The Magnavox Odyssey on What’s My Line?


Soupy Sales, Melba Tolliver, Jim Backus, and Arlene Francis try to figure out what the heck Larry Blyden and Product Manager Bob Fritsche are doing behind the desk.

To quote Wikipedia –

The Magnavox Odyssey is the world’s first home video game console. It was first demonstrated on May 24, 1972 and released in August of that year, predating the Atari Pong home consoles by three years.

The Odyssey was designed by Ralph Baer, who began around 1966 and had a working prototype finished by 1968. This prototype, known as the Brown Box,[2] is now at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.

While many collectors 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. The electronic signals exchanged between the various parts (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary.[3] The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes. 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-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 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 logic and signal generators to produce the desired game logic and screen output components respectively. 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 dice, poker chips and score sheets to help keep score, much like a traditional board game. Ralph Baer also proposed the concept of “active cartridges” containing additional electronic components allowing adding more game features such as sound effects, variable net position, variable ball speed, etc. Unfortunately the idea did not catch any interest. In retrospect, all ROM-based cartridge manufacturers may have been required to pay a royalty to Sanders Associates had Ralph Baer filed a patent for his “active cartridges”.

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 TV screen, though pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a “hit”.

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.

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

The Odyssey was released in August 1972. Sales of the console were hurt by poor marketing by Magnavox retail stores. A few months later, many consumers were led to believe that the Odyssey would work only on Magnavox televisions. For that reason, most later “Pong” games had an explanation on their box saying “Works on any television set, black and white or color”.

Magnavox settled a court case against Nolan Bushnell for patent infringement in Bushnell’s design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey. Over the next decade, Magnavox sued other big companies such as Coleco, Mattel, Seeburg, Activision and either won or settled every suit.[4][5] In 1985, Nintendo sued Magnavox and tried to invalidate Baer’s patents by saying that the first video game was William Higinbotham’s Tennis For Two game built in 1958. The court ruled that this game did not use video signals and could not qualify as a video game. As a result, Nintendo lost the suit and continued paying royalties to Sanders Associates.

Baer went on to invent the classic electronic game Simon for Mattel in 1978. Magnavox later released several other scaled down Pong-like consoles based under the Odyssey name (which did not use cartridges or game cards), and at one point a truly programmable, cartridge based console, the Odyssey², in 1978.

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