1st Generation

1972-1977: The Home Gaming Revolution
The first generation of consoles had very limited graphics, with few colors and basic lines, blocks, and dots. They lacked audio and a microprocessor, making solo gaming impossible. Pioneers to the genre, the market was very narrow. The Magnavox Odyssey pioneered the home console phenomenon, while the best-selling console of the first generation was the Nintendo Color TV Game, selling three million copies in Japan. Although limited in technology, these consoles opened the door to home video games.

The original home consoles:

  • 1972, September: Magnavox Odyssey
    Company: Magnavox
    Original price: $100
    2019 price: $597.89
    Sales: 350,000
    Number of Games: 28
    Best-selling game: 6 games were pre-installed with the console
    Media: Cartridge
    Main controller(s): paddle
    Other peripherals:
    Light gun

Magnavox: Magnavox was an American electronics company founded in 1917 when the Sonora Phonograph Distribution company and the Commercial Wireless and Development Company finalized a merger; since 1974 it has been a subsidiary of Dutch electronics company Philips. Magnavox, a company primarily known for producing televisions and radios, made its entry into the video game market in 1972 with the release of the Magnavox Odyssey. This was the first home video game console, predating the more well-known Atari 2600 for several years. While it wasn’t a commercial success, the Odyssey paved the way for future home gaming consoles and laid the foundation for what would become a massive industry. Magnavox no longer develops video games or video game consoles.

The first generation of home video game consoles began in May of 1972 with Ralph Baer’s Magnavox Odyssey. A German-born television engineer, Ralph Baer began work on the Odyssey in 1966 in reaction to the success of arcade video games. The Magnavox Odyssey was the sole video game console available in the United States until 1975 when Atari released its first gaming console, a co-venture with Tele-Games. Magnavox billed the Odyssey as the “new electronic game of the future.” In retrospect, the Odyssey was the first Pong console, but the phrase had yet to be coined. The Odyssey gave birth to other Pong consoles and was the predecessor to the likes of the Atari 2600. The Magnavox Odyssey Series went on to have eight dedicated consoles.

The system came pre-installed with six games and included 28 games in total. Games were activated by cartridges that utilized jumpers to activate each game. Different games were created by plastic overlays on a television screen, creating graphics and color. The plastic overlays altered Pong into different games.

The Odyssey is connected to television through its antenna. The Odyssey had two controllers, as all games were two-players. Later the Odyssey introduced the first light gun. The system was powered by six C batteries, the AC power adapter was sold separately. The Odyssey lacked the sound capability and was only compatible with two sizes of televisions.

  • 1974 (EU): Ping-O-Tronic (PP-1 through PP-10)
    Company: Zanussi
    Original price: N/A
    2019 price: N/A
    Sales: 1 million
    Number of Games: 3 variations of Pong (Pong, Squash/Solo, Attract/Automatic)
    Best-selling game: N/A
    Media: N/A
    Main controller(s): paddle
    Other peripherals:
    Balls, boundaries, Gun-O-Tronic

Zanussi: The Zanussi Company began in 1916 in the small workshop of Italian Antonio Zanussi, there he built stoves and wood-burning ovens. The company went on to focus on making home appliances, in 1984 it was acquired by Electrolux, a Swedish appliance company. Zanussi, a household appliance manufacturer, entered the video game market in the late 1970s with their first and only console, the Ping-O-Tronic. This unique console featured a built-in ping-pong game and could be connected to a television set, allowing players to play against each other on a larger screen. While it was a simple console, it was a hit in Europe and paved the way for other non-gaming companies to try their hand at the video game market. However, due to the rise of more advanced consoles in the 1980s, Zanussi ultimately exited the video game market and returned to focusing on their primary business of home appliances.

Mamma mia! Ping-O-Tronic was the first Italian-produced console, developed by Zanussi. It’s the first Italian video game home console and it very well could be the first European home console (the Videomaster Series was released in the United Kingdom the same year, however, the dates are unknown). Zanussi developed at least nine models within the Ping-O-Tronic Series, however, each system was restricted to the same three games.

The Ping-O-Tronic had only three games; Pong, Squash/Solo, Attract/Automatic). The last game was an automated game, stores used it to demo the unit.

Beginning with the PP-5, the Gun-o-Tronic was available as an optical gun for a shot-and-aim game. At the time, it was only one of three consoles (Magnavox Odyssey and Philips Tele-Game) that had this ability.

  • 1975, September 12 (JP): TV Tennis ElectroTennis
    Company: Epoch
    Original price: ¥19,500
    2019 price: ¥38,361.98 or $352
    Sales: 10,000
    Number of Games: 1
    Best-selling game: Pong
    Media: Inbuilt chip
    Main controller(s):
    Other peripherals: N/A

Epoch: Epoch Co. is a Japanese toys and computers company founded in 1956. Epoch Co. produced video game consoles from 1975 until 1991; its final console was the Barcode Battler. Today the company continues to produce computer games and figurine toys, but no longer develops video game consoles.

TV Tennis ElectroTennis was Japan’s first native console, beating Nintendo to the market by two years.

Compared to other Pong clones, this one lets players move both in and out as well as up and down, revolutionary for its time. In competing with other Pong clones it was necessary to offer a new feature.

TV Tennis ElectroTennis was completely wireless, it is powered by batteries and it broadcasts an analog signal directly to the TV via airwaves.

  • 1975, December (NA): Home Pong
    Company: Atari, Sears Tele-Games
    Original price: $98.95
    2019 price: $448.77
    Sales: 150,000
    Number of Games: 1
    Best-selling game: Pong
    Media: Inbuilt Chip
    Main controller(s): knob
    Other peripherals:

Atari: Atari, Inc. was founded on June 27, 1972, beginning in California as a video game and home computer developer. In 1975, Atari developed its first home console, Home Pong. Atari became a video game giant in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After the video game crash of 1983 Atari fell on hard times, becoming a subsidiary of a few other companies and eventually filing for bankruptcy in 2013. Atari reemerged from bankruptcy and is purportedly releasing the upcoming Atari VCS. This would be Atari’s first video game console since the Jaguar, released in 1993.

Developed by Atari in 1972, Pong was one of the first arcade video games, notable for being the first commercially successful video game. Later that same year Pong came out on the Magnavox Odyssey as the first game for a home console.

In 1974 Magnavox issued a lawsuit against Atari, Allied Leisure, Bally Midway, and Chicago Dynamics for copyright infringement in regard to Pong. Realizing they did not have the capital to fight the lawsuit – win or lose, Atari decided to settle out of court. Magnavox agreed to license Pong to Atari for $700,000 and the rights to upcoming developed Atari games for the next year, while competitors would have to pay royalties for the right to distribute Pong. In response, Atari delayed the release of upcoming games to avoid Magnavox obtaining the rights to these games.

After being rejected by several toy and electronics store retailers, Sears was the first retailer to take the chance on selling Atari’s Home Pong console. The first 150,000 units were produced in time for Christmas of 1975 under the name Sears Tele-Games. The next year Atari was able to release the console under its own brand name.

Atari Pong
  • 1976 (UK, NA): Binatone TV Master
    Company: Binatone
    Original price: £35
    2019 price: £247 or $362
    Sales: N/A
    Number of Games: 4 variations of Pong (Squash, Squash Practice, Football, Tennis)
    Best-selling game: N/A
    Media: Inbuilt chip
    Main controller(s): 2 detachable paddles with knob
    Other peripherals:
    light gun

Binatone: Binatone was a British telecommunications company founded in 1958. The two brothers who founded the company, Gulu and Partap Lalvani imported and distributed consumer electronics. Today the company focuses on telecom products and is owned and run by founder Gulu’s son, Dino Lalvani. Binatone entered the video game market in the 1970s. Their console, the TV Master Series, was released in 1976 and was one of the first home consoles to be sold in the UK. The TV Master Series was a plug-and-play system that featured several built-in games, including Pong and Tennis, and allowed players to connect additional controllers for multiplayer gaming. Despite facing stiff competition from Atari and other established players in the market, Binatone’s console was successful in the UK and paved the way for future home consoles in the region. It no longer develops video games or video game consoles.

The Binatone TV Master was a popular gift during the Christmas of 1977 in the United Kingdom, becoming the most popular home console in the UK.

The Binatone TV Master had four variations of Pong that could be selected by a clearly labeled switch on the console itself.

The first of the TV Master Series, the Binatone TV Master displayed black and white graphics. The TV Master Series would evolve into the Colour TV Game Series, an updated color version of the console series. There was a switch on the system to turn the sound on or off, just in case you did not want to wake up your parents while playing.

  • 1976: Coleco Telstar (Telstar Series)
    Company: Coleco
    Original price: $50
    2019 price: $220
    Sales: 1 million
    Number of Games: N/A
    Best-selling game: N/A
    Media: Cartridge
    Main controller(s): paddle
    Other peripherals:
    light gun (some models), joystick (later models)

Coleco: Coleco Industries, Inc. was an American company founded in 1932, originally named The Connecticut Leather Company. In many ways, Coleco embodied the success of the 1980s, during that decade the company reached its height in popularity from its success in video game consoles and sales of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls. Coleco became defunct in 1988, filing for bankruptcy. However, the Coleco brand was revived in 2005. Coleco remains active today, most recently it has been in video game news for its failed Retro VGS launch.

The Coleco Telstar sold around one million units, making it the most successful first-generation console in America. In all, there were about 14 consoles in this series. This success would lead to the ColecoVision, a major console in the second generation of home consoles.

The original Coleco Telestar had three Pong variants; hockey, handball, and tennis. A couple of the later console revisions had up to six games.

The first Coleco Telstar was the first console to use General Instrument’s AY-3-8500 chip. It displayed video in black and white but had the ability to upgrade to color with the addition of another chip.

  • 1977, June 8 (JP): Nintendo Color TV Game Series
    Company: Nintendo with Mitsubishi Electronics
    Original price: ¥8,300-48,000
    2019 price: ¥13,699.95-79,228.64 ($100-594.80)
    Sales: 3 million
    Number of Games: 6 variations of Pong
    Best-selling game: Games were bundled together
    Media: N/A
    Main controller(s): knob
    Other peripherals:

Nintendo: Nintendo is the original gangsta of the video game world, they were there when it began and continue to be a major player today. They achieved the heights of success most other developers will never sniff, and they endured failures that would sink less established companies. Nintendo Co., Ltd. was founded on September 23 in 1889 in Kyoto Japan by Fusajiro Yamauchi. From 1889-1956 Nintendo was a playing card company. From 1956-1974, Nintendo explored other business ventures, such as forming a taxi company and establishing hotels. In 1974 Nintendo secured the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan, and by 1977 Nintendo was selling its own video Pong console, the Color TV Game Series. Nintendo initially saw small success in the arcade business, and in 1979 the Game & Watch produced Nintendo’s first video game success. In the 1980s the Nintendo Entertainment System would propel Nintendo into worldwide success in the video game industry. To this day, Nintendo continues its high sales of video games and video game consoles. With roughly two decades of video game experience over both Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo continues to compete as one of the three remaining producers of major video game consoles.

Nintendo Color TV Game was the first console to be released by Nintendo. Marketing the fact that it could render multiple colors, the Nintendo Color TV Game series would go on to sell roughly three million units in Japan. Although the series was never released in the United States, it was clearly the best-selling series of the first generation of video game consoles. The success of this series established Nintendo as a tour de force in the video game world, allowing Nintendo to invest in the Famicom for its 1983 release.

Many of Nintendo’s iconic titles would be released on later platforms, such as the arcade and the Game & Watch series. The original Color TV Game-6 included six variations of Pong, including volleyball, tennis, and two variations of both hockey and ping pong. The Color TV Game-15 included 15 variations of Pong, and Color TV-Game Racing 112 was a racing game.

Although a Pong clone, the Color TV Game series was the first video game console to produce games in color. This was a groundbreaking achievement for the video game industry, as it allowed for a more immersive and visually appealing gaming experience. The Color TV Game series was released by Nintendo in the late 1970s and early 1980s and included five different models. Each model had a unique set of built-in games, such as “Hockey” and “Jungle” on the Color TV Game 6 and “Block Breaker” and “Light Tennis” on the Color TV Game 15. Despite being Pong clones, the Color TV Game series was incredibly popular in Japan and helped establish Nintendo as a major player in the video game industry.