Fairchild Channel F

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Fairchild Channel F
Channel F Logo.svg
Channel F and its two controllers
Also known asFairchild Video Entertainment System
ManufacturerFairchild Camera and Instrument
TypeHome video game console
GenerationSecond generation
Release date
Introductory priceUS$169.95 (equivalent to $810 in 2021)
Units soldc.  350,000 (as of 1979)[1]
MediaROM cartridge
CPUFairchild F8
Memory64 bytes RAM
2 KB video buffer
Controller inputJoystick/digital paddle, JetStik (has added fire button)
SuccessorChannel F System II

The Fairchild Channel F, short for "Channel Fun",[1] was the first video game console based on a microprocessor, and to use ROM cartridges instead of having games built-in. It was released by Fairchild Camera and Instrument in November 1976 across North America[2] at a retail price of US$169.95 (equivalent to $810 in 2021). It was launched as the "Video Entertainment System", but when Atari, Inc. released its Video Computer System the next year, Fairchild rebranded their machine as "Channel F" while keeping the Video Entertainment System descriptor.

The Fairchild Channel F achieved only about 350,000 units before Fairchild sold the technology to Zircon International in 1979, trailing well behind the VCS.[1] The system was discontinued in 1983.[3]


In 1974, Alpex Computer Corporation employees Wallace Kirschner and Lawrence Haskel developed a home video game prototype consisting of a base unit centered on an Intel 8080 microprocessor and interchangeable circuit boards containing ROM chips that could be plugged into the base unit. The duo attempted to interest several television manufacturers in the system, but were unsuccessful. Next, they contacted a buyer at Fairchild, which sent engineer Jerry Lawson to evaluate the system. Lawson was impressed by the system and suggested Fairchild license the technology, which the company did in January 1976.[1][4]

Lawson worked with industrial designer Nick Talesfore and mechanical engineer Ron Smith to turn the prototype into a viable project. Jerry Lawson replaced the 8080 with Fairchild's own F8 CPU; while Nick Talesfore and Ron Smith were responsible for adapting the prototype's complex keyboard controls into a single control stick, and encasing the ROM circuit boards into plastic cartridges reminiscent of 8-track tapes.[4][5] Talesfore, providing Industrial Design (ID), and Ron Smith, providing Mechanical Engineering (ME), collaborated on the styling and function of the 8 degrees of freedom hand controller. They were responsible for the design of the hand controllers, console, and video game cartridges. In addition to providing the ID for this system, Talesfore also art directed Tom Kamafugi, the graphic designer who did the original graphic design for the early video cartridges cartons.

The system was also released in Japan (チャンネル F[6]) in October 1977.[citation needed]

Channel F System II[edit]

Channel F System II

Lawson moved on to form his own company, Video Soft. Talesfore continued working on the system at Fairchild, and eventually a number of these improvements resulted in the improved System II. The major changes were that the controllers were now removable, using the Atari joystick port, and their storage was moved to the back of the machine. The sound was now mixed into the RF modulator, coming out through the television and removing the need for the internal speaker. The internal electronics were also simplified, with custom logic chips instead of standard logic, resulting in a much smaller circuit board. This version also featured a simpler and more modern-looking case design.

Sometime 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 Atari's VCS. Channel F II struggled, managing to only release six new games after the debut before its demise; several of these were developed at Fairchild before they sold the rights.

Licensed variants[edit]

A number of licensed versions were released in Europe, including the Luxor Video Entertainment System in Sweden, Adman Grandstand Video Entertainment Computer in the UK, the SABA Videoplay, ITT Telematch Processor and Nordmende Color TelePlay µP from Germany, and the Dumont Videoplay and Barco Challenger from the Barco/Dumont company in Italy and Belgium.

Nordmende Color TelePlay µP
Adman Grandstand Video Entertainment Computer
Luxor Video Entertainment Computer
SABA Videoplay


The palette of the Channel F

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 initially available with enough pins, the F8 used in the original form of the VES/Channel F (replaced by System II) was instead fabricated as a pair of chips that had to be used together to form a complete CPU. However, due to the F8's design, there was a considerable savings in terms of pins that enabled the inclusion of 64 bytes of internal scratchpad RAM. A single-chip variant of the F8 was used by both the System II and the VideoBrain computer system.

The Channel F is able to use one plane of graphics and one of four background colors per line, with three plot colors to choose from (red, green, and blue) that turned into white if the background is set to black, at a resolution of 128 × 64, with approximately 102 × 58 pixels visible and help from 64 bytes of system RAM, half the amount of the later Atari 2600.[7][8] The Maze game (cartridge 10) required 1K of on-cartridge static RAM, adding to the cost to manufacture it. The Chess game contained considerably more on-cartridge RAM than that. 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. Tic-Tac-Toe on Videocart-1 had this feature, it was only for one player against the machine. The same is true for the chess game, which would have very long turn times for the computer as the game progressed.[citation needed]

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.

The Channel F is also the first video game console to feature a pause function; There is a 'Hold' button on the main unit of the console which allows players to freeze the game and change several game settings in the meantime.[9]


The controllers are a joystick without a base; the main body is a large handgrip 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 could it be pushed down to operate as a fire button, it could be pulled up as well.[10] 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 that 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.[11]

The functions printed on the console is how they work in the built-in games and also some of the original games: all buttons (except reset) are controlled by the programming and can be used for anything the programmer decides.

One feature unique of the console is the 'hold' button, which allows the player to freeze the game, change the time or change the speed of the game.[12] The hold function is not universal (like the hardwired reset).

Despite the failure of the Channel F, the joystick's design was so popular—Creative Computing called it "outstanding"— that Zircon also released an Atari joystick port-compatible version, the Video Command Joystick,[13] 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 were not connected to anything.[citation needed]

Technical specifications[edit]

PCB Scan of the Grandstand Video Entertainment Computer (UK Channel F II variant)
  • CPU microprocessor: Fairchild F8 (8-bit)[14] operating at 1.7897725 MHz (NTSC) (PAL gen. 1: 2.0000 MHz, PAL gen. 2: 1.7734475 MHz)
  • RAM: 2 KB (128 × 64 × 2 bits)[15] for the framebuffer plus the 64 bytes of scratchpad memory.[16]
  • Additional SRAM supported via add-in cartridges. Maze and Chess contain static RAM (SRAM), with the latter containing significantly more than the 1 KB for Maze.
  • Resolution: 128 × 64 pixels,[14] approximately 102×58 pixels visible depending on TV. Columns 125 and 126 controls palette (per row). i. e. 125 × 64 pixels for drawing the screen.
  • Refresh rate: 60 Hz[17]
  • Colors: 8 colors[14] (either black/white lines or one of three background colors per line combined with red, green or blue pixels)
  • Audio: 120 Hz, 500 Hz and 1 kHz beeps (can be modulated to produce different tones). Quality is quite superior on the System II, versus the original model.
  • 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 in gen. 1, detachable in gen. 2


Twenty-seven cartridges, termed "Videocarts", were officially released to consumers in the United States 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 (equivalent to $91 in 2020).[18][19] The Videocarts were yellow and approximately the size and overall texture of an 8 track cartridge.[20] 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 in the winter of 1979.

List of Videocarts
Title Release date Genre
Hockey (integrated) 1976 Sports
Tennis (integrated) 1976 Sports
Videocart-1: Tic-Tac-Toe, Shooting Gallery, Doodle, Quadra-Doodle 1976 Trivia, shooter
Videocart-2: Desert Fox, Shooting Gallery 1976 Action, shooter
Videocart-3: Video Blackjack 1976 Gambling
Videocart-4: Spitfire 1977 Action, shooter
Videocart-5: Space War 1977 Action, shooter
Videocart-6: Math Quiz I (Addition & Subtraction) 1977 Educational
Videocart-7: Math Quiz II (Multiplication & Division) 1977 Educational
Videocart-8: Magic Numbers (Mind Reader & Nim) 1977 Trivia
Videocart-9: Drag Race 1977 Racing
Videocart-10: Maze, Jailbreak, Blind-Man's-Bluff, Trailblazer 1977 Maze
Videocart-11: Backgammon, Acey-Deucey 1977 Trivia
Videocart-12: Baseball 1977 Sports
Videocart-13: Robot War, Torpedo Alley 1977 Platform, action
Videocart-14: Sonar Search 1977 Strategy
Videocart-15: Memory Match 1, Memory Match 2 1978 Puzzle
Videocart-16: Dodge' It 1978 Platform, action
Videocart-17: Pinball Challenge 1978 Pinball
Videocart-18: Hangman 1978 Puzzle
Videocart-19: Checkers 1978 Trivia
Videocart-20: Video Whizball 1978[21] Miscellaneous
Videocart-21: Bowling 1978 Sports
Chess (Schach) 1979 (SABA Videoplay, German-exclusive) Board
Videocart-22: Slot Machine 1980 Gambling
Videocart-23: Galactic Space Wars 1980 Action, shooter
Videocart-24: Pro Football 1981 Sports
Videocart-25: Casino Poker 1981 Gambling
Videocart-26: Alien Invasion 1981[21] Action, shooter
Videocart-27: Pac-Man 2004[21] Maze, Homebrew

Unreleased carts:

  • Democart
  • Democart 2
  • Keyboard Videocart-1: Casino Poker
  • Keyboard Videocart-2: Space Odyssey
  • Keyboard Videocart-3: Pro-Football

German electronics manufacturer 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), and Videocart-18 changed graphics and German word list.

A clone of Pac-Man for the Channel F was released in 2009.[22]

In 2021, a number of new 'Homebrew' games were released on itch.io by retro developer Arlasoft. These included ports of mobile puzzle games Tents & Trees, 2048 and Threes, as well as a port of the classic arcade shooter Centipede. [23]


Gamers playing on a Fairchild Channel F.

The Channel F had beaten the Atari VCS to the market, but once the VCS was released, sales of the Channel F fell, attributed to the types of games that were offered. Most of the Channel F titles were slow-paced educational and intellectual games, compared to the action-driven games that launched with the VCS. Even with the redesigned Channel F II in 1978, Fairchild was unable to meet the sales that the VCS and its games were generating. By the time Fairchild sold the technology to Zircon in 1979, around 350,000 total units were sold.[1]

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".[24] The games on a 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".[25] 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".[26]

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.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Edwards, Benj (January 22, 2015). "The Untold Story Of The Invention Of The Game Cartridge". Fast Company. Retrieved July 29, 2020.
  2. ^ "Fairchild Channel F Patent, FCC Approval, & Launch Brochure". Fndcollectables.com.
  3. ^ Wolf, Mark J. P. (2018-11-21). The Routledge Companion to Media Technology and Obsolescence. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-315-44266-2.
  4. ^ a b Zell-Breier, Sam (June 11, 2021). "The Untold Truth Of Jerry Lawson, The Father Of The Video Game Cartridge". Looper. Retrieved June 17, 2021.
  5. ^ Smith, Alexander (2019). They Create Worlds: The Story of the People and Companies That Shaped the Video Game Industry, Volume I. CRC Press. pp. 318–320. ISBN 9781138389908.
  6. ^ Meaning: "Channel F"
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved February 5, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved February 5, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  9. ^ Hanson, Christopher (2018). Game Time: Understanding Temporality in Video Games. Indiana University Press. p. 61.
  10. ^ Vinciguerra, Robert. "Fairchild Channel F Video Entertainment System: The first modern game console". The Rev. Rob Times. Retrieved January 6, 2014.
  11. ^ "Channel F Jet-Stick Advert" (JPG). Fndcollectables.com. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  12. ^ "OLD-COMPUTERS.COM : The Museum". Old-computers.com. Archived from the original on June 30, 2018. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  13. ^ Ahl, David H.; Rost, Randi J. (1983), "Blisters And Frustration: Joysticks, Paddles, Buttons and Game Port Extenders for Apple, Atari and VIC", Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games, 1 (1): 106ff
  14. ^ a b c "Home Page". Video Game Console Library. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  15. ^ Wolf, Mark J. P. (June 15, 2012). "Before the Crash: Early Video Game History". Wayne State University Press. Retrieved January 7, 2019 – via Google Books.
  16. ^ "Fairchild Channel F". www.oldcomputers.it. Retrieved 2020-02-29.
  17. ^ As emulated by MAME; see source code at "MAME". GitHub. Archived from the original on July 7, 2019. Retrieved July 7, 2019.
  18. ^ "1976 commercial trailer".
  19. ^ 1634–1699: McCusker, J. J. (1997). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States: Addenda et Corrigenda (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1700–1799: McCusker, J. J. (1992). How Much Is That in Real Money? A Historical Price Index for Use as a Deflator of Money Values in the Economy of the United States (PDF). American Antiquarian Society. 1800–present: Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Consumer Price Index (estimate) 1800–". Retrieved April 16, 2022.
  20. ^ Kent, Steven L. (2001). The Ultimate History of Video Games. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-7615-3643-4.
  21. ^ a b c Wolf, Mark J. P. (2012). Before the Crash: Early Video Game History. Wayne State University Press. p. 70.
  22. ^ "Channel F – Videocart 27: Pac-Man (USC)". ConsoleCity. Retrieved January 7, 2019.
  23. ^ "Fairchild Channel F - Collection by Arlasoft". itch.io. Retrieved 2021-06-04.
  24. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.605
  25. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.20.
  26. ^ Uston, Ken. Ken Uston's Guide to Buying and Beating the Home Video Games (Signet, 1982) p.603 and p.23.
  27. ^ Dionne, Roger (March 1983). "Channel F: The System Nobody Knows". Video Games. pp. 73–75. Retrieved May 26, 2014.

External links[edit]