Magnavox Odyssey
First home video game console







On this page:

- Background (How Ralph Baer built the first video game)
- The very first law suit in the history of video games
- The Odyssey system (its design)
- Operation of the Odyssey
- Technology of the Odyssey
- Shooting Gallery, the Odyssey add-on Rifle
- The Odyssey album (misc photos)
- How the Odyssey sold in the USA
- Odyssey exports and clones
- Odyssey information for the collector

Other links:

- Video game history at Sanders Associates (1966-1971)
- Odyssey FAQ.
- Ralph Baer's biography
- The accessories of the Odyssey
- Percepts, the free Odyssey add-on game
- The extra games of the Odyssey
- The Apex-Magnavox 2-in-1 blue card
- Schematics of the Odyssey cartridges
- The different modules of the Odyssey (printed circuit boards)
- The Odyssey, as sold in France
- The German manuals of the Odyssey
- Spanish Odyssey clone
- Argentinian Odyssey clone



Background:

Note: The historical data contained in this section were extracted by permission from Ralph Baer's book about his long experience of father of the video game.

After more than 2 years of work on TV gaming systems at Sanders Associates, Ralph Baer and his two coworkers ended up with a prototype unit which played 12 games, some of which used a light gun. They had also developed the so-called dynamic ball action "de/dt” chassis to offer more advanced game features. Called the Brown Box because of its simulated woodgrain self-adhesive covering, the Brown Box was used to take the project to the next and most important step: finding a licensee.

Demonstrations were made to Cable TV system operators Teleprompter in 1968. When that failed to jumpstart the industry, TV manufacturers (Zenith, Sylvania, GE, Motorola and RCA) were contacted in order to find a licensee. None of the demonstrations to these firms ended up with a license agreement. Fortunately, Bill Enders, a member of the RCA team, had left that company and moved on to become a marketing VP at Magnavox in their New York sales offices. He had been thoroughly impressed with the demonstrations of the Brown Box. During the month of July of 1968, Enders came up to get another, personal demonstration; he got even more enthusiastic and urged Magnavox management, headquartered in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to take a second look at the game concepts. Here was another guy with vision.

In July, Ralph Baer and Lou Etlinger, Sanders Associates’ Corporate Director of Patents, received an official invitation to come and demonstrate the game in Fort Wayne. Lou and Ralph got on an airplane on the 17th of July and flew to Indiana for that all-important demonstration. Magnavox gave them the use of their boardroom and one of their 19-inch TV sets; Ralph set up the TV, along with the Brown Box, the light gun, and the golf putting device. One by one, a large number of people filed into the room. After their boss, Gerry Martin, arrived, the demonstration started. Ralph's recollection is that of a room full of guys sitting around a long, dark conference table, looking generally glum and non-committal. No one showed any visible degree of enthusiasm except for one man in the room: The VP for Marketing of the television set division, Gerry Martin. He immediately saw a novel product category forMagnavox…and he was the boss! He made a decision right then and there to try and push ahead with a Home TV Game product.

It was remarkable how the atmosphere in the room changed after Gerry Martin announced:

We’re going with this!

Gerry Martin still had to convince Magnavox corporate management to support his decision to build games in their Morrison, Tennessee TV set manufacturing plant. It took until March of 1971—nine months later—for that to happen.

A preliminary agreement was signed between the two companies, Sanders Associates and Magnavox. Once that was in place, the Brown Box and all the design data turned over to Magnavox engineers in Fort Wayne; they got started on a prototype for what was to become their first Odyssey (Model 1TL200) TV Game in 1972.

Bill Harrison and Ralph made trips to Fort Wayne in March and June of 1971 to help with technical and marketing decisions. Bill spent much of his time with George Kent and other Magnavox engineers assigned to the project. Meanwhile, Ralph worked mostly with Bob Fritsche, who had become Magnavox’ Odyssey program manager.

The major concern was to define all the games that the machine should play; what the colored overlays should be like, Magnavox having decided in their corporate wisdom to leave out the color circuitry, so they could save some money. There were extensive debates about which games were to be included with the basic Odyssey product and which were to be set aside for after-market sale...and so on. Ralph and Bob Fritsche worked well together.

The circuitry designed into the Brown Box at Sanders was essentially copied with a few exceptions: Components for colored backgrounds were thrown out in favor of the plastic screen overlays. The sixteen game-selection switches on the Brown Box were replaced with plug-in programming cards—an excellent decision! Some new games were added. Unlike the design of the Brown Box, the 1TL200 unit had one large p.c. board; a series a small "baby” boards were plugged into the "mother board.” The small, modular boards contained the various sub-circuits, such as the ball spot and player spot generators, the H&V sync signal generators, and so forth. This method of construction simplified the motherboard design and lowered its cost.

Prototype development at Magnavox was completed by George Kent’s group in the fall of 1971. Once George had taken the final design of the game unit and antenna switch-box to the FCC labs in Washington and passed their tests, (another thing that millions of video game units would be subjected to in the incoming years), Odyssey went into production at the Tennessee plant. A number of hand-assembled units were sent to Magnavox’ captive dealers around the country late in 1971. The response was phenomenal: The best thing to come down the pike in years! was the general consensus. The consumer-electronics press carried articles about an up-coming "mystery product” from Magnavox. There was much speculation in the trade press just what that "mystery product” might be.

During the month of April, Magnavox put on simultaneous shows for their dealers and for the press in many parts of the country, touting their 1972 product line. Ralph Baer was pleased to be invited to one of these product line introductions on the 22nd of the month. The affair took place at the Bowling Greene Restaurant in the middle of New York’s Central Park. As he sat in the audience on a folding chair among dealers and reporters, he watched their reactions; it was obvious that the Odyssey game was the undisputed hit of the show! As he said: I got pretty excited and was hard-pressed to keep my mouth shut and restrain myself from jumping up on the stage and yelling: ‘That’s my baby!’

At about the same time that this New York product line presentation took place, other Magnavox dealerships in major cities throughout the country laid on similar shows for the press and for their captive dealers. Over the following months, Magnavox began supplying these dealers with production units. They also started shipping a very nice-looking, pump-action plastic "rifle,” for which they provided a separate, large, in-store easel display. Magnavox also shipped their dealers ten additional games available separately, or in a pack of six (as six games were originally planned and another four were released later in 1973).

A handsome flier was widely distributed. It introduced the idea of Home TV Game Playing. It showed the basic and optional Odyssey games and the shooting gallery games. The Home TV Game industry was launched for real!

Unexpected problems soon began to haunt the program: First off, Magnavox featured Odyssey in their fall TV advertising in such a way that everyone got the impression that Odyssey would only work with Magnavox TV sets; then they set the price at a steep $100 for the game unit plus six program cards that could play twelve different games using overlays; and finally, they decided to charge another whopping $25 for the rifle, which, of course, made it all a hard sell.

Secondly, sales were restricted to Magnavox’ franchised dealer stores. In the 1960s and 1970s, Magnavox did not sell their TV sets, radios and phonographs through independent stores or mass merchandisers such as Sears or Montgomery-Ward. Naturally, that narrowed the potential sales base considerably.

On the positive side, a television commercial featuring old "Blue Eyes”, Frank Sinatra, helped spark up sales in the fall. Close to one hundred thousand Odyssey’s were sold that season. But by early 1973, Odyssey games were already being discounted (see advertisements below). Foreign sales took up some of the slack, starting in 1973. The French ad for Odyssey shown here is typical of the advertising in Europe.

Magnavox also mismanaged the sale of the additional plug-in game packs. These featured some of the best games, such as Volleyball, Handball, Baseball, Wipe-Out, Invasion, and Fun Zoo. All those packs wound up under the store counters for after-market sale, but since Magnavox neglected to train sales personnel to "push” the packs, very few of them were sold.

In spite of all of these marketing and sales gaffes and with help from their TV ad campaign, Magnavox had sold nearly 80,000 Odyssey 1TL200s by Christmas. Who knows how many more would have moved off the shelves that holiday season, or the next, if Magnavox had enjoyed broader distribution. Restricting Odyssey sales to "authorized” Magnavox dealerships was a huge handicap. Magnavox would be forced to eliminate this marketing and sales scheme a couple of years later when they were sued by the Government for restraint of trade.

While the Odyssey game was being demonstrated at Bowling Greene in New York, another new-product show was open to dealers and the invited public in Burlingame, California at the Airport Marina. On the 24th of May, Nolan Bushnell, later the President of Atari, signed the visitors’ guest book and attended that product line demonstration. There he played an Odyssey unit hands-on, including, of course, its Ping-Pong game.

Shortly after that demo, Nolan Bushnell hired a young engineer, Alan Alcorn from Ampex, where Bushnell had worked some years earlier. He put Alan to work on a coin-operated arcade Ping-Pong game, which he named "PONG.”

Years later, during various depositions, and in Federal Court, Mr. Bushnell would allow as how the Odyssey Ping-Pong game he had played in Burlingame wasn’t very interesting. However, the fact that he had actually played the Odyssey Ping-Pong game that May made his revisionist story unconvincing to the court.

In his design of an arcade game, Alan Alcorn had the freedom to use about 70 integrated logic circuits—so-called ‘7400 series TTL IC’s, to be precise. That was a perfectly sensible way to go with a design for a coin-op machine that cost many hundreds of dollars, but it was a totally inaccessible route at the time for the Home TV Game designer.

As it turned out, Alan Alcorn did a great job, improving on the basic Ping-Pong features of the Odyssey machine by providing a segmented paddle for vertical ball control in place of Odyssey’s "English” control, and by adding wall bounce and scoring; most effectively, he came up with that PONG sound, which gave the game an unmistakable character. As just about everybody knows, PONG quickly became a great hit in some of the bars and arcades of America; PONG can clearly be credited with having starting the coin-operated arcade video game industry with a bang! Video games, both of the Home TV Game variety and Coin-Op Arcade Video Games, were launched.

There is also no doubt that PONG helped Odyssey sales late in 1972...after all, an Odyssey game system was the only way you could have some of the PONG experience at home. The rest, as they say, is (video game) history.


The Odyssey system (its design):

The Odyssey was packed in a large two-level styrofoam box (the lower level contained the system, the controllers, RF cable, switch-box, and the other level contained the remaining accessories). Customers could also buy a special carrying case. In that case, the overlays were rolled up and placed in the upper part.

The Odyssey originally came with six cartridges, a 36-page user manual for the twelve games offered by the system, and a number of accessories. There are several variants of the Odyssey, and it is possible that some of them may still be unknown; special export versions were made in 1973 and 1974 and they are by far the rarest versions of the original Odyssey system. At least two Odyssey clones existed as well.


The following table may be of interest: it shows the variants that have actually been found. The model, serial and RUN numbers are written on the under side of the unit. The RUN number stands for the production run, the US model is either 1TL200 BLAK, 1TL200BK12 or 1TL200BK99 (this last one was only used for specimens which were sent back to Magnavox to renew the warranty). The serial number is encoded and there is currently no information about how to decode it. Another interesting detail is the finnish. All of these models differ by small changes in their electronic circuits.
 

RUN Serial Date Differenciation
RUN-1 Unknown 1972 Silver Magnavox logo on the woodgrain
RUN-1 11xxxxxx 1974 24-page manual dating 1974, only 10 games, trilingual playing
cards. Exported in 1974 and sold/found in France.
RUN-1 10xxxxxx 1974 Two manuals in German, 10 games only, trilingual playing cards.
Exported in Germany in 1974.
RUN-1 72xxxxx - 76xxxxx 1972-1974 Same as RUN-1 from 1972, without Magnavox logo
RUN-1B 73xxxxx-74xxxxx 1973/74 ? Same as RUN-1 from 1972, without Magnavox logo
RUN-2 11xxxxx 1972 ? Same as RUN-1 from 1972, but in RUN-2
RUN-2 9xxxxxx-11xxxxx 1972-1974 Same as RUN-1 from 1972, but in RUN-2 and without logo

Back in the 1990s, the information about the Odyssey was limited. The few web pages containing Odyssey information used to list two types of Odyssey consoles: Type A (which came with 12-games) and Type B (which came with 10-games). Later, it was discovered that some Odyssey units had a RUN-1 label with a red B letter (see picture below), and that the Type B was an export version, although very few of these were sold in the USA. This obviously caused some confusion and it was decided that the old Type A and Type B would be respectively called US Version and Export Version. Thus, letters A and B were only used to mention a production run, when necessary.

This photo shows an example of RUN-1B
unit, which is the normal version playing 12
games.

Not to be confused with the 1974 export
version, which had only 10 games.

To learn more about the export versions of the Odyssey, scrol down below.

Operation of the Odyssey:

The operation of the Odyssey is very basic. To play the games, the user had to place special plastic overlays on the screen for most games. These overlays had all the background graphics of the games, because the system could not display them. Each of the 12 games had two identicaloverlays in order to fit ona small or a large screen. A special scoreboard was used to mark the scores. Some games used plastic chips, cards, or other accessories such as a pair of dice, small chips and game decks. The objective was to allow the a same cartridge to play several games. The difference was made by using accessories or by changing the game rules, since the games were mostly played with the accessories rather than with the elementary graphics shown on the screen. Collectors interested in the complete set of accessories can have a look at the list of Odyssey accessories.


Some of the overlays provided with the system

Some notes were also used to play casino games
like roulette.

One of the two controllers allowing to move a player
on the screen...

Some games used chips and dice.

 

Cartridges of the Odyssey
1Table Tennis
2Ski ,Simon Says, Fun Zoo, Percepts
3Tennis, Analogic, Baseball, Hockey, Football (Passing and Kicking), Soccer (1)
4Cat and Mouse, Football (running), Haunted House, Invasion (1)
5Submarine, Invasion (2), Soccer (2)
6Roulette, States, Invasion (3)
7VolleyBall
8Wipeout
9Shootout, Dogfight, Prehistoric Safari
10Shooting Gallery
11Originally planned for Basketball, but cancelled
12Interplanetary Voyage

 


The 12 games of the Odyssey. Except TABLE TENNIS, these pictures
show the different overlays that went on the screen.

 

In addition to the games provided with the console, customers could purchase additional games from Magnavox retailers, or order them by mail. Ten different games were released. They were available individually or in packs of 6. Magnavox also promoted the Odyssey by offering a free bonus game: PERCEPTS. This free game was sent by mail to customers who would return a special "Free Bonus Game" paper to register the purchase of their Odyssey. Apex-Magnavox (Miami, FL) released a special 2-in-1 blue card to play Handball and Volleyball (which were available individually from Magnavox dealers or by mail order).


Shooting Gallery, the Odyssey add-on Rifle:

The original "Brown Box" allowed playing some games with a light gun. Thus, the Odyssey had a special connector to plug in a rifle which allowed playing four extra games using two additional cartridges ( #9 and #10). This "rifle pack" is called "Shooting Gallery". The amazing thing is the operation of this rifle. Since it uses a photocell, players could point it to a light bulb, thus simulating a true shot on the screen.

Games sold with the rifle pack
Shootout
Dogfight
Prehistoric Safari
Shooting gallery

 

The Odyssey album (misc photos):

The Odyssey and its accessories The Odyssey in the carrying case The Odyssey and its two controllers The Shooting Gallery rifle
Logo side of the box (non-exported version) The box of the Odyssey (non-exported version) Screen side of the box of the Odyssey (non-exported version) The carrying case
Logo side of the box of the Odyssey (exported version) The box of the Odyssey (exported version) Screen side of the box of the Odyssey (exported version) Instructions to put the Odyssey in the carrying case
The Odyssey manual (non-exported version) The Odyssey manual (exported version) The Odyssey in the carrying case The accessories in the box
A playing card for the "Haunted House" game Screen-shot of the TENNIS game A playing card for the "Simon Says" game A playing card for the "Simon Says" game, exported version
    A playing card for the "Wipe Out" game A playing card for the "Wipe Out" game, exported version

 

How the Odyssey sold in the USA:

The productions of the Odyssey begun on 27th January 1972, and the first consoles were selling in May. Nationwide advertising of this system resulted in a success: over 80,000 Odyssey and over 20,000 rifle packs sold in 1972. More might have been sold if some of Magnavox’ advertsing had not confused TV viewers into believeing that the Odyssey system would only work with a Magnavox TV set. Perhaps this was done by Magnavox to increase the sales of their own name-brand TV sets, but persistent rumors to this effect confused potential customers and did not help sales. Another 250,000+ Odyssey and 50,000+ rifle packs sold between 1973 and late 1975, bringing the total to 350,000+ Odyssey and 80,000+ rifle packs sold. The system was removed from the stores in fall 1975 and replaced by a new, simpler model: the Odyssey 100.


The very first law suit in the history of video games:

As mentioned earlier, Mr. Nolan Bushnell (President of Atari) attended a demonstration of the Odyssey game system laid on by Magnavox on May the 24th of 1972 at the Airport Marina in Burlingame, CA. After founding Atari on 27th June 1972, Bushnell and Alan Alcorn (his first employee) designed the famous prototype of their PONG arcade machine, which was placed on trial in a local bar called Andy Capp's Cavern in Sunnyvale. Several years later, the arcade video ball & paddle game business having flourished, Magnavox filed a lawsuit for patent infrigement against Seeburg, Bally-Midway and Atari. Although Bushnell insisted that he didn't copy the Ping-Pong (TENNIS) game of the Odyssey, Federal District Court judge John F. Grady was not convinced that Bushnell had designed PONG before attending the Odyssey demonstration. Mr. Bushnell opted out of the lawsuit before it began and became Magnavox first sublicensee. Henceforth, they paid royalties to Magnavox in order to legally manufacture and sell PONG systems... The suit against Seeburg and Bally went forward and marks the very first law suit in the history of the video game industry. The Sanders/Magnavox team won this suit as well as later law suits in the Court of Appeals. Much money changed hands. Additional patent infringement lawsuits vs. Mattel, Activision, Nintendo and several arcade game manufacturer went to trial over the next decade. All of these lawsuits were won by the Sanders/Magnavox team and , along with income from many patent licenses, brought in a total of close to a hundred million dollars over that period of time.


Odyssey exports and clones:

Odyssey originally sold in the USA only, but was later exported in small amounts to several countries, and has even been cloned.

Two types of exports exsited: either the normal US Version, or the Export Version released by Magnavox in 1974. The former has been found in England and in Egypt and the latter was exported to several countries (as listed under the units):

AustraliaGermanySwitzerland
BelgiumGreeceUSSR
EnglandIsraëlVenezuela
FranceItaly 

Additionally, Odyssey was also exported to Singapore (model YE7100 BK13) and Egypt. It is unknown whether it was a US Version or an Export Version.

The Export Version differs from the US Version by several points. It came with ten games instead of twelve: five games of the original version were removed (Cat and Mouse, Football, Haunted House, Roulette, and States) and three others previously sold as add-ons were added (Soccer, also called Football in the USA, Volleyball and Wipe Out). The user manual was reduced from thirty-six to twenty-four pages and dates 1974. The Simon Says and Wipeout cards were translated to three languages (see some pictuers in the Odyssey Album). Consequently, it had a couple overlays removed, a few accessories added (the Wipeout cars for example) and only cartridges #1, #2, #3, #5 and #7. Although this version was not supposed to be released in the USA, a few specimens were found there.

In Germany, Odyssey was exported in two versions. It was first announced in late 1973 as being sold by ITT Schaub-Lorentz. Very few ITT units were sold, probably because of the additional costs involved in repackaging the console. As a matter of fact, the box was different, and the papers and game cards were translated to German. The console was also renamed Odyssee and its shipping box had two large ITT stickers covering the original Magnavox logos. These stickers are rarely found on Odyssee shipping boxes because they did not stick well by the years due to the bad quality of the glue used; they left almost black surfaces on the shipping box, allowing to see the original "Magnavox", "Odyssey", "1TL200" and "Made in USA" words. The original user manual was replaced by two separate manuals written in German: one for the system installation and operation, and one for the games. English words moulded on the white plastic of the console unit were covered by thick transparent overlays with their German equivalents printed in black. This Odyssee version was released in limited amounts in early 1974 (probably a few thousands). It was shortly replaced by the Export Version (named Odyssee, model YE7100 BK11), which still had the two manuals translated to German and German text on the controllers. It is believed that ITT still sold this version in 1974 and that about 10,000 specimens were exported to Germany. Click here to view both versions of the German Odyssee manuals.


         
The German Odyssee box released by ITT Schaub-Lorentz


Although the Odyssey was legally imported to foreign countries, at least three clones are known to exist (although the third has never surfaced so far).

In Spain, Odyssey was modified and called Overkal.
In Argentinia, Odyssey was also modified and called Telematch De Panoramic (model J-5, which could stand for "5 Juegos" or "five games").

Interestingly, both of these clones used a number of push-buttons to select the games, instead of cartridges. Although the Spanish Overkal was a cut-down Odyssey with eight games, the Argentinian Telematch De Panoramic played only three Odyssey games (Tennis, Squash and Volleyball) but also featured two additional games: Submarino (a boat shoots a submarine with a torpedo) and Futbol (football with goals). This required additional hardware in the unit. Telematch De Panoramic is the only analog game system known to play the Torpedo game, which was advertised for the German Interton Video 2000 and Spanish Tele-Tenis but never released.

In Sweden, an Odyssey clone called Kanal-34 was advertised in 1975 but no specimen has surfaced so far. However, one ITT Odyssee was found there. It is a German ITT Odyssee with four manuals: the two original german manuals and two others in swedish. This specimen is believed to have been purchased in 1976/77 by its original owner, which is quite late for that game, but not surprising for the video game market of that time.



Overkal (Spain, circa 1973).


    
Left: Kanal 34 (Sweden, 1975). Right: Telematch De Panoramic (Argentinia, circa 1975).

Technology of the Odyssey:

Because of its mid-1960’s type of technology, the Odyssey is completely different from modern video game systems. It uses no microprocessor and has no need for memory. It is based on a hybrid analog and digital circuit design. Opening the physical game unit reveals only discrete components: resistors, capacitors, etc. The only semiconductors are about 40 diodes and 40 transistors.

Odyssey’s cartridges contain no components: they are basically wirejumper sets. When plugging a cartridge into the console, internal diode logic circuits are interconnected in different ways to produce the desired result. As a matter of fact, the Odyssey contains everything to make a game based around a ball, one or two paddles representing the players, and a central or off-side vertical line which serves as a net or a wall. The cartridges act to connect some the machine’s diode logic circuitry to set the aspect and the position of the vertical line (normally centered for ping pong and tennis but located on the left or on the middle for handball and volleyball respectively, or not displayed at all for Chase games and gun games), and to determine the interaction between the ball and the other graphic objects: bounce or erase either a player or a ball spot when there is a collision with a player or the central line (a player could even be erased after a collision with the ball). During the winter of ’72 – ’73 Ralph Baer designed several advanced cartridges equipped with some additional acvtive components so as to add some more realistic features to the Odyssey. Unfortunately, Magnavox chose not to go along with these new ideas.
 


Cartridge #7. Note the size of the contacts.

Cartridges #1 to #6, as well as these of
the rifle pack (#9 and #10).

 

   
Up: the main board with the different modules mounted on it.

Left: the RF oscillator module.

Right: one of the two flip-flop modules.

 

Odyssey information for the collector:

Odyssey is quite sought after by collectors because it is the first video game system. However, the large number of specimens sold makes it still easy to find, especiallly on auction web sites like eBay. Although prices vary depending on the demand, the average price for a complete Odyssey console is $100. Anyone who wants to buy an Odyssey should be patient and not feel in the rush of buying the first specimen found. Extras like add-on games, the carrying case and the rifle pack can increase the value to the console itself. On the other hand, an incomplete system can sell at a very low price and can be used as spares for other incomplete specimens.


On this page:

- Background (How Ralph Baer built the first video game)
- The very first law suit in the history of video games
- The Odyssey system (its design)
- Operation of the Odyssey
- Technology of the Odyssey
- Shooting Gallery, the Odyssey add-on Rifle
- The Odyssey album (misc photos)
- How the Odyssey sold in the USA
- Odyssey exports and clones
- Odyssey information for the collector
Other links:

- Video game history at Sanders Associates (1966-1971)
- Odyssey FAQ.
- Ralph Baer's biography
- The accessories of the Odyssey
- Percepts, the free Odyssey add-on game
- The extra games of the Odyssey
- The Apex-Magnavox 2-in-1 blue card
- Schematics of the Odyssey cartridges
- The different modules of the Odyssey (printed circuit boards)
- The Odyssey, as sold in France
- The German manuals of the Odyssey
- Spanish Odyssey clone
- Argentinian Odyssey clone