After getting overwhelmed with a market full of Pong clones during the first generation, the industry started to shift away from repackaging the same game over and over, to releasing multi-cartridge based systems thanks to the advent of the ROM cartridge. Not only did this new ROM technology create an easier way to distribute multiple games for the same system, but it also allowed for higher-quality graphics and memory, ringing in the second generation of video game systems.
1976: Fairchild Channel F — Fairchild
The first ROM based console system created by Jerry Lawson and released by the Fairchild Camera and Instrument Corporation.
1977: Atari 2600 aka Atari Video Computer System (VCA) — Atari
Atari’s most historic system.
1977: RCA Studio II — RCA
An oddly designed hybrid console that featured five pre-installed games like a dedicated console and also accepted cartridge games. The flaw was in the controllers. Instead of a joystick or directional buttons, it utilized two keypad controllers with ten numbered buttons that were physically built into the body of the console.
The dedicated games in the RCA Studio II included Addition, Bowling, Doodle, Freeway, and Patterns.
1977: Sears Video Arcade — Atari
Basically an Atari 2600 with a name change. This came from an exclusive deal Atari made with Sears to help launch the system.
1977: Bally Astrocade and Midway
A rarely seen (even at launch) cartridge console and Bally’s only attempt at making a home video game system.
A total of 46 games released for the system including Space Invaders, Galaxian, and Conan the Barbarian. Also available was a BASIC computer language cartridge for simple programming.
1977: Color TV Game 6 — Nintendo
This bright orange system was Nintendo’s first foray into the home console market was nothing more than a Pong clone, containing 6 variations of the game with controller knobs built into the main unit.
1978: Color TV Game 15 and Nintendo
A year after releasing Color TV Game 6 Nintendo launched a follow-up system, this one with 15 variations of Pong and controllers connected to the main unit by a cord instead of built into the main body of the console.
1978: Color TV Racing 112 and Nintendo
The first entry in Nintendo’s Color TV line that was not a clone of Pong. Instead, this dedicated console features a top-down racing game with a built-in steering wheel controller.
1978: VC-4000 and Various Manufacturers
A cartridge-based console system released in Europe by numerous manufacturers. The controllers included a joystick, two fire buttons and a keypad with 12 keys.
1978: Magnavox Odyssey² — Philips
After Philips purchased Magnavox they released the next-generation of Odyssey consoles. A cartridge-based system the Odyssey² featured not only joysticks, but a keyboard built into the main unit. This unique interface was used for adding names to high scores, configuring game options and even allowing players to program simple game mazes.
1979: Channel F System II — Fairchild
A redesigned version of the Fairchild Channel F disguised as a new system. The unit was smaller, housed a front-loading console slot and unlike the original Channel F, had its controllers connected to the system.
1979: Color TV Game Block Breaker — Nintendo
The second non-Pong release in Nintendo’s early line of dedicated consoles was a port of their arcade hit Block Breaker, which itself is a reworked version of Atari’s arcade hit Breakout.
1979: APF Imagination Machine — APF
A cartridge-based video game console that came with an add-on, which turned the system into a full-on home computer complete with keyboard and cassette-tape drive. A predecessor to the Commodore 64, this made the APF Imagination Machine the first low-cost home computer that connected to a regular TV.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t much if a video game console as only 15 titles were ever released.
1979: Microvision — Milton Bradley
The first handheld gaming system featured a black and white LCD screen with simple block graphics and long interchangeable game cartridges. Unfortunately, they weren’t built well and most of the units arrived at stores broken, and those few that didn’t break quickly when used. It is extremely rare to find a working model today.
The reason Microvision hasn’t been forgotten in the annals of video game history is that it featured the very first official Start Trek licensed game, Star Trek Phaser Strike.
1979: Bandai Super Vision 8000 — Bandai
Bandai had jumped into the video game biz during the first generation with a series of generic Pong clones until they released this cartridge-based console with seven different games and controllers that sported a keypad and directional disk at the base.
1980: Computer TV Game — Nintendo
The final release in Nintendo’s line of Color TV Game dedicated consoles, this one a port of Nintendo’s first coin-op video arcade game, Othello.
1980: Game and Watch — Nintendo
The history-making line of LCD stand-alone handheld games, a precursor to the Game Boy and Nintendo DS, and a monster hit in their day. Created by Game Boy inventor Gunpei Yokoi, each Game & Watch contained a single LCD game with limited graphics and push-button controls.
1980: Intellivision — Mattel
Alongside the Atari 2600 and Colecovision, the Intellivision was one of the best-selling game consoles of the second generation of video game consoles.
The controllers sported a numeric keypad and the first to include a directional disc-shaped pad to allow 16 directions. It was also the first 16-bit console and the first console to feature a synthesized human voice during gameplay. The superior audio of the Intellivision was one of its major selling points.