Can a console be old even in 1977, when you could count the “big” consoles using only the fingers of one hand? RCA made this possible when they released their
telephone Studio II in January. While the gaming world was switching to the 2nd generation, leaving only a small space to the old PONG clones of ther 1st generation, RCA debuted on the market with this odd machine; I can’t imagine how could have been the Studio I if the Studio II is a thing like this.
The life of the dorky Studio II was very short and it didn’t left any visible sign in the history of gaming consoles: The Fairchild Channel F, released in August of 1976 was way superior and the Atari VCS that was released in November of ’77 outclassed both, putting the tombstone on the RCA experience in consoles market.
The story in a nutshell
Slightly after the release of Channel F, RCA thought it could have been a good idea to enter the console market and promised to put on sale its own console in a few months. Right in time, Studio II was on shelves at the beginning of 1977 but the sales were smaller than RCA forecast. If they thought this could have been a good move to increase at least the sales of RCA televisions, it turned out to be a complete disaster.
The price tag on the RCA in 1977 said 149,95$, slightly cheaper than the Fairchild Channel F and the games were sold at roughly 20$.
The console was so bulky and uncomfortable that the players quickly regretted to have bought it so the life of the RCA was very short. A poor pool of games and outdated visuals completed the disaster for the american manufacturer that swiftly removed their failed experiment from the shelves.
Opening an RCA Studio 2 you’ll find a 40-pins RCA 1802 chip, an 8-bit microprocessor, built in 1976, at clock frequency of 1,78 MHz. It was used from many hobyist and proper companies to create some early microcomputers such as COSMAC ELF, Comx-35 and Telmac 1800.
Wanna know about the sound of this magnificent console? Just a BEEP from the internal speaker. For every kind of games (luckily they’re just a few) from bowling to addition the only thing you will hear will be a BEEP. Nothing more, nothing less.
I always intended “hands” of a console the controller/gamepad/knob a player can handle to play games. Well if we want to apply this definition to the Studio II we can tell he has no hands or better he’s hogtied. With the numeric pad were possible 16 diffrerent directions (the classic 8 plus other 8 pushing two adjacent keys, like 1-2, 2-3, 3-6 etc…). The two awful controllers, solidly built into the structure of the console were difficult to use since they forced both of the players to stay side by side with limited possibility of maneuvre. Talking simpy: a stupid idea; even the older consoles had two detachable or (at least) wired controllers for the players, even the first console, the Magnavox Odyssey. I don’t know what were thinking at RCA whe they developed this…
The visuals of Studio II are very dated, even comparting to the others in the 70s. It had monochrome B/W graphics so all the games looked (and still look) very rudimental and poorly appealing.
However Studio II had at least scored one point: it was the first (or the most famous among the firsts) to feature a bitmapped graphics.
Studio II featured 5 built-in games:
A particularity of Studio II lies in the way the cartridges are plugged into the console: while most (nay, ALL) the consoles have a cartridge with some pins that insert into the machine, Studio II has two rods that fits into the “holes” on the cartridges. Strange.
In total were realeased other 9 games for the console, retailed at 19,95$ each.
To a complete review of the games of the RCA Studio II my suggestion is to check the awesome blog I Play all the Games
While the console was an absolute flop in the 70s (nay, thanks to this), today has gained a rather important prestige due to its rarity. However, since the world completely forgot about this piece, the prices remains quite low: you can find a decent console for less than 100$.
Even though RCA Studio II was discontinued in 1979, in Europe flourished a market for Studio II clones, sometimes even better of with new functions: we had Mustang 9016 Telespiel Computer in Germany (with color graphics), Hanimex MPT-02 in France (for which were produced also brand new cartridges such as Concentration Match), then Soundix MPT-02 and the M-1200 family composed by Sheen M-1200, Conic M-1200, Trevi M-1200 and the already cited Mustang 9016.
However all these consoles made no difference in the console panorama…as their model, the Studio II.