The Full Wiki

History of video game consoles (second generation): Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vg history icon alt.svg
Part of a series on:
History of video games

In the history of computer and video games, the second generation (sometimes referred to as the early 8 bit era or to a lesser extent, the 4 bit era) began in 1976 with the release of the Fairchild Channel F and Radofin 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System.

The early portion of this generation saw the release of several consoles as various companies decided to enter the market, and an occurrence of a later portion whose releases were in direct reaction to the earlier consoles. The Atari 2600 was the dominant console for much of the second generation, with other consoles such as the Intellivision, Odyssey 2, and ColecoVision also enjoying market share.

The second generation came to an abrupt end in 1984 amid the video game crash of 1983.


Early 8-bit home consoles (1976-1983)

An Atari 2600 game cartridge circuit board

The earliest console, the Magnavox Odyssey had used removable cartridges that were nothing but glorified jumpers to activate the games already wired in to the console. This method was soon replaced during the move to Pong consoles, where the logic for one or more games was hardcoded into microchips using discrete logic, and no additional games could ever be added. By the mid-1970s cartridges had returned with the move to CPU based consoles. With games now consisting of microprocessor based code, these games were burned onto ROM chips that were mounted inside plastic cartridge casings that could be plugged into slots on the console. When the cartridges were plugged in, the general-purpose microprocessors in the consoles read the cartridge memory and ran whatever program was stored there. Rather than being confined to a small selection of games included in the box, consumers could now amass libraries of game cartridges.

The Fairchild VES was the world's first CPU based video game console, introducing the cartridge-based game code storage format. It was released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August 1976. When Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild quickly re-named it to the Fairchild Channel F.

In 1977, Atari released its CPU based console called the Video Computer System (VCS), later called Atari 2600. Nine games were designed and released for the holiday season. It would quickly become by far the most popular of all the early consoles.

The Bally Astrocade was originally referred to as the Bally Home Library Computer, and was released in 1977, but available only through mail order. Delays in the production meant none of the units actually shipped until 1978, and by this time the machine had been renamed the Bally Professional Arcade. In this form it sold mostly at computer stores and had little retail exposure (unlike the Atari VCS). In 1979 Bally grew less interested in the arcade market and decided to sell off their Consumer Products Division, including development and production of the game console. In 1981 they re-released the unit with the BASIC cartridge included for free, this time known as the Bally Computer System, and then changed the name again in 1982 to Astrocade. It sold under this name until the video game crash of 1983, and then disappeared around 1985.

In 1978, Magnavox released its CPU based console, the Odyssey 2, in the United States and Canada. Philips Electronics released this same game console as the Philips G7000 in many European countries. Although it never became as popular as Atari, it managed to sell several million units through 1983. Philips had also designed the more powerful Interton VC 4000 console family (e.g. 1292 Advanced Programmable Video System) before this.

In 1979, Activision was created by disgruntled former Atari programmers. It was the first third-party developer of video games. Many new developers would follow their lead in succeeding years.

The next major entry was Intellivision, introduced by Mattel in 1980. Though chronologically coming long before the "16-bit era", the Intellivision had a unique processor with instructions that were 10 bits wide (allowing more instruction variety and potential speed), and registers 16 bits wide. The system rocketed to popularity alongside the 2600.

Though not the first system to challenge Atari, it was the first to pose a serious threat to Atari's dominance. A series of Intellivision TV ads featuring George Plimpton mercilessly attacked the Atari VCS's lesser capabilities with side-by-side game comparisons. Nevertheless, Atari held exclusive rights to most of the popular arcade game conversions of the day, and used this key segment to support their older hardware in the market. This game advantage and the difference in price between the machines meant that each year Atari sold more units than Intellivision, lengthening its lead despite inferior graphics. This need for price parity has influenced every console war since.

1982 saw the introduction of four new consoles, the Emerson Arcadia 2001, the Vectrex, the ColecoVision, and the Atari 5200. The Vectrex was unique among home systems of the time in featuring vector graphics and its own self-contained display. The Arcadia and ColecoVision were even more powerful machines.

The popularity of early consoles was strongly influenced by their ports of arcade games. The Atari 2600 was the first with Space Invaders, and the Colecovision bundled in Nintendo's Donkey Kong.

Early cartridges were 2 KB ROMs for Atari 2600 and 4 KB for Intellivision. This upper limit grew steadily from 1978 to 1983, up to 16 KB for Atari 2600 and Intellivision, 32 KB for ColecoVision. Bank switching, a technique that allowed two different parts of the program to use the same memory addresses was required for the larger cartridges to work. In contrast, some Arcadia family members (e.g. Palladium VCG) supported up to 31 KB without any need for bank switching. In the game consoles, high RAM prices at the time limited the RAM (memory) capacity of the systems to a tiny amount, often less than 1 KB. Although the cartridge size limit grew steadily, the RAM limit was part of the console itself and all games had to work within its constraints.

By 1982 a glut of consoles, over-hyped game releases, and games from new third-party developers less well-prepared than Activision began to appear - overflowing the shelf capacity of toy stores. In part because of these oversupplies, the video game industry crashed, starting from Christmas 1983 and stretching through all of 1984.



As of 2004, the Atari 2600 has sold 30 million units.[1] As of 1990, the Intellivision had sold 3 million units.[2][3][4]


Name Fairchild Channel F Atari 2600 Magnavox Odyssey² Intellivision Atari 5200
Console Channelf.png Atari2600a.JPG Videopac-pete-screen-800px.jpg Intellivision - gi 1326971.jpg 5200.jpg
Launch prices US$169.95 US$199 US$200


US$299 N/A
Release date US August 1976 US October 1977

EU 1978 JP October 1983

US 1978

EU December 1982 JP 1982 BRZ 1983

US 1979

EU 1982 JP 1982

US November 1982
Media Cartridge Cartridge and Cassette, available via special 3rd party attachment) Cartridge Cartridge Cartridge
Top-selling games N/A Pac-Man, 7 million (as of September 1, 2006)[5][6] N/A Astrosmash (1 million)[7] N/A
Backward compatibility N/A N/A None N/A None
Accessories (retail) N/A
  • The Voice
  • Chess Module
  • Keyboard component (cancelled)
  • Entertainment Computer System
  • Intellivoice
CPU Fairchild F8

1.79 MHz (PAL 2.00 MHz)

MOS Technology 6507

1.19 MHz

Intel 8048 8-bit microcontroller

1.79 MHz

General Instrument CP1610

894.886 kHz

Custom MOS 6502C

1.79 MHz (not a 65c02)

Memory 64 bytes, 2 kB VRAM (2×128×64 bits) (within a MOS Technology RIOT chip): 128 bytes (additional RAM may be included in the game cartridges) CPU-internal RAM: 64 bytes

Audio/video RAM: 128 bytes

1456 bytes main RAM 16 kB main RAM
  • 102 × 58 pixels visible
  • 8 colors
  • 160 x 192 resolution
  • 128 colors (NTSC)
  • 104 colors (PAL)
  • 160×200 resolution (NTSC)
  • 16-color fixed palette; sprites use 8 colors
  • 4 8×8 single-color user-defined sprites
  • 12 8×8 single-color characters; 64 shapes built into ROM BIOS;
  • 4 quad characters;
  • 9×8 background grid; dots, lines, or blocks
  • 159x96 pixels (159x192 display on a TV screen, scanlines being doubled)
  • 16 color palette, all of which can be on the screen at once
  • 8 sprites.
  • 320×192 resolution,
  • 16 (out of 256) on-screen colors per scan line with 256 colors capable of being displayed at once.
Audio Mono audio with:
  • 500 Hz, 1 kHz, and 1.5 kHz tones (can be modulated quickly to produce different tones)
Mono Mono audio with:
  • 24-bit shift register, clockable at 2 frequencies
  • noise generator
Mono audio with:
  • three channel sound
  • one noise generator
Mono audio with:
  • 4-channel sound
Name Vectrex Emerson Arcadia 2001 ColecoVision Bally Astrocade Sega SG-1000
Console Vectrex.jpg EmersonArcadia2001.gif ColecoVision.jpg No Image Available Sega SG-1000 Bock.jpg
Launch prices US$199 N/A N/A N/A ¥15,000(JP)
Release date US November 1982

EU May 1983 JP June 1983

US 1982 US August 1982

EU May 1982

US 1977 JP July 15, 1983

AUS 1983

Media Cartridge Cartridge Cartridge and Cassette, available with Expansion #3 Cartridge and cassette/Floppy, available with ZGRASS unit Cartridge and Cassette (SG-3000)
Top-selling games N/A N/A Donkey Kong (pack-in) N/A N/A
Backward compatibility N/A N/A Compatible with Atari 2600 Via Expansion #1 N/A N/A
Accessories (retail) N/A N/A
  • Expansion #1
  • Expansion #2
  • Expansion #3
  • Roller Controller
  • Super Action Controller Set
  • ZGRASS unit
CPU Motorola 68A09

1.5 MHz

Signetics 2650 CPU

3.58 MHz

Zilog Z80A

3.58 MHz

Zilog Z80

1.789 MHz

NEC 780C (clone of Zilog Z80)

3.58 MHz for NTSC, 3.55 MHz for PAL

Memory 1 kB main RAM 512 bytes 8 kB main RAM

16 kB VRAM

4k (up to 64k with external modules in the expansion port) 16 kB Main RAM

16 kB VRAM

Video Built in vector CRT
  • 128x208 / 128x104
  • 8 Colours
  • 256x192 resolution
  • 32 sprites
  • 16 colors
  • Resolution: True 160x102 / Basic 160x88 / Expanded RAM 320x204
  • Colors: True 8* / Basic 2
  • 256x192 resolution
  • 32 sprites
  • 16 colors
Audio Mono (built in speaker) Mono audio with:
  • Single Channel "Beeper"
  • Single Channel "Noise"
Mono audio with:
  • 3 tone generators
  • 1 noise generator
Mono audio with:
  • 3 voices
  • noise/vibrato effect
Mono Audion with
  • 4-channel sound
  • 3 sound generators, 4 octaves each,
  • 1 white noise generator

Early handheld game consoles

The first handheld game console with interchangeable cartridges was the Microvision designed by Smith Engineering, and distributed and sold by Milton-Bradley in 1979. Crippled by a small, fragile LCD display and a very narrow selection of games, it was discontinued two years later.

The Epoch Game Pocket Computer was released in Japan in 1984. The Game Pocket Computer featured an LCD screen with 75 X 64 resolution, and could produce graphics at about the same level as early Atari 2600 games. The system sold poorly, and as a result only 5 games were made for it.

Nintendo's Game & Watch series of dedicated game systems proved more successful. It helped to establish handheld gaming as popular and lasted until 1991. Many Game & Watch games would later be re-released on Nintendo's subsequent handheld systems.

Handheld console gallery

Video game franchises established during second generation

See also


External links


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address