NEC's PC Engine, released in Japan in 1987, met with phenomenal success. With a 16-bit custom graphics processor, the PC Engine blew away its competition in terms of graphics. Its games came in Hu-CARDs, pieces of plastic the size of a credit card and roughly twice as thick. The only flaw was that it only had one controller port, but gamers could purchase a multi-tap device that would enable support for up to five controllers simultaneously. Although the PC Engine was very successful, NEC decided to upgrade it anyway by embracing the emerging compact disc format.
In early 1989, NEC carved out a special place in history for itself when it released the CD-ROM2 attachment for its PC Engine. With the attachment, the PC Engine became the first gaming console to use CDs. Sitting beside the PC Engine, the CD-ROM2 would connect to the base unit through a stylish interface unit that also doubled as a carrying case for both systems. The idea took Japan by storm, and only served to accelerate the PC Engine's sales.
NEC also decided to try its luck in the U.S. market in 1989, releasing the PC Engine with a redesigned case as the TurboGrafx-16. With every other system in the U.S. having two controller ports, NEC released the TurboGrafx-16 with only one. The situation was remedied by the release of the Turbo Tap, which is the same multi-tap device that the PC Engine could use to support up to five controllers.
The TG-16 is also twice the size of the PC Engine, and consequently the CD and interface units would have to be redesigned. NEC came up with the Turbo CD, a unit which is functionally equivalent to the CD-ROM2 but would sit behind the TurboGrafx-16 on a docking base. NEC released both systems in late 1989, with the TurboGrafx-16 selling at $189 and the Turbo CD at an amazing $400.
Japanese sales continued to be brisk, but in the U.S., NEC faced an unexpected problem. At the time, Nintendo had a strong third-party developer policy; if they wanted to develop for Nintendo, they could only develop for Nintendo. As a result, very few developers were willing or able to support NEC. Sega, which also released the Genesis in 1989, could fall back on its library of arcade ports. But NEC had no such luck. The TurboGrafx-16 managed to sell decently, but the overpriced Turbo CD barely moved at all.
In 1991, NEC again made gaming history by releasing the PC Engine Duo in Japan, the first stand-alone system capable of supporting CD games. The PC Engine Duo could play all the CD games already released, as well as the new Super CD format. Gamers who already have the PC Engine and CD-ROM2 setup could purchase a System Card to play Super CD games.
The System Card plugs into the Hu-CARD slot and gives the Engine and CD setup more RAM to bring it on par with the PC Engine Duo. Gamers who only had a PC Engine but wanted to play Super CD-ROM2 games were supported as well; they could purchase the Super CD-ROM2 add-on unit. The thing was massive, and when a PC Engine was inserted into the front, it practically dwarfed the base console.
NEC brought the PC Engine Duo to the U.S. in the form of the TurboDuo in 1992. The System Card was also released in the U.S. so that gamers could play Super CD games on their TurboGrafx-16 and CD setup. With developer Hudson, NEC also founded Turbo Technologies Incorporated to manage U.S. sales and marketing. TTI's strongly aggressive marketing appeared to gamers as being overly confrontational and actually backfired. Support continued to dwindle, and by the end of 1993, NEC's foray into the U.S. market had ended with a very disappointing performance overall.
The PC Engine and its successors continued to sell in Japan, and had support up to 1997. The Arcade CD format, the third in the console's life, was also created. Both PC Engine Duo owners and gamers who owned the original PC Engine and CD-ROM2 setup could purchase Arcade Cards, loaded with even more RAM than the System Cards, to play the new Arcade CD games. ~ Kyle Knight, All Game Guide