Turbo DUO

1 2
Lifespan: 1992-1993
CPU: 7.16 MHz 8-bit HuC6280 3
Audio: 6 Channels (Uses CPU) 4
1 ADPCM Channel
CD Audio
Co-Processors: 3.58 Mhz PSG 5
Video Processor: 16-bit HuC6270 6
Color Processor: HuC6260 7
Resolutions: 256x256 || 320x256 8
Video RAM: 64 KB
CD RAM: 256 KB (Super System Card 3.0)
2048 KB (2 MB Arcade Card) 9
Colors On Screen: 480
(60-90 Average, ~128 Max in games) 10
Color Palette: 512  ( 32 Palettes of 16 colors each) 11
Sprite Max & Size: 64 at 16x16, 16x32, 16x64, 32x16, 32x32, and 32x64 pixels 12
Sprites per Scanline: 16 13
Background Planes: 1 Layer 
(Dynamic Tiles and Sprites were used to create up to four scrolling layers)


      The Turbo CD add-on suffered in the US from a high retail price and a relatively small library of localized software.  By 1992 the PC-Engine (Japanese TurboGrafx) and CD-ROM attachment had been combined into one stand alone console simply called DUO.  By summer of 1991 the DUO was known to be a TG16 and CD-ROM combined.  The original CD-ROM attachment was reputedly limited by the Turbo Grafx's 64KB of VRAM.  Appropriately, the DUO also built in the Super System Card, which mainly upgraded the system's video RAM to 256KB and cost $65-90 on its own.  A new compression method, that would multiply the amount of data stored in Turbo CD games to "hundreds of gigabits," was also rumored to be employed by the new generation of Turbo CD DUO games.14  The combination of the DUO, Super System Card and NEC's "New Interactive Display" compression method caused Electronic Gaming Monthly (EGM) to dub the Turbo CD as "the word in expandability."15  NEC's products and the press surrounding them demonstrate how important incremental upgrades to existing hardware were in the video game industry of the early nineties. 

    Readers of EGM in 1991 felt the newly released SNES and Sega's add-on to the Genesis, the Mega CD in Japan, mandated a response from NEC.  Tim Bassinger of Boise Idaho asked what NEC would do to offset the technical superiority of these two systems and EGM considered the Super System Card and NEC's compression system to be adequate responses.16  NEC Japan's PC-Engine DUO, which incorporated the base system and CD-ROM add-on with the 256KB RAM upgrade, listed for $460 but had already been discounted to $330.  The list price was in the same range as the Megadrive-Mega CD combo unit announced in the same segment, but the discounted price was extremely close to what the Sega CD would cost alone in the US.  Yet NEC Japan was prone to releasing incremental upgrades and accessories only in Japan.  As a result, NEC of America had to negotiate with its parent company for the rights to release the DUO.  NEC Japan had already moved on to expensive revisions like the $770 PC-Engine Laptop.17 

     High level negotiations between international corporations and their regional subsidiaries were rarely reported on.  CD-ROM based game media and incremental system upgrades were important enough for such a report, and seen by Gamepro as a corporate "rattling sabres" in the game industry. 18  During the same Winter Consumer Electronics Show that Sega avoided showing upcoming Sega CD titles for Hudson Soft and NEC Technologies announced its merger to create Turbo Technologies (TTI).  TTI was a Los Angeles based company that designed to develop and market all TurboGrafx products and launch the Turbo DUO that August.19 

     Gamepro reported, in March of 1992, that the PC-Engine was still a "formidable Number 2" in Japan before praising Konami's "forward looking" CD game development facility.20  CD-ROM development was still an experimental format however.  Emil Heidkamp, senior vice president of Konami's Consumer Division, admitted that the new facility was created because Konami wanted to begin "compact disk game development to see how the CD games would sell." According to Gamepro, Konami's Technical Facility in Kobe Japan was created to be dedicated to CD development and employed "top video game programmers and artists." 21  CD-ROM games were not just noticed in Japan, as the "Reader's Choice Awards" for 1991 gave Sherlock Holmes for Turbo CD the "Graphics Achievement" stamp for its live actors and the quality of its Full Motion Video (FMV).22 

    Mark Bray of Toronto Canada asked, in a letter to EGM, why NEC had not localized more PC-Engine CD-ROM games like Far East of Eden and the R-Type Complete CD.  The Japanese library seemed "a much wider (and better) selection" to Bray, who had imported the Super System Card 3.0 and purchased a PC Engine Adapter.  EGM reiterated Hudson's and TTI's US release of the Turbo DUO, and promised that Far East of Eden 2, Tengai Makyou II in Japan, would see a US localization.23  No US translations of the PC-Engine CD Tengai Makyou games were ultimately released.

     Nintendo's restrictive licensing contract had lost its grip on third parties, so with a large library of Japanese games to localize TTI marketed the Turbo DUO against the Sega CD add-on for the Genesis.

     Meanwhile, Sega's Genesis had already captured the public's attention to such a degree that even the Super Nintendo took years to catch up to it worldwide, and barely managed to do so in the US. As a result, the Turbo DUO was forgotten by the masses almost as soon as it was released, and yet it remains a hard-core and import gaming favorite.  US localizations of PC-Engine CD games for the DUO were as slim as NEC had provided for the Turbo CD, but a large over seas library and the type and quality of titles released locally lent the PC-Engine and TurboGrafx a very important legacy.

     The NEC PC-Engine is credited as the reason the Sega Megadrive (Genesis) failed to take hold in Japan. During the Megadrive's formative years following its release in 1988 the PC-Engine not only outsold it but garnered a larger software library.  Dracula X: Rondo of Blood is among the PC-Engine's large library of games, and is the game that inspired the Playstation hit, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.

     Sale price for a Turbo DUO in 2005 ranged as high $400 new in box, $300 average, and importing a PC-Engine DUO cost over $150 with shipping. Meanwhile the NES and SNES could be had for $50, and the Genesis console and its games had been all but forgotten by the masses. While the TurboGrafx-16 and its add-on were utter marketing failures, they also are perhaps the greatest success story from a gaming perspective. Having been killed by the fickle and abstract rules of business and marketing, the Turbo systems maintain high demand and value with gamers regardless.

  1. 1. Jonathan J. Burtenshaw, ClassicGaming.com's Museum NEC TurboGrafx-16 (TG16) - 1989-1993 (archive.org February 1, 2008)
  2. 2. TurboGrafx-16/Duo FAQ - By John Yu, Last revised: 05/25/95 (archive.org May 14, 2007)
  3. 3. GAMESX.com Forums, Console Mods, RobIvy64 (e-mail) "TG-16/PCE overclocking success!" (archive.org May 1, 2008)
  4. 4. 6 Waveforms, 1 Frequency Modulated Channel leaves 4 Waveforms, 1 Waveform Channel can become White Noise, all channels can be programmed for sound samples. Paul Clifford (e-mail), PC Engine Programmable Sound Generator (psg.txt) (accessed February 18, 2010) available from http://www.plasma.demon.co.uk/pcengine/; internet.
  5. 5. Clifford, psg.txt $0802 - Fine frequency adjust
  6. 6. Emanuel Schleussinger, PC-Engine Video Display Controller Documentation (vdcdox.txt), (February 1998, accessed March 19, 2010) available from http://www.zophar.net/documents/pce.html; internet.
  7. 7. Paul Clifford (e-mail), PC Engine Video Colour Encoder (vce.txt)(accessed February 18, 2010) available from http://www.plasma.demon.co.uk/pcengine/; internet.
  8. 8. Typically only 216 horizontal lines are visible and are either 256 or 320 pixels wide, Schleussinger, (vdcdox.txt) 5. The Sprites in the VRAM.
  9. 9. Japan Only
  10. 10. Sixteen 15 Color palettes for the background, sixteen 15 Color Palettes for Sprites, Clifford, (vce.txt).
  11. 11. Clifford, (vce.txt).
  12. 12. Nimai Malle (e-mail), pce_doc Video Sprites (accessed March 20, 2010) available from http://emudocs.org/?page=PC%20Engine
  13. 13. Actual limit may be 8 due to 16 pixel wide sprites being aligned as 32 pixel sprites, Malle, pce_doc Video Sprites
  14. 14. "Electronic Gaming Express...New CD-ROM Drives Announced By NEC, Sony And Phillips," Electronic Gaming Monthly, August 1991, 38.
  15. 15. Turbo Champ, Electronic Gaming Monthly, September 1991, 68.
  16. 16. "Interface: Letters To The Editor, NEC NEWS...," Electronic Gaming Monthly, December 1991, 12.
  17. 17. "Electronic Gaming Express... NEC to Bring Out U.S. TurboGrafx DUO in Late 1992...?," Electronic Gaming Monthly, January 1992, 48.
  18. 18. "The Whizz," "Cutting Edge, The DUO Comes to America" Gamepro, 16.
  19. 19. "EGM Express NEC Merges with Hudson, Brings Turbo DUO to U.S.!!," Electronic Gaming Monthly, February 1992, 40.
  20. 20. "The Gamepros," "The Forecast: A Good Year for Games," Gamepro, March 1992, 8.
  21. 21. "Pro News Report," Gamepro, March 1992, 90.
  22. 22. "Team Gamepro," "1991 Reader's Choice Awards," Gamepro, March 1992, 20.
  23. 23. "Interface: Letters to the Editor, TurboGrafx DUO..." Electronic Gaming Monthly, March 1992, 16.