The TurboGrafx-16 (known in Japan as the PC Engine) was developed by Hudson Soft and NEC. It was released in North America on August 29, 1989. The system was conceived as a direct competitor to the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Hudson Soft originally tried to sell their advanced graphic chips to Nintendo, but after failing teamed up with NEC to produce their own console. The PC Engine was known for being the smallest console ever produced (excluding handhelds). The system's efficient 3 chip architecture combined with the fact that the games were stored on media resembling a credit card made it possible for the system to take up very little space. The chip cards that held the games were entitled TurboChips (HuCards in Japan).
In Japan the PC Engine was especially successful. After launch on October 30, 1987 it outsold the Famicom and Genesis annually until the launch of the Super Famicom. Between 1987 to 1993 twelve different variations of the console had been released.
The 16 referred to the fact that the TurboGrafx was a 16 bit system. This is debatable since the core processor is an 8bit processor, but the graphics chip was a 16bit chip.
The TurboGrafx-16 launched in North America with one controller and Keith Courage in the Alpha Zone as a pack in game. NEC tried to use the same marketing campaign that was successful in Japan by focusing ads in the most high profile population centers in the country, and hoping word of mouth would spread. However this led to the system only being mildly successful within those areas, and completely unknown everywhere else. It was even very difficult to find the console or games outside of those areas.
The TurboGrafx-16 also had to contend with the same issues that the Master System did as it came out while Nintendo was still able to enforce it's third party license arrangements. Named companies, even those that heavily supported the PC Engine, were not able to support the TG16 because of this.
Certain common hardware components were also missing from the console in order to make the system cheaper to produce. The original TG16 had only one controller port, and required the owner to purchase a 5 input multi-tap adapter in order to play with friends. Unlike other consoles, the multi-tap was widely supported with many games in the TurboGrafx library supporting games for more than two players.
The controllers for the TurboGrafx had short cables, so the Turbo Cable controller extension cord was available. The controllers themselves all featured 3 levels of turbo for the I and II buttons which was unique for first party controllers. A Turbo Stick arcade stick like controller was also released for the system.
The original system also lacked a composite output, and only supported an RF Modulator. The Turbo Booster add-on was required to use composite cables and pass through stereo sound. A second version, the Turbo Booster Plus, also included memory for saving in certain games.
Because of all these factors the TG16 was unsuccessful in North America. While over 400 games were released for the console in Japan, North America received less than 100 of those titles.
The Turbo-Grafx-16 featured region protection that locked out games from other regions. Despite this being a pretty common feature for all consoles, NEC's given reason was that most North American versions have had their difficulty reduced and/or censored for inappropriate content and they didn't want these games to impact the perception of the Japanese games.
In North America only the pin configuration on the cards prevented Japanese games from being played, but in Japan a hardware lockout mechanism was added to the system. Two Common HuCard Converters (the “Game Converter WH-301” and the "Kisado") were released in both markets to overcome the region locking issues. For a PC Engine system and additional hardware mod must be applied which involves lifting pin 29 on the Hu6280 processor and grounding it to the board.
Another version of the console that was released was the Turbo Express which was designed to compete against the Game Gear. The system was a portable TG16 which had it's own backlit screen and speakers. The big advantage to the Express was that it used the same Turbo Chips that the console used, so the owner could use their existing games. Like the Game Gear a TV Tuner add-on was also released. The biggest drawback to the system was the short battery life. Many units featured screens with dead pixels, or faulty sound capacitors. Which makes it difficult to find a working unit unless it's been repaired.
A CD add-on entitled the TurboGrafx-CD (PC Engine CD in Japan) was released and later combined for the TurboDuo system.
In Japan a follow-up system was released entitled the SuperGrafx. The system contained a duplicate set of video chips, four times as much RAM, twice as much video RAM, and a second layer/plane of scrolling.
The SuperGrafx played all PC-Engine games and 6 new SuperGrafx games. The system was compatible with the PC Engine CD to allow it to play PC Engine CD games.