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A video game console is an interactive entertainment computer or modified computer system that produces a video display signal which can be used with a display device (a television, monitor, etc.) to display a video game. The term "video game console" is used to distinguish a machine designed for consumers to buy and use solely for playing video games from a personal computer, which has many other functions, or arcade machines, which are designed for businesses that buy them and then charge others to play.
Use of the term
The "video" in "video game console is a thing that can play games" traditionally refers to a raster display device. However, with the popular use of the term "video game" the term now implies all display types and formats. The term "console" is used in the user manuals of several early video game systems. Its use, however, is not synonymous with "video game system" or the same as its modern usage. It refers to a specific part of the video game system. The Atari 2600, NES, and other consoles from those decades were called "video game systems" at the time.
The first company to use the term "console" to officially refer to its video game system was Fairchild with the Video Entertainment System (VES) in 1976. Since then, definition has widened to include entire systems, as well as to describe alternate platforms such as handheld game consoles, TV games, and multimedia devices. In common usage a "console" is a specialized electronic device that connects to a standard television set or composite video monitor. A "handheld" gaming device is a self-contained electronic device that is portable and can be held in a user's hands.
- Controllers: Devices that allow the user to input information and interact with onscreen objects. They are like the keyboards and joysticks of personal computers.
- Power supply: a power supply converts 100-240 volt AC utility power into direct current (DC) at the voltages needed by the electronics.
- Console/Core Unit: The core unit in a video game console is the hub where the television, video game controllers, and game program connect. It usually contains a CPU, RAM, and an audiovisual coprocessor. Core units are similar to towers of personal computers.
- Game Media: Most video game consoles have their programs stored on external media. They are the ROM of consoles.
- Memory Card: Some video game consoles, like the PlayStation and the Nintendo GameCube have memory cards to save, load, and delete files. Though recent consoles such as the Xbox, PlayStation 3, and the Wii all have hard drives/internal memory which save the data on the console itself. Memory cards are like flash drives for consoles.
Although the first computer games appeared in the 1950s, they used vector displays, not video. It was not until 1972 that Magnavox released the first home video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey, invented by Ralph H. Baer. The Odyssey was initially only moderately successful, and it was not until Atari's arcade game Pong popularized video games, that the public began to take more notice of the emerging industry. By the autumn of 1975 Magnavox, bowing to the popularity of Pong, cancelled the Odyssey and released a scaled down console that only played Pong and hockey, the Odyssey 100. A second "higher end" console, the Odyssey 200, was released with the 100 and added onscreen scoring, up to four players, and a third game—Smash. Almost simultaneously released with Atari's own home Pong console through Sears, these consoles jump-started the consumer market. As with the arcade market, the home market was soon flooded by dedicated consoles that played simple pong and pong-derived games.
Atari 2600Fairchild released the Fairchild Video Entertainment System in 1976. While there had been previous game consoles that used cartridges, either the cartridges had no information and served the same function as flipping switches (the Odyssey) or the console itself was empty and the cartridge contained all of the game components. The VES, however, contained a programmable microprocessor so its cartridges only needed a single ROM chip to store microprocessor instructions.
RCA and Atari soon released their own cartridge-based consoles.
Video game crash of 1977
In 1977, manufacturers of older, obsolete consoles sold their systems at a loss to clear stock, creating a glut in the market and causing Fairchild and RCA to abandon their game consoles. Only Atari and Magnavox stayed in the home console market.
Rebirth of the home console market
The VES continued to be sold at a profit after the 1977 crash, and both Bally (with their Home Library Computer in 1977) and Magnavox (with the Odyssey 2 in 1978) brought their own programmable cartridge-based consoles to the market. However, it wasn't until Atari released a conversion of the arcade hit Space Invaders in 1980 that the home console industry was completely revived. Many consumers bought an Atari just for Space Invaders. Space Invaders' unprecedented success started the trend of console manufacturers trying to get exclusive rights to arcade titles, and the trend of advertisements for game consoles claiming to bring the arcade experience home.
Throughout the early 1980s, other companies released video game consoles of their own. Many of the video game systems were technically superior to the Atari 2600, and marketed as improvements over the Atari 2600. However, Atari dominated the console market in the early 1980s.
Video game crash of 1983
In 1983, the video game business suffered a much more severe crash. A flood of consoles, of low quality video games by smaller companies (especially for the 2600), industry leader Atari hyping games such as E.T. that were poorly received, and a growing number of home computer users caused consumers and retailers to lose faith and interest in video game consoles. Most video game companies filed for bankruptcy, or moved into other industries, abandoning their game consoles. Mattel Electronics sold the rights for its Intellivision system to the INTV Corporation, who continued to produce Intellivision consoles and develop new games for the Intellivision until 1991. All other North American game consoles were discontinued by 1984.
The Robotic Operating Buddy that came packaged with the NES. In 1983, Nintendo released the Family Computer (or Famicom) in Japan. Like the ColecoVision, the Famicom supported high-resolution sprites and tiled backgrounds, but with more colors. This allowed Famicom games to be longer and have more detailed graphics. Nintendo brought their Famicom over to the US in the form of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. In the US, video games were seen as a fad that had already passed. To distinguish its product from older video game consoles, Nintendo used a front-loading cartridge port similar to a VCR on the NES, packaged the NES with a Super Mario Bros. game and a light gun (the Zapper), and originally advertised it as a toy. The plastic "robot" (R.O.B.) was also sold as an individual purchase item and in some cases packaged with the NES system.
Like Space Invaders for the 2600, Nintendo found its breakout hit game in Super Mario Bros. Nintendo's success revived the video game industry and new consoles were soon introduced in the following years to compete with the NES.
Sega's Master System was intended to compete with the NES, but never gained any significant market share in the US and was barely profitable. It fared notably better in PAL territories, especially Brazil.
Sega regained market share by releasing its next-generation console, the Mega Drive/Genesis, which was released in Japan on October 29, 1988, in the U.S. in August 1989 (renamed as the Sega Genesis) and in Europe in 1990, two years before Nintendo could release the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
Sega extended the Mega Drive with the Mega CD/Sega CD, to provide increased storage space for multimedia-based games that were then in vogue among the development community. Later, Sega released the 32X, which added some of the polygon-processing functionality common in fifth-generation machines. However, the peripheral was a commercial failure due to lack of software support, with developers more keen to concentrate on more powerful machines, with a wider user base, such as the Saturn that followed shortly after.
The first fifth generation consoles were the Atari Jaguar and the 3DO. Both of these systems were much more powerful than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) or Mega Drive (known as Genesis in North America); they were better at rendering polygons, could display more onscreen colors, and the 3DO used CDs that contained far more information than cartridges and were cheaper to produce. Neither of these consoles were serious threats to Sega or Nintendo, though. The 3DO cost more than the SNES and Genesis combined, and the Jaguar was extremely difficult to program for, leading to a lack of games that used its extra power. Both consoles would be discontinued in 1996.
Nintendo released games like Donkey Kong Country that could display a wide range of tones (something common in fifth generation games) by limiting the number of hues onscreen, and games like Star Fox that used an extra chip inside of the cartridge to display polygon graphics. Sega followed suit, releasing Vectorman and Virtua Racing (the latter of which used the Sega Virtua Processor).
It was not until Sega's Saturn, Sony's PlayStation, and the Nintendo 64 were released that fifth generation consoles started to become popular. The Saturn and PlayStation used CDs to store games, while the N64 used cartridges. All three cost far less than the 3DO, and were easier to program than the Jaguar. The Saturn also had 2D sprite handling power on par with the Neo-Geo.
- Atari's Jaguar was released to combat the dominance that Nintendo and Sega were fighting for. Atari's hope was that by designing a more powerful console, it would be able to leapfrog all of the released systems of the day and give gamers a technologically superior system. The Jaguar eventually faded away due to a number of reasons. For example, it was difficult to program, thus making it too problematic to have good third-party support. Another of the Jaguar's pitfalls was the dominance of the previously popular systems. In 1995, the releases of the Sega Saturn and the PlayStation brought the end for the Jaguar. The failure of the Jaguar put Atari into a poor financial situation and forced it to reverse merge with JTS Inc., a short-lived maker of hard disk drives, to form JTS Corporation. The merger effectively ended the company, which existed as a small department for minor support of the Jaguar and the selling off of Atari's intellectual properties.
- The 3DO was released in North America in October 1993. Although released to much fanfare, like the Jaguar, it faded out of the market with little popularity. The system was technically superior to all the consoles released at the time, but due to the oversaturated market and the hefty Seven hundred US dollars price tag, the system did not adopt well into the market. One unique aspect of the 3DO is that the rights to manufacturing the console itself were licensed to different manufacturers by the 3DO company, which only produced the specifications. These companies, in turn, released their own different styles of the same console.
- The Sega Saturn was released in North America on May 11, 1995 as the first independent Sega system to use a CD-ROM based media standard and used a special dual chip processor. The difficulty to program for the two chips in parallel was a factor in the console's demise. The Saturn was a mild success, but was overshadowed by Sony and Nintendo's dominance of the market. The Saturn was discontinued in 1998 with the release of Sega's last console, the Dreamcast.
- Sony's PlayStation was released in Japan on December 3, 1994 and in North America on September 9, 1995. The PlayStation was the eventual result of a breakdown of a business partnership plan between Sony and Nintendo to create a CD add-on for the SNES. Nintendo changed the deal and went to Philips; however, with the project nearing completion, Sony took what it had and marketed it off as a Sony-branded console. The PlayStation spawned a whole lineup of consoles from generation to generation and has earned Sony great respect as a video game company, becoming the first video game system to sell over one hundred million consoles. Sony released a redesigned, smaller version of the PlayStation entitled the 'PSone' on July 7, 2000.
- The Nintendo 64 was released in North America on September 29, 1996 as Nintendo's answer to the growing dominance of the PlayStation. It was a 64-bit console, the only one generally recognized in that class despite the 64-bit Atari Jaguar, which had actually been released earlier. Unlike the other companies' consoles of the generation, the Nintendo 64 had continued to use ROM cartridges, which many saw as a hindrance to gameplay, as cartridges have much less memory space and are also more expensive than optical media; however, Nintendo's answer to this was that unlike CDs, cartridges cannot be damaged by a simple scratch to the surface, nor are load times much of an issue. Nevertheless, some believe that Nintendo did this for fear of then growing software piracy issues facing other consoles, such as the PlayStation. Sony would dominate most of the software market using CD instead of cartridges.
This generation saw a move towards PC-like architectures in gaming consoles, as well as a shift towards using DVDs for game media. This brought games that were both longer and more visually appealing. Furthermore, this generation also saw experimentation with online console gaming and implementing both flash and hard drive storage for game data.
- Sega's Dreamcast released in North America on September 9, 1999 was the company's last video game console, and was the first of the generation's consoles to be discontinued. Sega implemented a special type of optical media called the GD-ROM. These discs were created in order to prevent software piracy, which had been more easily done with consoles of the previous generation; however, this format was soon cracked as well. It was discontinued in 2001, and Sega transitioned to software developing/publishing only. It also sported a 33.6Kb or 56k modem which could be used to access the internet or play some of the games, like Phantasy Star Online, online.
- Sony's PlayStation 2 was released in North America on October 26, 2000 as the follow-up to its highly successful PlayStation, and was also the first home game console to be able to play DVDs. As was done with the original PlayStation in 2000, Sony redesigned the console in 2004 into a smaller version. As of July 2008, 140 million PlayStation 2 units have been sold. This makes it the best selling console of all time to date.
- The Nintendo GameCube was Nintendo's fourth home video game console and the first console by the company to use optical media instead of cartridges. The Nintendo GameCube did not play standard 12 cm DVDs, instead employing smaller 8 cm optical discs.
- Microsoft's Xbox was the company's first video game console. The first console to employ a hard drive right out of the box to save games, and had similar hardware specifications to a low-end desktop computer at the time of its release. Though criticized for its bulky size, which was easily twice that of the competition, as well as for the awkwardness of the original controller that shipped with it, it eventually gained popularity due in part to the success of the Halo franchise.
The features introduced in this generation include the support of new disc formats: Blu-ray Disc, utilized by the PlayStation 3, and HD DVD supported by the Xbox 360 via an optional accessory, that was later discontinued as the format war closed. Another new technology is the use of motion as input, and IR tracking (as implemented on the Wii, and demonstrated by the PS3). Also, all seventh generation consoles support standard wireless controllers.
- Microsoft Xbox 360 was released on November 22, 2005. A HD DVD drive was later available as an accessory; however, with the termination of the HD DVD format, this accessory's production has been ceased by Microsoft. The Xbox Live service allows the Xbox 360 to connect to the internet via a built-in Ethernet port or a wireless accessory. The Xbox 360 is currently available in three versions, an "Arcade", "Pro", and an "Elite" version. The biggest difference between these versions is the addition of a 120 GB hard drive in the "Elite" edition. The "Arcade" version is not packaged with a hard drive, and the "Pro" comes with a sixty gigabyte hard drive. The Xbox 360 is capable of outputting 1080p through HDMI and component.
- Sony PlayStation 3 was released in Japan on November 11, 2006, in North America on November 17, 2006 and in Europe on March 23, 2007. All PlayStation 3s come with a hard drive and are able to play Blu-ray Disc movies and games out of the box. The PlayStation 3 was the first video game console to support HDMI output of the box, utilizing full 1080p resolution. Up to seven devices (including controllers, with tilt-sensing capabilities) connect to the console using Bluetooth. Five versions of the PS3 currently exist; a 20 GB HDD version (discontinued in North America and Japan, and was never released in PAL territories), a 60 GB HDD version (discontinued in North America, Japan and PAL territories), a 40 GB HDD version, 80 GB HDD version (only in some NTSC territories and PAL territories) and a 160 GB HDD in addition, as well as a 120 GB "slim" and 250 GB "slim" version. The hard drive can be replaced with any standard 2.5" Serial ATA drive and the system has support for Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, USB, SD, MiniSD, and CompactFlash (CF) digital media.
- Wii was released in North America on November 19, 2006, in Japan on December 2, 2006, in Australia on December 7, 2006, and in Europe on December 8, 2006. It is bundled with Wii Sports in all regions except for Japan. Unlike the other systems of the seventh generation, the Wii does not support an internal hard drive, but instead uses 512 MB of internal Flash memory and includes support for removable SD card storage. It also has a maximum resolution output of 480p, making it the only seventh generation console not able to output high-definition graphics. Along with its lower price, the Wii is notable for its unique controller, the Wii Remote, which resembles a TV remote. The system utilizes a "sensor bar" that emits infrared light that is detected by an infrared camera in the Wii Remote to determine orientation relative to the source of the light. Like Nintendo's hand-held systems, it is also backwards compatible with previous Nintendo consoles, as it is capable of playing Nintendo GameCube games and supports up to four Nintendo GameCube controllers and two memory cards. It also includes Virtual Console, which allows the purchase and downloading of games from older systems, including those of former competitors.
Each new generation of console hardware made use of the rapid development of processing technology. Newer machines could output a greater range of colors, more sprites, and introduced graphical technologies such as scaling, and vector graphics. One way this increase in processing power was conveyed to consumers was through the measurement of "bits". The TurboGrafx-16, Sega Genesis, and SNES were among the first consoles to advertise the fact that they contained 16-bit processors. This fourth generation of console hardware was often referred to as the 16-bit era, and the previous generation as the 8-bit.
The bit-value of a console referred to the word length of a console's processor (although the value was sometimes misused, for example the TurboGrafx 16 had only an 8-bit CPU, and the Genesis/Mega Drive had the 16/32-bit Motorola 68000, but both had a 16-bit dedicated graphics processor). As the graphical performance of console hardware is dependent on many factors, using bits was a crude way to gauge a console's overall ability, but served better to distinguish between generations.
From front to back: Game Boy Color, Sega Genesis, and Atari 2600.Game cartridges consist of a printed circuit board housed inside of a plastic casing, with a connector allowing the device to interface with the console. The circuit board can contain a wide variety of components. All cartridge games contain at the minimum, read only memory with the software written on it. Many cartridges also carry components that increase the original console's power, such as extra RAM or a coprocessor. Components can also be added to extend the original hardware's functionality (such as gyroscopes, rumble packs, tilt-sensors, light sensors, etc.); this is more common on handheld consoles where the user does not interact with the game through a separate video game controller.
Cartridges were the first external media to be used with home consoles and remained the most common until 1995 continued improvements in capacity (Nintendo 64 being the last mainstream game console to use cartridges). Nevertheless, the relatively high manufacturing costs saw them completely replaced by optical media for home consoles by the early twnety first century, although they are still in use in some handheld video game consoles.
Due to the aforementioned capabilities of cartridges such as more memory and coprocessors, those factors make it harder to reverse engineer consoles to be used on emulators.
Further information: Smart CardSeveral consoles such as the Sega Master System - Developed by Matthew Kinsbrook and the TurboGrafx-16 have used different types of smart cards as an external medium. These cards function similar to simple cartridges. Information is stored on a chip that is housed in plastic. Cards are more compact and simpler than cartridges, though. This makes them cheaper to produce and smaller, but limits what can be done with them. Cards cannot hold extra components, and common cartridge techniques like bank switching (a technique used to create very large games) were impossible to miniaturize into a card in the late 1980s.
Compact Discs reduced much of the need for cards. Optical Discs can hold more information than cards, and are cheaper to produce. The Nintendo GameCube and the PlayStation 2 use memory cards for storage, but the Nintendo DS is the only modern system to use cards for game distribution. Nintendo has long used cartridges with their Game Boy line of hand held consoles because of their durability, small size, stability (not shaking and vibrating the handheld when it is in use), and low battery consumption. Nintendo switched to cards for the DS, because advances in memory technology made putting extra memory on the cartridge unnecessary.
Home computers have long used magnetic storage devices. Both tape drives and floppy disk drives were common on early microcomputers. Their popularity is in large part because a tape drive or disk drive can write to any material it can read. However, magnetic media is volatile and can be more easily damaged than game cartridges or optical discs.
Among the first consoles to use magnetic media were the Bally Astrocade and APF-M1000, both of which could use cassette tapes through expansions. In Bally's case, this allowed the console to see new game development even after Bally dropped support for it. While magnetic media remained limited in use as a primary form of distribution, two popular subsequent consoles also had expansions available to allow them to use this format. The Starpath Supercharger can load Atari 2600 games from audio cassettes; Starpath used it to cheaply distribute their own games from 1982 to 1984 and today it is used by many programmers to test, distribute, and play homebrew software. The Family Computer Disk System was released by Nintendo in 1985 for the Japanese market. Nintendo sold the disks cheaply and sold vending machines where customers could have new games written to their disks up to five hundred times.
The most widely used forms of optical media are DVDs and compact discs. Shown is a CD-ROM (left) and a game in Nintendo's proprietary optical disc format.In the mid-1990s, various manufacturers shifted to optical media, specifically CD-ROM, for games. Although they were slower at loading game data than the cartridges available at that time, they were significantly cheaper to manufacture and had a larger capacity than the existing cartridge technology. By the early twenty first century, all of the major home consoles used optical media, usually DVD-ROM or similar disks, which are widely replacing CD-ROM for data storage. The PlayStation 3 system uses even higher-capacity Blu-ray optical discs for games and movies while the Xbox 360 formerly used HD DVDs in the form of an external USB player add-on for movies, before it was discontinued. Microsoft still however, supports those who bought the accessory.
All three seventh generation consoles (the PlayStation 3, Wii, and Xbox 360) offer some kind of Internet games distribution service, allowing users to download games for a fee onto some form of non-volatile storage, typically a hard disk or flash memory. Recently, the console manufacturers have been taking full advantage of Internet distribution with arcade games, television shows and film trailers being available.
- Microsoft's Xbox Live service includes the Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Live Marketplace, featuring digital distribution of classic and original titles. These include arcade classics, original titles, and games originally released on other consoles. The Xbox Live Marketplace also includes many different hit movies and trailers in high definition, and is accessible with a free Xbox Live Silver Membership.
- Sony's online game distribution is known as the PlayStation Network. It offers free online gaming, downloadable content such as classic PlayStation games, high definition games and movie trailers, and original games such as flOw and Everyday Shooter as well as some games that also release on Blu-ray Disc such as Warhawk and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue. A networking service, dubbed PlayStation Home, was released in December 2008. Sony also announced a video/movie service and music service for some time in 2008.
- Nintendo's Virtual Console service emulates games from the Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, NES/Famicom, TurboGrafx-16, SNES/Super Famicom, Neo Geo, and Sega Master System/Game Gear. The service also emulates titles from the Commodore 64 in US and Europe, and the MSX platform in Japan. Nintendo also has original Wii content available for download through its WiiWare service.