From Top to Bottom, The North American/UK design and the Japanese Design.
Manufacturer NEC Corporation Generation Fourth generation Retail availability Discontinued Units sold Worldwide: 10 million
United States: 2.5 million
Media HuCard, CD-ROM (only with the CD-ROM² add-on) CPU Hudson Soft HuC6280 Successor SuperGrafx
TurboGrafx-16, fully titled as TurboGrafx-16 Entertainment SuperSystem and known in Japan as the PC Engine (PCエンジン Pī Shī Enjin ), is a video game console developed by Hudson Soft and NEC, released in Japan on October 30, 1987, and in North America on August 29, 1989.
The TurboGrafx-16 has an 8-bit CPU and a dual 16-bit GPU; and is capable of displaying 482 colors simultaneously, out of 512. With dimensions of 14 cm × 14 cm × 3.8 cm (5.5in × 5.5in × 1.5in), the NEC PC Engine holds the record for the world's smallest game console ever made. (Guinness World Records Gamer's Edition (2008))
In the United Kingdom, Telegames released a slightly altered version of the US model simply as the TurboGrafx around 1990 in extremely limited quantities. Although there was no full-scale PAL region release of the system, imported PC Engine consoles were largely available in France and Benelux through major retailers thanks to the unlicensed importer Sodipeng (Société de Distribution de la PC Engine, a subsidiary of Guillemot International).
The PC Engine was a collaborative effort between the relatively young Hudson Soft (founded in 1973) and NEC. 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, similar to Nintendo's later rejection of Sony's designs for a Super Famicom CD attachment which evolved into the PlayStation.
The PC Engine is a very small video game console, due primarily to a very efficient three-chip architecture and its use of "HuCards" (Hudson Card; also referred to as "TurboChip" in North America and based on the BeeCard technology Hudson piloted on the MSX). The cards were about the size of a credit card (though slightly thicker), 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 65SC02 processor (dubbed the HuC6280 by Hudson) and a custom 16-bit graphics processor, as well as a custom video color encoder chip, all designed by Hudson. The 'HE System' 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 initially performed well in Japan, beating Nintendo's Famicom in sales soon after its release, with no fewer than twelve console models released from 1987 to 1993. Despite the system's early 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. Some Arcade Card games were conversions of popular Neo Geo titles. The expansion was never released in North America.
New games were released for the PC Engine up until 1999.
In 1989, the TurboGrafx-16 was the first video game console to have a CD-ROM peripheral  (following the PC-Engine Super CD-ROM² add-on in Japan, although the FM Towns Marty was the first Japanese console to have a built-in CD-ROM). This was the first time that CD-ROM discs were used as a storage medium for video games.
The TurboGrafx-CD debuted on Aug. 1, 1990 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. 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.
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, 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 flag.
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 J.J. & Jeff in the U.S. 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 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. The second converter, named the "Kisado", was created and initially sold by David Shadoff to members of the Turbo Mailing-List in pre-ordered batches before later being offered through on-line retailers.
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, 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 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. The TG-16 was also in direct competition with the Sega Mega Drive, which had had its own New York/Los Angeles test-market launch two weeks prior, on August 14, renamed as the Sega Genesis. 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. The Genesis also benefited from a pack-in game bundle that included an impressive translation of the arcade game Altered Beast (1989), which included big, bold sprites and colors as well as digital sound effects. In contrast, 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 for the later SNES).
In Japan the PC Engine outsold Sega's console. In North America and Europe the situation was reversed, with both Sega and Nintendo dominating the console market at the expense of NEC. Both Sega and NEC released CD peripherals (Mega-CD versus Turbo CD), color handhelds (Sega Game Gear versus TurboExpress), and even "TV tuners" for their respective handheld systems.
In 1992, comic book-like ads featuring Johnny Turbo were published by TTi. The ads mocked Sega, in particular the Mega-CD. However, by this point the TG-16 had been defeated by the Mega Drive in the marketplace, which was by then dominated by the battle between the Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo.
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, built around an 8-bit microprocessor as its CPU. While its CPU was technically 8-bit, the overall speed of the hardware was somewhat comparable to contemporary 16-bit machines. Sometimes criticized as an inaccurate gauge of overall speed , NEC touted the TurboGrafx-16 as having a higher MIPS rating than both the Genesis and Super NES. While true, drawing direct comparisons between the TurboGrafx-16, Genesis, and Super NES CPUs is difficult due to differences in architecture, bit bandwidth, speed measurements in MHz/MIPS, and the way those measurements are related to overall speed due to said architectural differences. Any attempt to make direct comparisons should generally be considered highly dubious. The reality was that there were many things the Genesis and Super NES CPUs did better from a programming standpoint than the TurboGrafx-16 CPU and vice versa. NEC's marketing department played on the fact that the TurboGrafx-16 was designed with a dual 16-bit graphics chipset, and chose to view it as a hybrid system. This proved to be a bit of a marketing gaffe, and backfired on NEC in the North American market somewhat as more and more people learned the TurboGrafx-16 was, in reality, an 8-bit system.
The TurboGrafx-16 featured a 16-bit custom video color encoder chip, 16-bit video display controller, and an 8-bit CPU with an integrated custom programmable sound generator. This three chip architecture allowed for larger and more numerous sprites, an expanded color palette, more onscreen colors, and improved sound capabilities compared to other systems available in the 8-bit console market when it launched. In many ways this made it comparable to other systems in the 16-bit market. Yet still, it was hindered in that it lacked hardware support for more than a single layer of background scrolling, whereas its 16-bit competition at the time heavily featured multiple plane parallax scrolling. This forced developers to code routines to simulate multiple background layers in software, or in some cases, make do with the single plane. NEC attempted to remedy this problem in the SuperGrafx by including an additional video display controller that allowed it to not only draw multiple plane backgrounds in hardware, but multiple sprite planes as well. Another area the TurboGrafx-16 had a notable disadvantage was in the amount of work RAM the system had. While the Genesis and Super NES featured 64KB and 128KB of work RAM respectively, the TurboGrafx-16 had only 8KB available for HuCard games. This meant that there was less RAM available for temporary storage of variables and decompressed graphic data. As a result, self modifying code and/or code featuring storage of a numerous amount of variables was largely ruled out, and almost all decompression of graphic data needed to be done in real time, rather than stored in RAM. The SuperGrafx was given additional work RAM for a total of 32KB. TurboGrafx CD-ROM games used the greatly expanded RAM capacity that was inherent to the hardware, and largely avoided most problems with RAM limitations.
In order to reach a low price point in the market, the original TurboGrafx-16 and PC-Engine systems only supported RF modulation for (monaural) audio/video and required an optional expansion add-on for anything more (the competition by comparison had built-in support for stereo audio, with composite video as well as s-video and RGB output). Later models of the TurboGrafx-16 did eventually provide built-in support for better audio/video capabilities without additional hardware.
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. Due to their exclusivity practises, 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 garnered less success.
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 composed 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 popular NES respectively). 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. This may have been in part to the somewhat fractured brand identity of the various systems: in a mascot-heavy era of gaming, the TurboGrafx-16 was represented by Bonk, while the TurboDuo carried on its box a graphic of Air Zonk. Meanwhile, advertising comic books were inserted into copies of various gaming magazines, featuring characters such as the alter-ego of game developer Jonathan C. Brandstetter: Johnny Turbo.
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 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 Castlevania: 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 CD in North America, Europe & Australia, but never was released in Japan. Castlevania: Rondo of Blood was later released in North America and Europe as Castlevania Dracula X for the Super Nintendo, but the game suffered alterations. The game was also released years later on the Wii Virtual Console and fully translated as part of the Dracula X Chronicles on PSP).
Magazine Publications: PC Engine FAN, TurboPlay, and others
PC Engine FAN
The longest running NEC publication was sold in Japan under the name PC-Engine Fan Magazine and exclusively dedicated to NEC systems, beating out rival mags Gekkan PC Engine (Shogakukan) and Marukatsu PC Engine (Kadokawa Shoten) to the market by a month in late 1988. Published by Tokuma Shoten, the magazine started out as a separate department of Family Computer Magazine, Tokuma’s flagship console publication; the “FAN” name was also used by sister titles MSX FAN and Mega Drive FAN.
While it occasionally featured extra pull-out material, its chief recognition among U.S. fans is the Hyper Catalog that was released in 1993; it featured an index of all of the Japanese published titles to date. The PC Engine Fan magazine also ran occasional specials, such as selling a second pressing of Magical Chase via mail-order after the original publisher went bankrupt almost immediately after releasing the shooter classic.
Near the end of 1992, a few employees from Kadokawa Shoten left the company, and gave birth to MediaWorks a new publishing company (now ASCII MediaWorks), and since a key member of the Marukatsu PC-Engine team joined in, and new PC-Engine magazine called Dengeki PC Engine (電撃PCエンジン Dengeki PC Enjin ) ended up being one of their first publications.
The first issue, "February 1993", came out in December 1992, using the classic "Saddle-Stapling" binding technique, later on the magazine switched to perfect binding.
In its later days, Dengeki PC-Engine was turning its attention more and more to bishōjo games (made popular on Nec's machine by several titles, including Nec Avenue's Sotsugyō: Graduation, and Konami's Tokimeki Memorial) and less to Nec's game consoles in general, something that together with Nec's fading popularity in the computer entertainment market, led the publishers to change its name to Dengeki G's Engine starting from june 1996, a magazine now covering bishōjo games for all platforms and no longer focused on Nec's machines.
A few additional name changes happened afterwards, first the "Engine" moniker was dropped in June 1997 (new title "Dengeki G's Magajiin") and finally in 2002, the japanese transliterated word "Magajiin" マガジン (Ｍａｇａｊｉｉｎ from the englisｈ "Magazine") was changed to "Magazine". Dengeki G's Magazine is still published today.
Larry Flynt Publications 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 canceled. 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 USA 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.
Today, the TurboGrafx-16 is mainly known for its much-vaunted shoot 'em ups and the Ys & Bonk games. After the system died, NEC decided to concentrate on the Japanese market, where it has 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 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 Genesis, Super NES, 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: Rockabilly-Paradise, Gate of Thunder, Soldier Blade, Super Star Soldier, and 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.
Several PC Engine/TurboGrafx-16 games are available for download on Nintendo's Virtual Console download service. More games among the "greatest 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. Since then several TG-16 games became available on the Virtual Console that were 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-CD game to be released on the North American Virtual Console.
As of July 15, 2009 four PC-Engine games have been released on the Japanese PlayStation Network for play on the PlayStation 3 and PSP. The four games are Bomberman '94, New Adventure Island, Sengoku Mahjong, and Devil's Crush. The price for all four has been set at 600 Yen. Since then more games have been released on PSN.
At the 2011 GDC, Nintendo announced that TurboGrafx 16 and Game Gear games would be available for the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console.
Several variations on the TurboGrafx were released throughout the 1990s.
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 second layer/plane of scrolling. The CPU, sound, and color palette was not upgraded making the expensive price tag a big disadvantage to the system. NEC also decided not to include the extra two video chips in the all-in-one Duo replacement system, essentially killing off any chance of the Super Grafx continued support. Only five exclusive SuperGrafx games and two hybrid games (Darius Plus and Darius Alpha took advantage of the extra video hardware if played on a SuperGrafx) were released, and the system fell into obscurity.
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.
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).
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 (66 mm) screen, the same as the original Game Boy, whose keypad layout it was designed after (just like the TG-16 controller's keypad layout was similar to that of the Famicom/NES controller). 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.
- 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
- PC Engine CD-ROM² (1988)
- White "briefcase" design matching the style of the original PC Engine. A special adaptor, named RAU-30, is required to connect it to the SuperGrafx.
- PC Engine Super CD-ROM² (1991)
- A handsome grey-colored CD attachment system add-on, with built-in SystemCard 3.0 to play all Super CD-ROM² games in addition to CD-ROM² game formats. It can be connected directly to the rear pinouts of the original white PC Engine, the PC Engine CoreGrafx, CoreGrafx2, and lastly the SuperGrafx. For the SuperGrafx, this is a much more efficient way to add CD-Rom expansion to it compared to the RAU-30 route. However, this add-on tend to be much more difficult to find.
- 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)
- PC Engine Duo (1991)
- Combination PC Engine + CD ROM system + System 3.0 card, dark grey, has a CD door lock and headphone port
- PC Engine Duo R (1993)
- Same as the Duo, but white/beige with a more streamlined case style, 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.
- X1 Twin
- Pioneer LaserActive
- Pioneer + NEC released a Laserdisc player with video game modules. One module allowed the use of PC Engine games (HuCard, CD-ROM2 and Super CD) as well as "LD-ROM2" titles released on laserdisc that only worked on this setup.
- A computer (RGB) monitor with PCE hardware pre-installed internally.
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 - United Kingdom, PAL video output
- Vistar 16 - Korean
- Several clones
- 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.
- 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 on Computer Chronicles episode #1043)
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 four indirect self incrementing/decrementing address registers. These registers were mapped into memory hardware bank and also mapped into 4 special memory banks. Reading and writing sequential data was speed up and reduced cycle cost due to these new registers. This meant *far* data could be accessed with these four registers without having to map banks of memory into the CPU's logical address range, and could be transferred to VRAM ports faster and easier, as is evidenced by the many conversions of well-animated Neo Geo fighting games to the Arcade CD-ROM². The Arcade card was known to have existed in working prototype form as early as mid '92 from looking at (non public) source code files to Art of Fighting ACD port.
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 but at a much-much slower interface, 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.
The Pioneer LaserActive was a laserdisc player with an expansion bay. One of the expansion modules released allowed it to play PC Engine titles (HuCards, CD-ROM2 and Super CD) as well as games released on laserdisc (LD-ROM2) that only worked on this setup. Eleven LD-ROM2 titles were released in Japan, though only three of them were released in North America.
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.
- CPU: 8-bit HuC6280A, a modified 65SC02 (a separate branch from the 65C02, of the original MOS 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.
- X (Horizontal) Resolution: variable, maximum of 565 (programmable to 282, 377 or 565 pixels, or as 5.37mhz, 7.159mhz, and 10.76mhz pixel dot clock) Taking into consideration overscan limitations of CRT televisions at the time, the horizontal resolutions were realistically limited to something a bit less than what the system was actually capable of. Consequently, most game developers limited their games to either 256, 336, or 512 pixels in display width for each of the three modes.
- Y (Vertical) Resolution: variable, maximum of 242 (programmable in increments of 1 scanline). It is possible to achieve an interlaced "mode" with a maximum vertical resolution of 484 scanlines by alternating between the two different vertical resolution modes used by the system. However, it is unknown, at this time, if this interlaced resolution is compliant with (and consequently displayed correctly on) NTSC televisions.
- The majority of TurboGrafx-16 games use 256×239, though some games, such as Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective did use 512×224. Chris Covell's 'High-Resolution Slideshow' uses 512×240.
- 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, which is displayed as an actual color in the overscan area of the screen)
- Simultaneously displayable: 64 on-screen, 16 (256 sprite pixels) per scanline
- Sizes: 16×16, 16×32, 16×64, 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 by manipulating a bit which caused indirect pixel color entry #0 of the background tile(s) to act as transparent.
- Size: 8×8
- Palette: Each background tile can use up to 15 unique colors via one of the 16 available background palettes and 1 shared color (BG color #0) for a total of 16 colors per tile. The first color entry of each background subpalette is ignored. Instead, color #0's RGB value is shown in its place (the common/shared color). When a specific sprite is set to show behind the BG layer via the priority bit, all tiles that use relative color #0 (of 16) will not show BG color #0. But instead will show the sprite pixel (if not opaque).
- Layers: The HuC6270A VDC was capable of displaying one background layer.
- Work RAM: 8 kB
- Video RAM: 64 kB
- 6 Mini-Wavetable stereo audio channels, programmable through the HuC6280A CPU.
- Each channel had a frequency of 3.58Mhz PCM sample clock (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 PCM 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). Additionally, a programmer could use the scanline interrupt to generate a 15.7khz interrupt system to play samples.
- Each channel has its own DAC and two layer attenuation device (two volume mechanism controls) allowing a combination of two channels in Direct D/A mode to be paired and play back 8-bit, 9-bit, or 10-bit linear PCM samples.
- Each channel has a 4bit left and 4bit right fine pan volume register for stereo volume control. The audio unit also contains a master 4bit/4bit pair fine pan volume control, used to set volume/stereo level for all channels as a whole.
- 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.
- HuCard (Turbo Chip in North America): A thin, card-like game medium. 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
Arcade Card Duo (left) and Arcade Card Pro
- 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)
- SuperGrafx ROM Adapter Unit (RAU-30), a cable with two large ends that allows connecting the SuperGrafx to the IFU-30
- Single-speed CD-ROM drive, managed by an NEC microcontroller and using the SCSI-I interface.
- Transfer rate of 150 kB/s.
- List of PC Engine games
- List of TurboGrafx-16 games
- List of TurboGrafx-CD and PC Engine-CD games
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- Video of TurboGrafx-16 and PC Engine hardware and features from FamicomDojo.TV
- TurboGrafx-16 at the Open Directory Project
Home consoles Handheld consoles Fourth generation video game consoles3rd generation5th generation
- PC Engine (1987)
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