Sunday, October 15, 2006

Atari Jaguar CD - Review - Console History

The Atari Jaguar CD or Jag CD was a CD-ROM peripheral for the Atari Jaguar video game console.
Late in the life span of the company, Atari released this long-promised CD-ROM unit. The device sat atop the Jaguar console, plugging into the cartridge slot, the physical design of the system sometimes compared to a toilet. The drive had its own cartridge slot to allow cartridge games to be played without removing the CD drive. There was a separate "Memory Track" cartridge for storing saved game position and high scores.
The Jaguar CD unit featured a double speed (2x) drive and built-in VLM (Virtual Light Machine) software. The VLM, which provided a sophisticated video light show when an audio CD was played in the machine, was as popular among buyers as the games themselves. Packaged with the drive were two games (Blue Lightning and Vid Grid), a music CD (Tempest 2000 soundtrack), and a Myst demo disc.
Jaguar CD games could include as much as 790MB of data, considerably more than conventional CD-ROMs. The designers chose to ignore established CD-ROM formats and instead created their own based on the audio CD format. While allowing for dramatically more storage on the disc and foiling casual piracy, the format only provided limited error correction.
The drive was manufactured for Atari by Phillips in the United States. The initial shipment was 20,000 units. Comments from Atari a few weeks after the unit was launched stated that the entire inventory had been sold, and that another batch would be ordered. However, with the JT Storage reverse takeover looming just a few months away, it is possible that those 20,000 drives were the only units ever produced.
While the ratio of CD to cartridge games is fairly low, the CD add-on unit has always held an interest to gamers. In particular, the value of the CD add-on has gone up dramatically in the past few years, mainly due to low supply. Also, it is now possible to (legally) download and burn several encrypted demos (Black Ice/White Noise, Native, Atomic) to play on an actual CD unit with no modification. Due to this, the homebrew sector is active with several titles in progress (Eerievale). However, a third-party cartridge (Protector SE, B&C's cart) is still required for unencrypted games (Painter).

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