The Odyssey was the first ever home video games console. Ralph Baer
had worked for over two years at New Hampshire-based Sanders Associates on
a prototype system known as the Brown Box, assumingly because it was
encased in wood, which would connect to a TV screen and play 12 games.
Sanders Associates had not shown an interest in Baer's idea and so he set
off looking for a company willing to produce and market it. A
company called Magnavox willingly invited Baer to come to
their head office and demonstrate his prototype. The demonstration
went well and it was decided that Magnavox, who sold TVs, would sign an
agreement with Sanders Associates and acquire all the rights to the Brown
The Brown Box, which amazingly was an analog system running on transistors, resistors and capacitors, underwent a great number of refinements and changes before its release in 1972. It was decided that the system would remain black and white and that plastic overlays, placed in front of the TV screen, would be used to achieve colors and simulate different games. Games would be played by inserting game cards into the console as opposed to switching between them, which provided a potential for expanding the system's library of games.
On release, the Odyssey was unquestionably the talk of the town. However, It's high price of $100 and confusing advertising campaign, which made people think that they needed a Magnavox TV to be able to use the Odyssey, hurt sales badly. Additionally, units were only sold in "Magnavox Stores". Nevertheless, Magnavox managed to sell close to 100,000 units in their first year. A rifle was also released for it retailing at $25.
Magnavox eventually decided to file a lawsuit against Nolan Bushnell, President of Atari, on the grounds that "Pong" was actually based on Odyssey's own "Ping-Pong" game. What made this accusation stronger was the fact that Bushnell had attended one of Magnavox's game demo's -The Magnavox Profit Caravan- and actually played the game in question. The court ruled that Bushnell had to pay royalties to Magnavox on all sales of Pong machines. The case was settled for $700,000.
In 1978, the Odyssey2 was released to stand up to the Atari 2600. One of its most visible features was the addition of a 48-key keyboard to aid in playing educational games. Its internal parts were completely revamped with an 8-bit 8048 Intel CPU at the heart of it all. It was released in Europe by parent company Philips under the name Videopac G7000. Even though it could not beat the 2600 overall, it was successful and managed to sell over 1 million units in North America alone*. The Odyssey2 retailed for $200.
I've not been able to find any technical specs for the Odyssey.
Technical Specs for the Odyssey 2:
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