The Evolution of Gaming Consoles Shows How Far We’ve Come

The history of gaming consoles began in 1966, when Ralph Baer, the Father of computer video games, created The Brown Box, a rectangular box that could be connected to a TV set and allowed users to interact directly with it by using two controllers. The first games played on the Brown Box allowed players to control a number of dots and pass them to each other like in a game of tennis. The screen was split in two and each player had its own section.

The First Generation
evolution gaming consoles magnavoxHowever this box was just a prototype and only later on, the company that Baer worked at would associate with Magnavox and released the first video game console: The Magnavox Odyssey, in 1972. The games available at that time were tennis, volleyball, hockey, and chase. Magnavox introduced a system with separate cartridges for each game, but the games didn’t have an audio output, the images were all black and white and were using translucent screen overlays to add color.

Only in late 1975 when Atari popularized the arcade game of Pong, did video game consoles become a thing of public concern. Magnavox scaled down its Odyssey 100 to be able to play Pong and hockey on it. The next Odyssey console, the 200 added on-screen score for up to four players and included a second game: Smash. The Sears Atari Pong console appeared simultaneously with the Odyssey 200 and after this the video game market started to really develop. A number of other consoles appeared. Except for the Coleco Telstar, all of the other appearances were just simple primitive models.

The Second Generation
atari 2600The Second Generation brought the almighty Atari 2600 (in 1977) to life and it became the most popular video game console of its generation. It had a full color output, an audio output and cartridge-based video games. In 1980 Atari released a conversion of the golden age arcade hit Space Invaders. Everyone was buying a console with the sole purpose of playing this special game. Even though other companies followed the trend and brought golden titles on their consoles that were graphically better than the Atari 2600, the pioneer continued to lead the market, selling 30,000,000 units.

The Third Generation
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After the video game crash of 1983, when manufacturers lost hope in the console business, Nintendo was releasing the Famicom in Japan and as they wanted to enter the North American market they renamed it to Nintendo Entertainment System – NES and marketed it as a toy. From here on it became the bestselling console in the history of North America and made Mario the most popular video game character in the world. Besides the NES, Nintendo was also ruling the market of handheld consoles with their Gameboy. In 1985 Sega’s Master System tried to compete with the NES, but never gained any noteworthy market share in the US or Japan.

The Fourth Generation
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The Turbografx 16, released in 1987, is the first console to be marketed as 16bit and to make use of a CD-rom. It also started the trend of all subsequent fourth generation consoles to be advertised as 16 bit. Sega adapted their System 16, transformed it into the Genesis, released it in 1989 in North America and sold over 40,000,000 units. Sonic the Hedgehog and Aladdin are two popular titles linked to it. Propelled by its effective “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” marketing campaign, Sega exploited the Genesis’ technological superiority over the NES. But besides these two competitors, there was a third one: the Neo Geo AES home console that gained quite a cult following even though it didn’t do so well when it came to units sold.
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Two years after the release of the Sega Genesis, Nintendo brought to life the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a.k.a. the SNES. Its Mode 7 graphics allowed background scaling, giving the illusion of depth and with games such as F-Zero, the popularity of the SNES was raised to a point where they managed to sell 49,100,000 units, surpassing the Sega Genesis. The common trait of the fourth generation of consoles is the immense number of exclusive games, some of them optimized for SNES’ graphics and some for Genesis’ faster CPU. For example, Castlevania had separate system exclusive releases rather than an attempt to port one game to both of them.

The Fifth Generation
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The fifth generation of consoles debuted with the Atari Jaguar and its games: Tempest 2000, Rayman, and Alien vs Predator but it couldn’t compete with the likes of Sega or Nintendo. Sony’s PlayStation, a platform created as a result of a failed collaboration with Nintendo hit the market hard. Being $100 cheaper than the Sega Saturn, it managed to sell an incredible number of over 100,000,000 units and offer beloved games such as Tekken, Final Fantasy VII and Twisted Metal. Nintendo was the last to release a fifth generation console with their Nintendo 64 but they still used cartridges and their games didn’t have the cut scenes, soundtracks and voice-overs people were accustomed to from Sony’s discs. Although Nintendo released some popular titles such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, it didn’t manage to catch up with the PlayStation and consequently was the last cartridge-based console.

The Sixth Generation

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The rise of DVDs permitted players to enjoy longer games with more sophisticated graphics and as a consequence the new generation of consoles emerged. Sega’s Dreamcast was released in 1999 and it sold 2 million units in North America, up until Sony came up with their PlayStation2 and took the market by storm, becoming the bestselling console of the sixth generation. More than 155 million units were shipped and it was the first home game console able to play DVDs. Some titles from the 2000s are: Time Splitters, Deus Ex and Fifa 2001. Its direct competitors were Nintendo’s GameCube (2001) and Microsoft’s Xbox (2001), the latter placing second owing to Halo’s success. The Xbox was the first console to include a hard drive right out of the box to save games and an Ethernet port for broadband internet.

The Seventh Generation
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Starting with 2005 the seventh generation of consoles was born. They included new disc formats such as the Blu-ray Disc, the use of motion as input as well as wireless controllers. Microsoft started by releasing the Xbox 360 and up to four controllers could be connected to the console wirelessly. In 2006, Sony got the PlayStation 3 on the market and it was the first video game console to support HDMI output out of the box, using full 1080p resolution. The same year, Nintendo released its Wii that unlike the other consoles uses an SD memory card and can only have a maximum resolution output of 480p, being the only one to not have full HD graphics. As for handheld consoles, Sony released the first PlayStation Portable and Nintendo its Nintendo DS.

The Eighth Generation
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The eight generation of consoles is unfolding as we speak and besides the usual hardware enhancements the focus has shifted towards integration with other media and increased connectivity. The Wii U presented a controller/tablet hybrid which has characteristics consisting of using augmented reality in gaming, but it is the least selling console of the eighth generation. Sony’s device is the PlayStation 4, the bestselling console of this generation, and it was released in 2013, the same year as Microsoft’s Xbox One. The main competitors to all of these consoles are mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, as well as microconsoles like NVIDIA SHIELD, GamePop and Steam Machines. As of the beginning of 2016 PlayStation sold over 35 million units, grabbing the lead in the console market. In the handheld world, Nintendo 3DS is competing with the PlayStation Vita.