TurboExpress

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TurboExpress/PC Engine GT
NEC-TurboExpress-Upright-FL.jpg
TurboExpress handheld
Manufacturer NEC Home Electronics
Type Handheld game console
Generation Fourth generation
Release date
  • JP: December 1, 1990[1]
  • NA: December 1990
Introductory price $249.99
Units sold 1.5 million units
Media HuCard
CPU HuC6280 @ 7.16 MHz or 1.79 MHz
Memory 8KB RAM
Display 400×270 pixels
Graphics 512 color palette, 481 colors on-screen
Sound 6-channel PSG
Connectivity TurboLink
Power 6 AA batteries or 6 volt AC adapter
Related articles TurboGrafx-16

The PC Engine GT (Japanese: PCエンジンGT) is a handheld video game console by NEC Home Electronics, released in late 1990 in Japan, and the United States as the TurboExpress Handheld Entertainment System. It is essentially a portable version of the TurboGrafx-16/PC Engine home console that came two to three years earlier. Its launch price in Japan was ¥44,800 and $249.99 in the U.S.

The TurboExpress was technically advanced at the time, able to play all the TurboGrafx-16's HuCard games, featuring a TV tuner, and a backlit, active-matrix color LCD screen[2] that is sized 66 mm (2.6 in.), the same as the original Game Boy. It can display 64 sprites at once, 16 per scanline, in up to 481 colors from a palette of 512.[citation needed] It has 8 kilobytes of RAM, and it runs a HuC6280 CPU at 1.79 or 7.16 MHz, same as TurboGrafx-16.

The TurboExpress primarily competed with Nintendo's Game Boy, Sega's Game Gear, and the Atari Lynx. However, with 1.5 million units sold, far behind its two main competitors, NEC failed to gain significant sales or market share in the handheld market.[3]

History[edit]

The PC Engine GT's codename was Game Tank. A working prototype was revealed in the April 1990 issue of VG&CE.[4] It was eventually released in December 1990 in both Japan and the U.S. Its price in the U.S. was briefly raised to $299.99 in March 1991 due to higher costs of the display,[5] before dropping back to its launch price of $249.99, and lowering the price again to $199.99 in 1992.

Hardware[edit]

The PC Engine GT

The TurboExpress had a backlit display as a system feature. Handheld market leader Nintendo did not have a backlit handheld until the release of the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003. Its keypad layout is similar to that of the original Game Boy, with the unique addition of two "turbo switches" that engage two levels of high-speed controller button re-triggering to assist the player.

Due to a problem with cheap capacitors (an industry-wide issue in the early 1990s), sound failure is a frequent problem with the TurboExpress, sometimes even in new systems.[6] The screen used in the TurboExpress was another source for problems, though it was state of the art when it was released. The LCD technology used was still fairly new and the rate of pixel failure was very high. Brand-new TurboExpress systems often had several bad pixels. Text is also difficult or impossible to read in certain circumstances, as many times fonts were written to be seen on a television screen, not on a small LCD screen. As a result, certain RPGs and adventure games can be difficult to play on the unit.[citation needed]

Some TurboGrafx-16 HuCards save game data to the internal memory of the TurboGrafx-CD unit, TurboDuo, or TurboBooster Plus (a peripheral for the core TG-16 console). The TurboExpress lacks this internal memory, and as a result it is not capable of saving in this manner. Most games provide a password save mechanism as an alternative.

The battery life is about three hours for 6 AA batteries. This is also a problem for other color and backlit or sidelit handhelds of the time, such as the Game Gear at 5–6 hours, the Sega Nomad at 2–3 hours, and the Atari Lynx at more than 4 hours. Nintendo's Game Boy had a 40-hour lifespan on 4 AA batteries, which is why they dominated NEC among others.

Specifications[edit]

  • CPU: HuC6280
  • CPU speed: 7.16 MHz or 1.79 MHz (switchable in software)
  • Resolution: 400x270 pixels
  • Color palette: 512 colors; 9-bit RGB
  • Max simultaneous colors: 481 on screen
  • Max sprites: 64
  • Audio: 6-voice Programmable Sound Generator

TurboLink[edit]

The TurboLink cable.

The TurboLink allows two-player play. Falcon, a flight simulator, includes a "head-to-head" dogfight mode that can only be accessed via TurboLink. This technology was also used for Bomberman '93 Com-Link multiplayer. It was released after the TurboExpress launch. However, very few TG-16 games offer co-op play modes especially designed with the TurboExpress in mind.

TurboVision[edit]

The TurboVision TV tuner

TurboVision is a TV tuner adapter for the TurboExpress. The accessory was available at launch for US$100.[7] It allowed a player to either watch television, or go back to playing games with the flip of a switch; in other words, one may use the TurboExpress as a video monitor. It includes an RCA audio/video input for external composite video signals. However, due to the widespread adoption of digital television and the HDTV standard, the adapter will no longer function as a television in most places due to the lack of any HDTV digital processing circuitry (the tuner can only process an analog signal for television). Due to this limitation, the TV tuner adapter is now relegated to a collectible for most people although its RCA audio/video input function (albeit very limited with its low screen resolution) will still be operational with the correct cables.

Reception[edit]

Computer Gaming World favorably compared TurboExpress to Game Boy, but stated that the NEC handheld "gobbles power like crazy ... almost forcing players to immediately purchase an AC adapter". The magazine nonetheless praised its compatibility with TurboGrafx games, and concluded that "to see this machine in action is to fall in love with it".[8]

Regardless of its technical advantages upon its release, the Turbo Express was not widely recognized or adopted by gamers.[9] In addition to NEC's marketing issues, the handheld was initially released for $299.99, significantly higher than popular competitors. Because of this price tag it was labeled as the "Rolls Royce of handheld systems".[10]

In popular culture[edit]

The TurboExpress appears in the movies 3 Ninjas and Enemy of the State, with the latter appearance taking place well after the system's demise. It also appears in the television series Doogie Howser, M.D.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  • The Electronic Gaming Monthly 1991 Video Game Buyers Guide.