Video Game Firsts - The Fairchild Channel F

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It's Second Generation time for Geek Dave...


The First Generation of video game consoles arrived in 1972 with the launch of the Magnavox Odyssey, and made it possible for a generation to play 'pong' style simple games in the comfort of their own home. But if there's one thing we know about technology it is that it doesn't stay still for long.

And so four years later it was time for the Second Generation, home consoles that featured improved graphics and sound, Microprocessor-based game logic, AI simulation of computer-based opponents and ROM cartridges for storing games, allowing any number of different games to be played easily on one console.

The go-to console from that era is the Atari 2600, but arriving almost a year before that, in November 1976, the Fairchild Channel F ushered in this bright new golden age.


For the low low price of just $169.95 (equivalent to $700 in 2015) you could own the first programmable ROM cartridge–based video game console! Not only that the Fairchild Channel F also has the distinction of being the first console to use a microprocessor. It was launched as the Video Entertainment System, or VES, but when Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild renamed its machine.

The Fairchild Channel F used an F8 CPU designed by Jerry Lawson. It was very complex compared to the typical integrated circuits of the day, and had more inputs and outputs than other contemporary chips. Because chip packaging was not available with enough pins, the F8 was instead fabricated as a pair of chips that had to be used together to form a complete CPU.


Twenty-seven 'Videocarts' were officially released for the Fairchild Channel F, several of which were capable of playing more than one game and were typically sold for $19.95. The Videocarts were yellow and approximately the size and overall texture of an 8 track cartridge.

The console itself contained two built-in games, Tennis and Hockey, which were both advanced Pong clones. In Hockey the reflecting bar could be changed to diagonals by twisting the controller, and could move all over the playing field. Tennis was much like the original Pong.

The Fairchild Channel F sold 250,000 units, the majority in the first 10 months of release. Then the Atari 2600 arrived and that sold over 750,000 in it's first year alone, and would go on to sell 30 million worldwide.

After it had been discontinued in 1983, the magazine Video Games published a retrospective on the Fairchild Channel F it "the system nobody knows". It described the consoles graphics and sounds as "somewhat primitive by today's standards", but stated that Fairchild "managed to create some fascinating games, even by today's standards", calling Video Blackjack "the best card game, from blackjack to bridge, made for any TV-game system".

You can be the judge of that, as here it is in all its original Channel F glory...




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