Posted on April 26th, 2013 2 comments
Someone on the Something Awful Forums’ retro thread finally followed through on his threat to get a Famicom Titler, a device that a lot of collectors have heard of but few have seen in action. (I got to play with one once but it was years ago.)
Released by Sharp in 1989 (the third hardware device released by them under Nintendo license after the Twin Famicom and the C1 TV-and-FC-in-one), the Titler is a 43,000 yen monster that, in addition to being an FC, lets you edit home video and add assorted computer-generated audio and visual effects to them. There was a small boom in these sorts of amateur-oriented titling devices in 1980s Japan, mainly targeted to parents with camcorders who loved videotaping every major moment of their child’s life. (These people were everywhere. It’s no accident that America’s Funniest Videos was a concept originally licensed from Japanese TV. And speaking of which, did you know that the US-based stereotype of the Japanese tourist snapping pictures of everything he sees dates back to at least the 1930s?)
Along those lines, it’s got S-Video and composite audio/video inputs and outputs like a regular TV, as well as a full set of editing software when you select “Edit” with an on-console switch and turn the power on. The built-in software lets you do things like add scrolling messages to home videos, put in still graphic images (there’s a whole line of built-in themed images, ranging from “A day at the beach” to “Our child’s graduation” to “Tanabata“), or add voice-over narration. The user enters the content of message scrolls via the stylus and very tiny touch pad on the console itself; voice-overs are handled using the microphone on controller 2. Flipping the “superimpose” switch on the console puts your finished titling work on the video image. If you want, you can also play an FC game and superimpose that over the video too; the Titler displays your home videos wherever the FC is generating the color black.
Perhaps more interesting to collectors is the fact that the Famicom Titler is the only official Famicom console to have native S-Video output. To accomplish this, Sharp developed the RC2C05-99 chip, a version of the RP2C02 PPU used in the FC upgraded to provide RGB output. This RGB output is converted into composite or S-Video for output from the console. Getting the system to output straight RGB is a fairly straightforward modification, and some hardware hackers have even salvaged the Famicom Titler PPU in order to install it into regular FCs for convenience’s sake. (Due to this new PPU, a small handful of games (like Just Breed and Paperboy) are incompatible with the Titler, and a few others, like Bubble Bobble, have graphical glitches with their color palettes.)
The Titler’s existence was never greatly advertised, especially considering it came out just before the Super Famicom in Japan. Sharp offered brand-new systems in their catalogs until at least 1995, however, and a warehouse find circa 2000 led to a fairly large number of systems making their way to collectors over there as well. The prices have been edging up lately, though, and a complete-in-box sample went for 165,000 yen across 42 bids on Yahoo! Auctions Japan in January of this year, a price that even most Japanese collectors thought was way out of hand.
The above video is a small demonstration of what the Titler can do, including goofy still images, scrolly messages, and superimposing FC games on top of other video imagery. The original video is of After Burner for the SMS for…reasons.