Tag Archives: Sony

Beefin’ Up My Sega Genesis!

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“WELCOME TO THE NEXT LEVEL.”

So said the ads of the 1990s, and here, now, some 22 years or so after I should have gotten all that I could out of the system, I feel I have finally, finally reached that mythical “next level.” Bear with me for the duration of this post gang, because I’m about to incoherently babble about the quest and ultimate fulfillment of getting all that I possibly could out of my trusty Sega.

Now, you have no idea how much I love the Sega Genesis (known as the Sega Megadrive everywhere but in the US; it’ll always be a Genesis to me, deal with it bucky). Indeed, in the realm of my personal favorite video game consoles, the Genny is second only to the Nintendo Entertainment System; no two other systems hold quite such an esteemed place in this heart of mine, dubious honor that may be. In fact, the Genesis has the distinction of being the first console I ever purchased new with my own money, at the long-gone and much-missed Sun Electronics store that once resided a short distance from me. Ah, the 1990s!

Even though the Genesis alone is more than enough to rank among my top favorite systems, the fact that it can be expanded, and expanded mightily, only adds to the personal appeal. So then, just how do you go about beefin’ the console to maximum capacity? What more could possibly be added to what is generally considered one of the greatest video game systems of all-time? Well, by doing what so many gamers back in the 1990s did (or so Sega hoped), and what so many gamers continue to do (or so I hope): I’ve attached the Sega CD and Sega 32x add-ons to my console, that’s what I did! Look up above if you don’t believe me!

“y u doin this bro?”

It’s a question classic gamers probably wouldn’t ask, even though the CD and 32x add-ons, or more specifically their libraries, are often considered, well, kinda negligible. The gaming world at large, I’m not sure they’d get it, but since I give 0 about the current generation of consoles, and never stopped loving the systems I grew up with besides, this just feels right. Plus, this fits in to the current wave of 1990s nostalgia I’ve been riding as of late; even though I didn’t own these add-ons new back in the day, I still fully expect to continuously check my watch to make sure Boy Meets World hasn’t started yet whilst playing this big hulking mound of plastic.

“Wuts a cd 32x bro?”

As you may surmise, the Sega CD was an attachment that allowed for bigger, more powerful games and CD-quality soundtracks via, say it with me, compact discs. The 32x was a cartridge-based attachment that, as you also may surmise, gave the Genesis 32-bit capabilities and thus even bigger, more powerful games. Theoretically, anyway; general consensus is that neither attachment lived up to their potential on a regular basis, and I’m not sure I’d have been happy with them had I paid full price back in the day. Now though? There’s enough good stuff to make me feel I got my money’s worth – especially since I got ’em on the cheap years ago.

I had only limited experience with the add-ons prior; my cousin had both, and I recall once playing Sewer Shark on the CD and Star Wars Arcade on the 32x at his house, way back in 1995 or so. For all intents and purposes however, getting these attached to my Genesis was my first real experience with them, and therein lies my tale. So read on! (And please ignore some of the dust I neglected to clean before snapping photos; frankly, you’re lucky I even gave a cursory soft-cloth wipe-down before taking pictures.)

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Anyone reading almost undoubtedly has to know what a Sega Genesis looks like. For the .01% of you that don’t, up above is a model 1 Sega Genesis – bare, naked, unbeefed. This isn’t the Sega that I regularly use, and thus isn’t quite the subject of this post. Rather, this is just a spare I’ve wound up with. What, you thought I was gonna unplug all of the attachments just to get a photo of my “playing” Sega without the, as you would say, accoutrements? Think again, chief.

Actually, the system above was the console that the CD and 32x attachments originally came with. I picked the whole set up cheap at a thrift store in late-2010 – and then proceeded to do nothing with any of it. Despite the included mess of cords, I still didn’t think I had all of the necessary attachments, and it promptly became part of the messy mosaic of boxes that made (make) up my increasingly cluttered basement. I never regretted the purchase, because hey, most of the stuff was there, and the price was definitely right (especially compared to the climbing 16-bit prices nowadays), but it wasn’t until recent months that I decided to do something with the lot.

Y’see, the Genesis that I normally use, another model 1 which I picked up years ago at a rummage sale (to the best of my recollection), I’ve kept hooked up as my “playing” unit for quite some time. The room where I have it includes a big, beautiful, vintage Sony Trinitron CRT TV, with built-in speakers on its sides and a stand that also serves as another speaker. It’s my “go-to” classic gaming TV, and for awhile, I had a myriad of consoles daisy chained to it. Eventually I decided to declutter, and instituted a personal “only one system at a time!” rule for the TV, with the beater Genesis getting the nod. That’s the place it has held ever since, and luckily, my pretentious little rule doesn’t preclude add-ons, since it’s still technically only one console. This is important stuff, so pay attention.

I went with the Genesis as my console of normative choice simply because I have stacks and stacks of games (a library that includes more than a few all-time favorites), I’ve got plenty of spare consoles should this one die (yeah, like these things won’t outlive us), and there’s a lot of bases covered by it; legit 16-bit gaming, of course, but also 8-bit via the Sega Master System converter (the SMS is a system I absolutely adore and thus this aspect was a huge factor in my decision), plus, needless to say, now CD and 32x games are in the mix, too. Sega was the king of add-ons in the 1990s, and while that ultimately had a large part in crippling their future (more on that momentarily), for me right now, I love the options at my disposal.

So, as I steadily decided to expand my “playing” Genesis, I simply removed from that thrift store buy what I wanted to use on my ‘good’ console. I initially didn’t intend on using all of it, which I’ll explain in a bit.

When I bought my first Genesis new way back when, it was a model 2; a smaller, sleeker, more streamlined beast. I loved it, and still have it of course, but even then I liked the look of the first model more. There are certain positives and negatives regarding both variations, though the model 1 is easily my preferred choice – especially since the the SMS converter won’t fit on a model 2!

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Though not really the subject of this post, I mentioned that whole model 1/model 2 thing just now because the Master System adapter, the Power Base Converter, really did play a part when I was thinkin’ ’bout beefin.’

Via this converter, my SMS library has probably gotten just as much playtime as my Genesis games have. Now, I have an actual SMS, but again, that would require two consoles being out, which would start me on the slippery slope towards cluttering up mah space again. The Power Base Converter does pretty much everything a ‘real’ SMS can do (no built-in game, though), and aside from a few (but just a few) games not liking a Genesis controller (gotta use a legit SMS pad for Bomber Raid, dawg), I have no issues with it. Indeed, I love the lil’ feller, and it fills me with a burning rage that it kinda flies under the radar when the subject of Genesis add-ons are brought up at sophisticated dinner parties and whatnot.

So what was my concern regarding the converter? From how I understand it, the adapter basically acts as a pass-through, and all of the stuff to make an SMS game ‘go’ is already in the Genesis. However, when you attach a 32x, which allows you to play regular Genesis games through it (lest you have to un-hook & re-hook the thing every time the 16-bit fancy strikes you), I guess it somehow disables the whatever that allows the Power Base Converter to function. This hurts me deep, even if plugging the converter into the 32x would make the set-up the ugliest monstrosity in console history. The Genny ain’t exactly winning any awards in that area when all beefed up like this, anyway.

Simply put, taking the Power Base Converter out of the equation was not an option. This was non-negotiable. Luckily, I worked out a solution that, while still requiring some unplugging and whatnot, at least keeps my SMS-capabilities on the table; I will not bar myself from readily-accessible Rambo: First Blood Part II! (The SMS game I mean, not the movie – though I won’t bar myself from the flick, either.)

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What got this whole “Ah wanna upgrade mah Sega” thing started was actually the CD. Not Sega’s CD attachment, mind you, but rather the Turbografx-16’s. Or rather, the later TurboDuo combo console. I had been reflecting on my good fortune in obtaining the Duo several years back (it was still pretty expensive, but not “hold your head in your hands and weep bitterly” expensive like it is now), when I realized, hey, I play my Genesis much more than anything right now, so why not take the Sega CD plunge and expand a bit?

My first thought was to pick up a model 1 Sega CD, which was a big hulking unit with a motorized disc tray, and which sat directly beneath the Genesis. I had a chance to pick one of those up (with yet another Genesis) several years back too, at a decent-compared-to-now price, but unlike my TurboDuo, I failed to use my bean and decided against it. Mistake.

In all honestly, at first I didn’t even think of using the model 2 Sega CD that I already had and was currently languishing somewhere in my basement. Eventually, the gears started turning in my noodle, I dug the thing out, and I went to figure out how I could make it “go.” Initially, I only intended it as a placeholder until I could find a halfway-reasonable model 1 CD, and while I won’t say that option is completely off the table, I’d have to come across an original unit in-person and for a great price to make me drop some of my increasingly limited dough on it.

The model 1 Sega CD was first released in the US in 1992, and a year or so later, the redesigned model 2 CD came. Primarily intended for use with the Genesis model 2, the second iteration of the Sega CD used a pop-up disc tray lid and sat next to the Genesis. Luckily for me, this revised Sega CD works just fine with the model 1 Genesis. (Which makes sense, since it came with one when I first brought it home!)

As I said before, when I originally bought my Genesis/CD/32x set-up from the thrift store, I didn’t think I had all the right cables and whatnot. Just looking at the back of this Sega CD, the numerous ports had me confused. Sure, the power supply is self-explanatory (and luckily mine came with one; same as a model 1 Genesis power supply), but the rest? Separate AV jacks? “Mixing?” What have I gotten into?! No wonder I threw all this stuff in a box and let it sit for almost 7 years!

Fortunately, a quick look online revealed that I did indeed have the bare minimum to get this thing running. All I had to do? Connect it to the Genesis’ expansion port, plug the power supply in, and bingo! The Genesis handled the rest! Cool winnins! (There are some metal RF shielding plates that came with the CD, which you screw in the bottom of the Genesis to both better prevent RF interference and to attach it more securely to the CD. I had these and did indeed attach them, but they’re not absolutely necessary.)

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The Sega CD had garnered a decently-sized library before being discontinued in 1996, though oddly enough, as soon as I got mine hooked up, I was sort of at a loss as to what I was really going to go after (barring one exception). The fact my player had been sitting around my basement for nearly 7 years had me wondering if the thing even still worked. A quick trip to a nearby thrift shop yielded me a cheap copy of Bill Walsh College Football, purchased solely for testing purposes (I’m not a college football fan, and frankly, I’m not huge on 16-bit football games in general). Maybe not the best demonstration of the CD’s power, but it told me that my Sega CD was indeed operational.

My first real Sega CD game, as far as one I wanted goes, was Sol-Feace, a terrific horizontal shooter that was actually a pack-in with the original release of the Sega CD. While maybe not a stellar showcase of the CD’s abilities (except for the soundtrack, which I dig), it’s still a blast, and saves me the trouble of tracking down the Genesis cartridge port (titled Sol-Deace; Phil Moore always had fun saying that title on Nick Arcade).

After that was the CD port of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Unlike many Sega CD games, which were just enhanced versions of Genesis games, Dracula is actually a totally different game from the ‘regular’ edition. Featuring actual clips from the movie, digitized characters, and backgrounds that rotate as you pass through them (think Fleischer Popeye), it’s an impressive title for 1993, and unlike the last two games, a real showcase of what the Sega CD can do. Okay, technically it’s a mediocre, single-plane Beat-‘Em-Up, but it looks so neat that I wound up being fond of it nevertheless.

But actually, it was Final Fight CD, which you’re looking at live and in action above (in a shot crummily taken of it playing on my TV because I don’t emulate; it looks better in real life, trust me!), that was the main driving force behind getting me to hook up the CD. Y’see, I’m a Beat’ Em Up junkie; it’s quite possibly my favorite genre of video games. Heck, I pretty much bought the TurboDuo just so I could play the Japan-exclusive port of Double Dragon II. So yeah, Final Fight CD might as well be considered my personal “killer app” here. My conclusion? It’s a very good port, infinitely superior to the SNES version, and with a great, kickin’ soundtrack. My only real issue with the game is the same issue I take with all Beat-‘Em-Ups of its ilk: It tends to be cheap. The difficulty doesn’t so much ramp as it sucker punches you. I’m always up for a challenge, but I find that aspect of the game severely irritating. As far as the Genesis goes, I find both Streets of Rage and Streets of Rage 2 to be superior fighters.

Still, despite some warts, Final Fight CD is my favorite title thus far on the Sega CD. Yes, it was worth hooking the add-on up for!

Currently on the want list: Even though I’ve never been huge on the normal Genesis edition (I’m firmly in the Super Nintendo camp when it comes to games based on the movie), I do intend on picking up the expanded version of Batman Returns. Also in the same vein, and because I’m, as previously stated, a Beat ‘Em Up junkie, the expanded Sega CD port of Cliffhanger is one I’d like to add to the library. Star Wars: Rebel Assault, the PC version of which I grew up with, is a title I’d really like to get, even though intellectually I know it was never a very good game, even back then. Also, Afterburner III, because I do loves me some Afterburner. The Sega CD library is littered with full-motion video titles (a real relic of the ’90s!), and while the thought of most of them make my eyes glaze over, obtaining one or both Mad Dog McCree titles is appealing, simply because, like Rebel Assault, I grew up with with Mad Dog II on the PC. (Unlike Rebel Assault though, I always found Mad Dog II pretty fun.) And of course, I needs me some Sonic CD, too!

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Finally, and for purely cosmetic reasons, I bought the extender piece that attaches to the far-left bottom of the Genesis and slides into the CD base. It doesn’t do anything but make the whole set-up look better; otherwise, the edge of the model 1 Genesis hangs off the side of the model 2 CD. Still plays fine, but looks ugly. Hence, extender piece. I wugs u extendo peece.

The more I think about it, the more I think that a particularly appealing thing about the Sega CD is that it’s such an early-1990s throwback, and not just in release date, either. Back then, CD was this new, wondrous format; just hearing “CD-ROM” today reminds me of getting the latest Sierra adventure games for the PC on CD – 3.5 floppies seemed so outdated after that! To get that same experience on a console, it had to be pretty cool for cutting-edge gamers of the time, and it’s still fun to revel in now, even if the revolutionary aspects have, of course, dimmed in the years since.

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Ah, and that brings us to the the Sega 32x. The infamous Sega 32x. An attachment conceived to give the Genesis 32-bit capabilities, extend the life of the console, and bridge the gap between the Genesis and looming Sega Saturn, the 32x could very well be (and has been) considered the opening salvo in Sega’s demise as a console-maker. The add-on was a notorious flop, with only about 40 games released for it, and it was only on the market for 2 years or so. Even worse, it destroyed much confidence in Sega as a company, and coupled with some unwise decisions and relative commercial failure of the Sega Saturn (commercial failure, mind you, because it certainly has a huge cult following), Sega could never quite get back on track, even when they should have with the terrific Sega Dreamcast.

‘Course, in my case, I got the 32x so many years after all that, that there were only two real factors in deciding whether I should extricate it from its resting place and hook it up to my ‘real’ Genesis: 1) Were there enough games to even make it worth the effort? And, 2) what about my Power Case Converter? As I said before, that thing apparently won’t run whilst plugged in to the 32x (however, and also as I said before, you can run regular Genesis cartridges through it no problem, except for Virtua Racing, which the 32x has its own port of anyway). Like I mentioned earlier, rendering the Power Base Converter useless was non-negotiable in my eyes. I eventually found a not-perfect-but-livable solution, which I’ll explain in a bit.

(Like the Sega CD, the 32x has metal plates you’re supposed to install inside the Genesis cartridge slot, and while I have them, you don’t absolutely need them – also just like the Sega CD. This is a good thing, because they would hamper my just-mentioned SMS-solution, and besides, I don’t know where I put the things anyway.)

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You know, even though there are far fewer games in the 32x library than there is the CD, there were a handful titles that I wanted to play more than any other, save Final Fight CD. Namely, Star Wars Arcade, Doom, and Virtua Fighter.

Star Wars Arcade was a launch title for the 32x in 1994. Based on the 1993 arcade game (as opposed to the 1983 vector Atari arcade game), it’s a very good space-shooter, and an excellent demonstration of the 32x’s polygon abilities. Plus, it was the one 32x game I played back in the day. Still, I haven’t spent a ton of time with this one yet.

Doom, on the other hand, has gotten far more playtime than I expected. I heard conflicting stories about this port, from it being good to it being, uh, not. And you know, even though the music is weak, the framerate sometimes stutters, there are levels missing, and some save states are desperately needed, for a time I could not get enough of this game! *I* think it’s a good port, even if, technically it’s not a great one. Plus, while it may be anathema to admit this, I’ve always preferred Wolfenstein 3D to Doom; since there was no port of the former on the 32x, the latter wins by default.

But as far as 32x favorites go, I think I have to give the edge to Virtua Fighter (above, again in a sad, off-the-TV shot), a terrific port of the revolutionary 1993 arcade game. Using polygonal models, it may not look like much now, but it’s a fantastic demonstration of just what the 32x could do when harnessed properly. It even compares quite well to the later Sega Saturn port! There was a time when I was big into the 3D one-on-one fighters, so this version of Virtua Fighter really does take me right back. Plus, I always wished that Sega had made a big beefed up Genesis port using the same technology they did for Virtua Racing; it never happened (though an okay, albeit 2D, port of Virtua Fighter 2 did show up late in the Genesis lifecycle), so this cart satisfies that ‘hunger’ somewhat.

Currently on the want list: Mortal Kombat II received a 32x port that’s seemingly pretty good, which is fortunate, since I love the regular Genesis version. Furthermore, there are well-regarded ports of Afterburner and Space Harrier that I definitely want. Knuckles Chaotix seems like an interesting Sonic spin-off, and the masochist in me wants to try Motocross Championship, even though it’s supposedly one of the worst things ever – and Youtube vids seem to bear that out. Also, I wouldn’t say no to Spider-Man: Web of Fire, should I find it cheap at a yard sale (yeah, right). Yes, there are fewer personal “wanted” games for the 32x than there are for the CD, but truth be told, the ones I want for the 32x I want more. Go figure!

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As you may well imagine, running all of this results in a real mess of wires, not to mention three separate power adapters. Look up above if y’all don’t believe me! And, the 32x was a real pain to get hooked up satisfactorily. You can’t just “plug it in” like the Sega CD. I didn’t think I had all the necessary cables here either, though it turns out I was only missing one – the most important one (figures). Online searches on what exactly I needed wound up making my head swim, especially when they got into what was needed to get true stereo sound out of a 32x plugged into a model 1 Genesis (which only outputs mono sound). I’m usually pretty good at figuring these things out myself, but here, after numerous tries, I kept finding myself hopelessly confused.

So, here’s what you need for the 32x:

1 – A power adapter, of course. The 32x uses the same style as the Genesis model 2. Mine came with one, and even if it hadn’t, they’re easily found.

2 – Genesis 2-style AV or RF cables. Mine came with an RF box, which was fine with me until I realized I was gonna need AVs not only for better picture (remember, I wasn’t using the shielding plates, which did result in some irritating static), but also for a very specific reason I’m coming to. A quick trip to eBay yielded me some (cheap) AVs, though I soon learned the hard way that normal Genesis 2 stereo AV cables don’t work; you get picture but no sound with them plugged into the TVs AV ports. Nope, here you gotta have mono Genesis 2 AVs in this situation. Evidently they came with the 32x originally. So there went a bit more money for the cause, but they worked. Of course, you’ll only get mono sound in this scenario, but stereo isn’t that important to me here, and besides, figuring that aspect out takes me back to head-swimmin’ territory. Enough of that noise.

3 – Here’s what I didn’t originally have, and also what resulted in the most confusion on my part: The 32x AV mix cable. You see, you have to route from the Genesis AV port to the 32x with this cable in order to see everything correctly, via the “AV out” port on the Genesis and the “AV in” port on the 32x. Not so hard to understand, except the Genesis 1 and the Genesis 2 use different AV ports, and the model 2 port is the same one as found on the 32x. So, the 32x originally came with an adapter that fit the cable into the Genesis 1. It sounds so simple now, but figuring out what people were talking about, again, had my head swimming. I actually had to go to a video game forum and ask where I was at with what I had. Since the original adapters for this cable are pricey nowadays, I opted for a third party cable that’s specifically built to connect the Genesis 1 to the 32x, and I’ve had no complaints.

So, what about my beloved Power Base Converter? Just how was I gonna play SMS games without doing some serious un-hooking? Well, it’s not an ideal situation, but since I now have AV cables for the 32x, and thus normally run all of my Genesis-needs through those, I simply plugged and left my model 1 RF switchbox into the TV, and whenever I feel the need for some SMS, I’ll take out the 32x, unhook the AV cables from the Genesis, plug the RF cable back in, and have at it. No, it’s not as quick and easy as I’d like, but the effort is fairly minimal, and besides, I can still keep all of my stuff in one location, on top of my big honkin’ TV.

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And so, there it be: A model 1 Sega Genesis, loaded, cocked and ready to rock, with a Sega CD and Sega 32x attached, and though not pictured, a Power Base Converter at the ready. Yes, it looks like a big plastic lump sitting on top of my TV. No, I don’t care; in one sitting I can play Rambo III, Virtua Fighter, Final Fight CD and Vigilante if I want, and that’s a thing of beauty.

You know, I was there for the tail-end of the 8-bit era, but basically grew up during the 16-bit generation, not to mention the 32/64-bit years. After that, my interests progressively waned generation-by-generation. But 8-bit and 16-bit, that’s where my gaming heart always truly stayed; I upgraded over the years, sure, but I never stopped loving the consoles and/or eras I grew up with. Since most of those formative-gaming-years took place in the 1990s, man, this beefy monstrosity of a console really does take me back, even if I didn’t actually own most of it when it was new.

And on the subject of the 1990s, I’ve come to consider the Sega Genesis the definitive 1990s console. Let me explain: I’m not necessarily saying it’s the best console of the 1990s; that’s of course subjective, and I absolutely adore the Super Nintendo, which was my first system ever (Christmas of 1992, baby!). Plus, the 1990s also held the 32/64-bitters, and it’s safe to say the Sony Playstation dominated the second-half of the decade handily. (Though for sheer late-1990s-ness, the Nintendo 64 seems to fit to me, too.)

But when I think 1990s gaming, the Genesis defines so much of what comes to mind. Here’s a system that hit the US in 1989, and stuck around until 1998 or so. (Wikipedia says 1999!) The sleek, black console itself, sure, it looks like a product of the decade (even if it technically wasn’t when regarding my preferred model 1), but also the many different trends and styles of gaming it demonstrated. From the 8-bit sensibilities (with 16-bit graphics) of the early titles, to Sonic, to the innovative, technically-impressive stuff being produced in the later years.

And beyond the games themselves, there was the ‘aura’ of the console; the loud, in-your-face marketing (“Blast Processing,” “SEGA!”) and general aimed-at-adults attitude. It all seems so overtly 1990s now. And of course, it’s also the additional features (some might say gimmicks) such as the Sega Channel, and, naturally, Sega CD and 32x add-ons, that all make up the “1990s-ness” of the Genesis. Sega ultimately wound up shooting themselves in the foot by doing “too much” with the system, but as an artifact of the mid-1990s, man, this beefed-up console just screams “1995!!” to me. I love it!

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Looking for a succinct picture to sum up my super-charged Sega Genesis? This one right here seems to fit the bill. The classic 16-bit Sega Genesis, being upgraded to the aforementioned “NEXT LEVEL.” In one system I can take part in genuine 16-bit greatness, venture into the then-fairly-new world of CD-ROM, take a peak into the future with 32-bit gaming, or take a look back at the past with 8-bit gaming; how cool is that?! Do I need any more reasons to keep all this on top of my Trinitron for the foreseeable future? I posit that I do not.

SEGA = BEEFED, and I couldn’t be happier with the results!

Sony FX-412 Portable TV/Radio/Cassette Player (February 1979)

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Look, y’all know I loves me some portable TVs. I’ve babbled about them before, and I’m about to babble about them yet again. When it comes to old electronics, these specimens are a severe weakness of mine. If I’m at some thrift shop somewhere, and one of these ancient wonders of ostensible convenience happens to be in the vicinity, there’s a better-than-good chance it’s coming home with me (provided it’s priced at somewhere around reasonable, because even I have my limits). I love portable/handheld/whatever TVs.

In this regard, fate has been good to me as of late. Little itty bitty Panasonic Travelvision from 1982? Became mine for $5 at a thrift store. A new-in-the-box Realistic handheld TV from 1989? Also became mine for $5, this time at a yard sale (I was gonna buy it anyway, but I felt especially obligated after using the box to smack away an attacking bumblebee that was intent on killing me for no reason). And just last week, I found an ’89 Sony Mega Watchman for $4, and even with a bit-too-corroded battery compartment, I still couldn’t resist.

But when it comes to sheer coolness, none of those can compare to this beast of a machine: the Sony FX-412! It’s a TV! It’s an AM/FM radio! It’s a cassette player and recorder! And it’s from February 1979! 36 gol derned years old! And how much did it set me back? Three big bucks, that’s how much! Cool winnins!

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The design of the unit is decidedly heavy-duty, and despite the early-1979 date on it (which obviously means it’s 1978 technology, at least), I initially mistook it for something from the 1980s. Given the look and size of the machine, I could easily see it being released as-is in 1983/1984 and not seeming too out of place.

It’s certainly a bulky fella, and it’s made all the more unwieldy with a big carrying-handle that doubles as a stand, but given all that it does, it’s really not too far off, size-wise, from similar units that would be released in the following decade. It’s big, but not unacceptably huge. Perfect for camping, bedroom desks, or a shelf in the garage.

And that silver finish? I don’t care what anyone says, it still looks darn classy!

I have no idea how much the FX-412 cost originally, but given the number of features, portable size, and solid construction, I’m guessing it probably wasn’t cheap.

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On the back: a jack for an external antenna, plus knobs for the vertical hold, brightness, and whatnot. This is all to be expected.  I was hoping for an RF input, so I could hook up my Atari 7800 and play Double Dragon on it, if for no other reason than it would make a sweet post-closing-picture, but no go. There’s probably a way to get it running via the external antenna jack, but I’m not feeling adventurous enough today to even try figuring that out.

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See, manufactured in February 1979. Did you think I was lying? I wasn’t. My pictures may say otherwise, but this is actually a pretty clean unit. The lint is just leftover from what I used to give the FX-412 a quick wipe down. The super high-resolution of my cellphone camera actually makes things look worse than they really are. To the naked eye, this is a nice-lookin’ machine!

Aside from the expected scratches and whatnot that come with age, the FX-412 is really in pretty good condition. The only exceptions? Part of the antenna has been lost to time, and the AFC/LIGHT switch appears to be broken. Not ideal, but I can live with it, especially for only $3.

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On the right side: the TV and radio tuning knobs, which, obviously, do just as you would expect them to. Really, what else can I say about them? They’re how you change the channels, man!

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On the left side: inputs for a remote microphone and DC adapter. Since this isn’t just a cassette player but also a cassette recorder, the option for a mic is basically a prerequisite. As for the DC adapter, this TV didn’t come with one, and while I briefly considered finding a replacement, either here or abroad, the memories of the time I fried an Atari jaguar eventually had me deciding against it.

(That’s not a joke, either; years and years ago, I found an Atari Jaguar for waaaaay cheap at a thrift store, but it didn’t have an adapter with it. Well, I dug through the series of adapters I had lying around at home, and the one that caused a popping sound and smoke to emit from the console let me know that I had chosen unwisely. Needless to say, I wasn’t all that pleased with the results. However, I later found another, connections-complete Jag, also for pretty cheap, and that’s the one in my collection to this day. Say what you want about the rest of the Jag’s library, but man, Wolfenstein 3D is unbelievably good on there.)

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In lieu of tempting fate by plugging in a non-official Sony FX-412 adapter, I opted for the required six big giant D batteries when it came to testing. Pleasant surprise: the battery compartment was very clean, which, when it comes to things like this, isn’t always the case. Indeed, only the gooey, steadily shredding adhesive on the inside of the battery compartment-door marred the otherwise clean appearance of the space. Heck, that ain’t nothin’.

I have no idea what the battery life of the FX-412 is, but prior experience with portable TVs tells me it’s probably a battery-sucker. I’ve related this story before, but years ago, I took my portable Bentley TV with me camping. As I recall, it had brand-new batteries in it, and the only time I really used it was to watch Terminator 2 on Big Chuck & Lil’ John. By the end of the broadcast, the batteries were so drained that sound was non-existent. So, what, three hours of life, maybe?

Granted, that was a cheap Bentley TV that they used to give out free with RVs and such. This TV, however, is a heavy-duty Sony. I really wouldn’t be surprised if it had significantly better battery life. Or not, I don’t know.

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While being in reasonably good shape for something 36 years old, the broken antenna and AFC switch left me just a bit apprehensive. But as it turned out, the TV and radio both work fine. The functionality of the radio is a given, though of course I’m not pulling in any actual channels on the TV portion; since the option for an external antenna is there, and I have indeed seen people (online) get life out of older TVs such as this here in the digital age. I’m not going to go that far, because honestly, it’s not like I’d be using this thing all that often even if everything wasn’t digital nowadays. But it’s sure nice to know that I could.

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Honestly, the only real doubts I had for the unit were as to whether the cassette player would work or not. Of the many, many TVs and radios I’ve garnered over the years, the vast majority have worked just fine. Cassette players though, those can be kinda spotty. Age, moving parts, and audio heads (that may or may not be shot), they don’t always work together harmoniously here in 2015.

So, out came my trusty cassette copy of Bruce Springsteen’s The River, and in it went. Play was pressed, and…

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Believe it or not, the cassette player also works! Once again, Bruce fails to, erm, fail me. It sounds a little (just a little) wobbly, but at 36 years old (and being a portable machine to boot), I didn’t expect hi-fidelity anyway. I could easily listen to the whole album on this thing and be satisfied (and who knows when the cassette player was last actually run; a little playtime may be all it needs to get itself back in shape).

I can’t tell you how much I love the fact the FX-412 actually has an audio meter, and it also still works. I tried to get a picture of the meter in action to demonstrate that the cassette was indeed playing. You shoulda seen the lil’ guy jumpin’ around to “The Ties That Bind,” fella was groovin’!

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Just for fun: here’s the FX-412 next to the 1989 Mega Watchman I mentioned at the start of this post. The Watchman is bulky in its own special way, though it lacks the capability of playing/recording cassettes. Aside from the same manufacturer and same portable-entertainment-center-motif, there’s not a whole lot all that’s comparable between the two. But, it is interesting (to me, at least) to see how far Sony progressed in the 10 years since the FX-412 was released. Granted, this Watchman was just one in a whole line of similar TVs, so what am I even going on about again?

I like portable Sony TVs, is what I’m trying to say.

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This is one of coolest electronics finds I’ve had in quite awhile. Besides being a sucker for portable TVs in general, I have a strong affinity for Sony products. So yeah, this is a winner. There’s a few imperfections, sure, and it’s more of a display piece than anything for me, but for only $3, I’ll happily add it to my collection. The Sony FX-412 is shining example of just why I keep such regular tabs on my local ‘haunts.’ Finds like this don’t come everyday, but when they do, they certainly make the “dry” trips worth the return visits.

Christmas & New Year’s with The Ghoul, Son of Ghoul and Big Chuck & Lil’ John (1998/1999)

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There it is. Not the most-heralded of my many late-90’s/early-2000’s tapes, but certainly one of the more-heralded ones. Please ignore my sloppy, 12-year old handwriting (I’ve kinda sorta improved in that area), and while we’re at it, please ignore The Avenger (a 1961 Steve Reeves film) and the vague “TV Land Programs” descriptive line; those recordings are not conducive to our ultimate goal today (indeed, the TV Land stuff was recorded later, in the summer of ’99). Nope, we’re focusing on the ‘big three’ of Northeast Ohio horror hosts today, all on one powerhouse of a tape, all recorded during or around the holiday season of 1998/99, and all part of some serious nostalgia for me.

1997-1999 was probably the time period most responsible for making me, well, me. Not completely, of course; I continued to refine my goofy self (whatever that means) in the years following, but there’s little doubt that some of the things I’m a still a huge, huge fan of first took hold of me in the era this tape hails from. I had discovered Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Son Of Ghoul in ’97, The Ghoul came back to Cleveland TV in ’98, and despite first watching them in ’96, I really started to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John around ’99. Except for the absence of MST3K and the now-head scratching inclusion of The Avenger, the tape seen above is really a pretty great description of your Northeast Ohio Video Hunter’s interests in the late-90’s. Even the old TV Land programming is a sight-for-sore-eyes.

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The lead-off recording was The Ghoul’s first Christmas special of his WBNX TV-55 run. It’s also one of the earliest episodes I have from those WBNX years. I recorded the first couple episodes (which I still have), and a few select later ones (which I don’t), but as it stands, this is one of the earliest to survive. In lieu of any other opening credits or theme music, the specialized “Ghoul’s Christmas Special” title makes it clear that this is a ‘big deal’ in the Ghoul Power world. Also a big deal: according to a quick internet calendar search, this aired on Christmas ’98, a Friday, which was obviously December 25th (at the very tail-end of the day, 11:30 PM, but hey, it counts).

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The Ghoul loved the Christmas season and would go all out to celebrate it, including the special Christmas-themed border and groups of kids in attendance, as seen above. It’s clear he loved the holiday season, and the next year, he would even have, roughly, a month-long celebration, running the 1935 Scrooge as well as Santa Claus In Mother Goose Land (which was actually The Magic Land Of Mother Goose and was, if I recall correctly, only vaguely Christmassy) in addition to the film that was also shown that first year…

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It’s the 1959 Mexican film Santa Claus. A the time, I was only familiar with this movie via what was printed in the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide, and since it wasn’t listed in Leonard Maltin’s guide nor had I discovered IMDb yet, I had no idea what year it was even released in, which is why, if you scroll back up, you’ll see I have only “Mexican” listed in brackets next to the title on the tape sleeve. I wouldn’t have known even that if the opening credits didn’t mention Mexico.

The Ghoul loved running this movie during Christmastime, and I have four separate Christmas airings of it: this first one from 1998, plus 1999, 2000 and 2001. And for all I know, he ran it again and again during the rest of his WBNX run.

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Truth be told though, I’ve never much cared for the movie. If it weren’t for the fact that it was then a (to me) obscure foreign film, and one that had been MST’d at that, I’m not sure it would have survived all these years, let alone the three other airings I have. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I have all of them, the more Ghoul the better, but I’m not as enamored of this flick as others are. In fact, for a movie that’s gained a pretty impressive cult following, I really can’t stand it at all. Oh, I should love it for the incredible weirdness it presents (Santa battling the forces of evil, wind-up mechanical reindeer, Merlin, and a bizarre pair of moving red lips that are the very definition of “terrifying”), but I don’t know, it’s a movie that has always left me cold.

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Not so with the second recording on the tape, which would have aired on Saturday, December 26th. It’s Son of Ghoul’s Christmas special! At the time, SOG was on both Friday and Saturdays, 8-10 PM, so an identical episode would have been aired the day before on Christmas Day as well. It’s interesting that both The Ghoul’s and Son of Ghoul’s shows were/are so different, yet they both really went the extra mile for Christmas.

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Oooh, I’m diggin’ that swanky green border! Unlike usual episodes, SOG read the mail on the main dungeon set, as seen in that left screencap. On the right, the screencap comes from the very close of the show. As you can see, they even had a guy in a reindeer costume, and fake reindeer poop on the floor to go with him/it! Tis the season?

SOG’s annual Christmas show has become one of my favorite ‘extra’ parts of the season. Nowadays he’s only on Saturdays, and every weekend before Christmas, there’s a yearly show dedicated to the holiday. More than once (twice, to be exact, including this year), stuff I’ve sent in has been presented on the Christmas show, and it’s always a nice addition to my holiday season. I was regularly writing SOG by 1998, but nothing of mine was presented during his ’98 special. Considering I never really had anything particularly interesting and/or important to say back then, that was probably for the best.

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It hasn’t been shown for a few years, but Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (see, I told you my UAV tape wasn’t the last you’d see of it this holiday season!) was once a yearly tradition, not unlike SOG’s running of Night Of The Living Dead every Halloween. I like this movie waaaay more than Santa Claus. It’s weird, it’s goofy, it’s idiotic, but all in a good way. Some may argue that the other movie was all of that and more, but the fact remains that Santa Claus Conquers The Martians is my preferred bad movie for the Christmas season. Even the MST3K version was, in my opinion, superior to their take on Santa Claus.

Speaking of the MST3K version, when they riffed the film, their print didn’t include the title card as seen above. Apparently, because of that, many people were unaware that the film circulated/circulates with a title card. which was odd to me, because by the time I saw the MST3K episode, every print of Santa Claus Conquers The Martians I had seen up to that point had a title as you’d expect.

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I first saw this movie when SOG ran it during the Christmas season of 1997, and then right after, I got my copy of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide for Christmas 1997, and learned they did the film, too. It’s a pretty weird movie, clearly aimed at the lil’ baby childrens, in which martians kidnap Santa in order liven the martian children up. It includes Pia Zadora (who, contrary to my UAV tape’s description, is not especially precocious – yes, I’m still irritated by that line), and a guy that looks a lot like Jamie Farr but isn’t Jamie Farr (much to my chagrin).

That left screencap above is either the embodiment of the Christmas season, or a truly nightmarish visage, I can’t decide. Maybe it’s both.

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At one point, SOG superimposed himself into the movie, and tried to light Santa’s pipe. I thought that was pretty funny.

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The last (applicable) recording on the tape is the New Years portion referred to in the title. It didn’t air on New Year’s Eve or Day, nearest I can figure is it was broadcast in the first half of January, but nevertheless, this episode of Big Chuck & Lil’ John’s Couch Potato Theater has some pretty strong memories attached to it (not the least of which is the image above, well familiar to me from so many Saturday afternoons).

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Ah, Big Chuck & Lil’ John on their old King Kong set. It was the same set as their usual Friday night Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show, except Couch Potato Theater was always broadcast Saturday afternoon and was called, you know, Couch Potato Theater. Couch Potato Theater was a bit of a wild-card: sometimes a full-length movie would be shown, other times old Three Stooges shorts or episodes of The Abbott And Costello Show, even skits-only if time was an issue (similar to what the revived Big Chuck & Lil’ John Show is now). In this case, though, old silent short comedies were the day’s subject.

My recording of this almost didn’t happen. At the time, I was a big, big fan of silent comedy films (still am, actually, though not quite as fervent), and trying to catch and tape some of them when they were run as unscheduled-between-programming-filler on WAOH/WAX was a common thing with me. Somehow, though, I missed the TV Guide listing for this episode of Couch Potato Theater, in which several old silent comedies were run over the course of the afternoon. To make matters worse, we had to leave soon because my brother had a basketball game. So, I grabbed the only available tape, cued it up after The Avenger, and hit record. Better than nothing, right?

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I began taping in the middle of some Keystone film, the title of which I no longer remember, but was able to capture the entire last subject of the day: Charlie Chaplin’s The Champion, a 1915 Essanay film, which was from the period when Chaplin’s movies started to get really good. From how I understand it, this particular short has been the subject of much editing and whatnot over the years, but the version Big Chuck & LIl’ John ran was the Blackhawk Films print, apparently one of the better ones. Certainly lengthier, if nothing else.

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The Champion, as the name and screenshots kinda sorta show, detail Chaplin’s Little Tramp character becoming a boxer. The subject of boxing is one I’ve always liked (having grown up on the Rocky movies), and the addition of an English Bulldog is always a plus, so yeah, I like this short. I’m sure I have many of them on cheap, public domain DVDs, but I’m not as familiar with Chaplin’s Essanay films as I am with his Mutual work, which I consider my favorite of his.

At the time, I was just then starting to appreciate Big Chuck & Lil’ John, something that would be more fully-realized when I began watching The Abbott And Costello Show on their Saturday afternoon program. Still, I recall having made a habit of at least checking the listing for their Friday night show, so I’m not sure how I missed the listing for these old silents. I can’t remember if I discovered the broadcast while flipping channels or if I came across it that day in TV Guide, but either way, I came in when most of it was over. It was one of those feelings, unfortunately well-familiar to me as a heavy-taper by then, of “Oh man, I’m missing this!” Of course, the follow-up “Well, at least I got some of it” took a bit of the sting away.

(If you go way back to the top and look at the tape’s label, you’ll see that the listing for this is off to the side and not where it should be, right after The Avenger. That’s because, for years, this broadcast was unlisted on the tape. I don’t know if it was due to the haphazard nature of the recording or what, but for whatever reason, I never labeled it properly. Oh sure, I took the time to label “TV Land Programs” later that summer, but Chuck & John got shorted on that front. It wasn’t until 2011 when I was making a concerted effort to label a lot of my tapes that had suffered in obscurity for years that this was duly notarized. It took a bit of searching, I could only remember it was on a tape with a purple Sony tape, but finally I found it, labeled it, and it is now given the proper respect it so deserves.)

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There’s just under an hour of Chuck & John action on the tape, but even so, several skits were captured. My favorite of them (tied with “The Lil’ Flash,” at least) was Cuyahoga Jones, their Indiana Jones parody. This was the first time I had ever seen one of these skits, which were part of a continuing storyline in which Cuyahoga tries to steal the “Kapusta Diamond.” Big Chuck played Cuyahoga, and Lil’ John played Shortstuff. In this one, they tried to earn $20 in order to buy supplies to help them carry the safe containing the diamond out of the castle. Pretty funny stuff!

Believe it or not, there’s a lot of memories tied into this tape, more than I could ever hope to accurately describe in print. The video itself, yeah, I fondly recall all of this stuff from that winter season, but it also brings to mind that general period in my life. All of the things/shows/etc. I was and am into, sure, but also other memories, like going to the mall with my Mom for Christmas shopping, come to mind when thinking of the era this tape comes from. As much as I love the actual recordings, I think those memories are even more important to me. Maybe I’m doing a sloppy job of getting across what I’m trying to say, but hopefully you know what I’m getting at. I’m sure you can all relate in one way or another.

And so, with that, this Christmas post nears an end. I sincerely hope all of you have a fantastic Christmas and New Years. Thank you to all that have taken the time to read this blog, and in some cases, even pass the link around. Have a wonderful holiday season and be safe in the new year.

Stay tuned, more goofy stuff to come!

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Sony Mega Watchman Model No. FD-555 (1991)

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Lookit this cool beast! It’s Sony’s Mega Watchman FD-555! This is early-1990’s technology at its best. Not only do we have a TV and AM/FM radio, but also a cassette player. The large speakers and the presence of a surround sound button make it clear: this ain’t no regular radio! This sucker is a legit boom box! And if it’s not, it certainly aspires to be!

This guy is kinda sorta similar to the Panasonic Desktop TV/Clock Radio I reviewed back in September. I had this Watchman loooong before I had the Panasonic, but I think I like the Panasonic more: it’s older, it has a cool mirrored clock thing, and fake woodgrain, all aspects that fill me with glee. The Panasonic gives the impression of something a businessperson, college student, or high school kid would keep on his/her desk and turn on during late night whatever sessions. This Sony Watchman, on the other hand, feels like something that should be used in the garage while someone works on a car, which is unfortunate in my case, because me working on a car is recipe for total carnage and/or bloody tragedy. On the other hand, being from the sweet spot of the early-90’s, 1991, this Mega Watchman also seems like it’s well-suited to being carried down the street, blaring the latest smash hit single on cassette tape, while you and your backwards-hat-wearing hoodlum friends look for shenanigans to cause. And when you were done creating a ruckus, you could watch Blossom.

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The flash on my camera illuminates every lil’ thing I thought I had cleaned off. Aside from dust in some of the crevices and sticker residue that refuses to leave the top of the cassette player, this thing is actually pretty clean, honest! I love the sleek look and black coloring, and the presence of the old “It’s a Sony” logo is always the mark of something I want to hold during the night.

Oddly enough, there’s no clock anywhere on it. A digital clock somewhere seems like it couldn’t have been too hard to add, but I guess the ability to tell time had to be sacrificed in order for you to listen to the Too Legit To Quit cassette whenever you damn well pleased.

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The back. I forgot to take a picture with the handle extended, but I’m sure you can imagine how that works. There’s a  few various ports, including one for an external antenna, as well as vertical hold controls. The cord can be unplugged from the unit and eight size-D batteries (a bottom-compartment, which I also forgot to take a picture of) used instead, which is helpful, because otherwise, the whole “portable” motif would fly right into the toilet. There’s also a port for a DC adapter, which seems a bit superfluous since you already have a plug and the ability to take batteries, but I guess they wanted their bases covered.

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Damn dude, August 1991. I was all of five years old! The early-90’s are at the tail-end of my personal preferred electronics-picking period. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll buy anything if I find it interesting (and cheap enough), but I generally want the things from the early-1990’s (1990-1993) on down, and particularly the stuff from the 1980’s or before.

That said, with the rounded curves, big ass speakers and revolutionary surround sound technology, this is certainly a nice example of early-90’s electronics, and it probably wasn’t cheap, either. I’m not saying it would set you back too much, provided you weren’t only relying on allowance or grass-cutting funds, but I’m guessing it wasn’t a budget item, either.

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The TV (and radio) both work perfectly. Since everything is digital now, it goes without saying that I’m not actually picking up any TV channels. I suppose if you took advantage of the external antenna jack, you might be able to rig this thing to play real television, but I really have no idea, and while I like my Sony Watchman, I’m not that interested in going to extreme lengths to make it “go.”

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I’ve had this unit for years, and while I tested the radio and TV functions when I got it (at least I guess I did, it’s been awhile), I had no idea if the cassette player worked until today when I decided to do this review. Now, the old GE clock-radio by my bed has a cassette player, and for quite awhile I liked to fall asleep to certain tapes. Unfortunately, the player died, leaving me at the mercy of the radio. That being as it is, provided this Watchman’s cassette player works (he typed as if he didn’t know the outcome already), I could conceivably haul this thing upstairs and once again fall asleep to The Ghost Of Tom Joad. I probably won’t, but I could.

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I grabbed a few cassettes laying around for testing purposes. The first one I put in was Billy Joel’s The Stranger, not so much because I had a burning desire to listen to an album I also own on other, better formats, but rather because if the Watchman ate the tape, I wouldn’t be pissed. Sorry Billy, I like you, but when it comes to Mega Watchman-testin’, you’re expendable.

To my everlasting joy, the cassette player works! Like a champ! I’m not all that surprised though, Sony has always put out a quality product; it’s one of my more trusted brands when it comes to old crap like this. However, the sound of the cassette was insanely muffled. Had the tape been played into the ground, or was the cassette player itself at fault? Further testing was required.

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Next up: Bruce Springsteen’s The River, which is in my top ten all-time favorite albums. Bruce put my fears to rest (as he so often does), because the sound quality was much better. A little spotty, someone obviously played the tape quite a bit (as well they should), but the difference in sound quality was very evident. This means I can old school party to “Sherry Darling” whenever I like! Or rather, whenever I don’t feel like messing with my turntable. Northeast Ohio Video Hunter top tip: The River sounds best when played via a nice vinyl. In comparison, the CD pressing is in desperate need of a remastering. I’m no audiophile and even I can plainly hear the difference (and I’m far from the first to point that out). But, I digress.

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Still not satisfied, I decided on one last test: The Michael Stanley Band’s You Can’t Fight Fashion. This is an XDR (Expanded Dynanic Range) cassette, and man, the sound quality was terrific, this Watchman is capable of producing some great sound output! One of the benefits of being a Northeast Ohioan is that we’ve got our hometown hero, Michael Stanley, and Fashion is right up there with Heartland as my favorite MSB album. You’d do well to pick up a copy yourself, regardless of format.

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So, how about the surround sound? Upon pressing the button, I expected to have the sound blast me in the face not unlike that old Maxell advertisement, but much to my chagrin, it only made things slightly louder. I have no knowledge of the inner workings of something of this nature, so I’m just guessing that when it’s not on, the speakers are simply not used to their fullest. When it is on, they are. How’s that for deductive reasonin’! I know, I know, “duh!”

Don’t get me wrong, though. This unit has very nice sound for the portable nature & time it came out, and I guess it can be room-filling if you turn the surround sound on and crank the volume & tone dials waaay up, but don’t go in expecting a high end set-up, okay?

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There it is, my Sony Mega Watchman FD-555, from August 1991. It’s a very cool piece of old school electronics. Sure, it doesn’t come off all that impressive nowadays, but back then, this was assuredly “to the max.” I’m seriously thinking about throwing some batteries in it, grabbing my cassette copy of Don Johnson’s Heartbeat, and going rockin’ down the street with “Love Roulette” blasting at top-volume.

Memorex S-VHS Hi-Fi Stereo VCR – Model No. 16-705

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Look what I picked up at Goodwill today! An S-VHS VCR! I’ve never come across one of these “out in the wild” before! And for the low, low price of $5, no less! Goodwill is great about cheap VCRs, I’ve found some real winners there before. Today, they also had a Hi-Fi VHS VCR by GE from 1984 for the same price, but considering there was what looked like battery acid on the front as well as rust around where the tape loads, I didn’t even bother plugging that one in. Nevertheless, there’s a small part of me that still regrets not picking that one up anyway. But, I’ll survive; I bought a very high-end Panasonic Omnivision VCR from 1986 that works like a dream at the same Goodwill (also $5, if I recall correctly) last year, and since that’s not only my all-time favorite VCR “wild” find, but also my favorite VHS VCR period, well, in my mind there’s nowhere to go but down from there.

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Anyway, my newly-acquired Memorex S-VHS VCR. According to a bit of online research, this is apparently a “Model 35,” though all I see listed is the model number, 16-705. Looks like there was a door over the selectors on the front that is now missing, and there’s no date on it, but judging by the plastic casing, I’m guessing early-to-mid 1990’s, possibly late-1990’s (when did they stop making S-VHS units?). As a rule of thumb, I don’t like buying VCRs that new. By the 90’s, many VCRs were being made more on the cheap than they were in 80’s. So much so that with some of them, if they died, it was almost easier just buying a whole new one rather than having the old one repaired. That’s my general perception, though one of the best VCRs I ever bought (new) was a high-end VHS/DVD combo unit by Sony in 2005 that still creams anything you can buy new nowadays. So yeah, there were definite exceptions to my little rule. I’m guessing that because this is an S-VHS unit, it most likely cost more than your average VHS VCR back then (I mean, how could it not?), but I doubt this particular unit was any better than the models introduced in the U.S. in the late-1980’s. Don’t quote me on that, though.

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I was under the impression that S-VHS was just the VHS equivalent of the Super Betamax; that is, you could use regular VHS tapes to record programs in a higher quality than a normal VHS VCR. But, it seems that’s not quite the case. You needed specific S-VHS cassettes to take advantage of the improved recording quality. According to Wikipedia, you could use a regular VHS tape, and the recording would look a bit better, but it would also become unwatchable after several months. Keep in mind that I have no first-hand experience in using an S-VHS VCR, I can only go by what I’ve read, so if I’ve got something a little wrong, go easy on me.

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Alas, this unit may not work. Whatever tape you put in, the machine spits right back out, thankfully without eating it. Now, this may be because I don’t have any S-VHS tapes, only normal VHS cassettes, and the VCR recognizes that (however, from how I understand it, the machine should be able to *play* regular VHS tapes). Since there were differences, albeit apparently small differences, between the builds of the two cassettes, this makes sense. However, upon plugging the VCR in, it makes an audible ‘whining’ noise, which changes pitch slightly when “power” is pressed. I have no idea if this is normal for these VCRs or not. I knew about the machine spitting the tape out before I bought it (of course I plugged the thing in a grabbed a random tape lying about to test), and I actually put it back down, but my love of old VCRs got the better of me, and (obviously) I ended up buying it. Like I said, I’ve never come across one of these before, and cheap casing or not, I do actually like the look of the thing.

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If this was a VCR that took regular VHS tapes but recorded in higher quality, I would have considered having it repaired and regularly using it (it has S-Video inputs! I could hook this up to my usual “recording” TV if I wanted!), but as it stands, it’s just another cool addition to my ever-growing VCR collection.

Two of my all-time favorite TV finds immortalized in old pictures I found saved on the PC.

How’s that for a short and concise article title?! I’m such a pro!

Looong before running this blog, I’ve been taking pictures of crap I own/owned. Goofing off on my PC for even a few minutes will undoubtedly unearth several such pics taken for various reasons. As far as this post goes, I actually had one of these pics in mind for an entry, but when I finally came across it, I found the other two, and they also seemed like good candidates for national recognition on my stupid blog. These aren’t new pics; they were taken waaay back in May 2010 for a planned article for another site. I eventually never went ahead with that one, although one of the pictures seen here did find its way into a later article for that same site. Should you ever come across that article, make no mistake, these pics and the TVs contained within them are all mine mine mine.

Philips Magnavox Projection Screen TV, model # 7P5433 W101 (1998)

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Ah, my 1998 Philips Magnavox big ol’ projection screen TV, model #7P5433 W101. I can’t remember if it’s a 50 inch or 55 inch screen, but either way, lotta TV here. I picked this up at a second-hand store in early-2010 for a really good price, the only caveat being that the screen had a very reddish tint. A little bit of online research revealed this was the coolant in the projection lamps going bad. Luckily, new coolant was cheap, and replacing it was relatively easy (as long as you were careful).

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As you can see, it eventually worked like a champ and quickly became the go-to TV for Nintendo (there’s also a Sega Genesis with the Power Base Converter for Master System games sitting on top of the set). That’s the NES classic Gun.Smoke being played in the pic above. I can waste quite a bit of time playing the game anyway, but when I had the NES hooked up to this big-screen, I would put the sound on mute, and just spend hours playing the game while listening to Jerry Lee Lewis vinyls I picked up at Time Traveler Records in Cuyahoga Falls. While it may not be the most dignified container ever, that Pampers box the NES is sitting on in the pic was filled with even more carts for the system. Trust me gang, you haven’t lived until you’ve played Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon and Double Dragon II on a big-ass TV like this.

Fast-forward to today: There’s something wrong with this TV’s picture. It displays very small and in the center of the screen. Unlike the coolant issue, I think I’m absolutely going to have to take the old beast to a repair shop at some point in the future, hopefully soon. I love this TV too much to ever get rid of it, so if worse comes to worse, it will remain a cool piece of decor in my increasingly-cluttered home. But, it pains me to not have it be useable at the present time. I must rectify this.

Zenith System 3 TV (1984)

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Sorry I don’t have a specific model # for this one, but this is a Zenith System 3 color TV from 1984. Despite the fact it’s missing the door that went over the channel-buttons and picture-adjusters, I instantly fell in love with this TV when I found it at Goodwill for like $8-$10 in either late-2009 or early-2010. Continuing my apparent need to have an NES in as many rooms in the house as possible, there’s, erm, another Nintendo hooked up, and on top of the set is my beloved Colecovision, complete with River Raid plugged in and ready-to-go.

This TV has always worked like a champ, I still have it, and I have no intention of ever getting rid of it. And yet, I don’t have it hooked up right now. In it’s place is a Sony Trinitron from, if I recall correctly, 1985, with a big huge, beautiful screen, speakers built into both sides of the set AND it’s built on top of a stand that’s also another speaker. Plus, multiple A/V inputs. So, probably a pretty high-end TV back in the day. I plan on spotlighting that Sony TV and the video game consoles I have hooked up to it at some point in the future, but for now, let us revel in the pic above.

I may not currently be using either TV seen here today, but man, of all the TVs I’ve bought over the years, they’re two of my absolute favorites, and I’m glad to have them.

RCA VMT395 & General Electric 9-7675 VHS VCRs

Up till now, I’ve focused on cool things I’ve found on old videotapes. Now it’s time to look a bit on the old electronics side. I must apologize in advance if my pictures aren’t the greatest. For some reason, it’s a total pain-in-the-ass to get a decent VCR pic.

One of my hobbies that seems strange to some people is that I love collecting old VCRs. I think the fact I’ve gone through so many of them over the years has given me a weird affinity for them. Everytime I’m at a thrift store or the like and come across a unit that appeals to me and is a decent price, I pretty much have to buy it. Case in point: The two VCRs we’ll look at now.

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This first one I picked up several weeks ago for $10. Ten bucks is just a bit more than I like to pay for an untested unit, but I have no regrets. It’s not like it was a ton of money. Besides, I figured, even if it didn’t work, I’d rather have it in my hands than in a landfill somewhere,

It’s an RCA VMT395 HQ VHS VCR. Sucker even has Dolby stereo with the capability for noise reduction. It came with the original remote, but the thing was filthy enough that I could never in good conscience use it, even after a cleaning. There’s no date anywhere on the machine, but a bit of research indicates that it comes from 1986 or somewhere around that time-frame.

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Look at that, audio levels. When’s the last time VCRs came with that?  Given that and the number of functions this fella has leads me to believe that this may have been a relatively high-end unit for the time. I found a mega high-end unit for $5 a few months back (and which has become my all-time favorite VCR find for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that it performs beautifully and the number of functions it features is staggering), and while this RCA doesn’t feature as many functions as that one, it still does waaaay more than the cheapo VCRs being sold nowadays.

At the store where I found it, I grabbed a random VHS tape (one ostensibly used for testing) and tried out everything I could without hooking the unit up, and it seemed to play, rewind, fast forward, eject, etc. without issue. When I got it home, it did indeed work, although something in the store I didn’t notice was that while it rewound and such, it only did so with a fair bit of internal grinding.

When I tried the machine out again last week, it was no longer working properly, however. It didn’t eat any tapes, but it won’t actually play them, either. Oh well, still a pretty cool VCR.

This next machine I actually picked up yesterday, and I like it even more than the RCA.

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It’s a General Electric 9-7675 3-Head HQ VHS VCR from 1987, also with Dolby stereo. I scored this sucker for $5, which is really my preferred amount to pay for untested VCRs. Well, I did test another random tape in it (should it have eaten the tape, I would have been out of one whole dollar), and this one seemed to work flawlessly. That doesn’t mean anything until you get it home and actually hook it up, of course.

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Unlike the RCA, this one works like a champ. Really, I didn’t have any problems in any way. I didn’t try recording anything, but since I never buy old VCRs to record, that doesn’t matter to me one way or the other.

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This one doesn’t seem to be as relatively high-end as the RCA, though it still does more than the bare-minimum machines sold within the last several years. The great thing about many (but not all) VCRs manufactured in the late-70’s, throughout the 1980’s, and even into the early-90’s is that they were built to last. I’ve had fairly good luck finding working units, and even units that don’t work are often worth having repaired (should I feel the need to do so).

By the mid-90’s or so, these things were being manufactured so cheaply that you were almost better off junking a dead machine and just buying a whole new one. My personal indicator of a cheaply made VCR? Plastic casing. I almost always pass those up. There have been exceptions, but that’s my personal rule of thumb.

This GE though? Nice solid metal casing, the way it should be. I think my biggest surprise regarding this unit (besides the fact that it works so incredibly well) is actually that it’s a GE, which is a manufacturer I’ve never really had any problems, but not one I’ve ever paid much attention to as far as VCRs go. Zenith, RCA, Panasonic, Sony, sure, but GE for some reason I always sort of associated with lower-end/cheap models.

Maybe that was unfair, or maybe I just lucked out and found a well-maintained machine. I couldn’t say one way or the other. All I know is that the GE was $5 well, well spent.