What was the first video game console? You would be incorrect if you said the Atari 2600, but that’s understandable. The Atari 2600 was one of the first, and it was heavily marketed.
It had the key features you would imagine from a video game console, too. But, an earlier console was the first, which was the Magnavox Odyssey.
This console was black and white, and you could pick from one of several games even though it didn’t have cartridges at all. Discover the first video game console here. Read on to learn more.
About the Magnavox Odyssey
The first commercial home video game console is the Magnavox Odyssey. It was initially developed by a dedicated team at Sanders Associates led by Ralph H. Baer, and it was launched in 1972 in the United States, and the next year, it was released internationally.
It can show monochrome black and white, three square dots, and one line of differing height on the screen, with varying dots’ behavior based on the game being played.
To display visuals, players set plastic overlays on the screen, and one or two players control their dots using the three knobs and a button on the controller for every game, in line with the rules provided. Tracking score and making sounds were not possible.
The Odyssey console came packaged with paper money, dice, and other board game kit to accompany the games. The first video game light gun, a peripheral controller, was separately sold.
From within, digital computing elements comprised the Odyssey architecture. In diode-transistor logic, the circuitry is built through discrete transistors and diodes. Like later consoles, the games themselves do not use ROM cartridges.
Rather, it uses “game cards” made up of printed circuit boards that connect into the console. Like a series of switches or jumpers, these cards change the internal circuitry, allowing the Odyssey to display various components and respond to inputs in different ways.
Baer invented the concept of a video game console in August 1966. He developed seven consecutive prototype consoles over the next three years, alongside Bill Harrison and Bill Rusch.
Before Magnavox decided to produce it in January 1971, the seventh, regarded as the Brown Box, has been seen by numerous manufacturers.
Magnavox sold 69,000 units in its first calendar year after launching the console via its dealerships, and 350,000 by the moment the console was withdrawn in 1975. The Odyssey series of dedicated consoles and the 1978 Magnavox Odyssey 2 were spawned by the console.
Patents by Baer and the other developers for the system and the games, including what a judge deemed the “pioneering video game art patent”, constituted the foundation of a string of cases lasting 20 years, gaining over $100 million from Sanders and Magnavox.
As part of a shift from the early history of video games and the emergence of the mainstream video game industry, the Odyssey arrival led to the creation of the first generation of video game consoles.
The Bottom Line
The Odyssey is not widely regarded as an important industry success. Still, it demonstrated the promise of video game consoles and signaled the death of the initial history of video games and the birth of the modern video game industry.
However, Magnavox’s Odyssey remains as the first gaming console ever, acting as the patriarch of a $40B industry. It delivered computer technology into the home and that was interesting. It showed that there was a potential for home video games.