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History of video games/Platforms/RCA Studio II

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History[edit | edit source]

Background[edit | edit source]

The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) was founded in 1919 and quickly became a consumer electronics titan, having introduced some of the first consumer color television sets to the market in 1954.[1][2] In fact, RCA had been in such a powerful position that it helped set the standards for color television in the United States of America, and by extension other NTSC countries.[3] Indirectly this would have massive implications for the technologies adopted by the video game industry on its own, and is likely the largest single impact on the video game industry attributable to RCA's industry leadership.

By the late 1970's RCA was not as successful as it once had been due to a lack of solid leadership,[4] and began to seek success in different segments of consumer electronics including their CED media format,[5] and the RCA Studio II home video game console.

Development[edit | edit source]

Development of the system began in 1969 as the FRED (Flexible Recreational and Educational Device) personal computer, spearheaded by Joseph Weisbecker.[6][4] This is quite remarkable, as the only other game console in development at the time was the Magnavox Odyssey Brownbox prototypes, which were not based around a proper computer. Poor management at RCA lead the company to not capitalize on this computer for some time,[4] and by the time they did the first generation of video game consoles had already hit the market, and were being replaced by more advanced second generation systems.[4] The Studio II was a version of the FRED.[4]

A related early home computer design, the COSMAC ELF, had also resulted from the work of Joseph Weisbecker.[4]

Joyce Weisbecker, one of Joseph Weisbecker daughters, is believed to have become both one of the first female game developers and is also perhaps the first independent console game developer with her work developing the TV Schoolhouse I quiz game for the system as an outside contractor in 1976.[6]

RCA Studio A, a recording studio. The RCA Studios were the namesake of the RCA Studio series of game consoles.

Despite the name, there was not a product released named the RCA Studio I.[7][8] The name is instead based on RCA's recording studio naming scheme.[9]

Launch and Legacy[edit | edit source]

The RCA Studio II was released in January 1977[10] for about $150 US Dollars.[11] The system was quickly discontinued in February 1978 having been a commercial failure.[10]

A color capable and sound enhanced RCA Studio III was designed by 1977.[12] However the failure of the Studio II lead to RCA leaving the console to its Hong Kong based partner Conic Group, which released the console in a number of countries outside the United States of America under other brands in 1978.[12] Some software for the RCA Studio II and the RCA Studio III is compatible across both systems.[11]

A higher spec RCA Studio IV was planned.[11] A January 1st, 1978 tape made by Joseph Weisbecker containing data for the final interpreter software has lead hobbyists to make a working version of this console in software.[13][14]

Between 53,000 and 64,000 consoles were sold, with fewer cartridges sold then consoles.[15] RCA as an independent company would not last much longer, following a merger with General Electric in 1986.[16] Despite this, the RCA brand would be used on at least one more console. In Summer of 2002 (RCA DRC300N) and June 2003 (RCA DRC480N) two RCA brand Nuon enhanced DVD player was released, though the both systems are incapable of playing commercial titles and could only be used for homebrew gaming.[17][18]

The Library at the College of New Jersey.

At least one tape related to the development of the RCA Studio series is held by the Sarnoff Collection held at the College of New Jersey in Trenton, New Jersey.[14]

Technology[edit | edit source]

The RCA Studio II uses RCA's own RCA CDP1802 processor, clocked at 1.78 megahertz.[7] The CDP1802 was also developed by Joseph Weisbecker,[4] giving the RCA Studio II the rare advantage of sharing a designer of both the console and the processor inside of it. Furthermore a degree of horizontal integration was present as a result of RCA using their own processor design in their console. This revolutionary processor was the first to use power efficient complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology,[4] and was also a pioneer a RISC like methodology in early microprocessors.[19]

An RCA CDP1861 support processor handles graphical output.[20] The system was limited to black and white graphics, which proved to be a major downside for the console.[21] The system has 512 bytes of RAM, and 2 kilobytes of ROM.[7]

The RCA Studio II and RCA Studio III typically execute software through an interpreter,[11] a very forward thinking design for 1977. This is similar to the CHIP-8 on the COSMAC ELF, though RCA Studio series and COSMAC ELF software are not compatible.[11] Had RCA continued to make consoles and video games, they likely could have maintained backwards compatibility at minimal cost thanks to this technical decision, as future devices would only need the interpreter to be rewritten for their specific hardware.

The console uses a hand drawn PCB designed around through hole components for a motherboard,[7] a fairly typical design for the time. This style of design enhances reliability and made the board easier to repair,[22] especially compared to the then new technology of surface mounted components.[23]

The system used a combined power supply and RF switch, a rare design choice which is similar to the later Atari 5200.[9][24] This critical part has a high failure rate and is the Achilles heel of maintaining a working RCA Studio II.[25]

Styrofoam casing embossed with the RCA brand was used to protect the Studio II in the box.[9]

Notable Games[edit | edit source]

Built in software[edit | edit source]

Cartridges[edit | edit source]

  • TV Arcade Series: Speedway/Tag[26]
  • TV School House I[26]
  • TV School House II: Math fun[26]
  • Star Wars[26]

Gallery[edit | edit source]

Games[edit | edit source]

RCA Studio II[edit | edit source]

RCA Studio II internals[edit | edit source]

Related RCA Photos[edit | edit source]

External Resources[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "A Visual Memoir of RCA". https://www.rca.com/us_en/our-legacy-266-us-en. 
  2. "RCA & Color TV: A dominant company and standard, both now gone – Part 2". 10 December 2019. https://www.eeworldonline.com/rca-color-tv-a-dominant-company-standard-both-gone-part-2-faq/. 
  3. "Color TV Transformed the Way Americans Saw the World, and the World Saw America" (in en). Smithsonian Magazine. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/color-tv-transformed-way-americans-saw-world-world-saw-america-180971343/. 
  4. a b c d e f g h "Chip Hall of Fame: RCA CDP 1802" (in en). https://spectrum.ieee.org/semiconductors/processors/chip-hall-of-fame-rca-cdp-1802. Retrieved 31 October 2020. 
  5. Grundhauser, Eric (10 November 2015). "Movies on Vinyl: A Thing That Actually Happened in the Early 1980s" (in en). Slate Magazine. https://slate.com/human-interest/2015/11/capacitance-electronic-discs-were-a-doomed-effort-by-rca-to-make-videos-go-vinyl.html. 
  6. a b Edwards, Benj (27 October 2017). "Rediscovering History’s Lost First Female Video Game Designer". https://www.fastcompany.com/90147592/rediscovering-historys-lost-first-female-video-game-designer. Retrieved 31 October 2020. 
  7. a b c d "RCA Studio II Teardown" (in en). 29 October 2020. https://www.ifixit.com/News/3394/rca-studio-ii-teardown. Retrieved 29 October 2020. 
  8. "The 10 Worst Video Game Systems of All Time" (in en). 14 July 2009. https://www.pcworld.com/article/168348/worst-game-consoles.html#slide11. 
  9. a b c "RCA Studio II: History's worst home console - Unboxing, Gameplay, Review". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wB-gc2k7GPc. 
  10. a b "RCA Studio II (1977 - 1978)". 24 January 2015. https://obsoletemedia.org/rca-studio-ii/. Retrieved 28 October 2020. 
  11. a b c d e "Sudo Null" (in en). https://sudonull.com/post/11617-Architecture-and-Programming-RCA-Studio-II. 
  12. a b "RCA Studio III by RCA – The Video Game Kraken". http://videogamekraken.com/rca-studio-iii-by-rca. 
  13. "Emma 02". https://www.emma02.hobby-site.com/studioiv.html. 
  14. a b Modla, Andy (12 January 2021). "ajavamind/rca-studio2". https://github.com/ajavamind/rca-studio2. 
  15. "RCA Studio II GOLD MINE! An interview with the Studio 2 Production Manager!". https://atariage.com/forums/topic/209519-rca-studio-ii-gold-mine-an-interview-with-the-studio-2-production-manager/page/47/#entry3872359. 
  16. Center, Smithsonian Lemelson (23 July 2014). "RCA Corporation Records, 1887-1983 (bulk, 1914-1968)" (in en). Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. https://invention.si.edu/rca-corporation-records-1887-1983-bulk-1914-1968. 
  17. "NUON-Dome - www.nuon-dome.com". https://www.nuon-dome.com/rcadrc300nrev.html. 
  18. "NUON-Dome - www.nuon-dome.com". https://www.nuon-dome.com/rcadrc480n.html. 
  19. "Great Microprocessors of the Past and Present (V 13.4.0)". http://www.cpushack.com/CPU/cpu2.html. 
  20. "RCA Studio 2 Technical stuff". 15 April 2009. https://web.archive.org/web/20090415051408/http://studio2.classicgaming.gamespy.com/techinfo.htm. Retrieved 31 October 2020. 
  21. "Vintage RCA Studio II System Review - Gamester81". https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1CB-JOzsUCw. 
  22. "Through Hole Assembly vs Surface Mount Assembly". Falconer Electronics. 4 December 2020. https://falconerelectronics.com/through-hole-vs-surface-mount-assembly/. 
  23. "The History of Surface Mount Technology and It's Advantages". 17 September 2019. https://falconerelectronics.com/history-advantages-of-surface-mount-technology/. 
  24. "The RCA Studio II gaming console was one of the first cart-based video game consoles". http://www.8-bitcentral.com/rca/studioII.html. 
  25. "Video Game Console Library RCA Studio II". https://www.videogameconsolelibrary.com/pg70-rca.htm#page=ratings. 
  26. a b c d e f g h i "RCA Studio II" (in en). 10 January 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RCA_Studio_II.