Nuon be Good?

by Ryan Edwards


From the ashes of Atari rose a collection of ex-Atari and 3DO employees including the legendary hippy, llama fan, Jeff Minter, Bill Rehbock Vice President of third party development (had moved from Atari to Sony but was tempted back) and Richard Miller, founder of the Nuon company VM Labs who had been previously involved in the creation of the Jaguar. Around winter 1997 the company went public with plans for gaming hardware so powerful and a business plan so revolutionary it would prove a "Mario killer". Dubbed Project X, the plan was to integrate the technology into the leading brands of DVD player as no extra cost, thus invading living rooms by stealth.

Unfortunately a lack of support and funding resulted in Project X (renamed Nuon) being curtailed when VM Labs went into receivership last year. Consequently there is much confusion about what games are available and the various models of Nuon available.

Three companies eventually joined the Nuon bandwagon: Samsung, Toshiba and RCA.

The SD-2300, a competent US model bearing the quality you would expect from such a manufacturer has unfortunately an extremely limited Virtual Light Machine of only eight different effects when you play your favourite CDs. Apparently there was a fear of inducing epilepsy attacks!

This company was the last hardware manufacturer to release Nuon enhanced players. While the DRC300N is a technically excellent model, it cannot play Nuon enhanced movies or games.

By far the most prolific supporter of Nuon, it was the only manufacturer to release outside of the US. As such the players have evolved and the latest models (the N series) even come with an upgraded Nuon processor called Aries 3.

The first player was the Extiva DVD-N2000, though a good all-round DVD player capable of the standard Nuon tricks such as 15x zoom without major blockiness (a la Blade runner), as the first to reach the market it lacks compatibility with certain formats (MP3, CD-RW).

Next to market was the US DVD-N501, an upgrade in all respects to the N2000 aside from a low resolution VLM. Samsung's final machines were the N591, N504 and N505.

By 2001 it was apparent that the Nuon market was not going to achieve anything like mass market penetration so the unfortunate decision was taken that these players would be released in extremely limited numbers, only from a select number of specialist retailers and with the exception of the N504 would be without joypad ports. The thinking for this last decision was that as the games would not be released outside of the US (though the games and joypads are available internationally from DVD 4 You) the presence of such ports would create customer confusion. The N591 was released for the Korean market, N504 in Switzerland which is a traditional test market and the N505 for UK and Germany.

Let there be light
A much talked about feature is the VLM 2. Designed by Jeff Minter, this is the second version of his CD music reactive lightshow. It features greater responsiveness, more effects and a higher resolution over the Jaguar CD original. The notion of a lightshow which Jeff pioneered has since been copied by all the major manufacturers including Sony for its PlayStation and within Windows Media Player. Interactivity can be achieved only with models that feature joypad ports. The European models have more effects than their US cousins given that Jeff took advantage of the time they took to reach market.

It's time for Hollywood

  • Bedazzled
    The first of four Region 1 films to be released with Nuon content, this 20th Century Fox feature arguably attracted more interest in its special features than the film itself. Elizabeth Hurley takes on the role of an attractive devil as a hapless fool stumbles through his seven wishes.
  • Planet of the Apes
    This Fox remake of the original classic where apes dominate over humans is released as a two-disc special edition. Nuon features include enhanced chapter selection and special effect zooms. The first print of these feature a broken link to the Nuon content, this was rectified on the second run.
  • Dr Doolittle 2
    This remake features the comedic talents of Eddie Murphy - the usual selection of competent, if not astounding Nuon exclusive extras are there for your delight.
  • Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai
    This is an offbeat, black sci-fi comedy by MGM

Play time

  • Ballistic
    This simplistic puzzler was the first Nuon game, available only with the N2000; it was released later as a stand-alone product. An enjoyable distraction with PlayStation-like graphics.
  • The Next Tetris
    This title is rare now due to it only being available with the SD-2300. It is a basic version of the classic featuring no bells and whistles and is one-player only.
  • Crayon Shin Shan
    Very little is known about this title as it was only available with the Korean N591 and will only play on its native machine. It is a platformer designed for children with rudimentary graphics.
  • Space Invaders XL
    This is an incredibly faithful recreation of the classic with four of the original classics included. Nothing is updated so it won't impress your friends but you may get sore thumbs!
  • Tempest 3000
    Without a doubt this is the "must have" title for Nuon and is an astonishing attack on your senses! Coded by Jeff Minter, author of Tempest 2000, one of the Jaguar's finest moments, the graphics and sound are unparalleled in their psychedelic glory. Edge rated 9/10.
  • Freefall 3050AD
    This game produced by TAKS, is an original 3D concept where you must safely navigate your character around obstacles, taking out enemies, while freefalling at great heights. Difficult to get into but rewarding if you do.
  • Merlin Racing
    This is a Mario Kart 64 style sequel by Miracle Designs, creator of Atari Karts for the Jaguar. This one or two player game features races in a variety of vehicles, with graphics superior to the N64.
  • Iron Soldier 3
    By Eclipse, this mech action game is now in its third incarnation from the two popular Jaguar originals and features impressive graphics and 5.1 surround sound. It is also the rarest title in its original, boxed form as VM Labs withdrew the game immediately after release because of suspected incompatibility issues. The game was never re-released due to VM Labs' financial problems, however, a number of "Demo" versions were kindly distributed by Kevin Manne at Nuon-Dome.

There we have it folks, a whistle-stop tour of the crazy world that is Nuon. As you have read, it was a product of great potential that was cruelly stunted. The DVD players, on the whole offer features above their peers and the games vary from the mundane to the astounding. I have mentioned various compatibility issues that need to be navigated around - a challenge for the true Nuon enthusiast - so get hunting!

Note: RCA actually released two DVD players with the Nuon processor, the second of which was the DRC480N which does do progressive scan via Faroudja DCDi.
Kevin Manne, Nuon-Dome

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MyAtari magazine - JagFest highlight 5, July 2003

Copyright 2003 MyAtari magazine