Magnavox Odyssey 100 - 5000 systems

1975: Odyssey 100 and 200

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 and 200 were released the same year. They both digital systems and shared the same circuit board: only the Texas Instruments chipset differed.

Odyssey 100 and 200 did not use cartridges. The former played two games: TENNIS and HOCKEY. The latter also played SMASH and featured an early form of on-screen scoring. 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.

As shown below, the main features of the Odyssey 100 were very basic. Some may even look strange for being so obvious, but Magnavox stated them mostly for differing from the then old Odyssey 1TL200 design. For example, the games were no longer selected with cartridges, and so the system required an On/Off switch rather than shutting down by pulling the cartridge.

  • Action sounds (actually, small beeps using a piezo speaker)
  • Mechanical Scoring
  • Top and Bottom Ball Rebound
  • Vertical/Horizontal Player Action
  • Ball Control
  • Speed Control
  • Game Select Switch
  • On/Off Power Switch

    Magnavox Odyssey 100 (left) and 200 (right). Click the photo to see the inside.

    Technically, the Odyssey 200 used two additional Texas Instruments chips, 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 "follow me" 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.

    1976: Odyssey 300, 400 and 500

    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, even though they had been working hard on an improved Odyssey 200 with digital on-screen scoring. This system would eventualy become the Odyssey 400.

    The Odyssey 300 played totally new games for its time. The General Instruments AY-3-8500 chip was still very new and contained a whole videogame system. The only parts required to interface it to the user were the hand control, a few components to generate the main clock (a then whopping 2MHz) and a couple more to combine the video signals and modulate them to the (now old) VHF NTSC format. A color encoder ship was even available. Click here for more information about the design and the games of the AY-3-8500 chip.

    The Odyssey 400 played the same games than the Odyssey 200 and was the first Odyssey system to display digital on-screen scoring using an additional Texas Instrument ship. 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).

    1976: Magnavox 4305 TV set with Odyssey built-in

    Another attempt to sell a TV set was to include a pong game. The advantage of this was a much better picture quality because the vidoe signal was not altered by RF modulating and demodulating. Model 4305 was the only such TV set released by the company. It was all but a success, probably because people already had a TV set or would prefer choosing their video game system. Magnavox 4305 included the equivalent of an Odyssey 300. It used two detachable rotary controllers, later used with the Wonder Wizzard Bull's Eyes and Sharp Shooter.

    1977: Odyssey 2000, 3000, 4000 and unreleased Odyssey 5000

    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. They all used General Instruments chips, and so could play the same games with same difficulty settings. Magnavox preferred limitating these features to offer several models. The Odyssey 3000 mentioned a British patent, letting suppose that it was released there, yet no specimen surfaced so far. The Odyssey 4000 was the most advanced of their systems: it used joysticks. None of these systems allowed playing the target shooting games.

    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.
    Only two black and white games
    and no 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,
    but with a fourth game.
    The Odyssey 3000.
    New case design, detachable controllers,
    and all four difficulty settings.
    The Odyssey 4000.
    It plays eight games in color using
    joysticks like with the Odyssey^2.


    Philips Odyssey in Europe

    Soon after exporting the Odyssey 1TL200, Magnavox released several systems with Philips (Magnavox was already owned by North American Philips). The first Philips models were the Odyssey 200 in 1976 and Odyssey 2000 in 1977 or 1978. They were direct copies of their US equivalents with a PAL game chip, a European TV cable and a Philips label. However, the next two systems released by Philips didn't have 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 similar to the one of the Odyssey 4000. The controllers used the same boxes as those of the Odyssey 4000, but the sticks were replaced by rotary knobs. As a matter of fact, they both used a game chip made by National Semiconductor: the MM-57105 for the Odyssey 2001, and the MM-57186 for the Odyssey 2100. Both chips only featured vertical player motion. The Odyssey 2001 played three games in color, and the Odyssey 2100 played six different games, all of which in several variants, 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 boards were so small that they occupied only a sixth of the whole system case.

    Philips Odyssey 2001: nearly same as the
    Magnavox Odyssey 4000.
    Philips Odyssey 2100: same with black finish.
    It plays 23 games (6 different types).