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Fairchild Channel F

The Fairchild Channel F is a game console released by Fairchild Semiconductor in August 1976 at the retail price of $169.95. It has the distinction being one of the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game consoles. Initially titled Video Entertainment System, or VES, when Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild renamed it.

The Channel F console

The Channel F is based on the Fairchild F8 CPU, invented by Robert Noyce before he left Fairchild to start his own company, Intel. The F8 is very complex compared to the typical integrated circuits of the day, and had more inputs and outputs than other contemporary chips. Because chip packaging was not available with enough pins, the F8 is instead fabricated as a pair of chips that had to be used together to form a complete CPU. The graphics are quite basic, although it is in color which was a large step forward from the contemporary Pong machines. Sound is played through an internal speaker, rather than the TV set.

The controllers are a joystick without a base; the main body is a large hand grip with a triangular "cap" on top, the top being the portion that actually moved. It can be used as both a joystick and paddle (twist), and not only pushed down to operate as a fire button but also pulled up. The unit contains a small compartment for storing the controllers when moving it: this is useful because the wiring is notoriously flimsy and even normal movement could break it.

Channel F games

There are twenty-six cartridges, termed 'Videocarts', that were officially released during the ownership of Fairchild and Zircon. Several of these cartridges are capable of playing more than one game and were typically priced at $19.95. The Videocarts are large and yellow, and usually feature colorful label artwork reminiscent of the artist Peter Max. The console contains two built-in games: a Pong clone that is called Tennis and Hockey, where the reflecting bar could be changed to diagonals by twisting the controller, and could move forward and backward.

A sales brochure from 1978 list 'Keyboard Videocarts' for sale. The three shown were K-1 Casino Poker, K-2 Space Odyssey, and K-3 Pro-Football. These are to use the Keyboard accessory which is a 16 button keypad. All further brochures, released after Ziron took over Fairchild, never listed this accessory nor anything called a Keyboard Videocart.

There is one additional cartridge released numbered Videocart-51 and simply titled 'Demo 1'. This Videocart is shown in a single sales brochure released shortly after Zircon acquired the company. It was never listed for sale after this single brochure which was used for winter of 1979.

"Dodge It" consists of a randomly-sized playing field (a rectangle or square) with an increasing number of bricks of a size set for each level, which came out of the wall and bounced around the field. The speed of the bricks is set randomly for each level, and the size of the player's brick (which needed to be moved to avoid impact with the other bricks) is also randomly set per level. Rarely, two computer-controlled bricks would collide, forming a noisy and unstable-seeming "monster brick" that would go to the wall and work its way around it.

"Sonar Search" is similar to the game "Battleship". In the game, hidden ships have to be exposed and sunk with sonar pulses. The game supports more than one player and has a gamer-controlled pace and fairly simple action, yet contains the challenge of finding the invisible ships.

"Maze" / "Cat and Mouse" is another rather title. In "Maze", a player simply has to navigate a complicated maze, but in "Cat and Mouse", the player's brick is a mouse which has to not only successfully navigate the maze, but also has to avoid the cat brick.

"Alien Invasion", one of the last games ever released is a clone of the game "Space Invaders".

List of games:

  • Integrated with console: Hockey, Tennis
  • Videocart-1: Tic Tac Toe, Shooting Gallery, Doodle, Quadradoodle
  • Videocart-2: Desert Fox, Shooting Gallery
  • Videocart-3: Video Blackjack
  • Videocart-4: Spitfire
  • Videocart-5: Space War
  • Videocart-6: Math Quiz (Addition & Subtraction)
  • Videocart-7: Math Quiz (Multiplication & Division)
  • Videocart-8: Mind Reader, Nim (This Videocart was also referred to as 'Magic Numbers')
  • Videocart-9: Drag Strip
  • Videocart-10: Maze, Cat and Mouse
  • Videocart-11: Backgammon, Acey-Duecy
  • Videocart-12: Baseball
  • Videocart-13: Torpedo Alley, Robot War
  • Videocart-14: Sonar Search
  • Videocart-15: Memory Match
  • Videocart-16: Dodge'It
  • Videocart-17: Pinball Challenge
  • Videocart-18: Hangman
  • Videocart-19: Checkers
  • Videocart-20: Video Whizball
  • Videocart-21: Bowling
  • Videocart-22: Slot Machine
  • Videocart-23: Galactic Space Wars
  • Videocart-24: Pro-Football
  • Videocart-25: Casino Royale
  • Videocart-26: Alien Invasion
  • Videocart-51: Demo 1 (Listed for sale in a Zircon Winter 1979 catalog)
  • Democart 2 (Exists but may not have been officially released)
Carts listed (as mentioned above) but never released:
  • Keyboard Videocart-1: Casino Poker
  • Keyboard Videocart-2: Space Odyssey
  • Keyboard Videocart-3: Pro-Football

Market impact

The biggest effect of the Channel F in the market was to spur Atari into releasing and improving their next-generation console which was then in development. Then codenamed "Stella," the machine was also going to use cartridges, and after seeing the Channel F they realized they needed to release it before the market was flooded with cartridge based-machines. With cash flow dwindling as sales of their existing Pong-based systems dried up, they were forced to sell to Warner Communications in order to gain the capital they needed. When the Atari VCS gaming system (whose name was coined as a takeoff of the VES) was released a year later, it had considerably better graphics and sound.

The Channel F System II

Fairchild decided to compete with the VCS, and began a console re-design as the Channel F System II. The major changes were in design, with the controllers removable from the base unit instead of being wired directly into it, the storage compartment was moved to the rear of the unit, and the sound was now mixed into the TV signal so the unit no longer needed a speaker. This version also features a simpler and more modern-looking case design. However, by this time the market was in the midst of the first video game crash, and Fairchild eventually threw in the towel, and left the market.

Some time in 1979, Zircon International bought the rights to the Channel F and released the Channel F System II. Only six new games were released after the debut of the second system before its death, several of which were developed at Fairchild before they sold it off.

A number of licensed versions were released in Europe, including the Luxor Video Entertainment System in Sweden, Adman Grandstand in the UK, and the Saba Videoplay, Nordmende Teleplay and ITT Tele-Match Processor, from Germany.

Technical specifications [Original Channel F]

  • CPU chip: Fairchild F8 operating at 1.79 MHz (PAL 2.22 MHz)
  • RAM: 64 bytes, 2 kB VRAM (2×128×64 bits)
  • Resolution: 128 × 64 pixels, 102 × 58 pixels visible
  • Colors: eight colors (either black/white or four color max. per line)
  • Audio: 500 Hz, 1 kHz, and 1.5 kHz tones (can be modulated quickly to produce different tones)
  • Input: two custom game controllers, hardwired to the console
  • Output: RF modulated composite video signal, cord hardwired to console

References

See also

  • TV POWWW (interactive TV game show that used Channel F)

External links

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