A video game console is an electronic, digital or computer device that outputs a video signal or visual image to display a video game that one or more people can play.
The term “video game console” is primarily used to distinguish a console machine primarily designed for consumers to use for playing video games, in contrast to arcade machines or home computers. An arcade machine consists of a video game computer, display, game controller (joystick, buttons, etc.) and speakers housed in large chassis. A home computer is a personal computer designed for home use for a variety of purposes, such as bookkeeping, accessing the Internet and playing video games.
The first video games appeared in the 1960s. They were played on massive computers connected to vector displays, not analog televisions. Ralph H. Baer conceived the idea of a home video game in 1951. In the late 1960s, while working for Sanders Associates, Baer created a series of video game console designs. One of these designs, which gained the nickname of the 1966 “Brown Box”, featured changeable game modes and was demonstrated to several TV manufacturers, ultimately leading to an agreement between Sanders Associates and Magnavox.
The Atari 2600 became the most popular game console of the second generation.
In 1972, Magnavox released the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game console which could be connected to a TV set. Ralph Baer’s initial design had called for a huge row of switches that would allow players to turn on and off certain components of the console (the Odyssey lacked a CPU) to create slightly different games like tennis, volleyball, hockey, and chase. Magnavox replaced the switch design with separate cartridges for each game. Although Baer had sketched up ideas for cartridges that could include new components for new games, the carts released by Magnavox all served the same function as the switches and allowed players to choose from the Odyssey’s built-in games.
Unlike similar consumer electronics such as music players and movie players, which use industry-wide standard formats, video game consoles use proprietary formats which compete with each other for market share. There are various types of video game consoles, including home video game consoles, handheld game consoles, microconsoles and dedicated consoles.
Although Ralph Baer had built working game consoles by 1966, it was nearly a decade before the Pong game made them commonplace in regular people’s living rooms. Through evolution over the 1990s and 2000s, game consoles have expanded to offer additional functions such as CD players, DVD players, Blu-ray disc players, web browsers, set-top boxes and more.