By William Cassidy
NOVUS Plastic Polish

The hinged plastic boxes used to distribute Odyssey and Videopac games in Europe, Brazil, and Canada are notoriously susceptible to scratches and scuffs. After fine scratches accumulate, the black surfaces appear dirty, even right after being cleaned. The clear front panels begin to take on a dingy haze, which sometimes gets bad enough to obscure the manuals they were designed to showcase. The box feels rough and dirty to the touch. Now, so long after they were produced, it's rare to find boxes that don't have an ugly patina from many years of abrasions. Cleaning the boxes using water, Goo Gone or alcohol doesn't help much. After attempting to clean many Videobac boxes and being disappointed with the results, I wondered if there was a better method.

I had some NOVUS plastic polish (which can also be purchased on on hand for other restoration projects. NOVUS kits contain multiple, numbered strengths of polishing compounds – #1 for surface cleaning, #2 for light scratches, #3 for heavier ones. I knew it to be effective for certain types of plastics (it can even be used to clean the playfields of pinball machines). However, I wasn't sure if it would help much with the notoriously scratch-prone Videopac boxes. A while back, I had tried NOVUS on a particularly bad Videopac box. I could tell it made a difference, but wasn't sure if it was worth the expense and effort. However, that box was so bad that realistically there may have been no hope for it. I decided to test a different, less junky box. Here are my results.

Important note: All of the images below were taken by the same flatbed scanner with the same settings. It's difficult for a photograph to capture imperfections in clear plastic. If scratches aren't deep or numerous enough to catch the light, they don't show in the photos. Therefore, the polished plastic looks better in the scans than it does in real life, while the unpolished plastic looks slightly worse.

I selected a box that was not discolored or cracked, but that had typical surface cloudiness from hundreds of tiny scratches. This is what the clear cover looked like before I had cleaned or polished it in any way:

Click images for enlarged versions

For comparison purposes, I marked off an approximately 2" (5.1 cm) square of the upper-right corner using masking tape. This image shows the square before any polishing:

Following the polish's directions, I applied NOVUS #1 to gently clean the surface. Then I scrubbed using NOVUS #3 to brush out the biggest scratches, and followed with NOVUS #2 and #1 again to buff the surface. I intentionally polished only the outside of the box at this point. In this photo, you can see some scuff marks on the inside that I had not yet tried to polish away.

As you can see, the surface looks markedly less cloudy. However, I must point out that the scanning process makes it look better than it really is. In real life, some imperfections in the plastic are still apparent, especially when the box is viewed at even a slight angle. Even in the scan, some of the bigger scratches along the edges can still be seen.

NOVUS recommends multiple applications if scratches remain. So, once again, I applied NOVUS #3, followed by #2 and #1. Here is the result:

As you can see, it made little difference. Again, the scans aren't totally accurate. The second application of NOVUS did help a little, but honestly, probably not enough to make it worth the extra effort.

Here is a picture of the entire box with the masking tape removed. It's immediately obvious when you compare the 2" square in the upper right to the rest of the box:

This photo shows what it looks like with a game manual inserted. The area of the manual beneath the polished corner is indeed less obscured than the unpolished areas.

Next, I thought I'd try NOVUS on the black plastic half of the box. Here's what it looked like before polishing:

I wondered if NOVUS #3 (the heaviest polish) would be necessary for the black plastic, so I used only #2 and #1 at first. I wasn't impressed by the results, so I used some #3 – but only on the right side. In the scan below, taken after polishing, the left (#2) side is obviously more scuffed than the right (#3) side.

Finally, I polished the entire box – both clear and black areas, outside and inside – with NOVUS #3, #2, and #1. Here are the results:

Once again, I need to emphasize that the scans make things look better than they really are. When viewed in normal lighting, at any kind of angle, more scratches and imperfections in the plastic are visible. Below is a photo I took using a digital camera, at an angle:

The photo shows some imperfections that aren't visible in the scans. Yet even in the scans, some "cloudiness" is still apparent. Some of these problems might come out with repeated polishing, but I buffed some areas several times without clearing them up completely. Also, I was unable to get out the "scuff marks" on the inside of the box.

That said, the box feels much smoother and cleaner to the touch. Even some areas that appear scratched to the eye don't feel that way. This makes me think that some "scratches" are imperfections or streaks within the plastic sheet itself, and no amount of polishing could totally get rid of them.

So... Is It Worth It?

This is a difficult question. NOVUS kits typically cost $15-$20. The bottles aren't large, but they contain enough polish to potentially clean several Videopac boxes, so the monetary expense probably isn't too much of an issue.

A bigger concern is whether the results are worth the hassle of repeated buffing, polishing and cleaning. There's no doubt that the polish improved the look and feel of this Videopac box. However, it's definitely not perfect; it still appears "used," just not as bad as before. The polishing process takes a while and can be tedious. I was experimenting this time so it took longer than it would have otherwise, but I suspect that even with practice, it could still take 30 minutes to polish, clean and dry one box. The polish tends to get messy, and you need to use a lot of it:

Polish residue ends up everywhere. The shape of the Videopac box, with its many corners, makes it hard to totally clean off. I had to spray the box with water and carefully pat it dry, twice.

Overall, the appearance of the box did not improve as much as I had hoped. Still, there's no denying that it looks much better than it did before, and I love how much smoother it feels. When I pick up this box, it doesn't feel worn and dirty in my hands the way many of my other Videopac boxes do.

I'll probably try using NOVUS on a few more of my Videopac boxes, but I think I'll have to set up an "assembly line" first. The polishing process is simply too annoying to do one box at a time. I think a better plan would be to set an aside an afternoon and polish a stack of boxes at once, if my hands and shoulders don't get too tired from all that buffing. Various Internet sites mention using a Dremel tool with a buffing attachment, in conjunction with NOVUS, to polish plastics. That could make the process easier, but I don't have a Dremel so I can't comment on it. NOVUS also sells a buffing kit that fits standard drills, but again I don't have one. If you try these methods, why not tell me about it?

Polishing Tips

  • You may want to wear rubber or latex gloves. The NOVUS polish shouldn't irritate skin, but dried grit can accumulate on your hands and fingers, which can be annoying and messy.
  • Place a towel or drop-cloth beneath your work area. You'll end up with a mess otherwise.
  • Separating the box halves makes it easier to polish than doing it with the hinge still attached. Beware: reattaching the hinge can be rather difficult!
  • Chances are, your Videopac boxes will need the heaviest stuff: NOVUS #3. Follow the NOVUS instructions for use.
  • Unless your box is really bad, one application of NOVUS will probably be sufficient.
  • When the plastic is wet with polish, the scratches become harder to see. You may think it's perfect when actually, more polishing is needed. It won't look as good dry as it does when wet. If you forget this, you'll be disappointed by the results.
  • When you're done buffing, you should use NOVUS #1 to clean off the residue, but you probably won't be able to get it all out of the corners. Spray or submerge the box in water and pat it dry.
  • Be sure your box is totally dry and clean before putting games or manuals back in it!
  • Prepping the boxes and the work area is probably too much trouble to do just one box at a time. I recommend preparing several boxes and polishing many in a sitting. However, the first time you try it you may want to do only one until you get the hang of it.

As with any cleaning project, your results may vary. Good luck in making your Videopac boxes shine!