The story of Coleco's Telstar
systems started in 1975 when General Instruments (GI) designed the very
Ball & Paddle videogame chip. GI had
no customers yet, and Ralph Baer got rapidly aware about this unofficial
project, which had to be licensed by Magnavox (to get the rights to manufacture
and sell the chips). Ralph also knew very well Coleco's president, and met him
to talk about this new GI chip. Let's read Ralph telling the real story...
A little more history: I got the word early in 1975 about a video game
chip being developed by two engineers at General Instruments’ labs in
Scotland -another "unofficial" skunk works project there.
Ed Saks, the General Manager of G.I. in Hicksville, Long Island, New
York heard about that single-chip video game device and moved the two
Scottish engineers from Glenrothes to Hicksville. I got an early
demonstration of the game chip. It was impressive. It played multiple
games and required very few external parts to make it into a complete TV
game. Within a couple of years, that chip and its successors would be
designed into millions of game units manufactured all over the world.
It occurred to me that Coleco should know about this chip. I had
previously met Arnold Greenberg, Coleco’s president at Marvin Glass &
Associates in Chicago. We had lunch together in MGA’s small dining room
with its Chagall windows reproductions looking down on us. Marvin Glass
& Associates were the pre-eminent toy & game designers in the US at that
time, whose outside electronics capability I had become. Arnold was
there to look at new products.
I called him and some time later Arnold met me at GI’s Hicksville, LI,
NY plant where the AY-3-8500 single-chip, multi-game device was
demonstrated to us by Ed Saks. Ed ran the plant and later moved GI’s
IC manufacturing to Phoenix, Arizona (it’s now Microcircuits). Thus
Coleco became GI’s first and preferred customer for the AY-3-8500 chip
around which, as I said, millions of off-shore (HK, Taiwan, etc) games
were built (on all of which Sanders/Magnavox collected royalties, by the
way). Thus was born "Telstar".
Text written by Ralph Baer. Courtesy of David WINTER.
"Telstar", Coleco's first
video game system, was released in 1976 and played only three games with three difficulty levels.
It was the first system to use GI's AY-3-8500 chip and was a real success: over a million units were sold. There were even
two variants: one sold by Coleco in Canada as "Telstar Deluxe", and
another (same) sold by Montgomery-Ward under the name of "Telstar Video
World Of Sports".
The AY-3-8500 chip played six games with more difficulty levels, and the
games could also be played in color. It was pretty obvious that Coleco
would release more systems: at least 15 different games were released
in two years. All were similar and based on the same GI chip except a few models
Telstar Galaxy, Telstar Combat, Telstar Gemini (which used a MOSTEK chip) and Telstar Arcade
(which used MOSTEK chips in
plugin cartridges). The only differences between the Coleco "Ball and Paddle" systems
were the number of games, the way the difficulty levels were used, and
the type of picture (color or black and white).
An amazing detail is the way Coleco packed their video game systems: they
were sold parially assembled. The systems were electronically ready to play,
but the users had to put the knobs and stick the decorative stickers on the
plastic case. So far, only Coleco is known to have released their systems
this way. It is believed that this was done to save on assembling costs.
To learn more about Coleco Telstar systems, click on their photo.