Fairchild Channel F

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Fairchild Channel F
Fairchild logo.png
Fairchild-Channel-F.jpg
The Fairchild Channel F
Manufacturer Fairchild Semiconductor
Type Video game console
Generation Second generation
Retail availability United States November 1976
Units sold 250,000[1]
Media ROM cartridge
CPU Fairchild F8
Controller input Joystick/Paddle
Keypad (Canceled)

The Fairchild Channel F is a game console released by Fairchild Semiconductor in November 1976[2] at the retail price of $169.95 (equivalent to $700 in 2014). It has the distinction of being the first programmable ROM cartridge–based video game console, and 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. By 1977, the Fairchild Channel F had sold 250,000 units and trailed behind the VCS.[1]

The console[edit]

The Channel F electronics were designed by Jerry Lawson using the Fairchild F8 CPU, the first public outing of this processor. The F8 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.

Lawson worked with Nick Talesfore and Ron Smith. As manager of Industrial Design, Talesfore was responsible for the design of the hand controllers, console, and video game cartridges. Smith was responsible for the mechanical engineering of the video cartridges and hand controllers. All worked for Wilf Corigan, head of Fairchild Semiconductor, a division of Fairchild Camera & Instrument.

The palette of the Channel F

The graphics are quite basic by modern standards. The Channel F is only able to use one plane of graphics and one of four background colors per line, only three plot colors to choose from (red, green and blue) that turned into white if the background is set to black. A resolution of 128 × 64 with approximately 102 × 58 pixels visible and help from only 64 bytes of system RAM, half the amount of the Atari 2600.[3][4] The F8 processor at the heart of the console is able to produce enough AI to allow for player versus computer matches, a first in console history. All previous machines required a human opponent.

One feature unique to this console is the 'hold' button, which allowed the player to freeze the game, change the time or change the speed of the game during the course of the game.[5] In the original unit, sound is played through an internal speaker, rather than the TV set. However, the System II passed sound to the television through the RF modulator.

Controllers[edit]

The controllers are a joystick without a base; the main body is a large hand grip with a triangular "cap" on top, the top being the portion that actually moved for eight-way directional control. It could be used as both a joystick and paddle (twist), and not only pushed down to operate as a fire button but also pulled up. [6] The model 1 unit contained a small compartment for storing the controllers when moving it. The System II featured detachable controllers and had two holders at the back to wind the cable around and to store the controller in. Zircon later offered a special control which featured an action button on the front of the joystick. It was marketed by Zircon as "Channel F Jet-Stick" in a letter sent out to registered owners before Christmas 1982.[7] They also released it as an Atari-compatible controller called "Video Command", first released without the extra fire button. Before that, only the downwards plunge motion was connected and acted as the fire button; the pull-up and twist actions weren't connected to anything.

Games[edit]

Twenty-seven cartridges, termed 'Videocarts', were officially released to consumers during the ownership of Fairchild and Zircon, the first twenty-one of which were released by Fairchild. Several of these cartridges were capable of playing more than one game and were typically priced at $19.95. The Videocarts were yellow and approximately the size and overall texture of an 8 track cartridge.[8] They usually featured colorful label artwork. The earlier artwork was created by nationally known artist Tom Kamifuji and art directed by Nick Talesfore.[citation needed] The console 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.

A sales brochure from 1978 listed 'Keyboard Videocarts' for sale. The three shown were K-1 Casino Poker, K-2 Space Odyssey, and K-3 Pro-Football. These were intended to use the Keyboard accessory. All further brochures, released after Zircon took over Fairchild, never listed this accessory nor anything called a Keyboard Videocart.

There was one additional cartridge released numbered Videocart-51 and simply titled 'Demo 1'. This Videocart was shown in a single sales brochure released shortly after Zircon acquired the company. It was never listed for sale after this single brochure which was used for winter of 1979.

List of games[edit]

Title Developer Publisher Year Genre Region
Democart Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Sports United States
Hockey (Integrated) Fairchild Fairchild 1976 Action United States
Tennis (Integrated) Fairchild Fairchild 1976 Action United States
Videocart-1: Tic Tac Toe, Shooting Gallery, Doodle, Quadradoodle Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Trivia United States
Videocart-2: Desert Fox, Shooting Gallery Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Action, Shooter United States
Videocart-3: Video Blackjack Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Gambling United States
Videocart-4: Spitfire Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Action, Shooter United States
Videocart-5: Space War Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Action, Shooter United States
Videocart-6: Math Quiz (Addition & Subtraction) Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Trivia United States
Videocart-7: Math Quiz (Multiplication & Division) Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Trivia United States
Videocart-8: Mind Reader, Nim (also referred to as Magic Numbers) Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Trivia United States
Videocart-9: Drag Strip Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Racing United States
Videocart-10: Maze, Cat and Mouse Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Platform, Action United States
Videocart-11: Backgammon, Acey-Deucey Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Trivia United States
Videocart-12: Baseball Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Sports United States
Videocart 13: Robot War/Torpedo Alley Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Platform, Action United States
Videocart-14: Sonar Search Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1977 Strategy United States
Videocart-15: Memory Match Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Puzzle United States
Videocart 16: Dodge-It Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1978 Platform, Action United States
Videocart-17: Pinball Challenge Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1978 Pinball United States
Videocart-18: Hangman Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1976 Puzzle United States
Videocart-19: Checkers Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1980 Trivia United States
Videocart-20: Video Whizball Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1981 Miscellaneous United States
Videocart-21: Bowling Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1978 Sports United States
Videocart-22: Slot Machine Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1980 Gambling United States
Videocart-23: Galactic Space Wars Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1980 Action, Shooter United States
Videocart-24: Pro-Football Fairchild Fairchild 12-31-1981 Sports United States
Videocart-25: Casino Poker Fairchild Zircon 12-31-1980 Gambling United States
Videocart-26: Alien Invasion Fairchild Zircon 12-31-1981 Action, Shooter United States

Homebrewed

  • Videocart-27: Pac-Man (Homebrew)

Carts listed (as mentioned above) but never released:

Official carts that also exist:

  • Democart 2

German SABA also released a few compatible carts different from the original carts, translation in Videocart 1 Tic-Tac-Toe to German words, Videocart 3 released with different abbreviations (German), Videocart 18 changed graphics and German word list and the SABA 20 that's a Chess game released only by SABA.

Market impact[edit]

The biggest effect of the Channel F in the market was to spur Atari into improving and releasing their next-generation console which was then in development. Then codenamed "Stella," the machine was also set to utilize cartridges; after seeing the Channel F, Atari realized they needed to release it before the market was flooded with cartridge-based machines. With cash flow dwindling as sales of their existing Pong-based systems dried up, they were forced to sell to Warner Communications to gain the capital they needed. When the Atari VCS gaming system (whose name was coined as a takeoff of the VES) was released a year later, it had considerably better graphics and sound.

Reception[edit]

Ken Uston reviewed 32 games in his book Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games in 1982, and rated some of the Channel F's titles highly; of these, Alien Invasion and Video Whizball were considered by Uston to be "the finest adult cartridges currently available for the Fairchild Channel F System."[9] The games on the whole, however, rated last on his survey of over 200 games for the Atari, Intellivision, Astrocade and Odyssey consoles, and contemporary games were rated "Average" with future Channel F games rated "below average".[10] Uston rated almost one half of the Channel F games as "high in interest" and called that "an impressive proportion" and further noted that "Some of the Channel F cartridges are timeless; no matter what technological developments occur, they will continue to be of interest." His overall conclusion was that the games "serve a limited, but useful, purpose" and that the "strength of the Channel F offering is in its excellent educational line for children."[11]

In 1983, after Zircon announced its discontinuation of the Channel F, Video Games reviewed the console. Calling it "the system nobody knows", the magazine described its graphics and sounds as "somewhat primitive by today's standards". It described Space War as perhaps "the most antiquated game of its type still on the market", and rated the 25 games for the console with an average grade of three ("not too good") on a scale from one to ten. The magazine stated, however, that Fairchild "managed to create some fascinating games, even by today's standards", calling Casino Royale (Video Blackjack) "the best card game, from blackjack to bridge, made for any TV-game system". It also favorably reviewed Dodge-It ("simple but great"), Robot War ("Berzerk without guns"), and Whizball ("thoroughly original ... hockey with guns"), but concluded that only those interested in nostalgia, video game collecting, or card games would purchase the Channel F in 1983.[12]

Technical specifications[edit]

PCB Scan of the Grandstand Video Entertainment Computer (UK Channel F II variant).

Original Channel F technical specifications:

  • CPU microprocessor: Fairchild F8 (8-bit) operating at 1.79 MHz (PAL gen. 1: 2.00 MHz, PAL gen.2: 1.77 MHz)
  • RAM: 64 bytes, 2 kB framebuffer VRAM (128×64×2 bits)[13]
  • Resolution: 128 × 64 pixels, approximately 102 × 58 pixels visible depending on TV
  • Colors: 8 colors (either black/white or four color max. per line)
  • Audio: 120 Hz, 500 Hz and 1 kHz beeps (can be modulated to produce different tones)
  • Input: two custom game controllers, hardwired to the console (original release) or removable (Channel F System II)
  • Output: RF modulated composite video signal, cord hardwired to console

The Channel F System II[edit]

The Channel F System II
Channel F system II promotional poster

Some time in 1979, Zircon International bought the rights to the Channel F and released the re-designed console as the Channel F System II to compete with the Atari's VCS. This re-designed System II was completed by Nick Talesfore at Fairchild. He was the same industrial designer who designed the original game console. Only six new games were released after the debut of the second system before its death, several of which were developed at Fairchild before they sold it off.

The major changes were in design, with the controllers removable from the base unit instead of being wired directly into it, the storage compartment was moved to the rear of the unit, and the sound was now mixed into the TV signal so the unit no longer needed a speaker. This version also featured a simpler and more modern-looking case design. However, by this time the market was in the midst of the first video game crash, and Fairchild eventually threw in the towel and left the market. A number of licensed versions were released in Europe, including the Luxor Video Entertainment System in Scandinavia (Sweden), Adman Grandstand in the UK, and the Saba Videoplay, Nordmende Teleplay and ITT Tele-Match Processor, from Germany and also Dumont Videoplay and Barco Challenger from the Barco/Dumont company in Italy and Belgium.

Homebrew[edit]

Like many other discontinued consoles, the Channel F lives on through homebrew. For example, a 2009 version of Pac-Man was developed and distributed for the Channel F.[14]

See also[edit]

  • TV POWWW (interactive TV game show that used Channel F)

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Gareth R. Jones; Charles W.L. Hill (2007). Strategic management: an integrated approach (7th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. p. C-123. ISBN 0-618-73166-0. Retrieved 25 February 2012. "By this point, second-place Fairchild sold around 250,000 units of its system." 
  2. ^ "Fairchild Channel F Patent, FCC Approval, & Launch Brochure". 
  3. ^ http://classicdev.org/images/thumb/3/31/FVE100_schematic_sheet_1of3.gif/1280px-FVE100_schematic_sheet_1of3.gif
  4. ^ http://classicdev.org/images/thumb/5/55/FVE100_schematic_sheet_2of3.png/1280px-FVE100_schematic_sheet_2of3.png
  5. ^ "Old-Computers.com". Retrieved 10 December 2010. 
  6. ^ Vinciguerra, Robert. "Fairchild Channel F Video Entertainment System: The first modern game console". The Rev. Rob Times. Retrieved 6 January 2014. 
  7. ^ http://fndcollectables.com/CHANNEL_F_INFO/U_S_/Adds___Offers/LETTERS/x82fr1f.jpg
  8. ^ Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4. 
  9. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.605
  10. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.20.
  11. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.603 and p.23.
  12. ^ Dionne, Roger (1983-03). "Channel F: The System Nobody Knows". Video Games. pp. 73–75. Retrieved 26 May 2014. 
  13. ^ http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=oK3D4i5ldKgC&pg=PA65
  14. ^ http://www.consolecity.com/games/action-game_info/game_id-29406.html

External links[edit]