During the development of their GameCube gaming system, Nintendo partnered with Matsushita-owned Panasonic to manufacture the disc drive for their console. As part of this agreement, a license was issued to Panasonic to be able to utilize the base GameCube software technology for their own system, if they chose to do so. Needless to say, Panasonic decided to exercise this contract clause and released one of the most visually attractive hardware units of all time - the Panasonic Q. Debuting just three months after its parent in December, 2001, this system ultimately proved that the old adage "looks aren't everything" was true - especially if not priced correctly. |
Released exclusively in Japan, the Panasonic Q was developed to address the fact that the GameCube's main competitors, the Sony Playstation 2 and shortly after the Microsoft Xbox, supported DVD movie playback out of the box while Nintendo did not incorporate this feature into its machine. Hoping to capitalize on this supposed oversight, the Panasonic Q was born. This was Nintendo's second attempt at licensing game hardware technology to a third party manufacturer, the first being the Sharp Twin Famicom. The initial venture did not prove to be successful for neither Nintendo nor Sharp. History would once again repeat itself with this new partnership with Matsushita.
As stated earlier, the Panasonic Q is one of the most striking consoles ever released. Sporting a mirrored front facing with a scratch-protective coating, the overall design is extremely advanced and crisp. Soft-touch buttons line the respective left and right sides and give quick access to sound, game and other options. The subtle but tasteful use of the Panasonic label is centered at the top of the main interface, with a smooth front loading DVDGC hybrid player residing just below. Four controller ports, accented with neon ice-blue lighting around their circumference, are featured across the front of the unit with two standard GameCube memory card slots lying in unison just below. All button, port labeling and compatibility logos (DVD, CD, DTS, GameCube, and Dolby), are detailed in pure white and are surprising easy to read against the reflective background. Standard DVD buttons and controls are located on the top of the unit, along with the most stunning feature of the Panasonic Q - the backlit LCD display. This message center has a futuristic look and provides relevant data (mostly on DVD play). The 'Hello' and 'Goodbye' sequence that is displayed when powering onoff the system is also a nice touch that further exemplifies the extra care that was put into it's design.
Technically, the gaming hardware in the Panasonic Q is identical to the Nintendo GameCube. There are literally no variations - please see the overview of the Nintendo GameCube for these details. That being said, owners of the Panasonic Q will enjoy the following audio enhancements over their GameCube brethren: Dialog Enhancer, Cinema, Surround and Bass Plus. All of these audio modes modify or boost a respective frequency to produce subtle if not unremarkable effects during game and DVD play. These options do not have level adjustment or customizable settings that can be modified. This is unfortunate but really not that important considering that most televisions at the time incorporated these features anyway.
Matsushita's marketing plan was to develop a DVD player with gaming capabilities, rather than just producing a video game console. The Panasonic Q hit the mark in this area with a DVD player that exceeded the industry standards of the time. While lacking the bells and whistles of some of the higher-end players available, DVD playback is extremely detailed, displayed in bold and vibrant colors. The included DVD remote is easy to use (though all text is in Japanese) and contains the basic playback controls. At the time, the DVD player performance of the Sony Playstation 2 and Microsoft Xbox paled in comparison. There is another bonus feature in this area - region free game and movie support. The first model only supported NTSC Region 2 disks and Japanese-released GameCube software. After a very short period of time, a second model was made available that fully supported NTSC Regions 1 through 6 as well as USA game disks. Unfortunately, there was no official PAL released unit and VCD playback is also not supported.
While the advantages of owning the Panasonic Q over the Nintendo GameCube are significant, the decision to purchase one was not an easy task in 2001. The first release debuted at $439 USD (equivalent to $545 USD in 2007) and the multi-region version could be yours for $499 ($635 USD in 2007). This price point severely limited the potential buying market, especially since the GameCube and a separate DVD player could be purchased for less.
With excellent DVD playback, multi-region media support, audio enhancements and its stylish look, the Panasonic Q is a definite upgrade to its Nintendo GameCube parent. Since the system was released in limited quantities, be prepared to spend a good amount to acquire one. A CIB (complete in box) unit will cost you around $200 to $300 dependant upon condition. Compare this to being to get a comparable GameCube system for around $20. If you are just looking for a video game console, the advantages of the Panasonic Q really can not be justified. For the collector, this system will definitely stand out on your gaming shelves.
The 3DO REAL Interactive Multiplayer (3DO) system is one of those consoles that is either loved or hated by those in the gaming community. Released by Panasonic in September of 1993, this new gaming machine was one of the first entries within the 32-bit gaming era. The developer, The 3DO Company, was created by Trip Hawkins, co-founder of Electronic Arts. Their aim was to create the first 32-bit system that truly delivered a 3D gaming experience. On many levels they achieved this objective and were successful in pioneering some technological advances in both hardware and software for the time. 3DO had an eager audience yearning to upgrade their outdated 16-bit systems (notably the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and NEC Turbo Grafx systems).
The 3DO Company did not actually construct any of the 3DO systems, but instead chose to develop the technology and license it to third party manufacturers (Panasonic, Goldstar, Sanyo and AT&T). With very affordable licensing fees and a heavy marketing campaign, the 3DO seemed destined to become the system of choice. Unfortunately, this opportunity was squandered by the steep $699 USD ($1228 USD in todays dollars) offering price which alienated much of the video gaming community. Most game munufacturers expect initial financial losses on console sales with the thought that they will make it up in royalty fees and software sales. Since the manufacturers would never see any of these profits (since The 3DO Company owned these rights, Pansonic, Goldstar and Sanyo had to gain a profit on each system that was sold. Hence the high price point.).
Aesthetically, the 3DO system (any version) is nothing to write home about. Each is rather nondescript and belies the potent technology under its hood. There were five (5) releases of the home system:
- 1993 Panasonic FZ-1 REAL 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (1st release with a sturdy plastic housing, front loading CD, high price tag
- 1994 Panasonic FZ-10 REAL 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (Redesigned housing with a more reliable top loading system at a lower cost)
- 1994 Goldstar 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (Black/dark grey machine featuring a more reliable front loading CD tray
- 1994 Goldstar 3DO Alive II (South Korea only. Wikipedia reference. No details available. I dont have this one.)
- 1994 Sanyo TRY 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (Japan only. Solid system release in Japan that is highly collectable in the US and abroad.)
- 1994 AT&T 3DO (Never released to the public that can be confirmed. The most visually appealing of the lot, if it had been released.)
The 3DO was powered by a 32-bit 12.5 MHz RISC CPU (ARM60) with a math co-processor and separate video co-processors which rendered games in true 24 bit color and was able to display FMV (Full Motion Video). This hardware was a great leap forward in 1993 and was revolutionary for the time. The 3DO featured an internal drive that was utilized for saving games and caching game data during play. Sound is delivered in crisp 16-bit full stereo and with Dolby Surround Sound technology (one of the first to incorporate this into a console). The interface of the console featured power and CD eject buttons with only one controller port. The controllers, while very comfortable and intuitive, required the 2nd controller to be plugged into the "master" controller to enable two (2) gaming ("daisy-chained"). Obviously, this set up was not a good call by 3DO.
With the exception of the controller configuration, the 3DO hardware technology was all good news. One thing was forgotten in the process (and that we have seen repeated in subsequent "next gen" systems even to today). Game play.
The 3DO library of games is not the worst of all time (that honor belongs to the Philips CD-i in my opinion), but it is not out of the bottom ten. Relying too heavily on the new technology that was afforded them, games for the 3DO often relied upon FMV to attempt to deliver the gaming experience. What was forgotten was the actual game play and development. FMV production was costly at that time and, though impressive in 1993, did not offer much to the gamer other than eye candy. The frame rate of the FMV (and FMV-based games) was a bit choppy at times. That being said, lets proceed to the actual games.
There were a number of great games released for the 3DO. Notable hits include Road Rash (best version on any platform), The Need For Speed, PGA Tour Golf 1996, Madden Football, Out Of This World, the ShockWave series and the highly collectable Luciennes Quest. The 3DO also released the game Night Trap, a FMV game featuring Dana Plato (know from the 1980s hit TV series Different Strokes and subsequent adult movie fame), which was the catalyst in the creation of the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) which we now see today. Unfortunately, for every great game that was released there were 9 others than were truly brutal.
Games came originally packaged in long, tall boxes made of sturdy cardboard with a hard, black plastic lining to protect them. Later releases were distributed in cheap cardboard boxes that collapsed easily, or in standard CD style cases. Many collectors hate the long original boxes since they do not stand up well and are difficult to display (due to size and poor construction on many). Personally, I love the old-style boxes. The art work is generally very good and there is just something about them for me (like, but not as great as the Neo Geo carts) that I like. It may be just that they are different from every other game packaging.
Overall, the 3DO was a somewhat innovative console in 1993 but lacked the attention to gaming that caused this systems demise (along with its absurd initial price). The Sony Playstation, released in December of 1994, ultimately put the stake in this systems heart. 3DO attempted to make a comeback in 1997 with its second generation (3DO 2 / Panasonic M2), but that is for another article.
This console is a recommended purchase for any gamer. A working, original FZ-1 model is sought after by many due to its place in gaming history and will run you around $40 USD (CIB $90). The FZ-10 is the most reliable. Expect to pay $30 ($70 CIB). The Goldstar version is a little more rare, with a going rate of around $40 ($90 CIB). The Sanyo TRY is the most expensive. Expect to pay $200 for a CIB system plus $65 shipping if coming from Japan to the US.