Magnavox Odyssey

The Magnavox Odyssey, predating the Atari pong, was the world’s first home video game console. It was released in 1972. Designed by Ralph Baer, the Odyssey prototype was called the Brown Box and is now in the Smithsonian Institute National Museum. It was also placed, by IGN in 2009, as one of the top 25 video game consoles of all time.

Although many collectors think the Odyssey is analog, Baer considers it digital due to the electronic signals exchanged between various parts being binary. The system was powered by batteries and lacked sound capability, although this was corrected on the forthcoming “Pong systems”. Baer proposed a sound extension, in 1973, to Magnavox that they rejected.

The Odyssey played games by inserting a printed circuit board card into a slot similar to a cartridge slot. The board connected through a series of jumpers between pins on the connecter. The system came with translucent plastic overlays that players put on their TV screen to simulate color graphics; however, only two sizes of TVs were supported. It also came with dice, poker chips, and score sheets. Baer had the idea to add additional components to the game such as sound effects; however, this gained no traction. The Odyssey also had the first-ever commercial video “light gun”. This system detected light form the TV screen, though pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb could also register as a “hit”. Baer also created a putting game where a golf boll was attached to the top of the joystick and was hit with the players putter. This garnered Magnavox’s interest; however, it was never released.

The Odyssey, released August 1972, had poor sales due to poor marketing and the misconception that the system would only work on Magnavox televisions. Later Magnavox settled a patent infringement case against Nolan Bushnell for his design of Pong, which looked liked the tennis game for the Odyssey. Nintendo eventually tried to turn things against Magnavox by suing them claiming that the first video game was Tennis for Two built in 1958. The suit failed and Nintendo was stuck paying royalties.

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