The TurboGrafx-16 is the North American version of the PC Engine, originally released in August 1989.
From a technical point of view, the TurboGrafx-16 is largely identical to the PC Engine, however unlike its contemporary, the Sega Genesis, NEC radically overhauled the look of the console for its new target market. The TurboGrafx-16 was physically lengthened (reportedly to meet FCC requirements), with a new black case and entirely different stylings. Its software and accessories use slightly different pin configurations, making them incompatible with their Japanese counterparts (likely as a form of regional lock-out, as opposed to technical benefits).
It was also marketed in an entirely different way, most notably its claim of being a 16-bit system in a market dominated by the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES). This description is something of a misnomer, however, as the core CPU of the machine is 8-bit, offering only 16-bit advantages in terms of graphics.
In select countries of Europe, the TurboGrafx-16 is the basis for the non-numbered TurboGrafx system. Save for some minor modifications for PAL televisions, the two machines are thought to be identical.
While the PC Engine was able to beat Sega's Mega Drive to market by several months in Japan (and thus build up a significant install base who had migrated from the aging Family Computer), the same cannot be said for the TurboGrafx-16. It was initially sold in the test markets of New York City and Los Angeles in late August 1989, however Sega's North American equivalent, the Genesis reached these test markets two weeks prior, effectively becoming the first 16-bit console to officially reach United States soil.
This untimely release schedule meant that the TurboGrafx-16 was always on the back foot. While NEC had planned to position itself favourably against the NES, it was forced from the outset to challenge the technically superior Genesis. Moreover the Genesis launch title and pack-in, Altered Beast was considered to be a far better example of the potential of 16-bit systems than NEC's Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, the pack-in choice for the TurboGrafx-16.
Nevertheless NEC were serious about the TurboGrafx-16, pledging to stop its television, video recorders and other electronics produce from being sold in the US so that it could focus solely on its new console.
The Genesis' success in these initial months led to a string of high quality arcade ports and big name sports titles across 1990, and when Sonic the Hedgehog debuted in June 1991, the market became a two horse race between the Genesis and the newly launched Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Until around mid-1992, all TurboGrafx-16 marketing had been handled by NEC's subsidiary, NEC Home Electronics USA, however failure to get to grips with the market and declining sales led to the establishment of Turbo Technologies, Inc (TTI), a joint venture between NEC and Hudson Soft to market the line going forward. This coincided with the release of the TurboDuo in October, which became the model of choice and the effective replacement of both the TurboGrafx-16 and TurboGrafx-CD units.
NEC claimed 750,000 TurboGrafx-16s had been sold by March 1991, with a suspected 1-2 million in total. Meanwhile the original PC Engine amassed roughly 8 million unit sales in Japan alone, eclipsing Mega Drive sales in the territory.
With the announcement of the TurboDuo, the price of the system was cut to $69.99 in 1992. This actually put the system at a lower price point than the NES, then at $79.
US TV advert
| TurboGrafx-16, US|
(with Bonk's Revenge)
|TurboGrafx-16 (TurboGrafx) (1989) | TurboExpress (1990)|
|TurboBooster | TurboBooster-Plus | TurboCable | TurboPad | TurboStick | TurboTap|
|AC Adapter | Car Adapter | TurboLink | TurboVision|