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RCA Studio II GOLD MINE! An interview with the Studio 2 Production Manager!

RCA Studio II Interview

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#51 Atari2008 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Mar 7, 2013 9:23 PM

I've never seen a better time to be buying Studio II stuff for a long while, especially on Ebay. There's some good deals to be had right now.


What is a good deal for an RCA Studio II? I'd like to know some good price ranges for a boxed console, loose console, console with a few games.

#52 Atari2008 OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Mar 7, 2013 9:56 PM

Hey moonsweeper... sorry I overlooked your question. I can only surmise why RCA made the choices they did. Honestly, I never heard anything from the engineer I worked with, a guy named Walt S., but since leaving that job, I have designed a lot of stuff and have been through the process a bunch.

Basically, a product design is an optimization problem. You have to draw a line around certain set of features and specs. Those are called design constraints. The area inside those constraints is called 'solution space', by some. Examples are the unit has to weigh X kg and has certain maximum dimensions. It has to cost $d or less. It has to have no zinc. (just an example). It has to be done by Friday. Each constraint sets up a huge pile of competing and interlocking decisions and getting just the right mix makes the difference not between success and failure, but between "hit the target" and "missed the target". Perfect products fail in the marketplace all the time. Imperfect products thrive for similar reasons. The main constraints in a product are if it meets a need (or eliminates a problem) and it is presented to buyers when they can buy it at a price they can afford and if the competing uses for their money are weaker.

Studio 2 met a lot of design constraints imposed by the marketing department. RCA was used to making a lot of different products. They had an established way of coming up with stuff to sell. I'm not privy as to what made them choose what they did, but remember, back then processors were expensive. RAM and masked ROMs were, too. Tooling plastic molds was really expensive. There were no/few success and failure stories to use for guidance. Engineers are good at solving problems, but very, very few are worth a damn when it comes to identifying markets. We suck for the most part in human factors and emo issues. A crying kid with a hurt knee needs a hug and a lot of engineers seek drying agents, dessicants and evaporating supplies for tears, if I might lump me and my brethren into a grossly inappropriate stereotype.

Color takes three bits per pixel. It takes a 3.58 MHz color burst oscillator and video chips capable of modulating the color info. Games have to move more data and make more decisions. Languages have to be more complex. More parts equals more failures/lower yields/decrease reliability. Monochrome is faster to market, even if it's not to sell.

In that era, Pong was popular. I think it suggested to RCA that the consumer would buy anything. More than that, RCA had a corporate culture that honestly did have some social aspects and they let societal factors influence corporate policy. Hence, the keypads..... Let's make this about education and interaction instead of just play! Bad choice, it appears. Texas Instruments would later make history with LED watches... (I worked there, too.) They essentially said to the consumer.. "No, you don't want chocolate, you want vanilla and here's why."

Tandy/Radio Shack was a Texas company, to answer your last question. That's probably why the game sold well down there. I have other theories, but that's the simple explanation.

Sorry to be so long winded. Gotta run!


Hi fauxscot,

Thank you for your response. No need to apologize, I appreciate you taking the time as well as your very thorough and informative response.

I have to say that you gave me a very good understanding of the business point of view in the design of the Studio II. Originally I thought, why on earth would RCA design it with black & white output only and equip it with keypads, but now it all makes sense. This was still a very new concept, components were expensive, so choices had to be made. Also, RCA wasn't in a position like Fairchild who were in the semiconductor business and could make all the parts in house and save money. Atari was sold to Time Warner in order to have enough money to release their console, so clearly RCA chose the only route available to them - cutting back to keep price within reason.

Also, as you pointed out, while it was quite the amusing exaggeration, the engineer mentality was an interesting component. Unlike, Atari who had experience from pioneering the arcade market, RCA didn't have that understanding of video games nor the insight as to what consumers wanted. I'm curious, do you recall what sort of advertising campaign RCA had for the Studio II? To date, I've only found old newspaper ads from Google News archives, but were there TV ads as well?

You mentioned that the keypads were likely selected so that the console could be marketed as more than a game system, that would make sense as to why it was called the Home TV Programmer - they were going for a more educational angle.

That Tandy/Radio Shack connection is intriguing. In case you're interested, I have attached the article. Interesting timepiece.Home TV Programmer Finding Favor in Galveston.jpg

#53 fauxscot OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 8, 2013 3:28 AM

Re: engineering exaggeration.... When I was at RCA, a co-worker, Jack W. (MIT EE, and RPI Masters EE) related a story making the rounds about RCA's Princeton facility (Sarnoff Research Labs) which when given the job of designing a system to prevent toddler drownings in home pools, came back with a concept that had radar, lasers and all kinds of nonsense and astronomical costs. "Pool detector" became a euphemism for any grossly overdesigned item achieved in a literal fashion. To this day, I use it and explain it. Not that it proves anything, but it gives you an idea of the self-aware aspect of early geek engineers. I have examples from my time with Martin-Marietta (Lockheed Martin).

Remember, though... I was a production line supervisor and test engineer for RCA, and wasn't privy to anything except the conversations I had, the stories I heard second hand, and the very infrequent written document. Some of what I'm relating here might be contested or otherwise explained by folks with more intimate knowledge of the circumstances on the ground. It was also filtered though the wide eyes of an inexperienced 22 year old (at the time.) What I CAN attest to is circumstances on the line, in the building, and in my job. Many of my management co-workers stayed on after Studio 2 was killed off and eventually worked for Tandy/Radio Shack after it bought the facility. Later, they became clients and I did several projects for them.

I'm off to read the article now. Thanks!

#54 fauxscot OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 8, 2013 3:35 AM

One more little detail about the RF switch....

In 1976, almost no TV had a video input. They are of course common now, but then, very, very rare. The way into the TV was via the antenna connector, often a twin-lead affair and not the coax you are used to seeing today. The RF switch made it possible to connect the console to the TV without having to disconnect the antenna or worse, putting the Studio 2 on the same terminals that the antenna was connected to without a switch. If you did that, you'd broadcast your video game signal to the whole neighborhood on your choice of channel 3 or 4. The switch had to have sufficient RF isolation to make sure signal didn't leak into the antenna. At the same time, you had a plug near for power, so it made sense to use the signal cable to piggyback power into the unit cheaply and avoid more wires and tangle.

#55 Atari2008 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 8, 2013 2:38 PM

Thank you for sharing that story fauxscot! The "pool detector" really drove the point home, and I think it's a very good one that early engineers were operating heavily under the engineer mindset. Sort of reminds me of my job, I work with attorneys and oftentimes we'll have general meetings, and they'll begin to nitpick a simple document or start to argue over petty details, but it makes sense given their training. I hope that at some point we'll get to hear some of your other engineer tales, as they seem quite interesting. :-) Also, I do see more clearly how from an engineering point of view, certain design decisions in the RCA Studio II made sense.

That makes sense that you were privy mostly to the aspects of production that related directly to your work, but I appreciate you sharing what you did hear. The RF switch explanation was interesting. I realized since none of the classic consoles I own have a proprietary switch box, I'm used to just connecting them to the coaxial connection on the back of the TV. I didn't realize the reason why systems traditionally had the twin lead connector that you had to screw on, but that makes sense. Imaging broadcasting the RCA Studio II to the neighborhood. :-)

I do have a question, I've always wondered why the console had the sequel-like name of RCA Studio II? One premise I read was that RCA's recording studio was considered the Studio 1 and the game console was their second studio. Not sure how accurate that was as there was no citation.

Hope you enjoyed the article.

#56 mckafka99 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 9, 2013 12:08 PM

Well, I maintain my stance re: getting these things off Ebay - Caveat Emptor. I am now basically 0 for 3 on trying to get a working unit.I'm doing ok on getting carts with these things though. So far got Space War, (x2), TV School House I (complete with all 4 manuals), TV School HOuse II-Math Fun (x2), Fun with Numbers (x1), BlackJack (x4), Tennis/Squash (x3), Biorhytm (x2) and Baseball (x2). So if there is a need for a donation to some experimenting on some of the thoughts in this thread, I have some carts I could lend.

On an unrelated + note, my copy of Zero Five for the Jag showed up today. Just spent about 10 minutes with it and it seems pretty fun. Graphics totally reminded me of I, Robot; now THERE'S a game I'd love to see on the Jag.

Edited by mckafka99, Sat Mar 9, 2013 12:25 PM.


#57 TLD1985 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 9, 2013 1:53 PM

I think also people should also start hunting down/finding sources for the European/Japanese games for a dumping/documentation project as they are far les documented than the American ones.

I could start a mini wiki on the thing. if others are willing to help.

Edited by TLD1985, Sat Mar 9, 2013 1:54 PM.


#58 fauxscot OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 9, 2013 2:49 PM

This one seems to work fine. One down, two to go. (To be fair, this was mostly just a setup task to get the connector species and cabling worked out for futher troubleshooting.)


Studio 2 under test at fauxscots


#59 TLD1985 OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 9, 2013 4:01 PM

Very cool, fauxscot.

I decided to make the wiki.


Can be found here: http://studioii.wikia.com/wiki/

#60 toymailman OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:35 PM

This thread gets better and better!

Thanks fauxscot for all the knowledge and skills you are sharing.

I have a Fun with Numbers cart that I could loan for dumping purposes. Also, if a multi-cart ever gets made please sign me up for one! It would be great if it had all the US and overseas unique released games in addition to the few homebrews that have been made to date.

I have been collecting RCA Studio II games in the hopes that a multi-cart would eventually be possible. I have about a dozen or so shells of the common games that I would be happy to donate to such a project. Just let me know on this.

Also, if you are able to mod a system for composite video out and directly connect the power to the console then I would be interested in that too.

Other things I have been thinking of...
- What do you think is possible with the sound?
- How about installing a 9-pin type port so I can connect up my Atari Touchpad/Keyboard style controllers? It would be much easier for two-player games if we did not have to share a lap. :)

#61 fauxscot OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:13 AM

This thread gets better and better!

Thanks fauxscot for all the knowledge and skills you are sharing.

I have a Fun with Numbers cart that I could loan for dumping purposes. Also, if a multi-cart ever gets made please sign me up for one! It would be great if it had all the US and overseas unique released games in addition to the few homebrews that have been made to date.

I have been collecting RCA Studio II games in the hopes that a multi-cart would eventually be possible. I have about a dozen or so shells of the common games that I would be happy to donate to such a project. Just let me know on this.

Also, if you are able to mod a system for composite video out and directly connect the power to the console then I would be interested in that too.

Other things I have been thinking of...
- What do you think is possible with the sound?
- How about installing a 9-pin type port so I can connect up my Atari Touchpad/Keyboard style controllers? It would be much easier for two-player games if we did not have to share a lap. :)


The composite video output on three units I am looking at looks sufficient to drive an external monitor, but my 'monitor', a Sony Triniton miniature TV loads the signal down excessively. I just got a data sheet for the video chip to see what the drive characteristics are, and it appears that it may need a little buffer amp. Still, that's a one-chip project and do-able. NE592 chip, I think. If I have one here, I'll try it and see.

Power mod is really trivial. Keyboard, not so trivial. The connectors on the S2 don't speak to extenders, but the pads are simple matrix switches.

I've been looking at the ROMs, of course, and multicarts are possible, I think, using a large EPROM and ONE set of ROMs to generate the RAM disable signal, /OE. Looking at it now, but the first order of business is making a working S2 unit.

#62 R. Jones OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:45 PM

[ . . . ] worse, putting the Studio 2 on the same terminals that the antenna was connected to without a switch. If you did that, you'd broadcast your video game signal to the whole neighborhood on your choice of channel 3 or 4. [ . . . ]

That actually makes a lot of sense. This whole thread has been really fascinating, fauxscot. I'll give you some props when my theater troupe dies in what appears to be an accident. ;)

#63 ilovethevectrex OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:40 AM

wow. thanks for the cool info! welcome to atariage :)

#64 fauxscot OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 3:50 PM

I have successfully repaired two units in the last week. One was relatively simple and involved setting the RF modulator frequencies and the other was a great deal more involved. It had a defective display chip.

Both were odd in that I would have expected failures elsewhere. The one with the misadjusted frequencies also had a defective switch box.

The unit with the bad display chip had several places that MIGHT have been the cause, and its symptom was a series of blanked out vertical lines in the display. This suggested a data line issue, and because the software worked OK, it ruled out the RAM and ROM chips and micro. That left the display chip. I unsoldered it, replaced it with a socket, and lifted all the display data lines away from the socket so that I could manipulate them manually. Using a jumper clip and a 10K resistor, I applied +5Volts to all the data lines on the display chip and the blanked column did not go away, which strongly indicated the chip was at fault. I then installed a display chip from another unit and it functioned properly.

In the course of doing this, I've been able to reacquaint myself with this system and it's kind of cute. The two gents who own the units I have been working on helped me get documentation and were kind enough to allow me to play with their broken hardware, but it appears that the best way to fix a busted Studio 2 is cannibalization. Processors are available but expensive, and RAM chips may be, but the ROMs and display chips are going to be very hard to find. Failures can happen anywhere in the system, and can range from trivial to fatal. The boards aren't designed for substantial rework and can't tolerate a lot of soldering/desoldering. Traces lift very easily.

I also made a ROM dumper, and have several cards worth of ROM data from various games to use in developing a multi-card.

I have enough info to attempt a multi-card, but am not sure that there's enough of a demand to do one. It would take a few weeks of serious work and unlike these two units, would require the expense of board procurement and fab. So unless there's a substantial demand for these and I can make the economics work, I may have to stop at a schematic. It IS feasible, though.

Just thought I'd report, and see where interest is. Any thoughts, folks?

#65 Blazing Lazers OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 4:38 PM

Well, I for one would pay almost any price for a Studio II multicart, and have little doubt that even an expensive one would sell out fairly quickly regardless of price. The cost of the multicard should of course reflect market demand and production costs, and would ideally come in packaging similar to that of the original games. It would also be excellent to have a multicard with many of the foreign games, and possibly the Chip8 games, and possibly room to add more via either USB or some sort of flash memory card. For now though, the focus should be on getting the community to gather up as many of the foreign games and their ROMs as possible, and to see if any other games and homebrews can be ported to the Studio II.

#66 Bill Loguidice OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:04 PM

It goes without saying I'd fully support a multi-cart.

#67 PsychedelicShaman OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:26 PM

I think there's roughly 5-10 people who have stated their interest for a multicart in this thread. You can post over at CosmacElf yahoo user group. While they aren't a full-fledged RCA Studio II group, I'm sure there would be some interest. On Atariage, you may want to consider starting a new thread specifically stating you are looking for interest in a RCA Studio II multicart. A similar project was started by an AA member here for the Arcadia 2001 that was successful: http://www.atariage....n-any-interest/. And I will post your call for interest in the flash cart/multicart list. You could also try posting at Digitpress's classic gaming forum. I'm sure you can get enough interest!

#68 SoulBlazer OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 5:37 PM

You might also try a Kickstarter to raise the money to to produce the multi-cart and the materials to make them. That way you can expose this project to people outside of AtariAge, and get a good sence in how demand that there is out there for one. Since the multi-cart is basically ready to go and you just need the funds, there's little risk for anyone backing it -- it's much like the other guy here who did a KS for his homebrew of Star Castle for the 2600. In the rewards tiers you can offer things like bare bone flash card, then the cart, then the cart with a box, and then a fancy decked out cart, and finally something like a signature personalied cart. Finally the KS would allow you to know exactly how many carts to make so you won't have tons of them sitting around for years.

#69 evg2000 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 6:02 PM

I have interest in one, especially if I can get mine S2 working

#70 Atari2008 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:32 PM

I am highly interested in a Multi-Cart. I greatly appreciate the work you've done and are doing currently with the S2.

#71 Fixitguy74 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:43 PM

Wow! I am really loving this thread. I don't own a Studio II, and probably never will as I have a hard enough time collecting for the consoles that I do have, but the history and insider info is just way to cool. Thanks Fauxscot for sharing your memories and knowledge.

#72 5-11under ONLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:44 PM

If Fauxscot doesn't make a multicart, I'll make one. I don't have a system, but that could be remedied, I'm sure.

#73 Atari2008 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 15, 2013 9:50 PM

I actually just bought a system because I was inspired by this thread and would like to own a multi-cart.

#74 y-bot OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 16, 2013 12:34 AM

Definitely interested in a multicart.

#75 toymailman OFFLINE  

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Posted Sat Mar 16, 2013 12:39 AM

It would take a few weeks of serious work and unlike these two units, would require the expense of board procurement and fab. So unless there's a substantial demand for these and I can make the economics work, I may have to stop at a schematic. It IS feasible, though.

Just thought I'd report, and see where interest is. Any thoughts, folks?

I have interest and, as mentioned earlier, I have many donor carts to help make a project happen.




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