Video Games Console Release Timeline

Take a trip down 8-bit memory lane

Editors View
1977
Atari
Atari VCS

President Jimmy Carter is elected 38th president, a gallon of gas costs a whopping .62 cents a gallon and the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) is released to the general public in October ushering in the Golden Age of video game consoles. The Atari VCS was the first successful console featuring interchangeable cartridges. Although released in time for Christmas, it would be another three years before kids everywhere were blasting Space Invaders and avoiding the Pitfalls.

Hardware Highlights
128 bytes of system ram
4KB Max capacity ROM cartridges (32K with paging)
CPU MOS Technologies 6507

The legendary game system probably wasn't on the top of any Christmas list until 1980; when Atari got a shot in the arm from key arcade game ports like Space Invaders. It would take almost two decades for a certain TV manufacturer to turn the release of a new console game system into an event. In this era, nobody seemed to care about the console until the killer app arrived and Atari's were all ported arcade games including Space Invaders, Defender, Asteroids and Pitfall from Activision.

1985
Nintendo
Nintendo (NES)

It's the era of Reganomics. Springsteen and Madonna dominate MTV music videos. Nintendo rolls out its Entertainment System (NES) to a lucky, but limited US consumer market in October featuring a killer app with a plumber named Mario. The 8-bit game system went on to rescue console gaming from the Video Game Crash of 1983. It would dominate console gaming through the rest of the 80s and clear into the early 90s.

Mario Brothers
Hardware Highlights
Motorola 6502 8-bit CPU
1.79 MHz CPU speed
16 K RAM
52 colors
1989
Sega Genesis
Sega Genesis

At the dawn of the millennia's final decade, President Bush Sr. serves a sole term and an unkempt style of music was about to explode out of Seattle. Sega quietly released its 16-bit console to a largely unaware North American public. It won't be until after the 1991 release of Sonic the Hedgehog that the public would hail Sega Genesis as the true next generation gaming system. Sega Genesis went on to dominate the console games market by 1992, succeeding Nintendo as the console king.

Hardware Highlights
16-bit Motorola 68000 CPU
7.61MHz CPU speed
64K RAM
512 colors
1995
PlayStation
PlayStation

The internet becomes the hottest consumer commodity. Netscape is publicly traded and Microsoft releases Windows '95 the same year Forrest Gump gets Oscar recognition. Sony enters the North American console gaming fray in September of this happening year. Naysayers don't think Sony can compete with the established big guns in video gaming, like Nintendo and Sega. PlayStation proves them wrong with the first CD Rom based console that eventually defeats all competitors.

Hardware Highlights
32-bit R3000A RISC CPU
33.8688MHz, 30 MIPS CPU speed
16M RAM
3D Geometric Transfer Engine, 1.5 million flat-shaded polygons per second
16.7 million colors
CD-ROM double speed, 256K CD-ROM buffer
128 K Flash memory cards.

Sony makes a spectacle of the new console's launch; strategically timing the PlayStation's release to coincide with a wide variety of games that take full advantage of the new system's 3D capabilities. Marketing the release of a console game system as a news worthy event will be imitated by every console hereafter. Putting PlayStation into stores with a complete line of games that offered something for fans of every genre was part of Sony's marketing genius. The games became the focal point for Sony with first release titles like Toshinden, Twisted Metal and Ridge Racer- games everyone was anxious to play.

2000
PlayStation 2
PlayStation 2

Y2K scare proved a bust; the world didn't end but silicone valley was reeling when the dot-com bubble burst. Sony strikes again with the North American launch of PlayStation2 in October 2000 giving gamers another disc driven console. The most anticipated console release yet was plagued by shortages in Q4 2000 as fewer than 3 million shipped before 2001, falling way short of projected needs. Amid the hype of the new game console's release, people were willing to pay many times the retail value of the PS2 in pre-order. The story would repeat itself in five years and is probably now a regular feature of new game consoles release, since the launch is now an event in itself.

Hardware Highlights
128 Bit "Emotion Engine" CPU
300MHz CPU clock speed
32M RAM
6.2 GFLOPS floating point performance
66 Million polygons per second 3D geometry
75 Million polygons per second "Graphics Synthesizer"
150MHz clock speed "Graphics Synthesizer."
2001
Xbox
Xbox

Russell Crowe's star is at its zenith with two Oscars in a row and the Beatles become contemporaries of Eminem and Britney Spears with one of the top five CDs. Microsoft's highly anticipated foray into the console games market was met with mixed results. Some say it was a failure due to lackluster games upon release and sales that will never even come close to PS2 numbers. Others contend it was a smashing success for Microsoft's first time making hardware of any kind.

Hardware Highlights
Intel Pentium III CPU w/ SIMD extensions
733 MHz clock speed
64 M RAM (8-GB hard drive)
NVIDIA custom Graphics Processing Unit
233MHz GPU clock speed
100 Million polygons per second (w/ shading and texturing)
Supports DirectX API game development tools

The Xbox is more powerful than anything seen to date in 2001; even topping PS2 in specs. Microsoft succeeded in creating the largest online gaming community with Xbox Live. In a move that was considered controversial in 2001, Xbox's online capability was only accessible if you had a high speed internet connection. Microsoft correctly reasoned it would improve game play and their target audience most likely already has broadband or will be getting it shortly. Sales would only be slightly higher than GameCube, the #3 console, but would lag far behind PS2 making it the #2 console. Surely Sony is now looking over its shoulder.

2005
Xbox 360
Xbox 360

After missing Sony's Playstation 2 kickoff party in the late 1990s, Microsoft wasted little time in establishing itself in the next-gen with the Xbox 360. For the first time in its history, Microsoft developed a console before the competition, arriving a year ahead of hardware from Nintendo and Sony. In the past year, the Xbox 360 has routinely provided anxious moments for those awaiting the Wii and Playstation 3. How? Through a plethora of quality first and third-party titles like The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Project Gotham Racing 3, and the more recent and highly acclaimed Gears of War. Until the other two consoles are established, however, it will be difficult to gauge how wise it was for Microsoft to rush its Xbox 360 out the door. Falling comfortably between the Wii and PS3 in performance and price, the Xbox 360 is highly unlikely to go the way of previous PE (Premature Entertainment) failures like the Sega Dreamcast, Atari Jaguar, or 3DO. Other than some popular titles, the system boasts the strongest online network (Xbox Live), which includes an easy-to-navigate interface with optional downloads and the ability to challenge gamers from around the globe. In the coming year, expect a number of exclusive titles – the most daunting being Halo 3 – to challenge the competition for patent rights to the average gamer's wallet.

Hardware Highlights
3 Custom IBM PowerPC CPU Cores
3.2 GHz Clock for each CPU Core, 2 hardware threads per core
Custom ATI Graphics Processing Unit, 10M of embedded DRAM
500 Million polygon per second geometry performance
Detachable and upgradeable 20-GB hard drive
All games support HDTV 720P and anti-aliasing
Optional HD-DVD High Definition add-on
Approximate price: $399 for premium version
2006
Sony PS3
Playstation 3

Like a Roman emperor returning to his throne aboard a glowing chariot, the Playstation 3 re-enters the gaming arena fashionably late. Prepared to topple the barbarian Microsoft and Nintendo fanboy hordes, the Playstation 3 boasts the most internal power of any of the new consoles, and certainly holds the potential to reassert itself as the dominant player in a bitterly-fought market. Sony's graphical unit for the PS3, Nvidia's "RSX", is more powerful than two GeForce Ultra video cards, which would cost the average PC gamer over $1,000. A number of hiccups have threatened the Playstation 3 since launch, including a dearth of available units and an equally unsatisfying game lineup. Only a handful of systems are trickling down to the desperate, outstretched arms of the Sony faithful, meaning it won't be a very impressive opening period for the Japanese company. It's a drought that has made the Xbox 360's launch famine look like business as usual. Still, because the PS3 has so much to lose, it is unlikely to do just that. A legion of Sony fans will surely scrimp and save to pay the hefty price for the console, and an equal number will wait patiently for the limited supplies to slowly make their way to retailer shelves.

Hardware Highlights
3.2 GHz Cell Broadband Engine CPU
Nvidia RSX "Reality Synthesizer" Graphics Processing Unit
Games supporting HDTV in 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i resolutions
20GB detachable hard drive upgradeable to larger capacities
256 MB XDR main RAM memory supported by 256 MB GDDR3 VRAM
Internal Blu-Ray High Definition DVD player
Approximate price: $599 for premium version
2006
Nintendo Wii
Nintendo Wii

The Wii uses motion sensor to completely change the way players experience a game. Playing a baseball title? Swing the controller and you'll see your in-game character react accordingly. Other titles will challenge gamers to balance themselves skateboarding in Tony Hawk Project 8, with Nintendo's home-made games like Mario Party maximizing the concept's potential. Although we're left wondering if this system has the legs to last a full four years with graphics and support that again lag behind Microsoft and Sony, Nintendo's Wii should garner more sales with a radical new approach to playing games.

Hardware Highlights
PowerPC based "Broadway" CPU
ATI "Hollywood" GPU
512 MB built-in flash memory hard drive with expansion via SD
Games supporting 480p or 576p resolutions
Approximate price: $249