In August of 1976, television manufacturer RCA announced their forthcoming entry into the home videogame market -- the RCA Studio II. Released in January of 1977, the system came out a few months after Fairchild Camera and Instrument's Channel F (the world's first cartridge-based game system) and several months prior to the Atari 2600. It originally retailed for $149.95, with cartridges ranging in price from $14.95 to $19.95. Five built-in games were included with the unit: Doodle, Patterns, Bowling, Freeway and Addition.
When RCA was in the design stages of creating their RCA Studio II, it's obvious they patterned the look of the system after the various Pong machines (and Pong clones) of the time. It is very small and is equipped with controllers that are affixed to the unit itself. Gamers must huddle close together as well as close to the machine when engaged in two-player contests. However, instead of Pong-like paddles, the system has numeric directional keypads for use in manipulating the various onscreen images. The console is beige and tan with gold and silver trim.
Similar to Pong and the earlier versions of the Fairchild Channel F system, the sound effects for the RCA Studio II, which consist of a small variety of bleeps and bloops, emit from a tiny speaker in the center of the unit itself, not from the television. The graphics are in black-and-white, regardless of what type of television you use. An 18-inch cord extends from the back of the console on the right. This plugs into a selector switch, which in turn hooks up to the TV as well as a wall outlet. A game/TV switch on top of the console does triple duty as it also acts as a power switch, since there is no actual power button on the system.
Each of the ten cartridges produced for the RCA Studio II are rectangular in shape and beige in color. Loading and game instructions are printed on the labels. Unlike carts for most other systems, the connectors are only on one side of the circuit board. Also, two rods in the cartridge slot insert into two holes in the cartridges. In most other game systems, the situation is reversed as the console is the female and the cartridge is the male. The games are divided into the following genres: TV Arcade, TV Casino, TV Mystic and TV Schoolhouse.
RCA's foray into the world of home videogames was short-lived. Their system sold poorly from the beginning and was considered obsolete and went out of production after less than a year on store shelves. More than half a decade before, videogame pioneer Ralph Baer had approached the company to commercially reproduce a game system he had helped develop, but RCA's demands were too high. They wanted to buy out Sanders Associates, the company Ralph worked for. Baer went on to hook up with Magnavox; the Magnavox Odyssey was born in 1972 as the world's first home videogame system, eventually selling more than 100,000 units.
Surely RCA's decision to finally enter the home videogame market stems from the relative success of the Odyssey and from the ensuing Pong craze. Unfortunately for them, their RCA Studio II was a bomb. It was under-promoted and consumers were turned off by its monochromatic graphics, its cheap-sounding audio, its lack of joystick controls, and its small and boring game library. What ultimately killed the RCA Studio II was its total lack of technological sophistication and fun factor when compared to the Atari 2600.
If you do manage to pick up an RCA Studio II system, you might have a good time with Space War and Bowling. ~ Brett Alan Weiss, All Game Guide