The Magnavox Odyssey is the world's first commercial home video game console.
It was first demonstrated in April 1972 and released in August of that year, predating the Atari Pong home consoles by three years. It is a digital video game console, though is often mistakenly believed to be analog, due to misunderstanding of its hardware design.
The Odyssey was designed by Ralph Baer, who began around 1966 and had a working prototype finished by 1968. This prototype, known as the Brown Box, is now at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Like all other video game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey is a digital console. However, like all consoles up until the eighth generation, it uses analog circuitry for the video output, due to the fact that the televisions of its era were analog; in addition to this, like the Nintendo 64 and later consoles, it featured an analog game controller. Due to these two facts, many collectors mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, which led Baer to clarify that the console was indeed digital. The electronic signals exchanged between the various parts (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary.The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.
The system could be powered by six C batteries, which were included. An optional A/C power supply was sold separately. The Odyssey lacks sound capability, something that was corrected with the "Pong systems" of several years later, including Magnavox's own Odyssey-labeled Pong consoles. Ralph Baer proposed a sound extension to Magnavox in 1973, but the idea was rejected.
The Odyssey uses a type of removable printed circuit board, called a game card, that inserts into a slot similar to a ROM cartridge slot; these do not contain any components but have a series of jumpers between pins of the card connector. These jumpers interconnect different logic and signal generators to produce the desired game logic and screen output components respectively.
The system was sold with translucent plastic overlays that players could put on their TV screen to simulate color graphics, though only two TV sizes were supported. Some of these overlays could even be used with the same cartridges, though with different rules for playing.
Odyssey came packed with dice, poker chips, and score sheets to help keep score, play money, and game boards much like a traditional board game.
Ralph Baer is also believed to have proposed the concept of "active cartridges" containing additional electronic components allowing adding more game features such as sound effects, variable net position, and variable ball speed, though the idea apparently did not catch any interest.
The Odyssey was also designed to support an add-on peripheral, the first-ever commercial video "light gun" called the Shooting Gallery. This detected light from the TV screen, though pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a "hit".
Baer also designed a putting game, which used a golf ball fixed to the top of a joystick which the player would hit using a putter. This idea interested Magnavox, which took the prototype for testing, and was initially planned to be released as an add-on like the electronic rifle, but ultimately was never released.
Baer replicated his active cards and putting game. They can be seen in the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.
Magnavox settled a court case against Atari, Inc. for patent infringement in Atari's design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey. Over the next decade, Magnavox sued other big companies such as Coleco, Mattel, Seeburg, Activision and either won or settled every suit. In 1985, Nintendo sued Magnavox and tried to invalidate Baer's patents by saying that the first video game was William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two game built in 1958. The court ruled that this game did not use video signals and could not qualify as a video game. As a result, Nintendo lost the suit and continued paying royalties to Sanders Associates.
Baer went on to invent the classic electronic game Simon for Milton Bradley in 1978. Magnavox later released several other scaled down Pong-like consoles based under the Odyssey name (which did not use cartridges or game cards), and at one point a truly programmable, cartridge based console, the Odyssey², in 1978.
A total of 27 games distributed and 12 different game cards were released for the Magnavox Odyssey.