A Brief History of Game Consoles, as Seen in Old TV Ads

1977: Atari VCS/2600

As sales of its PONG console waned, Atari began work on the "Stella" project--a CPU-equipped, cartridge-based console intended to compete with Fairchild's Channel F. After acquiring Atari, Warner had high hopes for the project and reportedly invested $100 million in its development.

The end result was 1977's Atari Video Computer System (VCS). It was renamed the Atari 2600 (from its CX2600 part number) when succeeded by the Atari 5200 in 1982.

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The VCS featured an 8-bit, 1.19-MHz MOS Technology 6507 CPU, coupled with 128 bytes of RAM. A single chip engineered by Jay Miner (who would later be critical to the development of Commodore Amiga computers) delivered four-channel sound and 16 on-screen colors.

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The Atari VCS initially sold for $200, bundled with two joysticks, a joined pair of paddle controllers, and a cartridge game. In the first few years of its existence, it competed with the graphically inferior Fairchild Channel F; but both units generated mediocre sales despite several price drops. By 1980, Fairchild had discontinued the Channel F, and the Atari VCS had become a hit after licensing the arcade game Space Invaders. Retailers continued to sell the Atari VCS/2600 through 1990.

The late, great comedian Phil Hartman (of Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, and NewsRadio fame) freaks out for Atari 2600 Ice Hockey:

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In 2005, PC World named the Atari VCS the seventh-greatest gadget of the past 50 years.

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