The Channel F a game console was 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. Some Channel F games allowed for player versus computer matches, a first in console history. All previous home video games required a human opponent.
The console contains two built-in games, Tennis and Hockey, which were both advanced Pong clones. Sound is played through the Channel F's internal speaker, rather than the TV set. Another unique feature to this console is the 'Hold' button, which allows the player to freeze the game and change game settings (such as speed or time limit) during the course of the game.
The controllers are an unusual variation on an eight-way joystick; the main body is a large rectangular hand grip with a triangular handle sticking out of a hole in the top, the triangle being the portion that actually moved for eight-way directional control. In addition, the triangular handle can be twisted to activate a switch, and not only pushed down to operate as a fire button but also pulled up. The console includes a covered compartment for storing the controllers.
The Channel F electronics were designed by Jerry Lawson using the Fairchild F8 CPU, the first public outing of this processor. 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.
Also involved in the creation of the Channel F were Nick Talesfore who was responsible for the industrial design of the hand controllers, console and video game cartridges; 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 Fairchild Semiconductor, a division of Fairchild Camera & Instrument.
The Channel F graphics are quite basic by modern standards. It was only able to use one plane of graphics and one of four background colors per line, with 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.
- CPU chip: Fairchild F8 operating at 1.79 MHz
- RAM: 64 bytes, 2 kB VRAM (2×128×64 bits)
- Resolution: 128 × 64 pixels, approximately 102 × 58 pixels visible depending on TV
- Colors: eight colors (either black/white or four color max. per line)
- Audio: 500 Hz, 1 kHz, and 1.5 kHz tones (can be modulated quickly to produce different tones)
- Input: two custom game controllers, hardwired to the console
- Output: RF modulated composite video signal, cord hardwired to console
Source: Wikipedia, "Fairchild Channel F", available under the CC-BY-SA License.