In August 1976, a transistor manufacturing company named Fairchild Camera and Instrument released the first cartridge based video game system ever. The arrival of the Channel F signaled the end of the "dedicated" console that could only play a preset number of games. Any non-programmable system was instantly obsolete.
Technically, Magnavox's Odyssey 100 was the first programmable system. The Odyssey 100 featured an internal circuit board that could be removed and replaced with others that contained different games.
The Channel F was originally named the Fairchild VES (Video Entertainment System). In 1977, when Atari released their similarly named VCS (Video Computer System) Fairchild renamed is console the Channel F. The VES was originally priced at $169.95
The cartridges (or as Fairchild called them "videocarts") were contained in bright yellow boxes. They sold individually for $19.95. To help the public understand the cartridge loading process, in their manual, Fairchild compared it to the inserting of an eight track tape into a player. The first cartridge released for the Channel F (and home video game history) was a multi-game cartridge containing Tic-Tac-Toe / Shooting Gallery / Doodle / Quadra-Doodle.
The Channel F featured two "console games." Hockey and Tennis which were permanently installed in the system. The options of both a time limit and multiple playing speed were offered to players. Another breakthrough in the console was the inclusion of a PAUSE button which gave players the choice of indefinitely freezing a game instead of pressing STOP and resetting play during breaks.
The Channel F system contained a revolutionary joystick design. Before the Channel F, console controllers were essentially round knobs used for playing games like Atari's Pong. Channel F featured two controllers that resembled black plastic pipes. They differed from later joystick joystick designs because the tops of the controllers could rotate, unfortunately, there was no "fire button" available. By pressing the top end of the joystick, players could shoot on-screen.
The Channel F controllers remained permanently hard-wired into the console. They were digital and capable of eight positions. Despite their sturdy appearance, the fragile controllers were prone to break after extended rough play. This fact was unfortunate for owners of the system who could not simply unplug the broken controller and re-attach a new one.
When compared to modern video games, the Channel F graphics could generously be described as "primitive." The biggest console on the market before it was Atari's Pong. When viewed from a technological standpoint, the Channel F represented a giant leap forward in the progression of video systems.
In early 1982, Zircon International acquired the rights to the Channel F system and released the Channel F II. This new console had been designed by Fairchild before it had stopped production of its original system. It contained the same microchip as the Channel F but it featured detachable controllers. The Channel F II fed its sound out of the television speaker. Zircon sold the new console for $99.95. By this time Atari and Mattel were releasing their second-generation systems and the Channel F II soon disappeared. Zircon released five new Channel F games, including: Slot Machine and Galactic Space Wars/Lunar Lander.
Twenty-six cartridges total were released for the Channel F system. The best include: Spitfire, Backgammon / Acey-Deucey, Pinball Challenge and Alien Invasion. ~ Dave Beuscher, All Game Guide