The Xbox One, the PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch and its soon-to-be successors are popular culture staples. Functioning not only as a machine for entertainment and the gaming audiences it caters to, they also work in tandem as home movie systems and communication devices.
These systems inhabit millions of people’s homes and are the fulfillers of millions of people’s entertainment needs. One question that is not asked however, is where did the console originate?
The answer? Meet the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first official commercial console.
The Magnavox Odyssey was released in 1972, only a few months before the consequential “Pong” game. The Magnavox Odyssey failed to generate raving sales and reviews due to accidently misleading viewers about where the console could be played at. Despite this unfortunate occurrence, the Magnavox Odyssey sold approximately 350,000 units before its eventual removal from the market in 1975. While it failed to surpass expectations, it laid the foundation of contemporary video game consoles.
Ralph Baer was the man behind this console and indirectly helped influence the development of “Pong” through his ideas and suggestions. Born in 1922 as a German, who later became an American citizen, Baer became enthralled with electronics and technology. With a penchant for invention, Baer created the early prototype aptly named the “brown box” in 1967 which set the path for the Magnavox Odyssey. Baer had decided to license his prototype to Magnavox, which after a few changes, was released as the Magnavox Odyssey.
The Magnavox Odyssey was a machine with limited capabilities, unlike the machines of today. Providing basic graphics that displayed merely a few lines and dots of white. Its lack of graphical power was not the main feature nor the most surprising. The console also included physical objects, like dice, to appease the general audience of the time. In essence, the console was a combination of digital and physical attributes to cater to consumers. Which, as already stated, did not augur well for the Magnavox Odyssey.
While the Magnavox Odyssey was by no means a commercial success or even a breakthrough in graphical capabilities, the foundation it laid for consoles today is immense. The arduous work and interests of Baer supplied the future console industry a framework to rely on. The result of this framework? Well, practically every console that exists today that is popular with the public. With this article, it concludes on the hope that its readers will have learned something novel and take greater appreciation of the contributions of Baer and his Magnavox Odyssey.
Science Museum Group. Magnavox Odyssey Video Games Console. 2008-5014 Science Museum Group Collection Online.