 – BIOS update. This may have been a bug fix for the System Card v2.00 BIOS code.
    • Super System Card - 1.5 Mbit RAM (192 KB) – RAM upgrade and BIOS update. This expands the RAM available for the CD-ROM unit to 256 KB when including the existing built in DRAM. It also offers a final BIOS update to v3.00. The PC-Engine Duo (Turbo Duo in North America) had 256 KB of RAM and the same v3.00 BIOS built into the system. Games developed for this System Card bore the title ‘Super CD’, and could not be played using an older System Card.
    • Arcade Card Pro - 17.5 Mbit RAM (2240 KB as 2 MB+192 KB) – RAM upgrade. This greatly expands the RAM available for the CD-ROM unit to 2240 KB. The BIOS revision was unchanged from v3.00. Games developed for this System Card bore the title ‘Arcade Card CD’, and could not be played using an older System Card. The Arcade Card Pro includes the extra 192 KB needed by the non Duo CD system. The 2 MB of RAM is accessed through ports or units of single 8 KB banks and is intended for graphics data storage rather than program code; its flexible addressing system allows for rapid transfer of data to VRAM.
    • Arcade Card Duo – 16 Mbit RAM (2048 KB) – RAM upgrade. This greatly expands the RAM available for the PC-Engine Duo system to 2048 KB. The BIOS revision was unchanged from v3.00. Games developed for this System Card bore the title ‘Arcade Card CD’, and could not be played using an older System Card. This will only work on the Duo systems, as it does not include the extra memory built into the Duo system.
    • Games Express Card – Bootleg system card. This was a bootleg System Card released by Games Express for play of unlicensed Games Express CD games. Only unlicensed Games Express games could be played on this System Card.

Corresponding CD-ROM products

  • PC-Engine Interface Unit (IFU-30), came with System Card (CD-ROM² System, v1.00)
  • System Card (CD-ROM² System, v1.00) (standalone, available as a replacement for the above)
  • System Card (CD-ROM² System, v2.00)
  • System Card (CD-ROM² System, v2.10)
  • Super System Card (Super CD-ROM² System, v3.00)
  • Arcade Card Pro (Arcade CD-ROM², v3.00)
  • Arcade Card Duo (Arcade CD-ROM², v3.00)
  • Super CD-ROM² System (Super CD-ROM² System, v3.00)
  • PC-Engine Duo (Super CD-ROM² System, v3.00)
  • PC-Engine Duo R (Super CD-ROM² System, v3.00)
  • PC-Engine Duo RX (Super CD-ROM² System, v3.00)
  • RAU-30 (Extension cable for the SuperGrafx to fit into the IFU-30 tray)

Drive unit

  • Single-speed CD-ROM drive, managed by an NEC microcontroller and using the SCSI-I interface.
  • Transfer rate of 150 kB/s.

See also

References

External links

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