Power Base Converter

 

PowerBaseConverter_MD_US_Box_Front

 

PRODUCED BY: Sega

RELEASE DATE: 01/26/89 – (JP)

                                               1989 – (US)

                                               1990 – (EU)

                                               1993 – (Master System Converter II, EU)

 

The Power Base Converter (also known as the Mega Adaptor in Japan and Master System Converter in Europe) was one of the first and best peripherals released for the Genesis. By shoving this unwieldy device into the top of your Model 1 unit, you could play Master System games, both cartridge and Card, and use peripherals like the 3-D glasses and the Light Phaser.

 

Sega_PBC_US_MD1

The poor Genesis and its face hugger attachments.*

 

Even at this relatively early point in console history, backwards compatibility for Sega was nothing new. When the Mark III launched in Japan in 1985, it was compatible with every SG-1000 cartridge and card game released. This was a smart move on their part, given the short lifespan of the SG-1000 and Sega’s need to release new hardware in frequent intervals. The Power Base Converter merely continued the BC trend. For Sega fans who still had their Master System collection, but wanted to move over to the Genesis, the Converter was a Godsend. It was also a way for Sega to expand the console’s library early on. If you were a consumer who just bought the Genesis, but never owned the Master System, a paltry thirty-five dollars would allow you to play the latter console’s entire library.

 

MegaAdaptorBoxJP

The same, only in Japanese and with the superior Mega Drive logo.*

 

How did Sega achieve such witchcraft? The Master System’s central processor and sound chip – Zilog Z80 and the SN76489 respectively – were included in the Genesis hardware. Also, the Genesis’ Sega 315-5313 Video Display Processor is able to run the Master System’s VDP mode 4. With only this info, one might assume that you could shove a Master System game into the Genesis and off you go, but this is not the case. The cartridge slot of the Genesis is shaped differently than the Master System’s, which is why the Power Base Converter is needed. Once the Converter’s attached and “a Master System game inserted, the system’s bus controller chip (later integrated with the I/O chip into a single multi-purpose ASIC) will put the Z80 in control leaving the 68000 (the Genesis’ central processor) idle” (Sega Retro, Power Base Converter). In essence, a Master System lurks within the Genesis and the Power Base Converter is the conduit needed for it to function.

 

md2_3

A Model II‘s innards, courtesy of http://djoen.dommel.be/Console/md2/md2.html.

 

The Power Base Converter is a brilliant device and perfect for Model 1 Genesis owners, but don’t bother if you own a Model 2 or Model 3. The Converter won’t fit on a Model 2 unless you modify its casing, and it won’t fit on a Model 3 whatsoever. Rather than deface a perfectly good (and increasingly rare) peripheral, better to find a Model 1 Genesis and use it the way Sega intended. Europe is the one exception to the rule. They received the Master System Converter II, a funky-looking piece that somewhat reminds me of the Sonic and Knuckles cartridge and allows you to play Master System games on a Mega Drive Model II. Europe presumably received the latter due to the Master System flourishing well into the mid-90s there.

 

MasterSystemConverterII

Looks like an evil tower rising out of the system (thanks to sega-16 for the photo).

 

Though I have no personal recollection of the Genesis launch, it seems that the Power Base Converter was only used to bring early adopters into the fold before it was quietly phased out. I owned a Genesis by late 1991 and was an avid reader of game magazines like EGM and GamePro by 1992, but I didn’t even know the Power Base Converter existed until years after Sega stopped supporting the Genesis. This isn’t to say that those magazines didn’t make some mention of the device in their pages in the 90s or that the Converter had completely vanished from stores. Only that, by the time Genesis got cookin’ with Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage II, and other popular titles, the Power Base Converter was already unnecessary for new Sega gamers. The Mega Drive had its own games to advertise and they were far superior to the ones on the Master System.

 

The Power Base Converter was already being offered for free in Sega deals around the summer of ’90.

 

Today, the device can be found on eBay and Amazon for between $70-80, about double of the original asking price not adjusted for inflation. If you already have a Model 1 Genesis (or a Model 2 in Europe) and are interested in playing the Master System library but don’t want another system crowding up your house, the Power Base Converter is the perfect starting point.

 

*all photos courtesy of SegaRetro unless otherwise marked

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7 thoughts on “Power Base Converter

  1. Sadly. I never got an opportunity to use a power base converter. While I had an extensive SMS library, that is how I I got the money to buy my Genesis. By selling all of my SMS games to a mail order company. I sold my SMS to my best friend across the street. (Except I held on to Power Strike) I kind of regretted selling all those games later.

    Also of course the Power Base Coverter additionally housed the pause button on it as the Genesis did not have a pause and had a start button on the controller.

    Today you can buy a power base converter from websites that is much smaller and cartridge shaped like the European one, that also has the FM sound unit built in so your games can play the FM sound like the Japanese SMS. Because oddly enough, most American released games still had the FM soundtrack on the cartridge but no way to play it.

    I also regret that I Sold all my games because the game gear later came out, and it had a converter to let you play SMS cartridges on your Game Gear. I would have had an instant GG library. I might have actually bought a Game Gear had I known that was going to happen.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Who doesn’t have regret selling their consoles and games when they were young. But at the time I always needed the money to be able to buy that next generation console.

      Liked by 2 people

      • When I was younger, I had a Genesis, SNES, and NES and my Mom said one of them had to go. I think she would have relented if I had tried a little harder, but I let her sell the NES. I think I made the right choice, given the circumstances (early 90s, NES on its way out, etc.), but it still stung.

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  2. Interesting they didn’t call this the “Master System Converter”. Why Power Base? I think Sega didn’t even know what name to use to market the 8 bit system.

    Early games referred to the system as the “Power Base”, but 1990 and later games finally called it the Sega Master System when Sega took back the distribution from Tonka.

    The console itself was labeled SEGA MASTER SYSTEM / Power Base.

    I still have the free power base converter offer from Sega where if you bought a Genesis you could get a a free power base converter with a game. I scanned it to show here but I don’t see a way to attach files.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They actually did call it the Master System Converter in Europe. Not sure why the kept the Power Base name for here, though.

      You’d probably have to load the image to imgur and post the link here.

      Like

  3. Sean beat me to the punch in mentioning the newer Power Base Converter alternative, the PowerBase Mini, or the PowerBase Mini FM, which includes the FM sound. Both are about the same size as the Genesis Game Genie cartridge (perhaps a touch shorter), and cheaper to acquire, though the FM model isn’t far off what you’ll pay for the genuine article. Still, worth a look. I am lucky enough to own a PBC, and have enjoyed many a rousing session of Shinobi, Fantasy Zone 2, and a handful of other SMS games I have picked up over the years. I don’t have my Model 1 out currently, but this site and your reviews have kind of made me want to pull it out and hook it up to my TV in the bedroom again, because I’ve had so much fun with it in the past.

    Liked by 1 person

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