Video game console
A video game console is a computer device that outputs a video signal or visual image to display a video game that one or more people can play.
The term "video game console" is used to distinguish a console machine primarily designed for consumers to use for playing video games, in contrast to arcade machines or home computers. An arcade machine consists of a video game computer, display, game controller, and speakers housed in large or small chassis. A home computer is a personal computer designed for home use for a variety of purposes, such as bookkeeping, accessing the Internet, and playing video games. Although arcades and computers are generally expensive or highly "technical" devices, video game consoles were designed with affordability and accessibility to the general public in mind.
Unlike similar consumer electronics such as music players and movie players, which use industry-wide standard formats, video game consoles use proprietary formats which compete with each other for market share. There are various types of video game consoles, including home video game consoles, handheld game consoles, microconsoles, and dedicated consoles. Although Ralph Baer had built working game consoles by 1966, it was nearly a decade before Home Pong made them commonplace in regular people's living rooms. Through evolution over the 1990s and 2000s, game consoles have expanded to offer additional functions such as CD players, DVD players, Blu-ray disc players, web browsers, set-top boxes, and more.
HistoryThe first video game consoles emerged in the early 1970s. Home consoles had two converging origins. The first was from Ralph H. Baer, who had devised of the concept of playing a table tennis-like game on a television screen in 1966, and which later became the basis of the Magnavox Odyssey in 1972. The second was from Atari, Inc. and Nolan Bushnell, Ted Dabney, and Allan Alcorn, who had developed the first success arcade game, Pong, and looked to develop that into a home version, which was released in 1974. Handheld consoles emerged from technology improvements in handheld electronic games as these shifted from mechanical to electronic/digital logic, and away from light-emitting diode indicators to liquid-crystal displays that resembled video screens more closely, with the Microvision and Game & Watch being early examples, and fully realized by the Game Boy.
Since the 1970s, both home and handheld consoles became more advanced following global changes in technology, including improved electronic and computer chip manufacturing to increase computational power at lower costs and size, the introduction of 3D graphics and hardware-based graphic processors for real-time rendering, digital communications such as the Internet, wireless networking and Bluetooth, and larger and denser media formats as well as digital distribution. Following the same type of Moore's law progression, home consoles were grouped into generations, each lasting approximately five years, with consoles within each sharing similar technology specifications and features such as processor word size. While there is no standard definition or breakdown of the home consoles by generation, the definition of these generations used by Wikipedia including representative consoles is shown below.
TypesThere are primarily two types of video game consoles:
- Home video game consoles are devices that are generally meant to be hooked up to a television or other type of monitor, and with power supplied through an outlet, thus requiring the unit to be used in fixed locations, typically at home in one's living room. Separate game controllers, connected through wired or wireless connections, are used to provide input to the game. Early examples include the Atari 2600, the Nintendo Entertainment System, and the Sega Genesis, while newer examples include the Wii, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
- * Microconsoles are a type of home video game console which lack comparable computing power of home consoles released at the same period, and thus are generally less expensive. A common form of microconsole are based on Android or iOS mobile software, allowing the consoles to access the respective library of games for those platforms, as well as features such as cloud gaming. These consoles also typically include support for other apps available for the underlying operating system, including those that supported video streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, making microconsoles also compete in the same space as "over-the-top" media providers that aimed to serve content directly to the living room television. Such consoles include the Ouya, the Nvidia Shield, Apple TV, and Google Stadia.
- * Plug and play consoles are specialized versions of microconsoles that come with a fixed selection of games on the system and do not give the consumer any ability to add more games, making it a dedicated console. The units usually come with the console unit, one or more controllers, and the required components for power and video hookup. Many of the recent releases have been for distributing a number of retro games for a specific console platform. Examples of these include the Atari Flashback series, the NES Classic Edition, and the Sega Genesis Mini.
- * Handheld TV games are yet a further specialized plug-and-play console but where the console unit itself serves as its own controller so that the consumer simply connects the device to their television and to a power source, or in some cases, were battery-powered. According to gaming historian Frank Cifaldi, these systems gained popularity around 2003 as they were cheap to manufacture and were relatively inexpensive at each by manufacturers such as Jakks Pacific. However, they also led to a surge of models that used counterfeit Nintendo chips manufactured in China, creating too many clones that could easily be tracked.
- Handheld video game consoles are devices that typically include a built-in screen and game controller features into its cases, and contain a rechargeable battery or battery compartment. These allow the unit can be carried around and be played anywhere. Examples of such include the Game Boy, the PlayStation Portable, and the Nintendo 3DS.
Most consoles have means for the player to switch between different games: this most often can be through a physical game cartridge or game card or through optical media, or with the onset of digital distribution, via internal or external digital storage device with software downloaded via the Internet through a dedicated storefront supported by the console's manufacturers. Some consoles are considered dedicated consoles, in which the games available for the console are "baked" onto the hardware, either by being programmed via the circuitry or set in the read-only flash memory of the console, and cannot be added to or changed directly by the user. The user can typically switch between games on dedicated consoles using hardware switches on the console, or through in-game menus. Dedicated consoles were common in the first generation of home consoles, such as the Magnavox Odyssey and the home console version of Pong, and more recently have been used for retro-consoles such as the NES Classic Edition and Sega Genesis Mini.
Console unitEarly console hardware was designed as customized printed circuit boards s, selecting existing integrated circuit chips that performed known functions, or programmable chips like erasable programmable read-only memory chips that could perform certain functions. Persistent computer memory was expensive, so dedicated consoles were generally limited to the use of processor registers for storage of the state of a game, thus limiting the complexities of such titles. Pong in both its arcade and home format a handful of logic and calculation chips that used the current input of the players' paddles and resisters storing the ball's position to update the game's state and sent to the display device. Even with more advanced integrated circuits s of the time, designers were limited to what could be done through the electrical process rather than through programming as normally associated with video game development.
Improvements in console hardware followed with improvements in microprocessor technology and semiconductor device fabrication. Manufacturing processes have been able to reduce the feature size on chips, allowing more transistors and other components to fit on a chip, and at the same time increasing the circuit speeds and the potential frequency the chip can run at, as well as reducing thermal dissipation. Chips were able to be made on larger dies, further increasing the number of features and effective processing power. Random-access memory became more practical with the higher density of transistors per chip, but to address the correct blocks of memory, processors needed to be updated to use larger word sizes and allot for larger bandwidth in chip communications. All this improvements did increase the cost of manufacturing but at a rate far less than the gains in overall processing power, which helped to make home computers and consoles inexpensive for the consumer.
For the consoles of the 1980s to 1990s, these improvements were evident in the marketing in the late 1980s to 1990s during the "bit wars", where console manufactures had focused on their console's processor's word size as a selling point.
Consoles since the 2000s are more similar to personal computers, building in memory and storage features to avoid the limitations of the past. However, consoles differ from computers as most of the hardware components are preselected and customized between the console manufacturer and hardware component provider to assure a consistent performance target for developers. Whereas personal computer motherboards are designed with the needs for allowing consumers to add their desired selection of hardware components, the fixed set of hardware for consoles enables console manufactures to optimize the size and design of the motherboard and hardware, often integrating key hardware components into the motherboard circuitry itself. Often, multiple components such as the central processing unit and graphics processing unit can be combined into a single chip, otherwise known as a system on a chip, which is a further reduction in size and cost. In addition, consoles tend to focus on components that give the unit high game performance such as the CPU and GPU, and as a tradeoff to keep their prices in expected ranges, use less memory and storage space compare to typical personal computers.
Some of the commons elements that can be found within console hardware include:
;Central processing unit
;Graphical processing unit
ControllersAll game consoles require player input through a game controller to provide a method to move the player character in a specific direction and a variation of buttons to perform other in-game actions such as jumping or interacting with the game world. Though controllers have become more featured over the years, they still provide less control over a game compared to personal computers or mobile gaming. The type of controller available to a game can fundamentally change the style of how a console game will or can be played. However, this has also inspired changes in game design to create games that accommodate for the limited controls available on consoles.
Controllers have come in a variety of styles over the history of consoles. Some common types have included:
Numerous other controller types exist, including those that support motion controls, touchscreen support on handhelds and some consoles, and specialized controllers for specific types of games, such as racing wheels for racing games, light guns for shooting games, and musical instrument controllers for rhythm games. Some newer consoles also include optional support for mouse and keyboard devices.
A controller may be attached through a wired connection onto the console itself, or in some unique cases like the Famicom hardwired to the console, or with a wireless connection. Controllers required some power, either provided by the console via the wired connection, or from batteries or a rechargeable battery pack for wireless connections. Controllers are nominally built into a handheld unit, though some newer ones allow for separate wireless controllers to also be used.
Game mediaWhile the first game consoles were dedicate game systems, with the games programmed into the console's hardware, the Fairchild Channel F introduced the ability to store games in a form separate from the console's internal circuitry, thus allowing the consumer to purchase new games to play on the system. Since the Channel F, nearly all game consoles have featured the ability to purchase and swap games through some form, through those forms have changes with improvements in technology.
;ROM cartridge or game cartridge
While magnetic storage, such as tape drives and floppy disks, had been popular for software distribution with early personal computers in the 1980s and 1990s, this format did not see much use in console system. There were some attempts, such as the Bally Astrocade and APF-M1000 using tape drives, as well as the Disk System for the Nintendo Famicom, and the Nintendo 64DD fr the Nintedo 64, but these had limited applications, as magnetic media was more fragile and volatile than game cartridges.
External storageIn addition to built-in internal storage, newer consoles often give the consumer the ability to use external storage media to save game date, downloaded games, or other media files from the console. Early versions of this were through the use of flash-based memory cards, first used by the Neo Geo but popularized with the PlayStation. Nintendo continues to support this approach with extending the storage capabilities of the 3DS and Switch, standardizing on the current SD card format. As consoles began incorporating use of USB ports, support for USB external hard drives was also added, such as with the Xbox 360.
Console add-onsCertain consoles saw various add-ons or accessories that were designed to attach to the existing console to extend its functionality. The best example of this was through the various CD-ROM add-ons for consoles of the fourth generation such as the TurboGrafx CD, Atari Jaguar CD, and the Sega CD. Other examples of add-ons include the 32X for the Sega Genesis intended to allow owners of the aging console to play newer games but has several technical faults, and the Game Boy Player for the GameCube to allow it to play Game Boy games.
AccessoriesConsumers can often purchase a range of accessories for consoles outside of the above categories. These can include:
;Virtual reality headsets
Console development kitsConsole or game development kits are specialized hardware units that typically include the same components as the console and additional chips and components to allow the unit to be connected to a computer or other monitoring device for debugging purposes. A console manufacturer will make the console's dev kit available to registered developers months ahead of the console's planned launch to give developers time to prepare their games for the new system. These initial kits will usually be offered under special confidentiality clauses to protect trade secrets of the console's design, and will be sold at a high cost to the developer as part of keeping this confidentiality. Newer consoles that share features in common with personal computers may no longer need dev kits though as still expected to register and purchase access to software development kits from the manufacture. For example, any consumer Xbox One can be used for game development after paying a fee to Microsoft to register's one intent to do so.
Emulation and backward compatibilityConsoles like most consumer electronic devices have limited lifespans. There is great interest in preservation of older console hardware for archival and historical, but games from older consoles, as well as arcade and personal computers, remain of interest. Computer programmers and hackers have developed emulators that can be run on personal computers or other consoles that simulate the hardware of older consoles that allow games from that console to be run. The development of software emulators of the console hardware is established to be legal, but there are unanswered legal questions surrounding copyrights of the including acquiring a console's firmware and copies of a game's ROM image, which laws such as the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act make illegal save for certain archival purposes.
To help support older games and console transitions, manufacturers started to support backward compatibility on consoles in the same family. Sony was the first off this on the PlayStation 2 which was able to play PlayStation, and subsequently became a sought-after feature across all consoles that followed.