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Evolution of Home Video Game Consoles (1970s to Today)

Ahhh – the humble video game. Some might say that baseball is ‘America’s Pastime’, but in our opinion, that honor more accurately goes to those bulky boxes of plastic, silicone, and circuitry that go beep and boop.

Looking at the 9th generation of video game consoles of today, it’s crazy to think how in just a few short decades, we went from the giant pixels and simple color palette machines like the Atari 2600 were limited to displaying to the complex, insanely realistic looking graphics seen in Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X/S titles such as Elden Ring, Horizon: Forbidden West, and Cyberpunk 2077.

Since video games are somewhat of a cultural touchstone, we decided to geek out a bit and create a video dedicated to covering the timeline of home video game consoles. Even if you’re not that much a gamer, we’re willing to bet that this video is going to at least inspire a tad bit of that good old fashion nostalgia feeling.

Facts Verse Presents: Evolution of Home Video Game Consoles (1970s to Today)

1972 – Magnavox Odyssey

A lot of folks tend to think that console gaming got it’s start in the 80s, but actually it all began in the 60s with a chunky brown console aptly named the “Brown Box” invented by one Ralph Baer.

Baer’s rudimentary console was later revamped by Magnavox – you heard that right Magnavox – for the commercial market in the early 70s. The system included plastic overlays that you literally fixed to the glass of your CRT TV screen in a feeble attempt to make up for it’s super bare-bones graphics. While this console is all but forgotten today – and Magnavox has long been out of the gaming market – this early console helped pave the way for the beloved video games that we all know and love today.

1977- Atari VCS 2600

The world of console gaming changed forever in 1987 when Atari released their first popular console capable of playing swappable cartridges. Before this innovation, consoles only had the ability to play single – or occasionally a couple – self-contained games.

The 2600 game players the ability to use paddle controllers or joysticks to play such classic, albeit primitive, titles as Frogger, Pong, Asteroids, and Food Fight.

1979 – Intellivision

Mattel Electronic was keen on dethroning Atari as the reigning console king when they released their own home console as a direct competitor to the 2600 in 1979. The Intellivision, or the “intelligent television’, was never quite able to surpass the Atari in terms of popularity, but where it lacked in sales, it made up for that in graphical and audio fidelity. Some of the most popular games released on the console included Dig Dug, Shark! Shark!, and my personal favorite, Burgertime.

1982 – ColecoVision

In 1982, yet another company, Coleco Industries, threw their chips into the home game market with their answer to the 2600 and Intellivison, Colecovision. The console had the ability to play popular titles like Sega’s Zaxcxon and Nintendo’s Donkey Kong, as well as a few lesser-known offerings such as Cosmic Avenger and Lady Bug.

1985 – Nintendo Entertainment System

The NES, or the Famicom as it was known in Japan, was released in the US in 1985 alongside the enormously popular title Super Mario Bros. The Italian plumber with a penchant for munching on magic mushrooms and hopping on turtles’ heads helped launch the console into popularity. With the NES’ introduction, console gaming was suddenly cool again.

The NES went on to be the birthplace of many other legendary video game franchises, such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Final Fantasy – just to name a few.

1989 – Sega Genesis

With the catchy tagline, “Genesis Does What Nintendon’t”, Sega took the home game console into 16-bit territory.

Sega got their start developing arcade games and cabinets, but as the market shifted, they shifted gears and entered the home console market in 1988 with the release of the Mega Drive. In ’89, the Mega Drive was rebranded as the Genesis for the North American market.

While the Genesis was superior to the NES from a technical perspective, it trailed behind Nintendo’s offering in terms of sales. Still, it gained a significant market share with popular titles such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Echo the Dolphin.

1990 – Super Nintendo Entertainment System

The 16-bit SNES was released as the Super Famicon in Japan in 1990, with a North American release later that year. The console was a huge success and even survived well into the 32-bit era. The SNES was the first console to introduce right and left shoulder buttons, and due to the quality of the releases on the platform, more than 49 million Super Nintendo units were sold worldwide.

Some of the most popular titles for the console include Super Mario Kart, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, and The Legend of Zelda : A Link to the Past.

1995 – Playstation

In 1995, after failing to secure a deal that would have seen the company join forces with Nintendo, Sony released their first iteration of the “Playstation” series of consoles. The console ran games off of CD-Rom discs and was capable of producing true 3D graphics.

This generation represented a monumental leap for video games. More complex titles tapped into the console’s increased power leading to the birth of popular franchises like Metal Gear Solid, Gran Turismo, and Resident Evil.

Even though it was their first entry into the console market, Sony’s Playstation sold more than 100 million units worldwide.

1996 – Nintendo 64

Boasting a beefy 64-bit processor but lacking in the ability to play higher-capacity CD-ROM games, the N64 hit the market in 1996. The machine could produce impressive graphics, but unfortunately, it sold substantially fewer units than the rival Playstation console. It’s lack of CD drive is typically pointed to as being the primary reason why the N64 failed to sell as well as Nintendo’s previous consoles. Even so, some majorly iconic hit games saw releases on the platform, such as Super Mario 64, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Goldeneye 007.

2000 – Playstation 2

Sony gave their Playstation console a major update in 2000 with the introduction of the PS2. It was capable of DVD playback, offered backwards compatibility, and produced significantly higher resolution and polygon count graphics. Some of the top games for this system were Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Shadow of the Colossus, and Final Fantasy 10.

2001 – Xbox

In 2001, Microsoft decided that it was finally time to hop into the console gaming realm. With the introduction of the Xbox, Bill Gates and company effectively kicked off what’s commonly known as the console wars.

They introduced their popular Xbox Live service that let players compete against each other online. The enormously popular HALO franchise also helped cement Microsoft as a significant player in the home console market.

2005 – Xbox 360

In continuation of the ongoing console wars – a rivaly that saw the big three of Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft duke it out with their PS2, Gamecube, and Xbox consoles – Microsoft took another jab at Nintendo and Sony with their powerful Xbox 360 console. The machine featured wireless controllers, improved graphics, and the popular ‘Achievements’ systems.

Popular games released on the 360 include Call of Duty and Gears of War.

2006 – Nintendo Wii

Realizing that they couldn’t compete with the powerful, adult-oriented rival offerings from Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo released the motion-controlled, family-friendly system, the Wii, in 2006.

The motion controls, albeit simple and not exactly accurate, kicked off a casual gaming revolution. Players could bowl, smack around tennis balls, and even duel with lightsabers using it’s unique “Wiimote”. They could also break their TV sets if they weren’t careful.

2006 – Playstation 3

To compete with Microsoft’s 360 console, Sony introduced the PS3 in 2006. With that iteration of their console line, they introduced the Playstation Network for online gaming. The console’s most popular titles included The Last of Us, Red Dead Redemption, and Grand Theft Auto 5.

2013 – Xbox One

The Xbox One improved upon the Xbox Live subscription service, featured third-party streaming capabilities, and boasted improved graphics, sleek modern design, and support for an enormous library of games. A few of the most popular Xbox One games included Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, Call of Duty Black Ops II, and Fallout 4.

2013 – Playstation 4

The PS4, much like the Xbox One, was essentially just an evolution of the formula that had already been working so well for Sony. The console featured sharper graphics, VR capabilities, a large, impressive library of games, and a sleek redesign of the actual hardware. Popular games included Fortnite, Destiny 2, and Black Ops IV. Even though the PS5 has since replaced it, the PS4 still continues to sell well, and new games are still in development

2017 – Nintendo Switch

After the catastrophic failure that was the Wii U, Nintendo decided to go back to the drawing board and actualy listen to the wants and desires of their customers when they released the Switch in 2017. The Hybrid console is both a handheld as well a TV-based console when in ‘dock mode’. While significantly less powerful than the other mainline consoles on the market, such as the PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S, the portability of the Switch alongside it’s impressive library of AAA first-party and third-party titles has led to it becoming one of the highest selling video game consoles of all time.

Popular games include Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the Splatoon franchise, and Super Mario Odyssey.

2020 – Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X/S

Both consoles saw releases in November 2020. These two powerful gaming machines kicked off the current ninth generation of consoles and feature 4K capable resolutions, Blu-Ray drives – at least for their non-digital-only models – and substantial support from third-party developers.

Higher resolutions, faster FPS refresh rates, and graphical features like ‘raytracing’, have made these two consoles capable of producing almost photo-realistic graphics.

On that note, we’ll go ahead and wrap this video up. But now it’s your turn to let your voice be heard. In the comments, let us know which video game console you have the fondest memories of and what you think the future of video game consoles might look like!

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