Magnavox Oddysey

The Magnavox Odyssey in all its plastic glory.

The Magnavox Odyssey was the first commercial home video game console. It was first demonstrated in April 1972 and released in August of that year, predating the Atari Pong home consoles by three years. It is a digital video game console, though is often mistakenly believed to be analog, due to misunderstanding of its hardware design.

The Odyssey was designed by Ralph H. Baer, assisted by engineers William Harrison and William Rusch. They began around 1966 and had a working prototype finished by 1968. This prototype, known as the Brown Box, is now at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

Design and Add-Ons Edit

Like all other video game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey is a digital console. However, many collectors mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, which led Baer to clarify that the console was in fact digital. The electronic signals exchanged between the various parts (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary. The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.

The system could be powered by six C batteries, which were included. An optional A/C power supply was sold separately. The Odyssey lacks sound capability, something that was added with the "Pong systems" of several years later, including Magnavox's own Odyssey-labeled Pong consoles. Ralph Baer proposed a sound extension to Magnavox in 1973, but the idea was rejected.

The Odyssey uses a type of removable printed circuit board, called a game card, that inserts into a slot similar to a ROM cartridge slot. The game cards do not contain any components, but have a series of "jumpers" — simple electrical connections — between pins of the card connector. These jumpers interconnect different logic and signal generators in the Odyssey to produce the desired game logic and screen output.

The Odyssey was packaged with board game accessories, like dice, play money and game cards.

Television overlays were packaged with the system to enhance games. The system was sold with translucent plastic overlays that players could put on their television 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.

The Odyssey came packed with dice, poker chips, and score sheets to help keep score, play money, and game boards much like a traditional board game.

Ralph Baer is also believed to have proposed the concept of "active cartridges" containing additional electronic components, allowing adding more game features, such as sound effects, variable net position, and variable ball speed, though the idea apparently did not catch any interest.

The Odyssey was also designed to support an add-on peripheral, the first-ever commercial video "light gun" called the Shooting Gallery. This detected light from the television screen, though pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a "hit". Only 20,000 sales were made and the peripheral could only be used with 4 compatible games.

Baer also designed a putting game, which used a golf ball fixed to the top of a joystick which the player would hit using a putter. This idea interested Magnavox, which took the prototype for testing, and was initially planned to be released as an add-on like the electronic rifle, but ultimately was never released.

Baer replicated his active cards and putting game. They can be seen in the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.

Trivia Edit

  • The retail availability was August 1972 in America, 1973 in Europe, and 1974 in Japan.
  • It sold for $99.
  • It was discontinued in 1975, with 330,000 units sold.