Fairchild Channel F

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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 of being the first programmable ROM cartridge-based video game console. It was launched as the Video Entertainment System, or VES, but when Atari released their VCS the next year, Fairchild renamed its machine.


The console

The Channel F electronics were designed by Jerry Lawson using the Fairchild F8 CPU, the first public outing of this processor. he worked with Nick Talesfore who was responsible for the Industrial Design of the hand controllers, console and video game cartridges as the manager of industrial design; and, Ron Smith who was responsible for the mechanical engineering of the video cartridges and the 8 degrees of freedom hand controllers. All worked for Exetron a a division of Fairchild Camera & Instrument Corporation headed by Wilf Corigan. Notably, Robert Noyce worked on the F8 design team 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 by modern standards. The Channel F was only able to use one plane of graphics and one of four background colors per line, only three plot colors to choose from (red, green and blue) that turned into white if the background was set to black. A resolution of 128 × 64 with approximately 102 × 58 pixels visible and help from only 64 bytes of system RAM, half the amount of the Atari 2600.[1][2] The F8 processor at the heart of the console was able to produce enough AI to allow for player vs. computer matches, a first in console history. All previous machines required a human opponent.

One unique feature to this console is the 'hold' button, which allows the player to freeze the game, change the time or change the speed of the game during the course of the game[3]. In the original unit, sound is played through an internal speaker, rather than the TV set. However, the System II passes sound to the television through the RF switch.

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 for eight-way directional control. 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 model 1 unit contains a small compartment for storing the controllers when moving it. The System II featured detachable controllers. Zircon later offered a special control which featured an action button on the front of the joystick. It was marketed by Zircon as "Channel F Jet-Stick" in a letter sent out to registered owners before Christmas 1982.[4] They also released it as an Atari-compatible controller called "Video Command" it was also first released without the extra fire button, before that only the downwards plunge motion was connected and acted as the fire button, the pull-up and twist actions weren't used.

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