History of the Video Game Console : 1980s
                    Prologue by Dark Watcher
The 1970s may have been the beginning of home video gaming as we know it.  However, it was the 1980s that saw the premature death of the industry and its phoenix-like rise from the ashes.  People were tired of PONG and software developers were seriously getting the knack of programming cartridges. Fairchild Semiconductors walked away from what they felt was an industry "fad" and left the Atari Video Computer System (2600) as the cart-based king of the mountain.  Atari would pick up the rights to arcade hits such as "Space Invaders" and would become a must have holiday gift.  The year was 1980 and Atari became synonymous with home video gaming.

Video gaming, especially arcade titles, became a commercial success.  You could see game characters such as Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and Q-bert become televised cartoons.  There were even Pac-Man and Donkey Kong breakfast cereals.  Many home consoles would rise to challenge Atari's dominance and earn their market share.  Atari would keep the competition in check by buying licensing rights to most arcade titles and movie tie-ins.  Mattel's Intellivision brought the first real commercialized console war, and arcade clones would be used to get past licensing issues.  Some clones such as Lady Bug and Mouse Trap (both Pac-Man clones) became successful in their own right.  ColecoVision would pack in an amazing port of Nintendo's arcade hit Donkey Kong.  The gaming market continued to grow at a phenomenal rate and everybody wanted a piece of the action!
It was a billion dollar market built upon a foundation of weak and splintered sticks.  There was instability everywhere.  There was corporate espionage and run away game developers.  There was a lack of quality and control. Anyone could publish a game and many non gaming companies such as Quaker Oats and Purina Dog Chow did.  The market was flooded with too many consoles and far too many poor quality games.  These reasons and more contributed to the North American "Video Game Crash of 1983" (read more about the crash here).  The North American home console market perished. European markets took advantage of low cost computer-based games and could care less about consoles.  The second generation of home console gaming was dead.

Home console gaming continued to thrive in Japan. Nintendo began its entry in home gaming as the Japanese distributor of the Magnavox Odyssey in the 1970s and developed their own Color TV PONG consoles.  They were highly successful in the arcade game industry and licensed several ports to North American consoles before the crash.  Their release of the Nintendo Famicom was a huge success that they hoped to bring to North America.  The "Video Game Crash" would make that a near impossibility.  Nintendo took the ashes of a dead industry, rebuilt it with a strong controlled foundation, and single handedly restored home video gaming to greatness with the Nintendo Entertainment System.

It was the birth of the 3rd generation of home gaming consoles.  Console development had shifted to Japan and the now global market saw fierce competition from new companies such as Sega.  Atari would attempt to re-establish itself.  However, it was Nintendo that now stood as kings of the industry and they ruled with an iron fist.  Nintendo's strict regulations made third-party software developers struggle and it made competition difficult to other console developers.  However, the consumer was no longer the victims of an embattled market.  Console wars were all the rage.  These console wars were now fought in a more controlled and stable industry.  The wars encouraged advancements in technology.  More powerful consoles, more cartridge capacity, innovative controllers and more.  Franchise game characters became icons and console owner loyalties (fanboyism) took center stage.

The 1980s closed with the arrival of a strong competitor to the home console market.  Japanese developer NEC debuted a console that could easily out perform the 8-bit consoles on the market.  The PC Engine was released in North America as TurboGrafx-16 and ushered in a new console generation.  The following takes a quick snapshot of each main console (or technology) that was released during this decade.
1981 - Epoch Cassette Vision JapanEurope
Epoch Cassette Vision Epoch, better know for their game software and toy products, was actually very involved with hardware development in Japan dating back to their first console release in June 1981 - the Epoch Cassette Vision.  This very obscure system was actually a hybrid pong / cartridge-based unit - the first of its kind in Japan.  Though financial windfalls were never achieved, the moderate success that the Cassette Vision did enjoy was due to one reason - correct price positioning.

1981 - VTech CreatiVision EuropeJapanAustralia
The CreatiVision was introduced in 1981 by VTech (Video Technology Limited), a Hong Kong based company.  The unit was actually a computer hybrid (a small trend in those days).   Appearance wise it was a typical console at heart, but by rotating the console's joysticks 90 degrees and then inserting them into two compartments on top of the console you were given a makeshift keyboard.  Throw in a BASIC program cart and your console becomes a microcomputer.

1982 - Coleco ColecoVision North AmericaCanadaEurope
Coleco ColecoVision After nearly bankrupting itself in 1978 with overstocked Telstar units, Coleco once again entered the console market looking to de-throne Atari 2600 and Intellivision, the current kings of the hill.  ColecoVision was released in 1982 and boasted amazing specs for its time which showed in its arcade conversions.  To secure their success Coleco reached out to a Japanese based company called "Nintendo" and paid $250,000 for the rights to a super popular arcade game called Donkey Kong.  Donkey Kong became a pack in game with the console.

1982 - Atari 5200 SuperSystem North AmericaCanada
Atari 5200 The Atari 5200 was established in 1982 to compete with Intellivision and to become the successor of the Atari 2600.  The Atari 5200 was a modified version of the Atari 400/800 which was the most powerful 8-bit home computer system of its era.  The graphics were a step above the older competition and went toe to toe with their newest competitor the ColecoVision.

1982 - Emerson Arcadia 2001 North AmericaEuropeJapanGermany
Emerson Arcadia 2001 In 1982, Emerson Radio Corporation decided to enter the video game hardware arena with their release of the Arcadia 2001.  Better known for their development of affordable electronic products, this move was not entirely a big surprise.  Emerson was always looking for market niches to penetrate to utilize their existing electronics manufacturing team.  As with their previous releases of low-end, price friendly electrical component ventures, the Arcadia 2001 would eventually suffer the same fate.

1982 - GCE Vectrex North AmericaCanadaJapanEurope
GCE Vectrex The Vectrex was released in November 1982 by General Consumer Electronics (GCE).  It wasn't just your average game console.  The legendary GCE \ Milton Bradley Vectrex is the world's only standalone vector graphic home video game system.  The console was cartridge based like all other consoles, but the unit came with a 9-inch monochrome monitor, an attached joystick and even a built in game called Mine Storm.

GCE Vectrex Screenshot
1982 - Entex Adventure Vision North America
Not quite a console and not quite a hand held, the Entex Adventure Vision is one of the holy grails of video game collectors.  Released in 1982 to a lukewarm reception, the Adventure Vision had only about a year lifespan on the market before it was pulled.  The consoles that were sold were fragile and troublesome, so few have survived to today.  This makes it difficult to find a working example and nearly impossible to find one for a low price.  It's estimated that only 10,000 of the consoles were made with 1,000 each of the three extra games.
1983 - Casio PV-1000 Japan
Casio PV-1000 Casio of Japan, a successful electronics manufacturer, released first video game console, the Casio PV-1000 in October of 1983 for 14,8000 yen ($139 USD).  Debuting against the likes of the Sega SG-1000 and the Nintendo Famicom, this extremely rare and obscure system rapidly was an afterthought and not to be seen on video game store shelves shortly after its release.

1983 - Gakken Compact Vision (TV Boy) Japan
Gakken Compact Vision Gakken was a popular manufacturer of arcade and handheld games throughout the 1980s.  In 1983, Gakken decided to try their hand at the home console market with the Gakken Compact Vision.  This cartridge based color game system that retailed for a nice low price of 8800 Yen.  The console design is by far one of the most unique and innovative for its time.
Gakken Compact Vision Screenshot
1983 - Nichibutsu My Vision Japan
Nichibutsu My Vision Another console released only in Japan. Arcade game maker Nichibutsu wanted to take a chance on the console market.  In 1983 they released the KH-1000 better known as "My Vision".  There were no controllers, but instead used 14 numbered buttons, 4 lettered directional buttons (A thru D) and 1 select button (E) located on the top face of the console.  Plastic overlays could be placed on the console to identify what the buttons were used for.

Nichibutsu My Vision Screenshot
1983 - Sega SG-1000 JapanEuropeNew Zealand
Sega SG-1000 Sega's SG-1000 (Sega Game 1000) (a.k.a Mark I) was the company's first attempt at home consoles.  It was initially test marketed in 1981 and finally released to Japanese consumers in June of 1983.  It was a pretty advanced system for its time and featured impressive technical specifications.  The system would be sold in Japan until 1985 and did make it in two overseas markets, Australia & New Zealand.

1983 - Nintendo Famicom (NES) JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Nintendo Famicom \ NES Talk about a success story.  Nintendo's jump into the console market was a gamble which turned a simple toy company into one of the biggest videogame console manufacturers in the biz.  Nintendo began its gaming history producing arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros, and selling the licensing rights to those games for home console use (see Colecovision).  Eventually Nintendo decided to take a crack at the home console industry.

1983 - Tomy Pyuuta Jr. Japan
In 1982, Tomy of Japan decided to try their hand in the computer market.  They introduced the Tomy Pyuuta (pronounced PYOOO-ta and means 'computer dude').  It garnered moderate success and appeared on both European (GrandStand Tutor) and US shores (Tomy Tutor) in 1983.  However due to fierce competition with competitors (MSX, Commodore, Atari computers), the console did better in its native home of Japan.  In 1983, the console version was released.

Tomy Pyuuta Jr Screenshot
1984 - Epoch Super Cassette Vision JapanFrance
Epoch Super Cassette Vision The Super Cassette Vision was released in 1984 as the successor to Epoch's Cassette Vision in Japan.  It retailed in Japan for around 15,000 Yen.  The system was also manufactured and distributed for Europe (particularly France) by a company called ITMC.  In Europe it was called the Yeno Super Cassette Vision.  The system sold fairly well initially with about 30 games made for the system in Japan.

1985 - Daewoo Zemmix Korea
Daewoo Zemmix In 1983, Korean based Daewoo produced the Zemmix CPC-50 console (Zemmix in Korean means "It's Fun").  This console was basically a MSX computer in a console casing.  It was an NTSC based machine capable of playing MSX cartridge games. Some Zemmix units also came with an available port at the bottom for keyboard use.  Zemmix consoles are extremely rare.  It is definitely an impressive machine, and a MSX collectors dream.

Daewoo Zemmix Screenshot
1985 - RDI Halcyon North America
RDI Halcyon The RDI Halcyon was truly a console ahead of its time.  Created by Rick Dyer, one of the people behind the hit game Dragon's Lair, it was poised to push gaming technology into uncharted territory.  In terms of 1985 technology, it would have been more advanced than even the home computers of the time.  Named in part after the computer featured in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Halcyon was intended to seem like a living, thinking member of your family.

1985 - Sega Mark III (Master System) JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Sega Mark III (Master System) To compete with the Nintendo Famicom in Japan, Sega released the successor to the Mark I/II and called it Sega Mark III in 1984.  The Mark III could produce great 8 bit graphics with specs superior to the Famicom.  The console had two game formats which were cartridges and a Sega Game Card format.  The cards held only 256K of data (cartridges held over 4 times that amount), but the advantage to both Sega and the consumer was the fact that the cards were cheaper to manufacture, and sold for less then the carts did.

Sega Mark III (Master System) Screenshot
1985 - BBC Bridge Companion Great Britain
During the mid 1980s, just about everyone was hopping on the video game bandwagon after Nintendo's extremely successful Famicom / NES system.  Among these new players included the British Broadcasting Company (BBC).  Though at first glance this may sound like an odd marriage, the BBC was no stranger to the electronics field.  Partnering with the Acorn Computer Company, they developed a relatively successful line of computers known as the BBC Micro with the first in the series debuting in December 1, 1981.  Their entry into the console world would be the BBC Bridge Companion.

1986 - Nintendo Family Computer Disk System Japan
Nintendo Famicom Disk System To understand the reason for the Famicom Disk System's existence, you need to look back to 1985.  While video game consoles were dead in the US, the Famicom boom was taking hold of Japan's populous.  However, the game's time honored ROM cart manufacturing was expensive.  Even the simplest games retailed for over 5000 yen, bringing them beyond the reach of most children's allowances. Nintendo's answer?  Release games on disks, which are much cheaper than cartridges to make.

Nintendo Famicom Disk System Screenshot
1986 - Atari 7800 Pro System North AmericaCanadaEurope
Atari 7800 The Atari 7800 Pro System was originally designed around 1983 and 1984, but was never released during that time frame because of the "Great Videogame Crash of 1983".  Around 1985 Nintendo had revitalized the videogame industry with its release of the NES. T his prompted then Atari CEO Jack Tramiel to try at the console market once again in 1986.

Atari 7800 Screenshot
1986 - Bit Corporation DINA 2 in one (2-in-1) North AmericaGermany
Dina 2-IN-1 Bit Corporation had their stake in the videogame industry for years creating games for the Atari 2600.  Being a Korea based company allowed them the ability to overlook copyright and patents. In the mid 1980s Bit Corporation created a line of computers (the Bit 60 and Bit 90) that were compatible with both Atari 2600 and ColecoVision cartridges.  Around 1986 they went a step further and created a console called DINA 2 in one (2-in-1).

1987 - Worlds of Wonder Action Max North AmericaCanada
Worlds of Wonder Action Max The year was 1987 and the video gaming world was ruled by the Nintendo Famicom\NES, followed by a somewhat strong competitor in the Sega Master System.  Atari was still a big player at the time, though their release of their 5200 and 7800 systems could not effectively compete with these newer breeds.  A company called Worlds of Wonder decided to enter into the fray with the release of the Action Max.
1987 - Atari XE Game System (XEGS) North AmericaCanadaEurope
Atari XEGS Atari introduced the XE Game System in 1987.  The XEGS was merely a console remake of their 8-bit Atari 65XE computer.  For $199 you got the console, a standard joystick, a light gun, and a pack in game called Bug Hunt (light gun game).  The marketing strategy was to take advantage of the back stock of Atari computer cartridges (10 years worth).  Even though it looks like a console, the XEGS is a true 8-bit Atari computer system.

1987 - Takara \ Bandai Video Challenger JapanCanadaCanada
The most common media forms for games in the 1980s was the cartridge, but developers conceived the idea of using VHS video cassettes as a new form of game media.   A company called Worlds of Wonder first introduced the "VHS Console" in 1987 with their system named the Action Max.  TakaraTomy (now simply Tomy) followed suite with their own version calling it the Video Challenger.  Like the Action Max, this system required the owner to own a VCR.
1987 - NEC PC Engine (TurboGrafx-16) JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
NEC PC Engine \ TurboGrafx-16 On October 30, 1987 the first 16-Bit home videogame console was released in Japan by NEC.  The PC Engine was clearly a "next generation" system with its amazing specs and wallet sized card games called HuCards.  The PC Engine was immensely popular in Japan, outselling the Famicom by a significant margin.  Two years after its Japanese introduction, NEC announced plans to bring the PC Engine overseas.  NEC dubbed the US release TurboGrafx-16 and prepared to dominate both Nintendo and Sega as they did in Japan.

NEC PC Engine \ TurboGrafx-16 Screenshot
1988 - Sega Mega Drive \ Genesis JapanNorth AmericaCanadaEurope
Sega Mega Drive \ Genesis Sega made a good attempt with their Master System against Nintendo's virtual monopoly of the console industry, but they were about to introduce next generation gaming to the masses.  After two years of development the Sega Mega Drive was released in Japan in October of 1988.  Sega had a lot of hits in the arcade such as After Burner and Golden Axe and part of the appeal of the Mega Drive was that now these games were not only playable at home, but were fairly close to the arcade versions.

Sega Mega Drive \ Genesis Screenshot
1988 - NEC PC Engine CD-ROM2 (TurboGrafx CD) JapanNorth AmericaCanada
NEC PC Engine CD-ROM2 In 1988, NEC took gaming to the next level.  They were the first to use the immense storage capability of Compact Disc.  NEC's CD-ROM add-on device was called TurboGrafx CD or TG-CD (PC Engine CD-ROM2 in Japan).  The add-on would be immensely popular in its native country of Japan, releasing over 400 games.  The console did not fare as well in the North American market.

NEC PC Engine CD-ROM2 Screenshot
1989 - NEC SuperGrafx Japan
NEC SuperGrafx In 1989, NEC decided to yet again redesign the highly successful PC Engine console and upgrade it with more RAM.  This new design, called SuperGrafx, was sold in Japan only and was created to compete against the threat of the Nintendo Super Famicom system.  NEC stopped distributing SuperGrafx when they saw their PC Engine was still selling well.  Only 5 games were made to take advantage of the upgraded SuperGrafx, and it played all PC Engine games as well as use the CD add-on.

NEC SuperGrafx Screenshot
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