What was the first console in history?

Pong, the famous ping-pong arcade game released by Atari in 1972, marks the

date when we witnessed the release of the first game console in history. Although, a few months earlier, the Magnavox company launched its Magnavox Odyssey, a home video game system based on a prototype invented by Ralph Baer.

Because the Odyssey had limited graphics capabilities and only showed small

white blocks and a vertical line on the screen, Magnavox included translucent

colour overlays to provide game configurations and designs. 

Perhaps most surprising to today’s players is that the Odyssey also came with non-electronic

game accessories, such as dice, card decks, fictitious money and poker chips.

These accessories were possibly included to make the console more like the

physical games that existed at the time.

With approximately 350,000 units sold, Magnavox Odyssey was not considered a commercial success, especially compared to the rampant popularity of Pong. Among the factors that contributed to this failure, poor marketing played a big role. 


Many potential consumers had the impression, sometimes encouraged by Magnavox salespeople, that Odyssey would only work on Magnavox televisions. Despite these setbacks, Magnavox Odyssey left its mark at the start of the game console industry.

This system was black and white, had two wired controllers, and although it didn’t have cartridges, it could select one of several games. 


There was no sound either, and the screen could only show 3 dots and a vertical line. The system cost 100 US dollars (not including the optional light gun). However, by adjusting the value of the 1972 coin to the present day, it would be about 600 US dollars.

It was not an impulse purchase, and the differentiation between games was

primarily an exercise in imagination as we see it. However, the Magnavox

Odyssey introduced computer technology into the home and that was something exciting. It demonstrated that there was a market for home video games.

Baer made up to seven prototypes of the console, and the seventh, called the ‘brown box’ was the one Magnavox agreed to produce and market. He also received patents on the idea, which would become a turning point in history years later.

The controllers had a reset button and 3 buttons. A button on the console made it possible to move the vertical line that could be the center of a tennis court or a wall in a handball game.

Many companies were offered the new device. None were interested, although an RCA executive was impressed and when he went to Magnavox, he convinced the company to look at the new device. Magnavox made some changes, like removing the colour output and adding the game cards for setup and ready.

Although Magnavox is the one who gets the credit for the console, the truth is that the real invention lies with Ralph Baer and his vision, as well as his ability to convince a company that had no reason to produce a piece of consumer electronics to do it anyway. He received the National Medal of Technology for his contribution to the video game industry.

Baer continued to work in the field of electronic entertainment by creating the popular game ‘Simon’ in the late 1970s. 

 Image Credit: National Museum of American History

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