Western markets model (top) and the original Japanese and French system (bottom).
|Manufacturer||NEC Home Electronics|
|Type||Home video game console|
|Units sold||Worldwide: 5.8 million|
Japan: 3.9 million
|Media||HuCard, CD-ROM (only with the CD-ROM² add-on)|
|CPU||Hudson Soft HuC6280|
- max. 565×242
- majority: 256×239
- available: 512 (9-bit)
- onscreen: max. 482
(241 background, 241 sprite)
|Dimensions||14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm|
(5.5 in × 5.5 in × 1.5 in)
The TurboGrafx-16, known in Japan and France as the PC Engine, is a cartridge based home video game console manufactured and marketed by NEC Home Electronics, and designed by Hudson Soft. It was released in Japan on October 30, 1987 and in the United States on August 29, 1989. It also had a limited release in the United Kingdom and Spain in 1990, known as simply TurboGrafx and based on the American model, while the Japanese model was imported and distributed in France in 1989. It was the first console released in the 16-bit era, although it used an 8-bit CPU. Originally intended to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), it ended up competing with the Sega Genesis, and later on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
The TurboGrafx-16 has an 8-bit CPU, a 16-bit video color encoder, and a 16-bit video display controller. The GPUs are capable of displaying 482 colors simultaneously, out of 512. With dimensions of just 14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm (5.5 in × 5.5 in × 1.5 in), the Japanese PC Engine is the smallest major home game console ever made. Games were stored on a HuCard cartridge, or in CD-ROM optical format with the TurboGrafx-CD add-on.
The TurboGrafx-16 failed to break into the North American market and sold poorly, which has been blamed on inferior marketing. Despite the "16" in its name and the marketing of the console as a 16-bit platform, it used an 8-bit CPU, a marketing tactic that was criticized by some as deceptive. Developer Doug Snook of ICOM Simulations said the CPU was a performance problem.
However, in Japan, the PC Engine, introduced into the market at a much earlier date, was very successful, where it gained strong third-party support and outsold the Famicom at its 1987 debut, eventually becoming the Super Famicom's main rival. Lots of revisions - at least 17 distinct models - were made, such as portable versions and a CD-ROM add-on. An enhanced model, the PC Engine SuperGrafx, was intended to supersede the standard PC Engine, but failed to break through and was quickly discontinued. The entire series was succeeded by the PC-FX in 1994, only released in Japan.
The TurboGrafx-16 or PC Engine was a collaborative effort between Hudson Soft, who created video game software, and NEC, a major company which was dominant in the Japanese personal computer market with their PC-88 and PC-98 platforms. NEC's interest in entering the lucrative video game market coincided with Hudson's failed attempt to sell designs for then-advanced graphics chips to Nintendo. NEC lacked the vital experience in the video gaming industry so approached numerous video game studios for support. They eventually found that, by coincidence, Hudson Soft was also interested in creating their own system but needed a partner for additional cash. The two companies successfully joined together to then develop the new system.
The PC Engine finally made its debut in the Japanese market on October 30, 1987, and it was a tremendous success. By 1988 it outsold the Famicom year-on-year, putting NEC and Hudson Soft ahead of Nintendo in the market, and far ahead of Sega. The console had an elegant, "eye-catching" design, and it was very small compared to its rivals. This, coupled with a strong software lineup and strong third-party support from high-profile developers such as Namco and Konami gave NEC the lead in the Japanese market.
In 1988 NEC wanted to sell the system to the American market, and directed its U.S. operations to do so. NEC Technologies boss Keith Schaefer formed a team to test the system out. One criticism they found was the lack of enthusiasm in its name 'PC Engine'. The team also felt its small size was not very suitable to American consumers who would generally prefer a larger and "futuristic" design. As a result they came up with the name 'TurboGrafx-16', a name representing its graphical speed and strength, and its 16-bit GPU. They also completely redesigned the hardware into a large, black casing. However the redesign process was lengthy, and NEC in Japan was still cautious about the system's viability in the U.S., both of which delayed the system's debut in the American market.
The TurboGrafx-16 was eventually released in the New York City and Los Angeles test market in late August 1989. This came just two weeks after Sega's Genesis test-market launch on August 14, which was distastrous timing for NEC as Sega of America didn't waste time redesigning the original Japanese Mega Drive system. The Genesis launch was accompanied by an ad campaign mocking NEC's claim that the TurboGrafx-16 was the first 16-bit console. Initially, the TurboGrafx-16 was marketed as a direct competitor to the NES and early television ads touted the TG-16's superior graphics and sound. These ads featured a brief montage of the TG-16's launch titles: Blazing Lazers, China Warrior, Vigilante, Alien Crush, etc.
Sega quickly eclipsed the TurboGrafx-16 after its American debut. NEC's decision to pack-in Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, a Hudson Soft game unknown to western gamers, proved costly as Sega packed-in a port of the hit arcade title Altered Beast with the Genesis. NEC's American operations in Chicago were also overhyped about its potential and quickly produced 750,000 units, far above actual demand. Hudson Soft earned a lot from this as NEC paid Hudson Soft royalties for every console produced, whether sold or not. By 1990 it was clear that the system was performing very poorly and was severely edged out by Nintendo and Sega's marketing.
After seeing the TurboGrafx-16 suffer in America, NEC decided to cancel their European releases. Units for the European markets were already produced, which were essentially US models modified to run on PAL television sets, and branded as simply TurboGrafx. NEC sold this stock to distributors - in the United Kingdom Telegames released the TurboGrafx in 1990 in extremely limited quantities. This model was also released in Spain and Portugal through selected retailers. No PAL HuCards were made, and instead the European system can play all American games without modifications, albeit with the necessary slowdown to 50 Hz.
PC Engine consoles (as well as some of its add-ons) were imported from Japan by French licensed importer Sodipeng (Société de Distribution de la PC Engine, a subsidiary of Guillemot International), from November 1989 to 1993. This came after considerable enthusiasm in the French press. This PC Engine was largely available in France and Benelux through major retailers. It came with French language instructions and also an AV cable to enable its input to a SECAM television set. Its launch price was 1,790 French francs (about 416 € as of 2013).
NEC claimed that it had sold 750,000 TG-16 consoles in the United States, and 500,000 CD-ROM units worldwide, by March 1991. That year NEC released the PC Engine Duo in Japan, a model which could play HuCards and CD-ROM² discs, making it the first game console with an integrated CD-ROM drive. The console was licensed to Turbo Technologies Incorporated, who released it in North America in 1992 as the TurboDuo. In addition to standard CD-ROM² format discs, the Duo could also play games in the newly introduced Super CD-ROM² format due to its greater RAM size (the TurboGrafx-16 and its CD player could support this new format only through the use of a separately available upgrade, the Super System Card, which TTI sold via mail order). The unit came into competition with the Sega CD, which was released almost immediately after. Turbo Technologies ran comic book ads featuring Johnny Turbo. The ads mocked Sega, and emphasized that though the TurboDuo and Sega CD had the same retail price, the TurboDuo was a standalone platform and included five pack-in games, whereas Sega CD buyers needed to purchase separately sold games and a Genesis console before they could use the system.
However, the North American console gaming market continued to be dominated by the Super NES and Genesis rather than the new CD-based consoles. In May 1994 Turbo Technologies announced that it was dropping support for the Duo, though it would continue to offer repairs for existing units and provide ongoing software releases through independent companies in the U.S. and Canada.
The TurboGrafx-series was the first video game console ever to have a contemporaneous fully self-contained portable counterpart, the PC Engine GT, known as TurboExpress in North America. It contained identical hardware and played identical game software (utilizing HuCard format game software).
The final commercialized release for the PC Engine was Dead of the Brain Part 1 & 2 on June 3, 1999, on the Super CD-ROM² format. The last game on HuCard format was 21 Emon: Mezase! Hotel Ō on December 16, 1994.
The CD-ROM² (pronounced CD-ROM-ROM) is an add-on attachment for the PC Engine that was released in Japan on December 4, 1988. The add-on allows the core versions of the console to play PC Engine games in CD-ROM format in addition to standard HuCards. This made the PC Engine the first video game console to use CD-ROMs as a storage media. The add-on consisted of two devices - the CD player itself and the interface unit, which connects the CD player to the console and provides a unified power supply and output for both. It was later released as the TurboGrafx-CD in the United States in November 1989, with a remodeled interface unit in order to suit the different shape of the TurboGrafx-16 console. The TurboGrafx-CD had a launch price of $399.99, and did not include any bundled games. Fighting Street and Monster Lair were the TurboGrafx-CD launch titles; Ys Book I & II soon followed.
In 1991, NEC introduced an upgraded version of the CD-ROM² System known as the Super CD-ROM², which updates the BIOS to Version 3.0 and increases buffer RAM from 64kB to 256kB. This upgrade was released in several forms: the first was the PC Engine Duo on September 21, a new model of the console with a CD-ROM drive and upgraded BIOS/RAM already built into the system. This was followed by the Super System Card released on October 26, an upgrade for the existing CD-ROM² add-on that serves as a replacement to the original System Card. PC Engine owners who did not already own the original CD-ROM² add-on could instead opt for the Super-CD-ROM² unit, an updated version of the add-on released on December 13, which combines the CD-ROM drive, interface unit and Super System Card into one device.
On March 12, 1994, NEC introduced a third upgrade known as the Arcade Card (アーケードカード Ākēdo Kādo), which increases the amount of onboard RAM of the Super CD-ROM² System to 2MB. This upgrade was released in two models: the Arcade Card Duo, designed for PC Engine consoles already equipped with the Super CD-ROM² System, and the Arcade Card Pro, a model for the original CD-ROM² System that combines the functionalities of the Super System Card and Arcade Card Duo into one. The first games for this add-on were ports of the Neo-Geo fighting games Garō Densetsu 2 and Ryūkō no Ken. Ports of World Heroes 2 and Garō Densetsu Special were later released for this card, along with several original games released under the Arcade CD-ROM² standard. By this point support for both, the TurboGrafx-16 and Turbo Duo, was already waning in North America and thus, no North American version of either Arcade Card were produced, although a Japanese Arcade Card can still be used on a North American console through a HuCard converter.
Many variations and related products of the PC Engine were released.
The PC Engine CoreGrafx is an updated model of the PC Engine, released in Japan on December 8, 1989. It has the same form factor as the original PC Engine, but it changes the color scheme from white and red to black and blue, and replaces the original's RF connectors with an A/V port. It also used a revised CPU, the HU6280a, which supposedly fixed some minor audio issues. A recolored version of the model, known as the PC Engine CoreGrafx II, was released on June 21, 1991. Aside from the different coloring (light grey and orange), it is nearly identical to the original CoreGrafx except that the CPU was changed back to the original HU6280.
The PC Engine SuperGrafx, released on the same day as the CoreGrafx in Japan, is an enhanced variation of the PC Engine hardware with updated specs. This model has a second HuC6270A (VDC), a HuC6202 (VDP) that combines the output of the two VDCs, four times as much RAM, twice as much video RAM, and a second layer/plane of scrolling. It also uses the revised HU6280a CPU, but the sound and color palette were not upgraded, making the expensive price tag a big disadvantage to the system. As a result, only five exclusive SuperGrafx games and two hybrid games (Darius Plus and Darius Alpha were released as standard HuCards which took advantage of the extra video hardware if played on a SuperGrafx) were released, and the system was quickly discontinued. Despite the fact that the SuperGrafx was intended to supersede the original PC Engine, its extra hardware features were not carried over to the later Duo consoles. The SuperGrafx has a BUS expansion port, but requires an adapter in order to utilize the original CD-ROM² System add-on.
The PC Engine LT is a model of the console in a laptop form, released on December 13, 1991 in Japan, retailing at ¥99,800. The LT does not require a television display (and does not have any AV output) as it has a built-in flip-up screen and speakers, just as a laptop would have, but unlike the GT the LT runs on a power supply. Its expensive price meant that few units were produced compared to other models. The LT has full expansion port capability, so the CD-ROM² unit is compatible with the LT the same way as it is with the original PC-Engine and CoreGrafx. However, the LT requires an adapter to use the enhanced Super CD-ROM² unit.
The PC Engine Shuttle was released in Japan on November 22, 1989 as a less expensive model of the console, retailing at ¥18,800. It was targeted primarily towards younger players with its spaceship-like design and came bundled with a TurboPad II controller, which is shaped differently from the other standard TurboPad controllers. The reduced price was made possible by slimming down the expansion port of the back, making it the first model of the console that was not compatible with the CD-ROM² add-on. However, it does have a slot for a memory backup unit, which is required for certain games. The RF output used on the original PC Engine was also replaced with an A/V port for the Shuttle.
The PC Engine GT is a portable version of the PC Engine, released in Japan on December 1, 1990 and then in the United States as the TurboExpress. It can only play HuCard games. It has a 2.6-inch (66 mm) backlit, active-matrix color LCD screen, the most advanced on the market for a portable video game unit at the time. The screen contributed to its high price and short battery life, however, which dented its performance in the market. It shares the capabilities of the TurboGrafx-16, giving it 512 available colors (9-bit RGB), stereo sound, and the same custom CPU at 7.15909 MHz. It also has a TV tuner adapter as well as a two-player link cable.
|NEC/Turbo Technologies later released the TurboDuo, which combined the TurboGrafx-CD (with the new Super-System-Card on-board) and TurboGrafx-16 into one unit.|
NEC Home Electronics released the PC Engine Duo in Japan on September 21, 1991, which combined the PC Engine and Super CD-ROM² unit into a single console. The system can play HuCards, audio CDs, CD+Gs, standard CD-ROM² games and Super CD-ROM² games. The North American version, the TurboDuo, was launched in October 1992. The American version of Duo was originally bundled with one control pad, an AC adapter, RCA cables, Ys Book I & II (a CD-ROM² title), and a Super CD-ROM² including Bonk's Adventure, Bonk's Revenge, Gate of Thunder and a secret version of Bomberman accessible via a cheat code. 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).
Two updated variants were released in Japan: the PC Engine Duo-R (on March 25, 1993) and the PC Engine Duo-RX (on June 25, 1994). The changes were mostly cosmetic, but the RX included a new 6-button controller.
The PC-KD863G is a CRT monitor with built-in PC Engine console, released on September 27, 1988 in Japan for ¥138,000. Following NEC's PCs' naming scheme, the PC-KD863G was designed to eliminate the need to buy a separate television set and a console. It output its signals in RGB, so it was clearer at the time than the console which was still limited to RF and composite. However, it has no BUS expansion port, which made it incompatible with the CD-ROM² System and memory backup add-ons
The X1-Twin was the first licensed PC Engine-compatible hardware manufactured by a third-party company, released by Sharp on April 1989 for ¥99,800. It's an X1 computer and PC Engine console combined into one, although the two hardware run mutually separately.
Pioneer Corporation's LaserActive supports an add-on module which allows the use of PC Engine games (HuCard, CD-ROM² and Super CD-ROM²) as well as new "LD-ROM²" titles that work only on this device. NEC also released their own LaserActive unit (NEC PCE-LD1) and PC Engine add-on module, under an OEM license. A total of eleven LD-ROM2 titles were produced, with only three of them released in North America.
Outside North America and Japan, the TurboGrafx-16 was released in South Korea by a third party under the name Vistar 16. It was based on the American version but with a new curved design. The PC Engine was never officially released in continental Europe, but some companies imported them and made SCART conversions on a moderate scale. In France, 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.
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, battery backup and AV output.
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 Arcade Card Pro is designed for the original CD-ROM² System add-on, adding the 2304 kB of RAM required by Arcade CD-ROM² games. The Arcade Card Duo is for the Super CD-ROM² System and the PC-Engine Duo/R/RX consoles and adds 2048 kB RAM, since those systems already have 256K of RAM built-in.
The various CD-ROM game types are:
All PC Engine hardware outputs video in NTSC format, including the European TurboGrafx; it generates a PAL-compatible video signal by using a chroma encoder chip not found in any other system in the series.
The PC Engine is a relatively compact video game console, owing to an efficient three-chip architecture and its use of small ROM cartridges called HuCards (Turbo Chips in North America). Hudson Soft developed the HuCard (Hudson Card) from the Bee Card technology it piloted on the MSX. HuCards are about the size of a credit card, but slightly thicker. They are very similar to the My Card format utilized for certain games released on the SG-1000/SC-3000 and the Mark III/Master System. The largest Japanese HuCard games were up to 20 Mbit in size. All PC Engine consoles can play standard HuCards, including the PC Engine SuperGrafx (which has its small library of exclusive HuCards).
With the exception of the budget-priced PC Engine Shuttle, the portable PC Engine GT and the PC-KD863G monitor, every PC Engine console is also capable of playing CD-ROM² discs, provided the console is equipped with the required CD-ROM drive and System Card. The SuperGrafx and PC Engine LT both required additional adapters to work on the original CD-ROM² System and Super CD-ROM² respectively, whereas the Duo consoles had the CD-ROM drive and Super System Card integrated into them (as did the Super CD-ROM² player). Some unlicensed CD games by Games Express can only run on Duo consoles, due to their games requiring both a special System Card packaged with the games and the 256 kB of RAM built into the Duo.
The console's CPU is a Hudson Soft HuC6280 8-bit microprocessor operating at 1.79 MHz and 7.16 MHz. It features integrated bank-switching 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. Its 16-bit graphics processor and video color encoder chip were also developed by Hudson Soft. It holds 8 kB of work RAM and 64 kB of video RAM.
With HuCards, a limited form of region protection was introduced between markets which for the most part was nothing more than running some of the HuCard's pinout connections in a different arrangement. There were several major after-market converters sold to bypass this protection, and were sold predominantly for use in converting Japanese titles for play on a TG-16. In the Japanese market, NEC went further by adding a hardware level detection function to all PC Engine systems that detected if a game was a U.S. release, and would then refuse to play it. The only known exception to this is the U.S. release of Klax which did not contain this function. The explanation commonly given for this by NEC officials is that most U.S. conversions had the difficulty level reduced, and in some cases were censored for what was considered inappropriate content, and consequently, they did not want the U.S. conversion to re-enter the Asian market and negatively impact the perception of a game. With some minor soldering skills, a change could be made to PC Engines to disable this check. The only Japanese games that could not be played on a U.S. system using one of these converters were the SuperGrafx titles which could only be played on a SuperGrafx.
There was no region protection on TurboGrafx-CD and CD-ROM² System games.
Due to the extremely limited PAL release after NEC decided to cancel a full release, there were no PAL HuCards made. The European TurboGrafx therefore played the NTSC American/Japanese titles, converted to PAL 50 Hz format.
|Arcade Card Duo (left) and Arcade Card Pro|
In Japan, the PC Engine was very successful, and at one point was the top-selling console in the nation. In North America and Europe the situation was reversed, with both Sega and Nintendo dominating the console market at the expense of NEC. Initially, the TurboGrafx-16 sold well in the U.S., but eventually it suffered from lack of support from third-party software developers and publishers.
In 1990, ACE magazine praised the console's racing game library, stating that, compared to "all the popular consoles, the PC Engine is way out in front in terms of the range and quality of its race games." Reviewing the Turbo Duo model in 1993, GamePro gave it a "thumbs down". Though they praised the system's CD sound, graphics, and five-player capability, they criticized the outdated controller and the games library, saying the third party support was "almost nonexistent" and that most of the first party games were localizations of games better suited to the Japanese market. In 2009, the TurboGrafx-16 was ranked the 13th greatest video game console of all time by IGN, citing "a solid catalog of games worth playing," but also a lack of third party support and the absence of a second controller port.
The controversy over bit width marketing strategy reappeared with the advent of the Atari Jaguar console. Mattel did not market its 1979 Intellivision system with bit width, although it used a 16-bit CPU.
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 supplied rival Nintendo with the CPU for the Nintendo 64, released in 1996, and former rival Sega with a version of its PowerVR 2 GPU for the Dreamcast, released in 1998.
A number of TurboGrafx-16 and TurboGrafx-CD games were released on Nintendo's Virtual Console download service for the Wii, Wii U, and Nintendo 3DS, including several that were originally never released outside Japan. In 2011, ten TurboGrafx-16 games were released on the PlayStation Network for play on the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable in the North American region.
In 2019, Konami announced at E3 2019 the TurboGrafx-16 Mini, a dedicated console featuring many built-in games. It's the first release of official hardware of TurboGrafx-16 family since the closure of Hudson Soft in 2012.
Emulation programs for the TurboGrafx-16 exist for several modern and retro operating systems and architectures and are at varying levels of emulation ranging from beta stage, to near perfect emulation of all PC Engine and TurboGrafx-16 formats.
The fix: On Japanese systems, connect pin 29 of the Hu6280 chip to [ground]. That's it.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to PC Engine.|