After last month post about the Odyssey console family, especially about Odyssey 300, I thought it should have been right to talk about its direct competitor, the Coleco Telstar.
The story in a nutshell
If it werenìr for Ralph Baer, the inventor of the video game and the brain behind the realization of the first console of all time, Magnavox Odyssey, the Coleco Telstar wouldn’t have seen the light.
In 1975 General Instruments realized AY-3-8500 chip that would have become one of the most importannt in cosoles history, but at the beginning they did’t have any customer to sell it to. It was Baer that made possible supply and demand to match: Coleco wanted to build a console but they didn’t have the chip, while GI had the chip but nobody willing to buy it.
So thanks to Ralph, Coleco Telstar was put on market in 1976 and immediately became the unofficial contender of Odyssey family, released the same year. Strange twist of fate for Baer, the Demiurge behind the creation of both the consoles; for him should have been a battle between his sons!
The first Telstar specimen actually consisted in two different models, one for the american market, and one for the canadian, named Telstar Deluxe or Video World of Sports; the debut of the firm was astonishing with more that 1 millions units sold.
However the birth of Telstar wasn’t a bed of roses. At the beginnins the console didn’t passa some security tests for a huge RF interference caused by the system itself that could have damaged radio s and televisions. Another time Ralph Baer came to help and he found a brilliant solution using a ferrite toroid to screen the radiation. Afer this brillians solution, finally the console passed the test, the production started and the TV ads too.
After then the company decided to work on some improvements so for a couple of years were released other 12 models of Telstar, each one very different from the others with just a couple of exceptions.
Coleco produced Telstar line for three years, from 1976 until 1978 when the production was discontinued. There are no official data regarding the numnber of units sold but for sure we talk about millions of consoles. Coleco Telstar stand on the borderline between the first and second generation of consoles (in 1976 was released the first 2nd gen console, Fairchild Channel F) so in the last part of its existance had to fight against superior games systems.
The fate of the PONG clones in the late 70s was doomed so Coleco, went near bankrupcy in 1980, before the release of its 2nd generation console ColecoVision, released in the middle of 1983 big crash. The factory eventually decided to leave the console world and all the productions were discontinued in 1988.
As for his rival, Odyssey 300, the Coleco Telstar, or at least the first models of Telstar, were based on the General Instruments AY-3-8500 chip, one of the most logeve object of the first era, installed on more than 200 consoles, among which APF TV Fun, Philips Tele-Spiel Las Vegas, Sears Hockey Tennis and Tandy TV-Scoreboard.
The Coleco Telstar Colormatic, the 6th model released, implemented a second chip, named SN76499N, made by Texas Instruments, that transformed Telstar in a wonderful color console.
The first eight models, until Telstar Sportsman, shared the same GI chip, while Telstar Combat! was the first Telstar console with a different chip, namely the AY-3-8700 and from Colortron, Coleco changed the chip in every console so we have the AY-3-8512 in Telstar Colortron, the couple AY-3-8600/8615 (being the fist for the games and the second the color encoder) for Telstar Galaxy and then for the last two models, Telstar Gemini and Telstar Arcade, coleco changed manufacturer and moved to MOS Technology, with MPS 7600 chip.
Since Telstar it’s a hige family of consoles, we have knobs, paddles, Intellivision-style pads, proper joysticks and the mess of different controllers for Telstar Arcade. Better to check pictures and description in the section “The legacy”…
The Telstar family can be divided in two groups, the B/W consoles and the color consoles. While the majority of the models are black and white, the second chip of the Telstar Colormatic made this console the first Telstar model to implement the colors and every single game had a different color. The updated models of the AY-3-85xx family, the 8510 and the 8512 made the consoles Colortron and Marksman the first two with a single chip which was enough for games and colors.
Same thing for the last two consoles, Telstar Gemini and Arcade with the single MOS Technology chip serving both the games and the colors.
“A lot” of games were made for the Telstar family. The almost ubiquous are the thee base games, PONG derivates Hockey, Handball and Tennis while Telstar Ranger was the first console to implement three other games, Jai Alai, Target and Skeet, design specifically for the Colt-45 style light gun of the system. Jai Alai then became a “classic” for the later consoles, but the improvements reached their peak with Telstar Combat! with the variations of the arcade game Tank Combat, Night Battle, Robot Battle and Camouflage Combat.
Telstar Marksman saw the introduction of another game, Target and lately, Telstar Gemini introduced four pinball games and other light gun games until the “revolution” of Telstar Arcade which was the first cartridges based Telstar system.
Before talking about the legacy of Coleco Telstar and what this system left to the history of the video games consoles, let’s fix some concepts related to the 14 different models of Telstar released:
This is the first specimen of Coleco Telstar, known also as model 6040, released in 1976, most likely in the second half on ’76 since it was the competitor of Odyssey 300. Actually there are two sub-models: one with one large speaker hole in the top right corner (as shiwn in the pic) that shows, while playing Tennis, a solid central line and one with small round holes that displays a dashed line in Tennis. This was the only difference between the two, since the “core” was the same, the everlasting AY-3-8500 chip (probably slightly revised in the second sub-model). The console has an “old-style radio” look with two built-in paddles and the possibility to select one of the three games (Hockey, Handball and Tennis) and the difficulty level right in the middle.
- Telstar Classic
Telstar Classic, model 6045, was the first evolution of the base Telstar model. It features an elegat wooden case that make it really “classic”. Was more expensive than the first model, and shared with him the same chip and the same games.
- Telstar Deluxe (a.k.a. Video World of Sports)
This model , released along with the first Telstar but for the canadian market, recalls the same 50s radio style and it’s basically a copy of the original Telstar but places on a pedestal. The colors are slightly different but actually the DNA is the same. Since Canada is a bilingual country, all the consoles sold there had to be in French and English. Curiously existed also a model made for the US market which was a copy of the canadian version, in its turn a copy of the US model that was sold under the label Montgomery-Ward (and is the model displayed in the picture)
- Telstar Ranger
Telstar Ranger (model 6046), released in 1977 was the first restyle of the console which was modernized and sold in a balck plastic case. The improvements were not only cosmetic but even in the core, since it featured all the six games availabe on the GI chip, namely Hockey, Handball, Tennis, Jai Alai, Target and Skeet. It came with a box of accessories: two pistols for the two shooting games and two wires to detach the two paddles. Ranger was one of the most famous consoles among the first that featured a laser gun.
- Telstar Alpha
Release in 1977 Telstar Alpha (model no.) was a big hit for Coleco. Since it was quite cheap sold a lot of units and was the first console of the new restyling along with Ranger. It was smaller, featured 4 games (the three classic plus Jai Alai, sort of Squash), had a modern case and three difficulty levels. The paddles were built-in. This was also the first member of Telstar family to cross the Atlantic and lanbded in Europe under the name of Telstar Alpha Europa.
- Telstar Colormatic
Telstar Colormatic (model no. 6130) is basically a Telstar Alpha with nice finish in a woodgrain style. The controllers were detachable and they had to be plugged-in before starting the games. But the biggest improvement was the color pictures, thanks to the additional Texas Instruments chip SN76499N.
- Telstar Regent
Telstar Regent (released in 1977, model no. 6036) was another “son” of Telstar Alpha with which shared shape and colors. As in the Colormatic the paddles were detachable. We can say it’s the baby brother of Colormatic itself, being its copy but without colors.
- Telstar Sportsman
Telstar Sportsman was released in 1978 and was another copy of Telstar Alpha, this time with detachable paddles and an additional laser gun to playthe two shooting games already implemented in Telstar Ranger.
- Telstar Combat!
Telstar Combat! (model no. 6065) it’s a tank console even at the first look. It was the first console to use the AY-3-8700 chip known as Tank chip since it was used to “emulate” the Kee Games Tank game. It has 4 joysticks, two per player and it’s the strangest among all the Telstar consoles (wait, maybe Telstar Arcade is even stranger). It was a small big revolution since it was not a PONG clone as all the other 1st generation consoles but a Tank -like game. Even graphically is light years different than his brothers. Under the section “The games” you can see why.
Oh, no c’mon I don’t want to let you waitm, here’s the commercial
The playable games were actually four (4 Tank variants) and they were like fresh air in the gaming world of the 70s: we have (ironically) to go back 6 years, to Magnavox Odyssey, to see a game that wasn’t PONG, playable on home TV.
- Telstar Colortron
Telstar Colortron (model no. 6135) is the first model of 1978 and the only one to use an evolution of the GU chip, the AY-3-8510. It’s even the first Telstar to display color graphics using a single chip. It offered 4 games, with more polish visuals and a less odd sound. Some improvements were made for example in the selection of games (push button instead of a switch) but externally the console looks much old style and with poor materials. Even the paddles are a bit “retro”. The Colortron doesn’t need an AC adapter since it workd with two 9V batteries.
- Telstar Marksman
Telstar Marksman (model no. 6136) was a war machine console featuring all the 6 games available with the GI chip inside, the improved AY-3-8512. This model can be compared to the Telstar Ranger, but improved with color graphics. It had a pistol with an attachable stock and barrel and it featured the classical 6 games. On the cosmetic side it’s another renovation for the Telstar family, but Coleco was on its last legs: in 1977 one of the most lonvece system ever made, Atari VCS (commonly Atari 2600) was released and in one of the cartridge had a Tank adaptation which sold quite a bit to give some worries to Coleco managers.
- Telstar Galaxy
Telstar Galaxy (model no. 6150) was released in 1977 and was th only member of the family to use the AY-3-8600 chip, along with the AY-3-8615 for the colors. The first big improvement was the possibility to allow 4 players, using two extra paddles and a multiplex, sort of switch that enables alternatively two paddles on odd frames and two paddles on even frames. Obviously the frame rate has to be high otherwise it’s impossible to play but this was not an issue for Galaxy. The secon and (maybe) most important feature it’s a robot mode which allowed a plaayer to play against the AI: now this seems a stupid things but if you think about it it needs a chip capable to generate an AI to respond adequately to the player game style. For this reason and for the limited number of specimen released, Telstar Galaxy is nowadays one of the most rare Coleco systems.
- Telstar Gemini
Telstar Gemini (model no.) is maybe the more modern-looking among the Telstar consoles. It said goodbye to the PONG clones and, thanks to the MOS Technology MPS 7600-004 chip it featured 4 pinball-like games and two color shooting games with digital scores on the screen. The controls are brand new and Gemini has three sliding knobs to adjust the ball in pinball games; then there was the immmortal laser gun.
- Telstar Arcade
Here it comes the peak of Telstar production and the gem among the Telstars. Telstar Arcade was the most advanced among the 1st generation systems released by Coleco. It’s avault of oddities: first of all the shape: Arcade was built in a triangular case, each side dedicated to a game category: we have the PONG side, shotting games side and most important (and most innovative for the era) the racing games side. At a glace, Arcade looks like a toys filled box for a 5 years old child. Another non-innovation was that the system is cartridge based. However it’s not as in a 2nd generation consoles.
Need something more about the Arcade? Maybge this will be the subject for another post…