Sunday, October 15, 2006

Magnavox Odyssey

The Magnavox Odyssey was the world's first commercially sold video game console. It was released in May, 1972, predating the Atari Pong home consoles by roughly three and a half years. The Odyssey was designed by Ralph Baer, who had a working prototype finished by 1968. This prototype is affectionately known as the "Brown Box" to video game collectors. While many collecters consider the Odyssey analog rather than digital (because of the addition of analog circuitry for the output, game control, and the use of discrete components), Baer has said he considers the console to be digital (ref). The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes. Unlike any conventional console today, the system was powered by batteries. The Odyssey lacks sound capability, something that was corrected with the "Pong systems" of several years later, including Magnavox's own Odyssey-labled Pong consoles.
The Odyssey uses a type of removable circuit card that inserts into a slot similar to a cartridge slot; these do not contain any components but have a series of jumpers between pins of the card connector. These jumpers interconnect different analog signal generators to produce the screen output. The system was sold with translucent plastic overlays that gamers could put on their TV screen to simulate color graphics, though only two TV sizes were supported. Some of these overlays could even be used with the same cartridges, though with different rules for playing. It was also sold with plastic game tokens and score sheets to help keep score, much like traditional board games.
The Odyssey was released in May 1972. Sales of the console were hurt by poor marketing by Magnavox retail stores. Many consumers were led to believe that the Odyssey would work only on Magnavox televisions. Magnavox won a court case against Nolan Bushnell for patent infringement in Bushnell's design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey.
The Odyssey was also designed to support an add-on peripheral, the first-ever commercial "light gun" called the Shooting Gallery. This detected light from the TV screen, however pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a "hit".
Ralph Baer went on to invent the classic electronic game Simon for Mattel in 1978. Magnavox later released several other Pong-like consoles based on the name Odyssey (which did not use cartridges or game cards), and at one point a truly programmable, cartridge based console, the Odyssey, in 1978.
Nintendo's first venture in the electronic gaming world was the distribution of the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan in 1975, before the company introduced its own consoles.

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