WHAT’S IN A NAME?

From Old School Gamer Magazine – May 2019

Since the dawn of time, or at least since 1975 when every Tom, Dick and Harry began releasing their own forms of videogame console that used General Instruments’ AY-3-8500 chip, people have been referring to all video tennis consoles as Pong consoles. However, this is quite understandable since the graphics from most of these consoles were basically the same and everybody heard of Pong. And yet it still irks me whenever someone calls a game console that doesn’t carry the Atari or Sears name, a Pong console (or Pong clone).

But the misnaming of consoles isn’t limited only to the early video tennis consoles. Here are three consoles that are usually called by a wrong name.

The first is from Fairchild Semiconductor. Just about everyone refers to the first console to use cartridges as the Channel F. Unfortunately they’re wrong. As a matter of fact there never was a console called the Channel F. There was a redesigned Channel F System II, which Fairchild released in 1978, but I’m referring to the original system that came out in 1976.

The console that most people erroneously call the Channel F, was called the Video Entertainment System (VES). In March of 1977 Fairchild’s marketing department subtly renamed the VES console and ads began appearing where the system was called the Channel F. The “F” in the name represented the console’s F8 processor, which was manufactured by Fairchild. Oddly, this name change only occurred on paper, i.e. the box and advertisements. New boxes were printed with the Channel F brand but the consoles that came inside those boxes were the same ones that were sold in the boxes labeled “Video Entertainment System”. The only places where the name of the console appears on the console is in the center of the plastic dust cover and on the underside of the console along with the serial number. In both places, even on systems that were sold in Channel F boxes, the name appears as “Video Entertainment System”.

Channel F box for the Fairchild Video Entertainment System

Another console that is constantly used by the wrong name is Atari’s first programmable one, the one that people commonly interchangeably refer to as the VCS or the 2600. When this console was first released in 1977 it was called the Video Computer System or VCS for short. There were several models of these units that collectors affectionately refer to as the Heavy-Sixer, due to fact that it had three buttons on each side of the cartridge slot and was manufactured with heavy metal shielding and a heavy plastic case. In 1978 as Atari began relocating its manufacturing overseas, the shielding was removed from the VCS and a lighter plastic casing was used. These units are commonly referred to by collectors as Light Sixers. In both variations, the model number of the system was CX-2600.

In 1980, Atari used one motherboard within the console instead of two, which forced the two difficulty switches to be moved from the front of the console to the top rear beside the controller ports. This left only two switches on each side of the cartridge slot. The model number of this system was changed slightly to CX-2600a but the system was still called the Video Computer System.

Following the release of the Atari 5200 Super System in November, 1982, Atari rebranded the VCS console to coincide with this new naming scheme. The company removed the faux wood grain and released an all-black version console of the console. While collectors would later refer to it as the Darth Vader, its official name was the 2600. It was at this time that the names VCS and 2600 began to be used interchangeably. The official 2600 name remained in 1986 after the console underwent a major facelift and emerged as a smaller, less expensive version of its former self. And while this new model was quickly dubbed the 2600 Jr. by nearly everybody, it was still officially just a 2600.

Remember. If there’s fake wood grain on the console then it’s a VCS. If it’s black it’s a 2600.

Atari Video Computer System (VCS) on the left – Atari 2600 n the right

When Microsoft announced that its new console was to be called the Xbox One, people quickly took exception to it and claimed that it would be confused with the original Xbox. Well that never really happened because people rarely refer to Microsoft’s first console as the Xbox 1. This was probably because Microsoft did not use consecutive numbering in its naming scheme. However the same cannot be said about the Sony’s line of consoles. Sony’s consecutive numbering of the PlayStation, i.e. PlayStation 2 (PS2), PlayStation 3 (PS3), PlayStation 4 (PS4), just calls out for the original console to be called the PlayStation 1. But it’s not. The first PlayStation is simply that, the PlayStation. And to refer to it as the PS1 would be totally wrong since there already is such a unit. The redesigned model that Sony released in 2000 was officially called the PSone.

PlayStation (left) and PSOne (right)

So what’s in a name? Well if your name is Joe and people keep calling you Bill, I don’t think you would like it at all. But these are inanimate objects and they don’t care what you call them, so refer to them anyway you want. Just don’t be surprised if a stickler like me declares that you’re wrong.

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