Another Fringe Contender
RCA, having passed on Ralph Baer’s original video game system, watches from the sidelines as Magnavox picks up the license, releases the Odyssey, and opens up a whole new toy category. Their response, announced almost simultaneously with the Fairchild’s Channel F in 1976 is the Studio II, a programmable system with black and white graphics which aren’t much of a step up from PONG. It only starts appearing in stores widely in early 1977.
Like the home PONG consoles, the Studio II is entirely one unit, but with unusual built-in keypad controls as opposed to joysticks or dials. This keypad configuration, however, matches the Studio II up with the later Intellivision as the only two early home videogame systems with 16 possible controller directions. Pressing adjacent buttons together will yield the other 8 compass directions. There are five games hardwired into the system, but on the other hand, RCA only releases nine other games for it. Most of them are programmed by one man, Andrew Molda.
The Studio II retails a bit cheaper than the Channel F at US$149.95, with its cartridges going for around US$19.95. To try and make sense of what RCA was thinking at the time by releasing a console without detachable controllers that can only output black and white graphics, perhaps they were figuring that such a unit would be good at least for selling some RCA televisions. The only other thing I can think of is that they were riding the novelty of a programmable system that accepted cartridges, a new concept at the time, as opposed to only offering a set of games hardwired into the console. These strategies might be belied by the full name of the system: The Studio II Home TV Programmer. Whatever RCA’s thought process, the Studio II is unable to make even a blip on the videogame scene, and the system is discontinued by RCA in 1979.
Sources (inert links kept for historical purposes)
RCA Studio II FAQ – http://www.digitpress.com/faq/rca.txt
The Giant List of Classic Game Programmers – dadgum.com/giantlist/list.html
Image of the Studio II with TDE watermark taken at the Videogame History Museum display, CGE 2014 in Las Vegas
Mind Machine Museum – RCA Studio II TV game – userwww.sfsu.edu/~hl/c.StudioII.game.html
Kaotic Systems Page – The RCA Studio II Page – games.kaotic.ca/system.aspx?SID=30
Gizmodo – 15 Gaming Designs That Make You Go “Whyyyyyy?” – gizmodo.com/5334911/15-gaming-designs-that-make-you-go-whyyyyyy
ubersaurus’s Flickr Photo Stream – http://www.flickr.com/photos/81896129@N00/273650529/
Electronic Games, “Players Guide to Programmable Videogames – Zircon Revives Channel F”, pg. 43, Winter 1981
Pete’s RCA Studio II Home TV Programmer Page – www.netaxis.com/~petebuilt/videogames/studio2.html