When it comes to video games, you may think back to your youth, running to the arcade and popping nickels and quarters into machines to play hour after hour. If you think hard enough, you can even remember being able to bring that excitement to your home.
What may surprise you, is that the home game console actually predates the arcades. This article will cover the history of video game consoles from inception to present day. Read on to learn about box consoles and handheld consoles as well as the very first game console.
What Is A Game Console?
By basic definition, a video game console is a device used to project a video game to a screen and allow player manipulation of the game through direct access of the box. The screen can be a television or monitor, in the case of a box console, or an LCD screen attached to the unit, such as you’ll find with handheld consoles.
The idea behind a game console is to have the ability to play arcade style games at home, or on the go. Without the need to feed money into the slot of player credits, consoles quickly became a staple in most homes across the world.
Japan, China and the United States lead the way in console purchases, use and development. With companies like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo behind some of the largest, most successful selling consoles of all time, the future looks bright and exciting for gamers.
Types Of Consoles
Since the late 1950s, computer programmers have worked on bringing games to your home. Today there are two major categories of consoles:
- Box consoles
- Handheld consoles
The innovation of home gaming began with box consoles. A box console by definition is a system that connects to your television or a monitor via cables that allows you to view, hear and play video games with a handheld controller, either with a wire or wireless receiver.
One of the most famous box consoles is the Atari 2600. This is followed shortly by the Nintendo Entertainment System. Today, there are dozens of consoles to choose from, with new models and versions being released almost annually.
With a box console, you will have games either in cartridge or compact disc form which you place inside the console where the game information is read and sent to the monitor.
Hand Held Consoles
Portable gaming became popular in the early 1990s with the release of the Nintendo Gameboy. Sony soon got in the game with the PlayStation Portable. A handheld console is an all-inclusive unit with no wires or cords needed.
With a handheld console the monitor screen, button controls and game cartridge input in a single unit. The all in one units mainly used cartridge style games but have also expanded to use mini discs and even downloaded games that require no cartridge or disc.
Brief Console History
1972 saw the release of the very first game console. Made by Magnavox, the Odyssey was the very first home video game console followed shortly by the Italian made Ping-o-Tronic. By 1977 Nintendo of Japan released the Color TV-Game which rounded out the first generation of home console gaming system.
The start of gaming evolution began. The second generation saw such consoles as the Fairchild Channel F and Bandai Super Vision 8000. Most companies wanted to get in on the market. As gaming grew in popularity, the ability to play at home made the consoles highly popular.
The second generation saw over 19 different home consoles released to the public. Over the years varied success and failures caused manufacturers to flounder. A lot of them, like Bandai, ditched the console market and focused on making games for other systems.
The third generation began in 1983 with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). By the 1980’s, home gaming was more popular than ever, but only a few manufacturers could meet the needs of the gamers. Names like Nintendo, Sega, Atari and Commodore, broke out above the rest.
In 1987 new systems began to crop up to try and steal the market. Consoles made by companies such as Hudson Soft, Motorola (Neo-Geo) and Phillips took a bite of the gaming apple. Some did better than others, but by the end of the generation, there were few left with the stamina and popularity to compete in the field.
The fifth generation saw the introduction of the Sony PlayStation and few others could maintain. While the generation consoles grew in manufacture, some didn’t even last a full year on the market. With Nintendo releasing a new console, Sony making a name with the PlayStation and Atari still having a stranglehold on the market, there was little room left for other startups.
By the time the sixth generation started in 1998 home gaming was more popular than ever. Sega, Nintendo and Sony took a stronger hold while the Atari started to slip. Sega and Atari further slid down the popularity chart with the introduction of the Xbox console by Microsoft.
The seventh generation saw the big three take the market completely over. Sony, Nintendo and Microsoft placed the bar so high few other companies could compete at all. Matell and Zapit tried but were quickly lost. With the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii hitting the field, dominance was established.
Now in the eighth generation, the big three re-released their popular consoles trying to vie for the top spot. The PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Wii U were the only consoles left. Sales in the tens of millions, no other console company could compare, compete or keep up with them.
Tomorrow may see a new console take over the market, but battling the huge companies will not be an easy task. Microsoft’s Xbox and Sony’s PlayStation are the go-to consoles for our generation and they don’t look to be going anywhere anytime soon.
What Started It All
The Magnavox Odyssey was the very first game console ever manufactured, beating the Ping-o-Tronic to market by just over a year. While consoles had been planned and tested since the late 1950s, technology and demand weren’t available to create an affordable home console system until the early 1970s.
What started almost 50 years ago has grown into a multi-billion-dollar industry with no signs of slowing down.
Best Game Consoles
The battle will always rage on over which is the best game console. There are so many factors to consider when describing the best. Is it price? Popularity? Game library? Performance and graphics abilities?
Everyone has a favorite system and there have been years’ worth of console wars being hashed out in forums and discussion boards the Internet-wide. For our purposes, we will look at three factors: sales, game library and performance.
Best Console: Sales
By far, the largest factor to determine the best console is popularity. How many consoles sold overall. Microsoft stopped releasing sales numbers in 2014, so only speculation for the Xbox One can be had. We do know it is over 10 million and sales reports from vendors push that number to near 55 million. Still not in the top five.
The fifth most popular console, with 62 million units sold is the original NES. Fourth on the list with 80 million units sold is the PlayStation 3, released in 2006. Selling an amazing 101 million units in third place: Nintendo Wii.
Second place doesn’t sell any units now and may end up becoming third place if Wii sales continue. However, until then the PlayStation (PS1) has sold 102.5 million units. Leaving the top-selling console of all time (so far) with an unparalleled 155 million units sold: Sony’s PlayStation 2 (PS2).
Best Console: Game Library
Having games to play is very important. Having a large library to choose from is even more important. Preventing boredom, the top three consoles in terms of gaming library are:
- Xbox 360: 1741 games.
- PlayStation (PS1): 2355 games.
- PlayStation 2 (PS2): 3874 games!
Best Console: Performance
This category will basically remove any competition prior to generation 7. Consoles have evolved so much in terms of power, processing and graphics. Utilizing the latest in technology and components, game consoles today can’t even be compared to those of even ten years ago.
In third place with a 3.2gigahertz power processor, 45 frames per second and producing the best graphics available at 1080p full HD at the time of release: Microsoft Xbox 360.
Second place goes to Sony. With a console boasting a semi-custom 8-core AMD x86-64 Jaguar 1.6 GHz CPU, this beast produces infinite color schemes, 58 Frames per second without a refresh and smooth interlaced graphics almost impossible to duplicate. The PlayStation 4 is a tough console to top.
However, the top spot doesn’t go to Sony. With 8 gigabytes of integrated ram, a separate CPU ram processor with singular flash memory, overclocked fully custom 8-core Jaguar processors (2 of them) and integration of DirectX 11.3 for full individual pixel shading, 60 full FPS without a refresh and speeds that prevent lag, loads and screen jumps better than any other console is the Xbox One X (Project Scorpio).
With a current two out the three top spots, though, the overall number one console is still the Sony PlayStation 2 (PS2). Only time will tell if another console will ever out-sell this highly popular console.