Home games consoles initially contained just one game, or variations of that one game, eg. Pong.
Then in 1974 a company called Alpex Computer Corporation developed and patented a technology that enabled the storage and play of games on ROM chips, which were contained
within cartridges. The first games console to make use of this technology was the Channel F.
It is sometimes argued that the Magnavox Odyssey was the first cartridge based games system, and to some extext this may be true, but it was not the first to use ROM chips, as it's carts did not contain ROMS, but merely circuit boards that reconfigured the program that was hardwired into the console. This worked rather like changing dip switches on other games consoles.
Produced by Fairchild Semiconductor (Faichild Camera and Instrument), one of the companies involved in the development of the transistor, and designed by Jerry Lawson, the Channel F was originally known as the Video Entertainment System (VES) and went on sale in 1976 for $169.95.
The name was changed, upon the release of the Atari VCS, as it was felt that the names were too similar, and would cause confusion.
Atari were in the middle of developing the VCS 2600 when the Channel F was released to market, and upon seeing it, Atari knew they had to up their game
and get the VCS on sale in a hurry, before the market was flooded with similar style games systems. This is exactly what had happened with the previous generation of Pong type games
consoles, and Atari were now hurting because of it.
Hurting to the point that they could no longer afford to finance the continuing development of the VCS, and so to ensure that the system was eventually released, and to assure Atari's future, Nolan Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communication.
The gamble paid off, and when it was finally released in 1977, the Atari VCS had both superior graphics and sound to Fairchild's Channel F system, making it very much the system to own.
Fairchild responded with a redesign, and came up with the Channel F Series II. This featured a simpler and more modern looking case, did away with the plastic opening lid, moved the (now unpluggable) controllers to the back, and swapped internal sound for sound from the TV.
These changes were largely cosmetic though, and completely failed to address the matter of the Atari's superior capabilities. Coupled with the fact that
the Channel F Series II was coming to market in the middle of the first video games crash... things did not look good for the system.
Fairchild Semiconductor was a struggling company, resorting to niche markets, having lost its hold on mainstream markets, when in 1979 it was bought out by
an oil field services company called Schlumberger Limited. Schlumberger had no interest in the video games business, and promptly put the Channel F up for sale.
The Channel F was sold to a digital watch maker called Zircon International (Zircon Corporation?), who released the System II, and licensed it to various companies around the world.
One of those companies was Adman Grandstand, in the UK, (a company widely known for their licensed and rebranded gaming hardware), who released the system as the Adman Grandstand Video Entertainment Computer, which you can see in the photo above.
The Channel F was the first console to use programmable ROM cartridges, which should not be confused with the game cards used by the Magnavox Odyssey, which contained no program code, but merely reconfigured analogue circuits contained within the console.
The Channel F was the first use of the Fairchild F8 CPU, a very complex CPU for its day, which was actually consisted of 2 chips working together as one CPU. This was done simply because Fairchild could not obtain individual
chips with enough pin connectors to comply with the CPU architecture. The F8 runs at 1.79Mhz, or 2 MHz on PAL systems.
Though it only had 64bytes of RAM to play with, the Channel F, with it's F8 CPU, was the first home console to feature rudimentary AI in its games, whereby the player could
play a game against the computer. Until this time, all games had been player vs player.
The F8 could only produce sprites of one colour from a total of 8 colours at a resolution of 128 x 64, with only 102 x 58 pixels visible.
The controllers on the Channel F are very unusual and quite unlike anything that had been seen at the time, or indeed, since.
They comprised of a basic handle, with the "stick" placed at the top of the handle. To call it a "stick" gives the wrong impression though... it is more or a triangular knob on a stem, which can
be angled like a traditional joystick for 8 way directional control, but can also be turned, like a paddle controller.
If that wasn't weird enough, there is no fire button... as firing is achieved by pressing the whole "stick" itself, in towards the handle. It can also be pulled.
So, you have up, down, left, right, diagonals, rotate left/right, and fire push/pull... all from a controller that can be used with one hand.
In all, 26 game cartridges were produced for the Channel F, between 1976 and 1981.
21 were published by Fairchild, with the remainder being released during Zircon.s ownership, though some of these may have been developed by Fairchild before they sold the system.
Integrated with console: Hockey, Tennis
Videocart-1: Tic Tac Toe, Shooting Gallery, Doodle, Quadradoodle
Videocart-2: Desert Fox, Shooting Gallery
Videocart-3: Video Blackjack
Videocart-5: Space War
Videocart-6: Math Quiz (Addition & Subtraction)
Videocart-7: Math Quiz (Multiplication & Division)
Videocart-8: Mind Reader, Nim (also referred to as Magic Numbers)
Videocart-9: Drag Strip
Videocart-10: Maze, Cat and Mouse
Videocart-11: Backgammon, Acey-Duecy
Videocart-13: Torpedo Alley, Robot War]
Videocart-14: Sonar Search
Videocart-15: Memory Match
Videocart-17: Pinball Challenge
Videocart-20: Video Whizball
Videocart-22: Slot Machine
Videocart-23: Galactic Space Wars
Videocart-25: Casino Royale
Videocart-26: Alien Invasion