Video gaming has come a long way since the early days of Pong and Pac-man. We can now play affordable games of high calibre with 3D graphics and awesome interactivity in the comfort of our home, taking for granted the little and subtle improvements made to each and every consoles before becoming what they are today. In a way, the aggressive competition between companies of video game consoles had churned out the superior features of video gaming to bring to us the excellent quality we see today.
As you shall see below, the evolution of video game consoles is indeed intriguing. Did you know that there were more than 70 different consoles to date? And did you know that there was a peak era of video arcade game when Nintendo and Sega were fiercely pitting against each other with their revolutionary consoles? If you are amazed by such facts, then I guarantee that this entry will excite you even further with the bits and pieces of fascinating historical facts across the video game consoles timeline.
Whether you’re a gamer or not, this is a great opportunity for you to go behind the scene and uncover the ‘making’ of present-day consoles!
The first video game console (working prototype) debuted as a bulky rectangular brown wooden box with two attached controllers, and thus the name "Brown Box". Invented by Ralph H. Baer (1922 – ), also known as "The Father of Video Games", he developed the brown video game console such that it can be hooked up with any ordinary TV sets. There were only six simple games for the console, namely ping-pong, tennis, handball, volleyball, chase games and a light-gun game.
"Brown Box" (1967)
The demonstration of the "Brown Box" led to the licensing of the technology by Magnavox in 1972, resulting in the release of the first official home video game console – Magnavox Odyssey. Just as the earliest films do not feature recorded sound, the first video game console is silent as well, with graphics which we would consider very primitive by today’s standard.
Magnavox Odyssey (1972)
1975 – 1977
Atari’s PONG arcade machine was so popular in 1973 that Atari decided to market the game as a home console two years later in 1975. In that same year, Magnavox decided to improve its Odyssey system and released not one, but two different improved versions of the original console, the Magnavox Odyssey 100 and 200.
From 1976-77, a series of Magnavox Odyssey consoles were produced, with each new console only slightly better than the previous one. The consoles basically had the same games within, but with some modification to the graphics, controllers and digital on-screen scoring.
Unsurprisingly, Atari came up with new consoles such as the highly-acclaimed Atari 2600, Video Pinball and Stunt Cycle to compete with Magnavox. New companies such as Fairchild, RCA and Coleco also jumped on the bandwagon, creating consoles of their own to grab a piece of the pie. The Wonder Wizard by General Home Products was even said to be pretty much the same as the Odyssey 300 by Magnavox, other than having better and larger paddle controllers.
Fairchild and RCA didn’t meet with much success with their first and only consoles while Coleco’s first video game system, Telstar, was well-received for its capability to play games in colour and for having different difficulty levels. As a result of its popularity, a number of fresh consoles from Coleco soon sprang up in the market from 1977-78.
Atari Sears Tele-Games Pong System (1975)
Magnavox Odyssey 100 (1975)
Magnavox Odyssey 200 (1975)
Fairchild Channel F (1976)
Magnavox Odyssey 300 (1976)
Magnavox Odyssey 400 (1976)
Magnavox Odyssey 500 (1976)
The Wonder Wizard Model 7702 (1976)
RCA Studio II (1977)
Magnavox Odyssey 2000 (1977)
Atari 2600 (1977)
Atari Video Pinball (1977)
Atari Stunt Cycle (1977)
Coleco Telstar Ranger (1977)
Coleco Telstar Alpha (1977)
Coleco Telstar Colormatic (1977)
Coleco Telstar Combat (1977)
Magnavox Odyssey 3000 (1977)
Magnavox Odyssey 4000 (1977)
1978 – 1980
Nintendo, the company which eventually became a major player in the video gaming industry for the next three decades, delivered their first series of video game console from 1977 to 1979. The Color TV Game Series were only for sale in Japan. These consoles essentially followed in the footsteps of Atari and featured Pong-style games.
Once again, there were a few newcomers to the market but they were met with limited success. Bally Astrocade came about in 1977 and was celebrated for its superior graphic capabilities. For some reason, it did not last long. Mattel introduced its Intellivision console in 1979, which actually intimidated Atari 2600 with its exceptional capabilities.
Coleco continued with its line of consoles of all sorts, in an attempt to pit against the mighty Atari 2600. Coleco had consoles for playing shooting, car racing and pinball games. Similarly, Magnavox persisted on with a few more upgraded consoles of its own, but they were inherently Pong consoles that play Pong-based games. Philips, having bought Magnavox in 1974, developed some variations of Magnavox Odyssey’s models as well. Regardless, Atari 2600 remained at the top owing to its cartridge-based console equipped with better graphics and games.
Nintendo Color TV Game Series (1977 – 1979)
Coleco Telstar Sportsman (1978)
Coleco Telstar Colortron (1978)
Coleco Telstar Marksman (1978)
Coleco Telstar Gemini (1978)
Coleco Telstar Arcade (1978)
Bally Astrocade (1978)
Magnavox Odyssey 2 (1978)
Philips Odyssey 2001 (1978)
Philips Odyssey 2100 (1978)
Mattel’s Intellivison (1979)
1981 – 1985
The golden age of video gaming has arrived! With progressively advanced gaming technology,the 1980s was a period of genre innovation when the industry began experimenting with non-Pong games like fighting, platform, adventure and RPG games. It is also this era that we saw the release of all-time classic games such as Pac-man (1980), Mario Bros (1983), The Legend of Zelda (1986), Final Fantasy (1987), Golden Axe (1988), etc. There was also a major shift from dedicated consoles (with built-in games) to cartridge-based video game systems.
Both Sega and Nintendo dominated the video gaming scene in that decade. The first console ever released by Sega was the SG-1000 in 1983. It was not exactly well-known since it was mostly distributed in Asia and never launched in North America. However, that machine laid the foundation for its top-notch successor in 1985, the Sega Master System. Nevertheless, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) revealed in 1983 emerged victorious as the best-selling console of that generation. It is even fair to say that the NES single-handedly raised Nintendo to a company easily identified with gaming.
Companies within the video game consoles market like Atari, Mattel and Coleco released new consoles, Atari 5200, Intellivision II and ColecoVision, respectively,
but these were not comparable with the popularity of Sega and Nintendo. In fact, ColecoVision was the last home video game console Coleco released. They dominated the home video gaming market until they were dethroned by NES when it was introduced to the US and UK market a year after the 1984 video game industry crash. As a result of the crash, ColecoVision ended up as the last console released by Coleco. Meanwhile, a few new and unheard consoles were brought to the market by hopeful companies, only to be overwhelmed by the intense competition between the Sega Master System and NES. (Thanks Jared for pointing out the error in this paragraph)
Epoch Cassette Vision (1981)
Emersion Arcadia (1982)
Atari 5200 (1982)
Mattel Intellivision II (1982)
Casio PV-1000 (1983)
Sega SG-1000 (1983)
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) (1983)
Epoch Super Cassette Vision (1984)
Sega Master System (1985)
1986 – 1990
As the struggle for domination continues between Nintendo and Sega, each of them released brand new consoles to challenge each other’s positions. Sega came up with the its number one console of all time, the Mega Drive/Genesis in 1988. To counter the threat, Nintendo presented the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) two years later, the console next in line after NES. Sega released the Master System II in the very same year after gaining significant success with Mega Drive/Genesis. This was the major console war that occured in the 80s.
Atari was slowly slipping out of the console market despite yet another undertaking in its latest system, the Atari 7800. The draw was that it offered backward compatibility with the phenomenal Atari 2600, allowing players to enjoy classic games of the past. Newcomer TurboGrafx-16 by NEC tried to target both Sega Genesis and Nintendo’s SNES and NES consoles but was ultimately overtaken by them in 1991, ranking fourth in the video game market. An enhanced version, the SuperGrafx (1989), was also not well-received.
SNK Neo Geo, already famous for its arcade machines production, went ahead to bring the arcade experience to home video game consoles in 1990. The Neo Geo AES (Advanced Entertainment System) was equipped with remarkable graphics thanks to the larger size of the games, which consequently led to the pricey tag (the console costs more than 800 dollars, while each game piece over 200 dollars). It is for this reason that the public’s reception of the first Neo Geo console was less than great.
Atari 7800 (1986)
NEC TurboGrafx-16 (1987)
Sega Mega Drive/Genesis (1988)
NEC SuperGrafx (1989)
Sega Master System II (1990)
SNK NeoGeo AES (Advanced Entertainment System) (1990)
1991 – 1993
In the first few years of 1990s, there is a notable shift in the medium used for storing games from cartridges to compact discs. What this meant was that there were increased capacities for video gaming, prompting as well a transition of 2D graphics to that of 3D. The first CD console was launched by Philips (1991) – the CD-i. Regrettably, the console was more commonly recognized as a failure for its sub-standard games and frustrating controllers.
In 1992, NEC TurboGrafx-16 was upgraded to the TurboGrafx-CD to meet the demands of CD-based consoles. But again, it lost itself to Sega Genesis/MegaDrive with its latest add-on, the Sega CD. Atari made its last console appearance with their CD-based Atari Jaguar in 1993, which was meant to contest against the other 16-bit consoles like the Sega Genesis and SNES. It then found itself losing the console battle with more advanced next generation console like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation a year later.
Commodore, a US-based home computer manufacturer, gained entry into the market with its very own Amiga CD32 (1993). Sadly, it was only for a brief few months before Commodore declared bankrupcy in 1994, thus prematurely ending the sales of a video game console with some potential.
Philips CD-i (1991)
NEC TurboDuo (1992)
Panasonic 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (1993)
Atari Jaguar (1993)
Commodore Amiga CD32 (1993)
1994 – 1997
In 1994, Sony finally made its entrance with the leading Playstation. Sega At the same time, Sega with its immense success of its MegaDrive/Genesis system, went on to expand it into a series, with the Genesis 2 (1994) and Genesis 3 (1997). It also developed an entirely new console, Saturn, to rival against the rest of the CD-based consoles. Nintendo, on the other hand, stuck to its cartridge system for its new Nintendo 64.
SNK Neo Geo moved on with a CD-based console in 1994. Having learnt their lesson for putting a costly tag for their console and games, the Neo Geo CD console costed $300 while its games costed around $50, which were sharp drops from its previous AES system. NEC now exhibited its new PC-FX, which looked more like a desktop CPU than a console. The technology they utilized was outdated when compared to that of Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation, hence what followed was that the console was phased out and NEC no longer produced home consoles.
During this time, there were also many other consoles which most of us would not have heard of. Bandai, Casio and even Apple came up with their own consoles. The Virtual Boy by Nintendo, launched in 1995, consisted of a head-mounted display to view 3D graphics.
Sega Genesis 2 (1994)
Sega Saturn (1994)
SNK Neo Geo CD (1994)
NEC PC-FX (1994)
Bandai Playdia (1994)
Apple Bandai Pippin (1995)
Casio Loopy (1995)
Nintendo’s Virtual Boy (1995)
Nintendo 64 (1996)
Sega Genesis 3 (1997)
1998 – 2004
Sega Saturn was not a major success, so Sega thought of another new console for the next generation – the Sega Dreamcast (1998). In terms of providing internet support via its built-in modem for online playing, Dreamcast was the pioneer back in 1998. Two years later, Sony progressed on with the next Playstation, the Playstation 2. In 2001, Nintendo switched its cartridge-based Nintendo 64 to a DVD-ROM GameCube. That very same year, we saw Microsoft entered in the video game console industry in 2001 with its well-received Xbox, which featured online gaming service as well, the Xbox Live.
Now that the industry is stabilized after three decades of experimenting with all sorts of consoles, there were rarely any entry attempts by fresh companies. Interestingly enough, there is one XaviXPORT in 2004 that is relatively unheard of. The console uses cartridges and have controllers which looked like sports equipments to interact with on-screen games. It was basically used for working out and keeping fit. Kind of reminds us of the existing Nintendo Wii, doesn’t it?
Sega Dreamcast (1998)
Playstation 2 (2000)
Nintendo Gamecube (2001)
2005 – 2011 (Today)
Finally, the current generation of video game console only has room for three major competitors: Xbox 360, Sony Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii. With full 1080p HD graphics for both the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, and Wii’s innovative remote for sensing 3D movements, it seems that video gaming had indeed came a long, long way. In addition to these, all three consoles had expanded with add-ons such as the MotionPlus for Wii (2009), Kinect (2010) for Xbox 360 and Move (2010) for Playstation 3. These three add-ons similarly involved the capability to sense physical motion accurately, enhancing the interactive experience for players.
Most of the companies were already phased out – Atari, Coleco, NEC, Sega, etc, but there are currently still two adventurous companies who dare to compete head-on with the Big Three. Mattel is back with its Hyperscan console after disappearing from the industry for three decades. Marketed to young boys of the age of five to nine, it was only available for a year before they were taken off the shelf in 2007. The PC World Magazine ranked it the 7th worst video game system of all time.
On the other hand, the EVO Smart Console (2008) looks to be more promising with its HD graphics, internet access, 120GB hard drive and 2GB RAM. Also a Media PC, it is the first Linux Open Source game console. However, for some strange reason, the console’s official website is no longer available and is not even indicated in Envisions’ website.
Playstation 3 (2006)
Mattel’s Hyperscan (2006)
Envizions EVO Smart Console (2008)
Wii MotionPlus (2009)
Kinect for Xbox 360 (2010)
PlayStation Move (2010)