The Ultimate Gaming Gift

by Henry B. Cohen

It’s Here—a System in a Suitcase

As articles in the last couple of issues of Electronic Games suggest, there’s no shortage of great gift ideas for that arcade ace on your holiday shopping list. And if you really want to knock someone’s eyes out, boy, do we have a programmable videogame system for you.

Notice that we didn’t say home videogame system, and therein lies much of the excitement. Using readily available off-the-shelf products plus one more item that should be in the stores this month—you can create the first totally portable—and that means take it anywhere at all—programmable videogame machine.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a system that everyone will be able to afford. The strains of “If I were a rich man” kept running through our heads as we fitted together the pieces of this design puzzle. But if you’ve got the cash, this is certainly a project worth considering.

This isn’t an easy gift to give. In the first place, you can’t just run to the nearest electronics store and buy it. You’ll have to shop for each component separately and assemble them into the carrying case yourself. And in the second place, as already mentioned, this portability stuff doesn’t come cheap. But this is the season to be jolly, so let’s look at the bright side. Even if you don’t want to go to the trouble and expense of crafting your own portable game machine, this system is a marvelous example of what current technology, backed by a dash of ingenuity, can do.

Nestled like the proverbial sugarplums in a Southern Case Company’s Travelmaster are a Toshiba 4.5-in. color receiver/monitor, its slightly modified battery pack, and the Emerson Arcadia 2001 home videogame system along with six game cartridges.

EG has chosen each piece of hardware to make the system work to its maximum advantage.

Before selecting this receiver we looked at Panasonic’s excellent 2.6-in. and Sony’s 3.7-in. models. We feel that in light of cost and screen size, the Toshiba offering represents the best possible combination of ingredients. From the built-in sliding sunshade to its superb overall ease of operation, this is the set of choice. When you consider quality of construction, diminutive size and very light weight (versus other 5-in. color TVs), there really isn’t a better choice.

The company name may not be familiar to some, but Southern Case makes about the strongest, most protective, lightweight and fashionable portable equipment containers around. It is available in a choice of sizes and comes with easy-to-configure, pluck-foam interiors. On top of everything else, this housing doesn’t scream “expensive equipment contained herein” which might invite the fast-fingered to rip off your prized possessions. But it is the lightweight-sturdiness combination that makes this case hard, if not impossible, to beat. Remember, the case is a critical component of the overall system, as vital as any of the electronic gear.

Interestingly, we didn’t have to ponder over which game system to use. Only one stock videogame system operated on 12 volts of DC power, the Arcadia 2001. The unit is also small enough to fit into a case and good enough to warrant such an expensive application. (A brief review of this system may be found in this issue of EG). The one final touch needed to pull the entire system together currently exists only in prototype so it cannot be illustrated. The gadget in question is the soon to be released 10-in. Beamscope. This is a magnifying lens that sits a short distance in front of a TV screen and effectively doubles its size. With an estimated size of 8” by 10” by ¼”, it should easily store within the case configuration shown and when it becomes available, will complete the ultimate system.

To power the system, EG used the stock Toshiba battery pack. This unit may be ordered with standard lead-acid or premium nickle-cadmium rechargeable batteries. The latter, while twice as expensive, almost doubles operating life and the speed of re charging is increased. Only the most minor and invisible modifications were made to this pack. This was the addition of a secondary power jack necessary to supply voltage to the Arcadia 2001.

If you decide to duplicate the EG system, a competent TV or audio/radio repairman should be able to provide the tap in under 10 minutes. Alternative means of powering both the TV and the videogame unit might include utilizing VCR battery packs (but watch out for reversed polarity plugs), automotive or motorcycle batteries, video power belts such as Vidcor’s excellent Vidbelt or the cigarette lighter socket in the family car, recreational vehicle or boat. The problem is that any other solution requires additional equipment with commensurate increases in weight and possibly cost. Remember, though, that if you go the route of running power cables to your car, you are foregoing the total self-contained portability aspect of the design.

Similarly, if you already own a small black and white or color portable, this could be substituted for the recommended Toshiba unit.

About the only thing you can’t change is the videogame unit itself, because as mentioned, it is the only unit small enough to fit in a case that can be powered by a battery pack without any modifications.

By now you’re probably champing at the bit but wondering about the cost of the project, so here’s the bad news. At list price the system as described is roughly $1000.00 including labor, which is admittedly pretty rough. Realistically, with video products selling at their lowest prices in years, you might get by, with careful shopping, with spending only $800.00-$850.00.

On the plus side, the TV and its battery pack remain unchanged, so you do gain an extra portable color TV in

the process. One that could serve you especially well if you also own a portable VCR and video camera. This is an ideal on-location monitor. But if your interest is limited to videogames, you might find the price a bit steep.

For all of you well-heeled Santas out there this is the gift of choice. For those who cannot afford the system as shown, consider working with alternative TVs and battery packs.

If you decide to go ahead with this project, remember the most difficult task will be fashioning the foam liner for the case. If you employ pluck-foam option, the job should take less than two-hours. That little bit of work and ten minutes of a serviceman’s time will allow your Christmas present to take a giant step into the future, leaving the rest of us in the past.

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