While other early consoles such as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System and the
original Atari’s often get the credit for kicking off the home console boom, it was the lesser known Magnavox Odyssey which was the genuine early front runner.
Incredibly Ralph Baer, the developer of the system, began working on the console way back in 1966. It was a combination of analogue and digital technology and was actually powered by batteries. It featured a slot in which circuit boards containing different games could be inserted and due to the lack of colour television in the late 1960s, Baer wanted to include translucent coloured sheets to place over the screen to add atmosphere to the games.
By 1968 he had a working prototype which featured additions that predated those of other consoles by many years; these included a basic light gun and a golf game which could be played by attaching a purpose made golf ball to the joystick – the player was then able to hit the ball with a real putter.
The console and it’s innovations impressed Magnavox, a long-standing manufacturer of television sets, who asked for a prototype. Magnavox demonstrated the console to the general public on May 24th, 1972 and released it onto the market in August of the same year.
Although it had the makings of a success and was some way ahead of its time, the Odyssey suffered from a poor marketing strategy. Whether it was accidental on behalf of other companies or not, many consumers were under the impression that the odyssey only worked with Magnavox television sets. In fact some commentators have blamed the Magnavox advertising for the confusion. Later versions of Pong contained a note on the box which said that the game would work “…..on any television set, black and white or color“.
Note the ‘works on any TV’ message in this 1973 ad.
Still, the Odyssey sold 330,000 consoles and 80,000 light gun packs before a new Odyssey model (Odyssey 100) was released in 1975. It was a technological marvel which made it’s mark on video game console history.