How Video Game Systems Work Click here to print this article.
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Home video game systems, also known as consoles, are a popular form of entertainment. In 2000, Sony estimated that one out of every four households in the United States had a Sony PlayStation. That's a huge number! And then there are the homes with one of the many other game systems.
Now, you will learn what video game systems are, a little about the history of game consoles, what is inside a game console and what the future holds for these systems. You will also learn a little about the games these systems play.
Although the Fairchild Channel F, released in 1976, was the first true removable game system, Atari once again had the first such system to be a commercial success. Introduced in 1977 as the Atari Video Computer System (VCS), the 2600 used removable cartridges, allowing a multitude of games to be played using the same hardware.
The hardware in the 2600 was quite sophisticated at the time, although it seems incredibly simple now. It consisted of:
The chips were attached to a small printed circuit board (PCB) that also connected to the joystick ports, cartridge connector, power supply and video output. Games consisted of software encoded on ROM chips and housed in plastic cartridges. The ROM was wired on a PCB that had a series of metal contacts along one edge. These contacts seated into a plug on the console's main board when a cartridge was plugged into the system. When power was supplied to the system, it would sense the presence of the ROM and load the game software into memory.
Systems like the Atari 2600, its descendant, the 5200, Coleco's ColecoVision and Mattel's IntelliVision helped to generate interest in home video games for a few years. But interest began to wane because the quality of the home product lagged far behind arcade standards. But in 1985, Nintendo introduced the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and everything changed.
The NES introduced three very important concepts to the video game system industry:
Using a pad controller instead of a joystick
Creating authentic reproductions of arcade video games for the home system
Using the hardware as a loss leader by aggressively pricing it, then making a profit on the games themselves
Nintendo's strategy paid off, and the NES sparked a revival in the home video game market that continues to thrive and expand even now. No longer were home video game systems looked upon as inferior imitations of arcade machines. New games that would have been impractical to create for commercial systems, such as Legend of Zelda, were developed for the home markets. These games enticed many people who had not thought about buying a home video game system before to purchase the NES.
Nintendo continued to develop and introduce new game consoles. Other companies, such as Sega and Sony, created their own home video game systems. In the articles on each of the current systems (see this page), you will learn more about what they can do. But first, let's look at the core parts of any current video game system.
Ever since the early days of the 2600, video game systems have relied on RAM to provide temporary storage of games as they're being played. Without RAM, even the fastest CPU could not provide the necessary speed for an interactive gaming experience.
The software kernel is the console's operating system. It provides the interface between the various pieces of hardware, allowing the video game programmers to write code using common software libraries and tools.
The two most common storage technologies used for video games today are CD and ROM-based cartridges. Current systems also offer some type of solid-state memory cards for storing saved games and personal information. Newer systems, like the PlayStation 2, have DVD drives.
All game consoles provide a video signal that is compatible with television. Depending on your country, this may be NTSC, PAL or possibly even SECAM. Most consoles have a dedicated graphics processor that provides specialized mapping, texturing and geometric functions, in addition to controlling video output. Another dedicated chip typically handles the audio processing chores and outputs stereo sound or, in some cases, digital surround sound!
In the next section, you'll learn a bit about the games you can play on these systems.