Yamaha Music Cartridge (1995 – late 1990s)

Yamaha introduced Music Cartridges in 1995 for use in some of its PSR range of entry-level and mid-range keyboards. These are not to be confused with an earlier Music Cartridge format from Yamaha that was used on its TYU-30 model in 1986.

The Yamaha Music Cartridge for PSR models were ROM cartridges containing either fully-arranged songs, or additional styles to add to the keyboard’s library, and were inserted into a slot on top of the keyboard. Six models of keyboard were able to accept Music Cartridges – PSR-320, PSR-420, PSR-520 and PSR-620, launched in 1995, and the PSR-330 and PSR-530, launched in 1997.

Later models of Yamaha keyboard used 3.5-inch floppy disks.

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Hewlett-Packard LaserJet Font Cartridge (1984 – 1990)

Hewlett-Packard introduced font cartridges in 1984 for its new range of LaserJet printers and the first series of font cartridges were designed for the original LaserJet, the LaserJet Plus and the LaserJet II series.

The cartridges contained a small selection of bitmapped fonts in ROM, and were numbered 92286A to 92286Z. Each cartridge was designed with a specific purpose in mind (for example, tax returns, presentations, word processing, barcodes etc.) and ranged in price from $150-$330 each. The cartridges supplemented the small range of built-in fonts and helped keep the cost of the printer down by reducing the amount of built-in memory required. Hewlett-Packard referred to the cartridges as ‘hard fonts’ as they were contained in hardware, as opposed to ‘soft’ fonts that were loaded onto the computer from floppy disk (Hewlett-Packard supplied soft fonts on a choice of 3.5-inch or 5.25-inch disk) and then downloaded to the printer’s memory as required. Early LaserJet printers could use hard or soft fonts, but at first more fonts were available on cartridges and they didn’t use the printer’s limited memory.

Although Hewlett-Packard did release some font cartridges for later LaserJet models, software fonts eventually won out as they were more flexible in their use (many fonts could be used in one document), they didn’t need to be contained in expensive cartridges, memory considerations became less important, and Microsoft began bundling fonts with the Windows operating system.

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Nintendo Game Boy Advance Video (2004 – 2007)

Game Boy Advance Video was a means of watching video on the Nintendo Game Boy Advance handheld game console and was first introduced in 2004. The video came on ROM cartridges that looked similar to standard Game Paks, except they were always light grey and had a film perforation design on the label.

The Video Paks offered digital video with a resolution of 240 x 160 and full colour, but due to the low capacity of the cartridges the video was very compressed and of poor quality. The cartridges could also be used in the Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Micro, Nintendo DS, and Nintendo DS Lite systems. They could not be played on the Game Boy Player add-on for the Nintendo Game Cube (the low resolution would have become even more apparent on a television screen) because the Game Boy Player could be attached to a VCR or DVD recorder, so the ability to play video was disabled to prevent illegal copying of Game Boy Video material.

Content was mostly in the form of cartoons from Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney, and also by Nintendo themselves with the Pokemon cartoons. Some full-length animated feature films were released by DreamWorks Animation, namely Shark Tale, Shrek, and Shrek 2. Around 25 cartridges were released, with the last ones released in 2007.

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SNK Neo Geo MVS (1990 – 2004)

The Neo Geo MVS (for ‘Multi Video System’) was a cartridge-based arcade game system released in 1990 by SNK.

The MVS was a coin-operated arcade console that could accept up to six cartridges in a single cabinet (1,2, and 4 slot versions were also available). Different games could be selected by players. and arcade operators could easily swap the cartridges inside the machine and change the exterior artwork. It was a successful product in the 1990s due to its low cost, compact size and the ability to offer different games in the same cabinet. When released, it was also the most powerful arcade system available.

A home version of the Neo Geo system, the AES (for ‘Advanced Entertainment System’) was made available for rental in 1990, and later for sale in 1991 when it was discovered people were willing to pay the high price.

Software is compatible with either system as they had the same specifications, but although the large cartridges look very similar they have different pin configurations and require an adaptor to use in the other system.

Neo Geo memory cards were available to allow players to save a game to return to at a later time, or continue play on either the MVS or AES systems.

Although hardware for the MVS and AES ceased production in 1997, game software was released until 2004 with the last official game being Samurai Shodown V Special. The Neo Geo MVS was replaced by the Hyper Neo Geo 64.

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Tandy TRS-80 Color Computer (1980 – 1991)

The TRS-80 Color Computer (often called the CoCo) was a home computer system introduced by the Tandy Corporation in 1980 and sold through their RadioShack stores. It is not to be confused with the monochrome TRS-80 that was aimed at the business and education market and had been introduced in 1977; the two systems are incompatible despite the similar names, and used different microprocessors.

The Color Computer did not have dedicated chips for sound and graphics like some other competing home computers such as the Atari 400 or Commodore VIC-20, so these were handled by the main processor (a Motorola 6809) which was more advanced than those used by competing systems, but consequently had more to do.

The Color Computer had a ROM cartridge slot for ‘Program Paks’. These were mostly games, but some other applications, and even a floppy disk controller could be used to control the 5.25-inch floppy disk drive that was made available as an option later. Initially, data could only be saved using a cassette recorder.

The Color Computer went through three generations before being finally discontinued in 1991, by which time it had gained a full-travel keyboard and 128 KB of RAM (which could be upgraded to 512 KB).

Many (though not all) Program Paks can be read by all three generations, but some require more RAM or joysticks to operate. The Dragon 32 and 64 shared many components with the Color Computer, and many Color Computer cartridges will also work in the Dragon.

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Commodore 16 / Plus/4 (1984 – late 1980s)

The Commodore 16 and the Plus/4 were two home computers introduced in 1984. The Commodore 16 was intended as a replacement for the VIC-20, and was named after its memory capacity of 16 KB. A more basic version of the Commodore 16, the Commodore 116, was sold in Europe, in addition to the Commodore 16.

The Commodore Plus/4 was intended as a higher-end model and came with 64 KB of RAM and four built-in office applications, though these were criticised as not being up to the task.

The Commodore 16 and Plus/4 were software compatible, and ROM cartridges would work on either machine provided the program worked within the Commodore 16’s 16 KB memory. As the Commodore 16 was the bigger seller of the pair, this meant that most software was written with the lower 16 KB limit in mind and didn’t take advantage of the greater memory of the Plus/4. Both machines could also record to Compact Cassette, and optional 5.25-inch disk drives were also available.

Neither model was successful, partly because they were not compatible with the Commodore 64 which had a large software library. After the Commodore 16 was discontinued in the US market in 1985, it was sold in Hungary, and also in Mexico. Similarly, the Plus/4 was discontinued in 1985, but was available from liquidators for some year afterwards.

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Pokémon mini (2002)

The Pokémon mini was a handheld game console, and the smallest game system to use cartridges weighing in at just 70g. It was introduced by Nintendo in 2001 (reaching Europe in 2002).

Only 10 cartridges (up to 512 KB in capacity, and a similar size to a Nintendo DS card) were released for the console, each themed around the Pokémon brand, with the last being released in Japan in December 2002 (Pokémon Breeder). It was sold in toy shops, and was seen as a children’s toy rather than a serious game system.

The Pokémon mini offered features such as force feedback, a shock detector and an infrared port for multiplayer gaming but had a small monochrome screen and monophonic sound. It was available in three colours, Wooper Blue, Smoochum Purple and Chikorita Green.

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VJ Starz Video Karaoke Machine (2002 – mid 2000s)

The VJ Starz Video Karaoke Machine was introduced in 2002 by Toymax Inc., and allowed users to create video recordings of themselves singing (and dancing).

The VJ Starz unit used cartridges containing ‘digitally recreated’ music (i.e. not recorded by the original artist) along with subtitled lyrics that could be displayed on a TV. The unit had a built-in video camera as well as a microphone, and by hooking it up to a video recorder, users could make a recording of themselves (the recorded version did not show the subtitles). For the cost of the unit, video quality was considered good.

Tempo, key and volume could be controlled.

Three cartridges were available, each with a selection of five pop hits.

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Nintendo Game Boy dual-mode cartridge (1998 – 2003)

When the Game Boy Color was launched by Nintendo in 1998, it had the ability to use cartridges (‘Game Paks’) from the original Game Boy, albeit in monochrome. Its own cartridges, usually translucent, were not backward compatible with the Game Boy but there was a third type of cartridge introduced at the same time as the Game Boy Color, and this was compatible with both models.

These ‘dual mode’ (also known as class B) Game Paks were usually black, and were the same shape as the original Game Boy cartridges (that were usually grey) including the notch that allowed the power switch to be moved across. They were programmed to play in colour when used on the Game Boy Color.

The dual mode Game Paks were compatible with all Game Boy models, except for the Game Boy Micro.

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e-kara Karaoke Cartridge (2001 – 2009)

e-kara was a karaoke system aimed at children, designed by the Japanese toy company Takara and introduced in 2001.

The e-kara system itself was a handheld unit containing the microphone and controls, which plugged into a television set. The interchangeable cartridges that contained the digitally recreated music were then plugged into the handheld unit. An e-kara Pro version was also available that had a separate headset for hands-free singing.

Lyrics appeared on the TV screen, and the e-kara unit also allowed singers to pick special effects for their voice such as various types of echo and pitch control.

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