>> Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The return of Magnavox in the videogames market with CD-i was for some people a major event. While we normally associate Philips with the CD-i format, Philips used a lot of knowledge of the Magnavox past with CD-i. Magnavox was the worldwide first manufacturer of the video console with the Odyssey. Even Nintendo started their business by selling Magnavox systems to the Asian market. The role of Magnavox ended with a library full of videogame patents, which generated a lot of money out of licenses including Pong and the lightgun peripheral to second party developers.
Magnavox was acquisited by Philips in 1974, mainly to get feet on the ground in the USA. However, Magnavox was more than just a manufacturer of audio and video, and it's no surprise they put out an early game system called the Odyssey in the States (The Videopac in Europe). While the system might not have been the most advanced system of its time (1), they developed several models (2) and licensed the system to other brands (3). Three aspects applicable on CD-I as well!) Last but not least the Magnavox game system was the start of an important library of patents.
These patents were so significant that later when Philips applied pressure to other companies, concessions were made. For example at one point Philips owned 10% of Activision (the software company). Activision had its roots on the original Atari 2600 unit which really started off the videogame revolution in the US. The Odyssey might have been first, but it was poorly marketed (just like CD-I). The Atari 2600 was the king of the scene, and it was all way before the Nintendo and Sega era. Just think of the history of Donkey Kong …
Something else that might be of high interest is the fact that Nintendo's first venture in the console world was selling the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, before the company introduced its own consoles. The essence why Philips was granted the use of Nintendo's characters in CD-i games is merely a result of this war of (Magnavox) patents and patent violation, rather than negotiations of the SNES CD-ROM deal.
The importance of Magnavox in the life of Philips CD-i is highly underestimated. To name a few more examples: Magnavox proved that consoles for the home could be designed. Magnavox also won a court case against Nolan Bushnell for patent infringement in Bushnell's design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey. The Odyssey was successful enough to support an add-on peripheral, the first-ever commercial "light gun" called the Shooting Gallery. This detected light from the TV screen, however pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a "hit".
another one, perhaps way more interesting: Ralph H. Baer (born 1922) is a German-born American inventor, noted for his many contributions to games and the video game industry. In 2005, he was named a recipient of the National Medal of Technology. He invented the home console for video games. Baer is best known for leading the development of the first home video game console with the Brown Box. He sold his idea to Magnavox who came out with the Magnavox Odyssey, which was introduced in 1972. Baer, who has a background in television work, developed the system in 1966 for the defense-electronics company Sanders Associates in Nashua, New Hampshire (now part of BAE Systems). It was licensed to Magnavox and for a time was Sanders' most profitable line, even though many in the company looked down on game development.
1972: Magnavox Odyssey - The First Home Video Game System
Production of the Magnavox Odyssey began on January 27th, 1972, with sales starting in May 1972. The Odyssey was a primitive video game system by modern standards, only being capable of generating a few moving elements on the television screen. The system used the plastic screen overlay method that originated with Winky Dink to add colored play fields to the games that came packaged with the system. The system was programmable, but achieved its logic entirely from discreet electronic components- there was no microprocessor and the cartridges were merely jumpers that reconfigured the electronics inside the console. The Odyssey was poorly marketed, with some dealers even claiming the unit would only work on Magnavox TV's, a claim they were able to get away with as the concept of attaching a device to the television antenna terminals was novel. The Odyssey was withdrawn after about a year on the market.
Engineer Ralph Baer originated the design of the Magnavox Odyssey system, and he later went on to work on the prototype ColecoVision expansion module that would have permitted RCA's SJT400 interactive VideoDisc player to communicate with the ColecoVision game console via the control port. The Dutch electronics giant Philips later acquired the Magnavox company, so they would have an American infrastructure to market DiscoVision LaserDisc players that were being jointly developed with MCA.
Here is a quote from "The Coleco Story" written by Ralph H. Baer in May 2000 concerning a five-inch CED he suggested to RCA: "Another invention of mine which I had taken with me to demo at that same meeting in 1982 also resulted in an instant license agreement with Coleco. I had a demo promoting the idea of using a video-disc under control of a ColecoVision game (and presumably ADAM, later on) for interactive game use. To make this scheme economically feasible, I had discussions with Jon Clements - who headed the videodisc program at RCA - about building a 5 inch version of their Selectavison 12 inch video disk unit... shades of computer and game systems using shiny, round 5" CD-ROM disks for interactive games... only twenty years too early. Coleco started to negotiate an agreement with RCA and all went well until the ADAM fiasco put a halt to this development effort. That was too bad...and nearly twenty years would go by until fully-digital versions of that system would reappear in the video game world. As for myself, I went on to develop interactive video-disk-based systems at Sanders which were used for military training-and-education purposes with considerable success. Coleco recovered courtesy of the ugliest dolls in the world - the Cabbage Patch dolls - Although I tried a few times, I would never be able to place a product idea with Coleco again; electronics had become at no-no at Coleco. The company finally went out of business in the late eighties. ColecoVision games continue to have a loyal following in the Classic Games community... I'm still waiting to see one of the retro-game designers interface it to a CD-ROM to extend the machine's capabilities. That would complete the circle I started in 1982 and never quite closed. Is anybody out there listening?"
This article is an altered and updated version of the Nintendo story originally published March 1, 2006 @ Interactive Dreams. Credits: Cedmagic