Magnavox Odyssey

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Magnavox Odyssey
Magnavox Odyssey Logo.svg
Manufacturer Magnavox
Type Dedicated console
Generation First generation
Retail availability
Introductory price $99 USD
Discontinued 1975[1]
Units sold 330,000[1]
CPU None
Controller input Two paddles
Successor Magnavox Odyssey²

The Magnavox Odyssey is the first commercial home video game console. It was first demonstrated in April 1972[1] and released in August of that year, predating the Atari Pong home consoles by three years. It is a digital video game console, though is often mistakenly believed to be analog, due to misunderstanding of its hardware design.

The Odyssey was designed by Ralph H. Baer, assisted by engineers William Harrison and William Rusch.[2] They began around 1966 and had a working prototype finished by 1968.[3] This prototype, known as the Brown Box,[3] is now at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.[4][5]


Like all other video game consoles, the Magnavox Odyssey is a digital console. However, many collectors mistakenly considered the Odyssey to be an analog console, which led Baer to clarify that the console is in fact digital. The electronic signals exchanged between the various parts (ball and players generators, sync generators, diode matrix, etc.) are binary.[6] The games and logic itself are implemented in DTL, a common pre-TTL digital design component using discrete transistors and diodes.

The system can be powered by six C batteries, which were included. An optional A/C power supply was sold separately. The Odyssey lacks sound capability,[7] something that was added with the "Pong systems" of several years later, including Magnavox's own Odyssey-labeled Pong consoles. Ralph Baer proposed a sound extension to Magnavox in 1973, but the idea was rejected.

The Odyssey uses a type of removable printed circuit board,[7] called a game card, that inserts into a slot similar to a ROM cartridge slot. The game cards do not contain any components, but have a series of "jumpers" — simple electrical connections — between pins of the card connector. These jumpers interconnect different logic and signal generators in the Odyssey to produce the desired game logic and screen output.

The Odyssey was packaged with board game accessories, like dice, play money and game cards.
Television overlays were packaged with the system to enhance games.

The system was sold with translucent plastic overlays that players could put on their television screen[8] to simulate color graphics,[7] though only two TV sizes were supported. Some of these overlays could even be used with the same cartridges, though with different rules for playing.

Odyssey came packed with dice,[8] poker chips, and score sheets to help keep score, play money, and game boards much like a traditional board game.

Ralph Baer is also believed to have proposed the concept of "active cartridges" containing additional electronic components, allowing adding more game features, such as sound effects, variable net position, and variable ball speed, though the idea apparently did not catch any interest.


The Odyssey was also designed to support an add-on peripheral, the first-ever commercial video "light gun" called the Shooting Gallery. This detected light from the television screen, though pointing the gun at a nearby light bulb also registered as a "hit". Only 20,000 sales were made and the peripheral could only be used with 4 compatible games.[7]

Baer also designed a putting game, which used a golf ball fixed to the top of a joystick which the player would hit using a putter. This idea interested Magnavox, which took the prototype for testing, and was initially planned to be released as an add-on like the electronic rifle, but ultimately was never released.

Baer replicated his active cards and putting game. They can be seen in the Museum of the Moving Image in New York.[9]


The Odyssey was released in August 1972. Close to 100,000 Odyssey consoles were sold in 1972. By the time newer models made their appearance in 1974, Odyssey had racked up total sales of about 350,000 units.[10]

Magnavox settled a court case against Atari, Inc. for patent infringement in Atari's design of Pong, as it resembled the tennis game for the Odyssey. Over the next decade, Magnavox sued other big companies such as Coleco, Mattel, Seeburg, Activision and either won or settled every suit.[11][12] In 1985, Nintendo sued Magnavox and tried to invalidate Baer's patents by saying that the first video game was William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two game built in 1958. The court ruled that this game did not use video signals and could not qualify as a video game. As a result, Nintendo lost the suit and continued paying royalties to Sanders Associates. Over 20 years, Magnavox won more than $100 million in the various patent lawsuits and settlements involving the Odyssey related patents.[13]

Baer went on to invent the classic electronic game Simon for Milton Bradley in 1978. Magnavox later released several other scaled down Pong-like consoles based under the Odyssey name (which did not use cartridges or game cards), and at one point a truly programmable, cartridge based console, the Odyssey², in 1978.


In June 2013, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) added the Magnavox Odyssey to its permanent collection of video games. MoMA's Paul Galloway described the console as "a masterpiece of engineering and industrial design" and stated that it was "hard to overstate the importance of [Ralph Baer's] place in the birth of the industry."[14]

List of games[edit]

A total of 27 games distributed and 12 different game cards were released for the Magnavox Odyssey. All of them were developed by Magnavox in 1972, except for Interplanetary Voyage, which was developed in 1973.

Title Game Card Genre Region
Analogic 3 Miscellaneous United States European Union
Baseball 3 Sports United States
Basketball 8 Sports United States
Brain Wave 3 Miscellaneous United States
Cat and Mouse 4 Miscellaneous United States European Union
Dogfight 9 Light Gun United States European Union
Football 3, 4 Sports United States
Fun Zoo 2 Miscellaneous United States
Handball 8 Sports United States
Haunted House 4 Horror United States European Union
Hockey 3 Sports United States European Union
Interplanetary Voyage 12 Action United States
Invasion 4, 5, 6 Miscellaneous United States
Percepts 2 Miscellaneous United States
Prehistoric Safari 9 Light Gun United States European Union
Roulette 6 Casino United States European Union
Shooting Gallery 10 Light Gun United States European Union
Shootout 9 Light Gun United States European Union
Simon Says 2 Miscellaneous United States European Union
Ski 2 Sports United States European Union
Soccer 3, 5 Sports European Union
States 6 Educational United States
Submarine 5 Shooter United States European Union
Table Tennis 1 Sports United States European Union
Tennis 3 Sports United States European Union
Volleyball 7 Sports United States
Win 4 Miscellaneous United States
Wipeout 5 Miscellaneous United States
  • Game Card 11 was originally planned for use with Basketball but was later canceled. Basketball works instead with Game Card 8.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c David Winter. "Pong Story: Magnavox Odyssey". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  2. ^ The Independent
  3. ^ a b Benj Edwards (2007-05-15). "Video Games Turn 40". Retrieved 2012-04-27. 
  4. ^ "Article: Ralph Baer: Recovering the History of the Video Game :: Smithsonian Lemelson Center". 1966-09-01. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  5. ^ "Stories From the Vaults: Pong". Smithsonian Channel. Retrieved 2012-02-20. 
  6. ^ Bub, Andrew (2005-06-07). "The Original GamerDad: Ralph Baer". Archived from the original on 2006-02-13. Retrieved 2006-11-10. 
  7. ^ a b c d Digital Spy
  8. ^ a b GQ
  9. ^ Jackson, Bebito. "The "Odyssey" of Ralph Baer: Interview w/ the Father of Videogames". Retrieved 2010-05-14. 
  10. ^ Baer, Ralph. "How Video Games Invaded The Home TV Set". Ralph H. Baer Consultants. Retrieved 26 January 2014. 
  11. ^ Associated Press (1982-10-08). "Magnavox Patent". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  12. ^ Reuters (1983-02-16). "Magnavox Settles Its Mattel Suit". New York Times. Retrieved 2007-02-25. 
  13. ^ Inventor Ralph Baer, The 'Father Of Video Games,' Dies At 92. Retrieved 8 December 2014.
  14. ^ Campbell, Colin (2013-06-28). "MoMA adds Magnavox Odyssey and six classics to game design exhibit". Polygon. 
  15. ^ David Winter. "The extra games of the Odyssey". Retrieved 2013-05-20. 

External links[edit]