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RCA Studio II FAQ

RCA Studio II FAQ v 0.0

By Jack Spencer Jr. who has WAAAAY too much time on his hands.

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 power requirements and the processor number.

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 eeville@dreamscape.com 

INTRO

Many of you may be wondering why the Studio II? Do I like it? Did I have one 
as a kid? Well, no. To my knowledge, I have never played one once. Why I am 
doing this FAQ is because I am a video game nuts and believe all video games 
deserve their place in history. The Studio II is a much-maligned system because 
of the exceedingly 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 footnote in video game history. Many 
of the reasons for this view I cannot help but agree with, but 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 a POS, 
there's no way to put a positive spin on it. I'm just going to tell the truth.

DISCLAIMER

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 thing, 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.

History

RCA released the Studio II in 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 passed on it for some reason and were smarting when they sold 
how well the unit, produced by Magnavox, was selling. At this time, Pong was 
the game of choice and countless imitators were flooding the market. RCA 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 
since all of the games were contained within the unit itself and not the cards. 
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 T.V. 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's Channel F beat 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. With it's pong-
like styling, had it been released during the height of the "Pong Wars", it 
would no doubt have dominated with it "unlimited" potential as a programmable 
machine. It would have made a more logical choice as the first programmable 
system of the superior Channel F (which was in turn inferior to the Odyssey^2), 
what with its more primitive style and technology. This either reflects how 
fast technology was advancing or how cheap RCA was in producing their product. 
The thing had monochrome graphics, fer chrissakes!

Of course, the real advantage Atari had was not it's superior hardware, but 
it's licenses. VCS sales were poor until Atari released 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 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 their out or packed it away after they got an Atari. This 
means you're more likely to find one when you buy a house in the attic, shoved 
in a corner covered with mouse droppings and icky spiders than to find one in a 
thrift store. Most collectors view it as a novelty, and that's a fairly 
accurate view. There is little about the system to make it important, history-
wise other than it was one of the first programmable systems. It has a slick, 
retro look to it and 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 port seller; there is a 
definite, finite list of games for it. This makes collecting much easier than, 
say the Atari 2600, with its 900+ games, regardless of the rarity issues.

DESCRIPTION

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 yellow in color. On both the left 
and right of the unit it has numeric keypads. There are arrows by the key to 
indicate their 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-directionl 
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 it smoke.

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 the deserve some mention.

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 makes the Studio II a 
very compact and tidy system, with a minimum of wires.

All of the sound comes from a speaker in the center of the unit.

The cartridges themselves measure _x_x_ and are of a similar yellow color with 
even yellower labels of them. Both 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 tends to require pressing the right 
key for the option you want. 

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 intersection innovation for video games, 
which at the time consisted of, hit 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, no doubt).

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.

TECHNICAL

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, ?

I have no idea who programmed it, or with what, but I did find a company called 
Tekla Inc. who is claiming credit for the firmware games. Whether they had 
anything more to do with it is unknown.

EMULATION

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 ROMs and such, it would be nice to have a better payoff 
than the Studio II output.

However, if there are any bright, young programmers out there who are up to the 
challenge, I have a couple name suggestions:

RCA Emu
Studio II Emu
Stu Tu Emu
li'l yeller box
Hey, Boxy!
Crap Emu
Stool-dio II
Reeking Crappy Arcade
huh?

Cartridge List

Andrew Kreig has the most complete cartridge list for the Studio II, this is 
his list.

===============================================================================
= RCA Studio II Software List =
===============================================================================
Rev. 1.1 December 15th, 1997
===============================================================================
= =
= Author: Andrew Krieg krieg@execpc.com =
= WWW: http://www.execpc.com/~krieg/VidGames.htm =
= =
= This list is originally based on Dean Dierschow's RCA Studio II List. =
===============================================================================
= =
= Key =
= ------ =
= FW = Game is included in firmware on the RCA Studio II. =
= =
= [C] = Checklist for cartridge ownership =
= [I] = Checklist for manual ownership =
= [B] = Checklist for original box ownership =
= =
= To reuse the checklists, use your favorite editor and replace all of the =
= string patterns "[x]" with "[ ]". 
= [I've already done this for you. Happy Hunting] =
===============================================================================
= Rarity =
= ------ =
= 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 =
= Rare had 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! =
===============================================================================
Rar- 
Manufacturer Cart # Yr Title ity [C][I][B]
------------- ----------- -- ------------------------------------ --- - - -
RCA 18V403 77 Baseball (TV Arcade IV) U [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V700 Biorhythm (TV Mystic Series) ER [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V600 77 Blackjack (TV Casino I) U [ ][ ][ ]
RCA [FW] 77 Bowling C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 5008331 Demonstration Cart ER [ ][ ][ ]
RCA [FW] 77 Doodles C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA [FW] 77 Freeway C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V401 76 Fun with Numbers (TV Arcade II) R [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V405 Gunfighter/Moonship Battle (TV Arcade)ER [ ][ ][ ]
RCA [FW] 77 Math C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V501 Math Fun (TV School House II) R [ ][ ][ ]
RCA [FW] 77 Patterns C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V400 76 Space War (TV Arcade I) R [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V404 Speedway/Tag (TV Arcade ?) R [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V402 77 Tennis/Squash (TV Arcade III) C [ ][ ][ ]
RCA Tester 1 (Diagnostic Cart) ER [ ][ ][ ]
RCA 18V500 76 TV School House I R [ ][ ][ ]
===============================================================================
DISCLAIMER
Copyright (1997) by Andrew Krieg (krieg@execpc.com).
This document may be distributed electronically, linked to via the WWW or
printed freely, providing it is unaltered and includes the disclaimer and
copyright notice. Please ask for permission before publishing this document
in print or altering its content for redistribution electronically.
===============================================================================

MISCELLANIOUS

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. As to why it's II, barring any kind of significance the 
recording studio #2 may have had, it is possible there was a Studio I which may 
or may not have been released and may or may not have been a dedicated system, 
like Pong. I also may have been the name for the Odyssey before they lost it to 
Magnavox. So many questions, plenty of theories, no real answers.

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:

FUN
ACTION
A WHOLE NEW WORLD OF GAMES
Studio II
RCA

NEW ADD-ON CARTRIDGES AVAILABLE
-----------------

Studio II
keeps the fun coming.
Introducing Tennis/Squash and Baseball.
These two action sports cartridges will add hours of enjoyment to your studio 
II
FUN 
ACTION
-------------
TV ARCADE III
TENNIS/SQUASH 18V402
Two action games on one cartridge. You select any of the 3 ball speeds and 3 
different racquet sizes for each player.

TENNIS
A two-player game where each player can have a different size racquet. Watch 
out for the "English"-it can fool you!

SQUASH
A one-player game with all the excitement of tennis.

TV ARCADE IV

BASEBALL 18V403
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.

RCA
-----------------

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
Reverse-1 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
Base Media

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