RCA Studio II FAQ v 0.2
Original version by Jack Spencer Jr. <../../firstname.lastname@example.org> (who has WAAAAY too much time on his hands).
HTML Version with some annotations and updates by Paul Robson <mailto:email@example.com>
Last updated on 8th November 2000.
FIRST THINGS FIRST
I would like to take the time to thank my contributors, without whom, this FAQ would go like this:
Q: What is the RCA Studio II
A: I dunno.
...And that'd be it!
Here they are in no particular order:
"petebuilt," for his promotional materials
Dean Dierschow for starting the cartridge list
Andrew Krieg for finishing it
John Dondzila for the CPU
Lee Seitz for the power requirements.
"Dr Ido" for info on the *COLOR* Australian clone, the Sheen M1200 BOISSEAU Olivier for info on the MPT-02, a European clone.
Ward Shrake, for his work on archiving the Vic 20 and Arcadia 2001, an inspiration to me.
Not to mention the "Dream System" intro (his was for the Arcadia 2001. I rewrote it for the Studio II)
and me, Paul Robson, owner of http://www.classicgaming.com/studio2
There are liable to be countless other sites I got this or that tidbit from, but forgot to write them down and couldn't find them again. Thanks, you guys.
If you recognize information that obviously came from your site and would like to receive credit or would like to contribute to this FAQ, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org <mailto:email@example.com>
Many of you may be wondering "why the Studio II?" "Do I like it?" "Did I have one as a kid?" "Are you going to eat the rest of that?"
Oh, no. Help yourself.
As for the Studio II, to my knowledge, I have never played one. I am doing this FAQ is because I am a video game nut and believe all video games deserve their place in history. The first FAQ I tried to do was on the Creativision, but that was almost entirely taken from Andrew Davies's site, so I felt like I needed to try again. I looked toward the earlier systems. Fairchild's Channel F already had a FAQ, so next in line was Studio II.
The Studio II is often the butt of jokes due to the primitive nature of the hardware. This does not reflect on how fun it is to play any of the games, mind you, but why have just plain vanilla when you could have vanilla chocolate and strawberry?
The going opinion on the Studio II is that it is a pathetic video game system and I cannot help but agree with many of the reasons for this view. For the purpose of this FAQ, I wanted to take a more even-handed approach and bring out the systems good points.
Then I though, to hell with it. If the system is crap, there's no way to put a positive spin on it.
I'm just going to tell the truth.
As it turns out, I managed to uncover loads of "new" information on this system. This makes me feel like I actually accomplished something, unlike the Creativision FAQ.
Just so long as no one calls me Studio II boy. (This goes for me too ! PR)
Most of this FAQ is comprised of facts, which no one can really claim propriety of. The balance is comprised of my of ideas, notions, theories and impressions. If you feel the need to copy and/or steal these things, that's your problem. This FAQ may be reproduced in its entirety so long as it's on a not-for-profit basis. If RCA couldn't make money on the Studio II, nobody should.
AMAZING 1977 "DREAM" SYSTEM
Imagine for a moment that you are back in the summer of 1977, cruising through your favorite store. A new thing had been sweeping the neighbor hood known as "home video games." Most of them only played a version of an arcade game call Pong, although others played different games, like soccer. The main thing about these games is that they all had contained within them the games that they played. So to play any new games, you had to buy a new system (oh boy, hockey!)
You see the box for a new game system. You read the packaging. It claims to have 20,000 bits of memory. You have no idea what that means. People just weren't as computer savvy back then, but it sounds like a lot. It doesn't look too much different from your Pong system except, instead of dials or levels for controllers, it has numeric key pads. The TV screen's image is in black and white, and not too different from most Pong games. What sets it apart is the strange slot in the back center of the unit. Things called "cartridges" fit into this slot to allow the unit to play games. Some of you may be familiar with this concept from the Magnavox Odyssey.
However, according to the pushy salesman, the difference between the two is that the Odyssey is a just like the Pong units. All of the games are actually within the unit itself. It's just that, rather than having a switch or button, the Odyssey used separate cards. This new system is "programmable" which means that the cartridges contain computer code to make the system play games. This means a practically infinite number of games could be made for it, but writing new code.
This salesman is desperately trying to teach you all about computers within five minutes to close the sale.
Most of the games available now don't seem like much, but there's a game called Space War. Star Wars is a big hit in movie theaters, so this game might be fun. There are also some sports and board games.
All this, and the system is reasonably priced, so you can talk your parents into buying it for you. Why, they'd have to see that it was the best system ever made!
So what is this dream system, you ask?
It is RCA's "Studio II" system, as they had originally envisioned it.
Yes, I mean it. The lonely, forgotten, much-maligned Studio II system.
I kind of stole this intro from Ward Shrake, although it has been completely rewritten, since his original piece was about the Emerson Arcadia 2001. Personally, I find the two systems run somewhat parallel to each other since both were designed with a "small advance" in mind. Both came out with little "breakthrough" technology added. Mostly, they just wanted to one-up the competition. Little did they realized that they both be one-up squared by another system that was designed to break new ground. For the Arcadia 2001, it was the Colecovision. For the Studio II, the Channel F, which came out a couple months before hand, and the Atari Video Computer System, which outclassed them both. The Studio II lacked color and this is what made it such a laughingstock in the video game marketplace. The Studio II became a rather pathetic footnote in video game history.
[BTW, I asked Ward his permission to bogart his intro, and he was happy someone thought it was good enough to copy]
RCA released the Studio II in January of 1977 and sold for about $149.95 with cartridges going for about $14.95-$19.95. RCA had been offered the Odyssey, invented by Ralph Baer, but Magnavox actually got the rights and produced the Odyssey. RCA executive must have been upset at letting an obvious advance in consumer electronic slip through their fingers.
At this time, Pong was the game of choice and countless imitators were flooding the market. RCA must have wanted to one-up the competition, both Magnavox and the Pong manufacturers with the Studio II. The Odyssey had several game cards that plugged into the unit to allow different games to be played. However, the cards were merely jumpers that unlocked the games were contained within the unit itself. The cards contained no programming code. RCA was taking advantage of the rapidly evolving computer technology to have programmable game cartridges. That is, the cartridges would contain a game code that the main unit would translate into TV fun!
This would have worked except the rapidly evolving technology surpassed the Studio II very quickly. The Atari 2600 was released later that same year.
The Studio II would have had the distinction of being the first programmable game system, but Fairchild released its Channel F system the previous August, beating them to the market by mere months.
RCA produced nine games for the Studio II and it left the video game market in 1979, now twice burned.
The Studio II was one big missed opportunity after another. Since the unit looked similar to a pong unit, it would have made a more logical choice as the first programmable system instead of the superior Channel F, what with it's more primitive "Pong-like" styling and Black & White technology. This either reflects how fast technology was advancing or how cheap RCA was in producing their product.
It wasn't all technology, however. The real advantage Atari had was not it's superior hardware, but it's licenses. VCS sales were poor until Atari released the popular arcade game Space Invaders.
Could the Studio II have done as well if it got a popular arcade license? I doubt it. It might have done Space Invaders well enough. It's a pretty simple game. But Pac-Man on the Studio II would have looked worse that the 2600 version. I just doubt the system would have had the power to last too long. It might have paved the way for the Studio III, had it been successful, but RCA seemed too half-hearted in its pursuit of the video game market for of this to be a possibility.
Overall, it is a fairly rare system since it never sold well. Chances are most people either threw theirs out or packed it away after they got an Atari. This means you're more likely to find one shoved in a corner of the attic when you buy a house, covered with mouse droppings and icky spiders than to find one in a thrift store. Most collectors accurately view it as a novelty. There is little about the system to make it important, other than it was one of the first programmable systems. It does have a slick, retro look. Most collectors will buy one if they find one, but it's usually the first thing to go when they need to make space. The only other attraction the system has is because it was such a poor seller, there is a definite, finite list of games for it. This makes collecting a complete library much easier than, say the Atari 2600, with its 900+ games, regardless of the rarity issues.
I can't tell you much about the unit, physically, since I don't have one (yet). The unit itself measures about _x_x_ and is yellowish beige in color. On both the left and right of the unit it has numeric keypads. There are arrows by the key to indicate there use as directional control.
I think it's laugh-out-loud hilarious that this thing and Mattel's Intellivision were the only two systems at the time to feature 16-directional controls. (the 8 keys and press two adjacent keys together to get the other 8 directions.) I am not sure if the Studio II could actually support 16 directions. Pressing two keys together may just make the unit smoke. (PR: No, it won't)
Between the two keypads is a metallic plate. Starting from the front of the machine, there is a clear (reset) button, a power indicator light.
Right at the back of the plate is the cartridge slot. Much has been written/copied about the cartridge slot being unique since it has two rod that insert into holes in the cartridge which is the opposite of what we normally expect. I will now dispute this claim using their own example, the Atari 2600. 2600 carts do have two tabs that insert into the console, to keep the cart straight, but there are also two tab that insert into the cartridge! They only have a function with Atari manufactured carts, to unlock the cart and allow a panel to slide back to expose the connectors. This device is, presumably to protect the circuits and connectors from dust, but only official Atari carts had this feature, so it is understandable the two console tabs were overlooked. Besides, the Studio II has two really big honking metal rods that insert into the cartridge, so they deserve some mention.
PR: The Studio IIs prongs have a very similar function. There is a sort of metal comb that connects all the pins together, presumably as an anti-static device. This comb is pushed
up and out of the way by the rods on the console box. If you look up the holes you can see the edge of the lifting bar. Dismantling a Studio II cartridge involves, basically, brute force.
Only a single 18' cord comes out of the back right of the unit which plugs into the selector switch. The switch, in turn hooks up to the television set (preferably an RCA unit ;-) as well as a wall outlet for power, similar to the Atari 5200. The game/TV switch also acts as the power switch, which is a good thing since there is no power switch on the unit! This make the Studio II a very compact and tidy system, with a minimum of wires. I (PR) hate the bloody cable. You can't remove it. It's only tidy when it's next to a TV !
All of the sound comes from a speaker in the center of the unit.
The cartridges themselves measure 8 x 11.5 x 2 cm and are of a similar yellow color with even yellower labels of them. The boxes have unremarkable artwork on them, which have nothing to do with the blocky graphics, I assure you. Instruction manuals are a must since to start the game tend to require pressing the right key for the option you want. Otherwise the screen remains blank.
The games were divided into four categories, much like the "Network" concept Mattel had for its games, TV Arcade, TV Casino, TV Mystic and TV Schoolhouse. The educational TV Schoolhouse was an interesting innovation for video games which at the time consisted of hitting a ball back and forth, but the Channel F had this first, too, with Math Quiz I & II (games 6 & 7 respectively, therefore part of the initial release).
The only other thing about the cartridges worthy of mention is that they only have connectors on one side of the circuit board. This is probably because the unit didn't need/couldn't handle any more information coming in (PR: and also the 1802 multiplexes its address bus which saves 8 pins.)
For more detail than any sane person could ever want see the technical information page <http://www.classicgaming.com/studio2/techinfo.htm>.
I don't know much about the Studio II, tech-wise. That's OK, that kind of stuff goes right over my head. Here is what I have:
Processor: RCA COSMAC 1802
MEMORY: 20,000 bits
If memory serves, there are 8 bits to a byte and K means 1000, so, 20,000/8=2,500 bytes = 2.5KB Wow, Air-Sea Battle for the Atari was about 2KB, that was this things total memory!
Power: 9 V DC, ?
Graphics: B/W (see below) 128x64 or 64x64 (64 x 32, PR, can theoretically do 64 x 128)
A fellow named Andrew Modla who works for a company called Tekla Inc. stated he programmed more than half of the games for the system. The system itself was coded by Joseph Weisbacker, who is now deceased..
STUDIO II AROUND THE WORLD
Europe: Hanimex MPT-02
This unit was manufactured by the same Asian company that made the Arcadia 2001 clone MPT-03, but it was distributed by a different company, Hanimex instead of Prestige. This explains why the MPT-03 has Studio II-like cartridges and the same cart slot with two rods that insert into the cartridge. (PR: This too is a colour machine. Studio II Carts will work on it, in two colour mode (not necessarily black and white !))
The MPT-02 sports detachable controllers with cords about 2' in length. This give it a bonus over the Studio II for that reason alone.
Australia: Sheen M1200
This unit differed from the RCA Studio II in three major respects.
1) the unit is black in color.
2) it has a separate power cord, rather than power being routed through the TV connection box
3) its color
That's right, *C*O*L*O*R* The Sheen M1200 had a color output. When I put forth the theory that the games were color, but the hardware could only put out b/w, "Dr Ido" had this to say:
"If I still had one here I could open it up and give you some part numbers to compare with the ICs in the Studio 2, specifically the display controller.
The video/rf out in the sheen m1200 is on a daughter card, could it be the studio 2 (or at least the display controller) is color, but the rf daughter card only generates a mono signal.. or (unlikely) its a PAL system and therefore you get black and white on an NTSC TV.."
I haven't been able to confirm nor refute these claims. Most Studio II collector I have met remain skeptical. (PR: They are wrong, it does exist). The Studio II had a plain black & white output, no shades of gray, like you saw when you put your Atari 2600 on B/W. This leads me to believe the games were just B/W, but some hardware enhancement applies colors to the games.
Except "Dr Ido" states the built in game "Doodles" had up to 8 colors.
This confirms the original set of theories the games are color, but the unit only produces B/W.
I have no idea why RCA would make the unit B/W except, perhaps to save on costs or they had the unit designed by an outside company that uses PAL. The unit works fine on PAL, but puts out B/W on most other TV standards. In this case, RCA must have just been stymied by costs and wanting to get into the market quickly, and so couldn't correct the color problem. (The actual reason is the availability of an off the shelf chip , the CDP1861:PR)
None of this has been confirmed. Windy theories....
The M1200 contains the following ICs (functionality by PR):
IC1: CDP1802CD [Processor]
IC2: CDP1864CE [Video Chip ; 1861 = BW NTSC,1862 BW PAL..... 1863 = COL NTSC, 1864 = COL PAL ?)
IC3: CD4515BE [the keyboard multiplexor]
(there is no IC marked IC5)
IC6: CDP1858E [colour chip ? this is a guess !]
IC7: CDP1822NCE [256 x 4 byte main RAM x 4 = 512 x 8, same as S2]
(no IC marked IC11)
IC12: ROM CDP1833CE 87201 845 (C) 1978 [2k ROM + 1k for colour enhancements ?]
IC13: ROM CDP1833CE 86676 832
IC14: ROM CDP1833CE 86676B 845
(no ICs marked IC15 IC16. Probably removed. You could plug the 1833 into 3 of the 4 1831 sockets and it would work.)
IC18: CDP1822NCE [probably the colour RAM]
unnumbered ICs: CD4069UBE, CD1001BE [4001 probably PR]
The Studio II is not emulated at present, and this is not surprising. There just isn't any demand for it. With all of the work it takes to emulate a piece of hardware and dump the ROM's and such, it would be nice to have a better payoff than the Studio II output.
Well, now it is. There are five emulators at present : the original STEM, the 2 C DOS STEMs and WinStem. Peter Trauner is working on a driver for MESS.
Andrew Kreig has the most complete cartridge list for the Studio II, this is his list.
C---Common. These carts can be found fairly easily at thrift stores, in sale posts on the 'Net, or in Atari vendor catalogs (yes there still are some vendors!
U---Uncommon A little harder to find, but they pop up on the 'Net frequently.
R---Rare. Very elusive to find carts. Some vendors still have them in stock, but they are generally more expensive.
ER--Extremely. These are very, very hard to find. They usually have a very low production run. Consider yourself very lucky to come across one!
PR--Prototype. Never formally released. Only pre-release prototypes exist. The ultimate rarity!
FW--Game is included in firmware on the RCA Studio II.
77 Baseball (TV Arcade IV)
Biorhythm (TV Mystic Series)
77 Blackjack (TV Casino I)
76 Fun with Numbers (TV Arcade II)
Gunfighter/Moonship Battle (TV Arcade)
Math Fun (TV School House II)
76 Space War (TV Arcade I)
Speedway/Tag (TV Arcade ?)
77 Tennis/Squash (TV Arcade III)
Tester 1 (Diagnostic Cart)
76 TV School House I
MG-202 Concentration Match No
MG-212 Spacewar Intercept No
Q: Why is it called the Studio *II*
A: I don't know and RCA isn't returning my calls. As far as the "studio" name, a quick search will pull up countless sites involving RCA studios for RCA recording arm, especially Studio B. B being the second letter of the alphabet. I (PR) think it is just a flash sounding name :)
It is possible there was a Studio I which may have been a dedicated system, like Pong. I am unsure if RCA released such a thing. It also may have been the name they had for the Odyssey before they lost it to Magnavox.
So many questions, plenty of theories, no real answers.
Q: How do I convert my Studio II to put out a color display [or] feed the sound through my TV?
A: I really don't know and I don't have the technical expertise to even try, much less a unit to experiment with.
I believe the sound can be fed if you screw around with the speaker output. Good luck. Don't fry yourself.
As far as the color, if the Studio II does happen to be PAL, then to get color, you'll have to buy a PAL TV. Otherwise it should be replacing one component or other. If I get any info on this, I'll put it here. (PR: As far as I can see, the Black and White models are NTSC (USA), and the Colour models are PAL (Europe, Australia). This might just be the technology improving by the time they released the PAL models, or maybe they realised B/W wasn't good enough).
Q: How about some promo stuff?
A: OK, you asked for it:
An entertainment center for family fun for use with your home TV. Including 5 video programs built-in with added programs available.
Introduction to RCA Studio II
RCA Studio II Brings tomorrow's world of home video entertainment to you today. with the Studio II, you'll transform the TV set in your home into an electronic entertainment and educational center for the entire Family.
The heart of the RCA Studio II is a 100% solid-state micro-miniature computer called COSMAC. It is smaller than a fingernail and contains over 5,000 transistors. Other solid-state devices provide over 20,000 bits of memory which are used to store programs.
Five built-in creative, educational and action programs are included with the Studio II. Additional programs are available in plug-in type cartridges.
Additional new and different games and educational or creative programs will be made available allowing you to enhance your Studio II library of entertainment.
Text from a promotional pamphlet:
A WHOLE NEW WORLD OF GAMES
NEW ADD-ON CARTRIDGES AVAILABLE
keeps the fun coming.
Introducing Tennis/Squash and Baseball.
These two action sports cartridges will add hours of enjoyment to your studio II
TV ARCADE III
Two action games on one cartridge. You select any of the 3 ball speeds and 3 different racquet sizes for each player.
A two-player game where each player can have a different size racquet. Watch out for the "English"-it can fool you!
A one-player game with all the excitement of tennis.
TV ARCADE IV
A two-player game that recreates the action on the diamond. Pitch, bat, field the ball and see the batter run the bases. Scoring is automatic.
Some of the great games currently available that should also be in your Studio II library.
TV ARCADE I
SPACE WAR 18V400
Two exciting space age action games that require skill and timing. *Horizontal intercept 1 player
*Vertical Intercept 2 players
TV ARCADE II
FUN WITH NUMBERS 18V401
Three challenging number puzzles that will (garbled) your sharpness and entertain you. Studio II (garbled, garbled, garbled) randomly.
Guess the Number-1 player-you against the computer
Guess the Number-2 player
TV SCHOOL HOUSE I
MATH AND SOCIAL STUDIES 18V500
Basic and advanced puzzles in history, math, geography and other subject of interest. Comprehensive handbook included.
See your RCA Studio II dealer for these exciting add-on cartridges. Or use the enclosed ordering envelope if cartridges are not available locally.
RCA Studio II
The RCA Studio 2 Emulator Homepage http://www.classicgaming.com/studio2