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Game Consoles and Generation

Why Buy Video Game Consoles?

From the late ’80s to the beginning of 1999, video game consoles were mostly single-function devices. Then, when Sony launched the PlayStation 2 with a built-in DVD player, gaming consoles became a major part of our entertainment hubs. Today, consoles include Blu-ray players and entertainment streaming services. Whether playing video games, watching a new Blu-ray or listening to a music service, a new console has something for everyone in the family.

While video game consoles are all-in-one entertainment machines, the most important part of them is their ability to play games. Although many gamers will say that computers have the best graphics, new gaming technology is birthed on consoles. Also, some of gaming’s biggest franchises are only available on consoles. Finally, consoles tend to be future-ready devices, as manufacturers know that you’ll be using them for at least six years. This means that over the next few years, new peripherals and technologies will supplement the consoles.

The best game consoles are the Sony PlayStation 4, the Microsoft Xbox One and the Microsoft Xbox 360. There are also several micro-consoles available at a lower price point. Be sure to read our articles about video game consoles to learn more about modern gaming.

Video Game Consoles: What to Look For

First and foremost, a video game console has to have the ability to play exciting games. We judged these consoles for their games, media apps and technological capabilities. We favor consoles with powerful tech that will handle high-end games for the next five to seven years. On top of that, we want great gaming experiences, but because many games are available on multiple consoles, we judged the systems on their exclusive content. Finally, we looked at each console’s non-gaming functions such as entertainment apps and social capabilities. Below are the criteria we used to evaluate video game consoles:

Performance

Consoles will never trump PC gaming in sheer computing power, but the advantage of a console is simplicity. Once you plug it in, you are set for years to come. Still, you want a console that will perform well for years to come. We looked at the muscle of each console and compared their specs against each other. It is important to note that the most powerful console won’t necessarily have the best games. However, the most powerful console will likely have the best-looking games.

Features

Video game consoles today offer online gaming and loads of additional features. We looked for consoles that offer remote play through a handheld device, excellent online connectivity and extra features such as content streaming. Games are more social than ever thanks to online components, so you should look for a system that offers headset support to talk with your friends.

Multimedia & Social

Gaming consoles are still primarily for playing games, but they are increasingly becoming the entertainment hub for the entire family. For example, the Xbox One has an HDMI-in port so you can plug your cable box directly into the console and play games while watching a football game. We looked at each console’s media apps and social capabilities.

Help & Support

A video game console manufacturer should provide timely and comprehensive help and support for technical issues by offering several contact methods, including online chat, telephone and email. The manufacturer should provide detailed information online about its consoles. We also looked for manufacturers that offer good warranties on new products.

As you can see, there are quite a few aspects to consider before making a final decision on which video game console fits your lifestyle best. Each system offers a unique style of gaming, and your specific entertainment preferences will determine which console is right for you.

Generations

First generation

The Magnavox Odyssey was the first video game console, released in 1972.

The first video games appeared in the 1960s. They were played on massive computers connected to vector displays, notanalog televisions. Ralph H. Baer conceived the idea of a home video game in 1951. In the late 1960s, while working forSanders Associates, Baer created a series of video game console designs. One of these designs, which gained the nickname of the 1966 “Brown Box”, featured changeable game modes and was demonstrated to several TV manufacturers, ultimately leading to an agreement between Sanders Associates and Magnavox.

Magnavox-Odyssey-Console-Set

Magnavox Odyssey Console Set

In 1972, Magnavox released the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console which could be connected to a TV set. Ralph Baer’s initial design had called for a huge row of switches that would allow players to turn on and off certain components of the console (the Odyssey lacked a CPU) to create slightly different games like tennis, volleyball, hockey, and chase. Magnavox replaced the switch design with separate cartridges for each game. Although Baer had sketched up ideas for cartridges that could include new components for new games, the carts released by Magnavox all served the same function as the switches and allowed players to choose from the Odyssey’s built-in games.

The Odyssey initially sold about 100,000 units, making it moderately successful, and it was not until Atari’s arcade game Pong popularized video games that the public began to take more notice of the emerging industry. By autumn 1975, Magnavox, bowing to the popularity of Pong, cancelled the Odyssey and released a scaled-down version that played only Pong and hockey, the Odyssey 100. A second, “higher end” console, the Odyssey 200, was released with the 100 and added on-screen scoring, up to four players, and a third game—Smash. Almost simultaneously released with Atari’s own home Pong console through Sears, these consoles jump-started the consumer market. All three of the new consoles used simpler designs than the original Odyssey did with no board game pieces or extra cartridges.

In the years that followed, the market saw many companies rushing similar consoles to market. After General Instrument released their inexpensive microchips, each containing a complete console on a single chip, many small developers began releasing consoles that looked different externally, but internally were playing exactly the same games.

Most of the consoles from this era were dedicated consoles playing only the games that came with the console. These video game consoles were often just called video games, because there was little reason to distinguish the two yet. While a few companies like Atari, Magnavox, and newcomer Coleco pushed the envelope, the market became flooded with simple, similar video games.

Second generation

Home consoles

The Atari 2600 became the most popular game console of the second generation.

Fairchild released the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (VES) in 1976. While there had been previous game consoles that used cartridges, either the cartridges had no information and served the same function as flipping switches (the Odyssey) or the console itself was empty (Coleco Telstar) and the cartridge contained all of the game components. The VES, however, contained a programmable microprocessor so its cartridges only needed a single ROM chip to store microprocessor instructions.

RCA and Atari soon released their own cartridge-based consoles, the RCA Studio II and the Atari 2600 (originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System), respectively.

Atari-2600-Wood-4Sw-Set

Atari 2600 Wood 4Sw Set

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.

Rebirth of the home console market

The VES continued to be sold at a profit after 1977, and both Bally (with their Home Library Computer in 1977) and Magnavox (with the Odyssey² in 1978) brought their own programmable cartridge-based consoles to the market. However, it was not until Atari released a conversion of the golden age arcade hit Space Invadersin 1980 for the Atari 2600 that the home console industry took off. Many consumers bought an Atari console so they could play Space Invaders at home. The unprecedented success of Space Invaders started the trend of console manufacturers trying to get exclusive rights to arcade titles, and the trend of advertisements for game consoles claiming to bring the arcade experience home.

Throughout the early 1980s, other companies released video game consoles of their own. Many of the video game systems (e.g. ColecoVision) were technically superior to the Atari 2600, and marketed as improvements over the Atari 2600. However, Atari dominated the console market in the early 1980s.

Video game crash of 1983

In 1983, the video game business suffered a much more severe crash. A flood of consoles, low-quality video games by smaller companies (especially for the 2600), industry leader Atari hyping games such as E.T and a 2600 version of Pac-Man that were poorly received, and a growing number of home computer users caused consumers and retailers to lose faith in video game consoles. Most video game companies filed for bankruptcy, or moved into other industries, abandoning their game consoles. A group of employees from Mattel Electronics formed the INTV Corporation and bought the rights for the Intellivision. INTV alone continued to manufacture the Intellivision in small quantities and release new Intellivision games until 1991. All other North American game consoles were discontinued by 1984.

Third generation

Home consoles

The NES made home console video games popular again in America after the 1983 crash.

In 1983, Nintendo released the Family Computer (or Famicom) in Japan. The Famicom supported high-resolution sprites, larger color palettes, and tiled backgrounds. This allowed Famicom games to be longer and have more detailed graphics. Nintendo began attempts to bring their Famicom to the U.S. after the video game market had crashed. In the U.S., video games were seen as a fad that had already passed. To distinguish its product from older game consoles, Nintendo released their Famicom as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) which used a front-loading cartridge port similar to a VCR, included a plastic “robot” (R.O.B.), and was initially advertised as a toy.

NES-Console-Set

NES Console Set

The NES was the highest selling console in the history of North America and revitalized the video game market. Mario ofSuper Mario Bros became a global icon starting with his NES games. Nintendo took an unusual stance with third-party developers for its console. Nintendo contractually restricted third-party developers to three NES titles per year and forbade them from developing for other video game consoles. The practice ensured Nintendo’s market dominance and prevented the flood of trash titles that had helped kill the Atari, but was ruled illegal late in the console’s life cycle.

Sega’s Master System was intended to compete with the NES, but never gained any significant market share in the US or Japan and was barely profitable. It fared notably better in PAL territories. In Europe and South America, the Master System competed with the NES and saw new game releases even after Sega’s next-generation Mega Drive was released. In Brazil where strict importation laws and rampant piracy kept out competitors, the Master System outsold the NES by a massive margin and remained popular into the ’90s.

Jack Tramiel, after buying Atari, downsizing its staff, and settling its legal disputes, attempted to bring Atari back into the home console market. Atari released a smaller, sleeker, cheaper version of their popular Atari 2600. They also released the Atari 7800, a console technologically comparable with the NES and backwards compatible with the 2600. Finally Atari repackaged its 8-bit XE home computer as the XEGS game console. The new consoles helped Atari claw its way out of debt, but failed to gain much market share from Nintendo. Atari’s lack of funds meant that its consoles saw fewer releases, lower production values (both the manuals and the game labels were frequently black and white), and limited distribution.

Handheld game consoles

In the later part of the third generation, Nintendo also introduced the Game Boy, which almost single-handedly solidified and then proceeded to dominate the previously scattered handheld market for 15 years. While the Game Boy product line was incrementally updated every few years, until the Game Boy Micro andNintendo DS, and partially the Game Boy Color, all Game Boy products were backwards compatible with the original released in 1989. Since the Game Boy’s release, Nintendo had dominated the handheld market. Additionally two popular 8-bit computers, the Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, were repackaged as theCommodore 64 Games System and Amstrad GX4000 respectively, for entry into the console market.

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