Second Generation (1976-1984)
The second generation of video game consoles began in 1976 and lasted until 1984. This generation carried some distinct features separating its consoles from those of the earlier generation. Microprocessors were developed, and gamefields spanned various flip-screen areas. Graphics increased to 3 bit or 8 colors, audio had up to three channels, and resolution was around 160 x 192 pixels. Additionally, with the advent of microprocessor-based code, games were burned onto Read Only Memory (ROM) chips and installed within plastic cartridges. Consoles included slots for plugging in the cartridges, and the consoles’ microprocessor technology read the cartridges and the games within them, enabling different games to be accessed on one console.
Second generation consoles first came on the scene in 1976 with Fairchild Semiconductor’s Fairchild VES (later renamed Fairchild Channel F), the world’s first CPU-based console. The following year, Atari released their own CPU-based console, eventually known as Atari 2600. This console dominated the market for most of the second generation. However, a few other console’s gained significant portions of the market. One of these consoles was Magnavox’s Odyssey 2,which was released in 1978. Another successful second generation console was created by Mattel in 1980, called Intellivision. Intellivision utilized a unique processor with wider instructions and registers, allowing for more variety and speed.
In 1982, a few more powerful consoles were released and succeeded in the market, including the ColecoVision and the Atari 5200. The Vectrex was also released, and was unique in that it includes its own vector monitor displaying vector graphics, although it did not achieve commercial success. Also during the time of these powerful second generation consoles, the ROM limit in cartridges was steadily growing. Starting at 2KB in the Atari 2600, ROMs grew to 32KB in ColecoVision using a technique called bank switching, which allowed two parts of a program to use the same memory addresses. While ROM limits and cartridge sizes grew, RAM (memory) capabilities stayed fairly small, as the RAM limit was contained with the console itself.