This page outlines major points in the Magnavox Odyssey's history.
Ralph H. Baer (engineer) has the idea to build a television set that the owner can control in addition to its normal function of receiving signals from a remote television station. His employers, Loral Electronics do not pursue the idea.
August: Baer, then the head of the Equipment Design Division at military contractor Sanders Associates, comes up with the concept of using a television to play games; writes up a four-page proposal for a "game box" that would plug into a television screen, costing around US$25 (equivalent to approx. $276 in 2022)
December: Baer, together with one of his technicians, Bob Tremblay, completes an initial prototype later christened "TV Game #1", which could display and move a vertical line on a television screen.
February: Baer designs further prototypes, and assigns technician Bill Harrison to begin building the project, creating successive modifications to the prototype.
May: Harrison develops some early games, beginning with a two-player game where the players repeatedly press a button in competition to fill or empty a bucket of water.
June: Multiple games are completed for a second prototype, including a game where players controlled dots chasing each other and a light gun shooter game with a plastic rifle.
Baer demonstrates the console to the board of Sanders Associates - CEO Royden Sanders authorizes the project to be continued with the aim of selling or licensing the console as a commercial product.
November: The team completes their fourth prototype machine, as well as a ping pong game, a chasing game, a light gun game, and three types of controllers: joysticks for the chase game, a rifle for the light gun game, and a three dial controller for the ping pong game.
They decide to sell the rights to produce the console.
April: TelePrompTer Corporation back out of a proposed agreement to manufacture and sell the console, due to cashflow problems.
January: A seventh prototype, known as the "Brown Box" due to the wood-grain stickers on the casing, is completed. A replicate of this prototype is on display at the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, Texas.
July: The creators of the Brown Box demonstrate the product to television manufacturers, Magnavox. Vice President of Magnavox Console Products Planning Gerry Martin is in favour of agreeing to produce the console.
January: After a long period of negotiations the two companies finally signed an agreement in January 1971.
A team from Magnavox led by George Kent turned the prototype console into a final product.
May: Magnavox performs market surveys and playtests in Los Angeles and Grand Rapids, Michigan, and demonstrates the console to dealers in Las Vegas in May 1972.
May 22nd: The console is publicly unveiled at a press event at the Tavern on the Green in New York City.
September: The console is released, with a price tag of $99.99 (equivalent to about $647 in 2021)
October 16th: Product manager, Bob Fritsche, demonstrates the Magnavox Odyssey on an episode of the popular panel game-show "What's My Line?"
Low initial sales of 69,000 units in 1972 lead to a change in Magnavox's marketing strategy, including:
- Explicitly stating that the console works with any brand of television.
- Lowering the price to US$50 if purchased with a television
- Easing restriction on its sales to Magnavox dealerhips
- Running a national advertising campaign, including sponsoring Frank Sinatra's November television special Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back.
- Ralph Baer also proposes a sound extension to Magnavox (as the console did not output sound) in 1973, but the idea is rejected.
September: Magnavox releases the console in the UK.
December: By the end of the 1973, Magnavox sells a total of 89,000 consoles.
1974: The Magnavox Odyssey is released in the EU and Japan.
April: Magnavox sues Atari along with several competitors, including Allied Leisure, Bally Midway, and arcade distributor Empire, for infringing on its patents for video games played on a television screen.
August: The Magnavox Company was acquired by Philips of the Netherlands to ensure nationwide distribution for their VLP (later renamed LaserVision) Videodisc technology. All Philips consumer electronics in the US under the Norelco name begin rebranding them under the Magnavox name.
November: : The original Magnavox Odyssey is discontinued, having sold between 350,000 and 367,000 units worldwide, with the light gun peripheral selling 20,000 units. The original Odyssey is replaced by several "Magnavox Odyssey Series" dedicated consoles — consoles that could only play games built into their respective systems.
November: : No other home video consoles capable of playing separately-produced games were released until the 1976 Fairchild Semiconductor Channel F.
December: : A successor console, the Magnavox Odyssey 2 (stylized as Magnavox Odyssey²), is released. It is sold in Europe as the Philips Videopac G7000, in Brazil and Peru as the Philips Odyssey and in Japan as Odyssey2. These variations are functionally identical.
March: Nintendo disputes the claim that Baer created the world's first commercial video game, arguing that William Higinbotham's Tennis for Two title of 1958 pre-dated any of Magnavox's patents. However, the presiding judge rules that Tennis for Two did not qualify as a video game since it did not use video signals.
December 6th: Ralph Baer, the "father of video games" passes away at the age of 92.
April?: The OdysseyNow project is launched with the goal of recreating the experience of encountering video games for the first time, allowing players to step into the media culture of the early 1970s.
February: Boojakascha (Ben Spenger) creates a custom video board for the original Magnavox Odyssey, allowing the user to plug out the original RF ports, and outputting a video signal that can be fed into a composite input.
February: Boojakascha (Ben Spenger) creates a multicard which allows all 12 Magnavox Odyssey games to be played on one PCB card, via a series of DIP switches.
February: Boojakascha (Ben Spenger) creates a Rifletronix board reproduction for people who don't own the original light gun, which can be used with a Magnavox Odyssey console via an adapter.
March: An OdysseyNow Facebook group is setup to support development of new hardware, games, and software for the Odyssey, as well as collecting, digitizing, and preserving the many analog elements of the original 28 games released for the platform.
April: The Vibrant Media Lab at the University of Pittsburgh hosts Odyssey Expo, a public event devoted to the Magnavox Odyssey gaming console, featuring lectures, presentations, new games, and multiple gaming stations with restored Odyssey consoles, each playable by the public.
April: The first game card not designed by the original Odyssey team is released (OdysseyNow - Game Card #13) as well the brand new "Damocles" controller.
May: Launch of OdysseyNow website
September: 50th Anniversary of commercial home video gaming