Posted on June 11th, 2009 2 comments
Maker: NEC Home Electronics
Release Date: 4/8/88
Price: 3500 yen
The PC Engine, the brainchild of a computer and home-electronics manufacturer, had a lot of dedicated peripherals handling what were often relatively small tasks. The AV Booster is a classic example of this habit on NEC’s part, not to mention the earliest.
The original 1987-release PC Engine (the “white PCE”) did not allow for composite AV output. Like with the Famicom, it output RF video by default, requiring you to connect a heavy cable to your TV’s antenna jack and set the system to “broadcast” on whatever TV channel wasn’t being used in your neck of the woods. Composite outputs hadn’t quite become standard yet and were largely reserved for high-end, large-size units. (The Famicom did not officially allow for composite video until the redesigned console launched in 1993, though there were hardware hacks published in the doujin scene before then. The NES, by contrast, had composite from day-one in 1985.)
NEC-HE, being a high-end electronics maker, must have been thinking for a way to cater to this “videophile” audience from the beginning. That is no doubt why they released this AV Booster only about half a year after the PCE’s release. They were, after all, using the system’s superior graphics as one of their main advertising points — and even by this early point, the PCE’s game library was already leaning toward the hardcore, with quite a few ports of popular arcade games. The aim, in a way, was to convince gamers that playing the PCE on a state-of-the-art TV, in composite mode, was the obvious way to step up from the Famicom kid stuff.
The PC Engine came built-in with an expansion connector on the back of the unit, the device that allowed NEC’s “Core” concept to spread its wings. Nearly all the many, many peripherals NEC later released (most of them named “[something something] Booster”) connected to this port. While not exactly the flashiest of peripherals, this was actually the first consumer device to use the PCE connector at all.
Things connected up like you see on the left. All you had to do is snap the AV Booster in place behind the PCE, and you had composite output and stereo sound. (The old RF connection method didn’t allow for stereo, ironic because many PCE games had stereo music even by this point, most notably Yōkai Dōchūki.) The composite cable was included in the package, and if your TV (like mine, back in the day) only had one composite audio input jack, you were instructed to use the white cord, not the red one. The Booster even included a small plastic cap for the single unused sound jack if your TV was mono only. They thought of everything.
Although the AV Booster was a fine product for its time, it led to problems later on in the PCE’s career. This is chiefly thanks to Hudson’s Tennokoe 2, a popular memory backup device that also connected to the system’s rear port. You couldn’t use that and the AV Booster simultaneously, and if a game saved to the Tennokoe, then you had no choice but to play it with RF video.
The problem was fixed with the CD-ROM System, which came with composite output and memory backup by default. For users not willing to upgrade, NEC Home Electronics later released the Backup Booster, a peripheral that combined backup support with composite output. However, this device was released in the same era as the PC Engine Shuttle and Core Grafx, both of which also had AV output jacks, so it was wholly unnecessary unless you wanted to stick with your white PCE come hell or high water. (Amusingly, NEC also released an RF Unit that allowed these two composite-only systems to output RF video. You could say they were trying to cover all their bases; you could say they had no particular sales strategy in mind with all the hardware they developed…)