Fairchild Channel-F & Channel-F System II The Fairchild Channel F was the first video game system to be fully programmable using plug-in cartridges. It was introduced in 1976 and shortly thereafter, the system was purchased by Zircon. Zircon made some design changes to the Channel F, most notably the replacement of hardwired joystick controllers with ones that could be plugged in, and re-released the system as the Channel F System II. Both systems can run the same software, which came in cartridges that quite closely resembled 8-track audio tapes. Though the graphics of the system were quite primitive even in comparison to the Atari 2600 released later, the Channel F was an important milestone in the home video game console market, which up to that time was largely Pong clones. Fairchild released 21 cartridges for this system, and Zircon released another 5 cartridges after purchasing the rights and before halting production. Variations on the system and cartridges were also manufactured and sold in the UK, Sweden and Germany. Milton Berle was the spokesperson in the advertisements for the Channel F System II, and used the slogan "Bringing high technology down to earth". The box of the Channel F also refers to it as the Fairchild Video Entertainment System.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Channel F are it's controllers, which are housed beneathe a smoke colored cover on the original and in holders on the rear of the machine on the System II. Along with the various games which came on cartridges, the Channel F also had two built-in Pong style games, Tennis and Hockey, and unlike with other variants of Pong in other systems, these unique controllers allowed the player to move anywhere they wanted on the playing field, as well as allowed them to angle the bat any direction for unique shots. The controllers consisted of a pistol grip that the player held in thier palm with a triangular shaped knob sticking off the top. This knob could be pushed eight different directions, as well as rotated about it's center axis. It even doubled as a fire button when it was pushed down! Unfortunately, due to the lightweight wire used with the controllers, these tend to be the first thing to check whenever a Channel F has problems functioning.

It should be noted that some will argue that the original Magnavox Odyssey was the first programmable video game system, but this is not the case. The 'cartridges' used by the Odyssey simply rewired the machine in different ways and weren't truly programmable. Later games tended to just use the same cartridges as each other, relying on outside items such as game pieces and such.

I have both a Channel F and a Channel F System II, both systems still in thier original boxes. When I received the original Channel F, it had been disassembled by it's previous owner and left in pieces and the box had faded. It cleaned up nicely and is only somewhat function, the video being somewhat unstable and the right controller not responding. The System II and it's box are in much nicer shape, the console being totally functional.

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