Magnavox and the Odyssey systems
collectors willing to acquire a Magnavox Odyssey game on eBay:
If Atari started to sell a whole
range of PONG systems in 1975, Magnavox (the originator of home video game systems)
also started a new range of systems in 1975, the first of which was a much simpler
version of the 1972 Odyssey: the Odyssey 100.
Back in 1973, Ralph Baer tried to add new features to his Odyssey (sound, extra components on the cartridges to add more visual effects, etc), and wondered if the new technologies would allow integrating a whole Odyssey in one or more simple integrated circuits. He tracked several semiconductor houses (General Instruments (GI), Texas Instruments (TI), MOSTechnology (MOSTek) and others) to study the feasibility of his new idea. He kept worrying about his idea until may 1974 when Magnavox signed an agreement with Texas Instruments for the design of the chips.
Although TI promised a delivery for january 1975, Magnavox went ahead and made a same design using discrete components, should TI fail to deliver the chips. In the meantime, National Semiconductor proposed a single-chip project which would be ready for january / february 1975. The chip was ready in August 1975, but Magnavox already decided that TI would make the multi-chip design. Thus the Odyssey 100 was released the same year.
The Odyssey 100 was a digital system which used four Texas Instruments chips. It did not use cartridges and played two games: TENNIS and HOCKEY. A simple switch selected the games, and the system was either powered by six batteries, or by an AC adaptor (such power supplies were widely used by other systems).
The TENNIS game was very basic. It was formed of two paddles, a vertical line and a ball. Two knobs were used to adjust the game: one to center the vertical line and one to set the ball speed. A little piezzo beeper was used for the few beeps of the games, and each player controlled the game using three knobs (one for moving vertically, one for moving horizontally, and one for the "english" effect which modified the trajectory of the ball to 'fake' the opponent).
The Odyssey 100 was very basic and didn't have the common features of the million-seller PONG systems of the next years. The knobs were fixed: there were no detachable controllers yet. There was no digital on-screen scoring: the players marked their score using two little plastic cursors on the system. The serve couldn't be changed: it was automatic.
This could seem strange compared to the first Atari PONG systems which already had digital on-screen scoring. In fact, this was just a question of technology. On-screen scoring would have required additional components, which would have increased the cost of the system. Nevertheless, on-screen scoring was added in later systems although the first attempts used archaic graphics. The first Magnavox system to offer digital on-screen was the Odyssey 300 in 1976.
The main features of the Odyssey 100 were very basic:
Action sounds Mechanical Scoring Top and Bottom Ball Rebound Vertical/Horizontal Player Action Ball Control Speed Control Game Select Switch On/Off Power Switch
Still in 1975, Magnavox released an improved version of the Odyssey 100: the Odyssey 200. It was same as the Odyssey 100 but with two additional chips from Texas Instruments, which added a third game called SMASH and some on-screen scoring. The Odyssey 200 could be played by two or four players (first system to offer this feature), and displayed very basic on-screen scoring using small rectangles (it still had the two plastic cursors to record the scores). Each time a player marked a point, his white rectangle would shift on the right. The winner was obviously the first whose rectangle would reach the rightmost position on the screen. Although the scores were not yet digital, the Odyssey 200 remained more advanced than the first home version of Atari PONG because it played three different games for two or four players.
1975 marked the begining of
a long history. Both Atari and Magnavox released their systems, and more
advanced ones were released later.
Magnavox continued with the Odyssey 300 in 1976, which was one of the first system to use a single game chip containing the major circuitry of a PONG system. This system was Magnavox' answer to Coleco Telstar, the first game to use the GI AY-3-8500 chip.
Still in 1976, Magnavox released the Odyssey 400. It played the same games than the Odyssey 200 and used an additional Texas Instruments chip to display digital on-screeen scoring (it was the first Odyssey system to display digital on-screen scoring). On-screen scoring was quite well designed. As a matter of fact, the scores were large and were only shown when the ball was lost, and a large 'W' letter was displayed on the winner's side when the games were over. Like the Odyssey 100 and 200, the Odyssey 400 used the same three knobs to move the bats and control the "english" effect on the ball.
The Odyssey 500 was also released in 1976, and was very advanced for that time considering the technology used. It was in fact the only system of its kind. As a matter of fact, the white paddles representing the players were replaced by simple color graphics: two tennis players with their rackets (TENNIS game), two squash players (SQUASH), or two hockey players holding their sticks (HOCKEY).
Later models were not very interesting because they used dedicated game chips like the Odyssey 300, and this is another technology that we will discuss on the GI page. Magnavox released the Odyssey 2000, 3000 and 4000 in 1977. The Odyssey 5000 only existed in prototype form and was never released. It was designed around the Signetics MUGS-1 chip and played twenty-four games (seven different types) for two or four players. The Odyssey 4000 was the last PONG system released by Magnavox. Later in 1978, Magnavox released a completely different system: the Odyssey^2, also known as Videopac in Europe. But this was another story.
The next table shows the systems released by Magnavox: from the Odyssey 100 in 1975 to the Odyssey 4000 in 1977. In three years, the technology had completely changed the PONG universe...
|The Odyssey 100.
If plays only two black and white games,
and does not display digital on-screen scoring.
|The Odyssey 200.
It plays three black and white games.
Scores show as two right-shifting squares.
|The Odyssey 300.
One of the first to use a GI chip.
|The Odyssey 400.
Same as the Odyssey 200,
with digital on-screen scoring.
|The Odyssey 500.
Same as the Odyssey 400,
with a fourth game and color graphics.
|The Odyssey 2000.
Same as the Odyssey 300 with a fourth game.
|The Odyssey 3000: same as the Odyssey 2000,
but with a new case and detachable controllers.
|The Odyssey 4000: eight games in color,
and real joysticks like with the Odyssey^2.
An important point to note concerning the european releases of Odyssey systems: Philips released the Odyssey 200 in 1976 (same as the Magnavox one). However, Philips also released two interesting systems which didn't had US equivalents: the Odyssey 2001 in 1977 and the Odyssey 2100 in 1978. They were sold in several countries like Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. Their case was nearly same as the one of the Odyssey 4000. The controllers were same except that the sticks were replaced by knobs. As a matter of fact, they used dedicated chips made by NS (the MM-57105 for the Odyssey 2001, and the MM-57186 for the Odyssey 2100), which only allowed moving the players vertically. The Odyssey 2001 played three games in color, and the Odyssey 2100 played six different types of games with several variants for each type, making a total of 23 games. The game selection was done by pushing the button of one of the controllers (the button of the other controller reset the games). Amazingly, the electronic circuit board occupies a sixth of the space available in the systems cases.
|Philips Odyssey 2001: nearly same as the
Magnavox Odyssey 4000.
|Philips Odyssey 2100: same with black finish.
It plays 23 games (6 different types).
It seems that the Odyssey 3000 was released in England as there is a patent for this country on its back side. However, no specimen has surfaced there so far.