Atari Jaguar CD

With the 1993 release of the cartridge-based Jaguar, Atari became the first company to release a 64-bit gaming console. At the time, the Jaguar had five main competitors in the console marketplace. Panasonic's CD-i was marketed more as a general-purpose multimedia machine than as a gaming console, something that never caught on with gamers, and both the 3DO and Neo Geo were being sold at prohibitive prices. Amongst its other two competitors, the Super NES and Genesis, the Jaguar was undeniably the most powerful in terms of hardware. But Atari did very little advertising to promote its 64-bit console, and as a result, the Jaguar struggled to stay in the market.

A year later, with the impending launch of the CD-based Saturn and PlayStation, Atari decided that the Jaguar needed to have multimedia capabilities as well and initiated development of an add-on CD device. The cost of the CD add-on was projected at $249, but it also required ownership of a $149 Jaguar base unit. The combination was deemed too expensive and, as a result, Atari began development of a hybrid unit to be priced at $300. The combined system never made it past a mockup, and no prototypes are known to exist.

While the Jaguar CD was released in 1995 at a price point of $150, it was actually released after both the Saturn and PlayStation consoles because of delays. Two full CD games, Blue Lightning and Vid Grid, were bundled with the add-on. A demo for Myst and a soundtrack CD for Tempest 2000 were also included.

The Jaguar CD has a double-speed CD-ROM drive with a proprietary CD format that allows for CDs of up to 790 megabytes. Each Jaguar CD disc is protected by encrypted data formatted to look like errors. The drive can also read music CDs as well as CD+G discs. The unit plugs on top of the Jaguar console and has a pass-through slot that allows gamers to play cartridge games with the Jaguar CD attached. Using the CinePak video decompression system, the unit can play back full screen true color FMV at 24 frames per second.

As an added feature when a regular music CD is inserted into the Jaguar CD, the Virtual Light Machine is activated. The VLM generates colors and visual effects on the fly based on the data being read from the music CD. Through a complicated setup system, gamers can customize the effects being displayed on screen. A memory cartridge for the Jaguar CD, the Memory Track, was released separately to enable game saving.

With the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation already released and the Nintendo N64's launch imminent, many software developers did not want to support the Jaguar or Jaguar CD. As a result, the CD unit saw just over ten games being released for it, with the majority of them being published by Atari itself. Other publishers with games for the Jaguar CD include ReadySoft with three games, Telegames with two, and Time Warner with a single entry.

Jaguar and Jaguar CD sales continued to be poor, and in 1996 a "reverse merger" was engineered between Atari and a little-known disk drive manufacturer named JTS. The merger gave JTS a $50 million influx of assets as well as an easy way to become a publicly traded company. It also gave Atari management a way to liquidate the company. Atari ceased to exist on the stock market, and JTS took its place. Immediately after the merger, JTS began a liquidation of all Jaguar merchandise, and in 1998, sold all of Atari's intellectual assets to Hasbro Interactive for $5 million. Somewhere around that time the Jaguar and its CD add-on quietly died. ~ Kyle Knight, All Game Guide


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