Fairchild Channel F 101: A Beginner’s Guide
The Fairchild Channel F released in August 1976, at $169.95. Though it is often overlooked in the history of gaming, the Channel F would bring about a revolution in console design, changing the home video game market for the next twenty years. It was originally released by Fairchild Semiconductor, and would be their only console release.
- The Channel F’s original name was the Video Entertainment System, but was changed to Channel F when Atari released the VCS(Atari 2600) in 1977.
- Though Atari was testing their prototype “Stella” at the time, the release of the Channel F would spur them to push for an earlier release then they had planned.
- To fight Atari effectively, Fairchild began a redesign of the console, which would later become known as the Channel F System II. When the game market slumped in the late 1970s, they decided to give up on the project, and sold it to Zircon International, who released it in 1979.
- This console was the first to use ROM-based cartridges, something that would serve as a mainstay in the home console industry until the Nintendo 64 and Super Famicom stopped production.
- The console also forced Atari to release the Atari 2600 to stay competitive. This served as one reason why Atari was purchased by Warner Communications.
- The console also featured a “Hold” button, which would stop the action on screen. This was a precursor to the “Pause” function.
- The Channel F also appeared on TV POWWW, a television game show.
- All cartridges for the console were numbered, and the count was kept low. Fewer than 30 cartridges were ever formally released, so collectors will have an easier time figuring out what they’re missing. Several carts contain more than one game.
- The original design incorporated a holding space for the controllers, both of which were hardwired to the console.
- The console also saw release in different European nations under different names, and with different games, though these were also numbered.
- The console also had a newsletter, published only once in October 1977. It gives detailed information on the first 9 carts, and also previewed carts 10-12 for their November 1977 release.
- The controllers were very simple, literally 4-way joysticks on grips that could also be pulled up or down and twisted left or right for 8 different movement methods.
- Two Pong clones, called Tennis and Hockey, were built into the console and could be played without a cartridge.
- The original Channel F had a speaker built into the console, though it’s of poor quality. The later version instead used television audio. The Atari 2600 had better audio overall.
- The controllers suffer from cheap copper wiring which can break easily and is difficult to replace.
- Graphically the console was weaker than the Atari 2600, and it shows.
- The game library is extremely limited.
- Though a keyboard accessory was unveiled in a sales brochure for the console, it was never released, so there are no accessories for the console whatsoever.
- The Channel F utilizes the Fairchild F8 8-bit microprocessor chip. The processor speed is 2 MHz.
- Game resolution is 128 x 64 pixels, though only 102 x 58 are visible.
- The machine boasts 64 bytes of RAM, with 2 kB of VRAM.
- The console carries a max of eight colors, but only a max of 4 per line.
- The Channel F audio output is capable of 500 Hz, 1 kHz, and 1.5 kHz tones.
- The output is a RF modulated composite video signal, with the cord hardwired into the console. The power supply is external.
- The Fairchild Channel F incorporated a built-in speaker, hardwired controllers, and a very 70s design.
- The Channel F System II moved the location of the storage compartment for the controllers, and also lost the internal speaker. The controllers were also removable. It keeps the same chip set as the original.
- The Adman Grandstand was the name for the United Kingdom variant of the Channel F, though it looked considerably like the Channel F System II.
- The Barco Challenger is the Belgium variant, which was exactly the same as the Italian variant, the Dumont Videoplay.
- The Luxor Video Entertainment System was the name of the Swedish variation of the console.
- Pictures of the different variations can be found on Pink Godzilla’s blog
- Germany would see the Saba Videoplay in 1978.
- This would quickly be followed by the Saba Videoplay 2, which featured slightly different controller design and lacked the internal speaker.
- The ITT Telematch, again with modified controllers and a redesigned case, would be released in 1978. It would be the only one without an EJECT button.
- The Normende Teleplay would follow these a year later in 1979 with a stylish silver paint job.
- The Fairchild Channel F can be emulated with the MESS emulator.
- There is also a homebrew community for the Channel F. Their wiki is located at VESWiki.com.
- The Channel F is often overlooked, so usually prices aren’t too bad. (Between $30 and $50 on eBay depending on condition and packing included) The age of the console works against the buyer, however.
- The Fairchild Channel F also doesn’t appear very often on auction sites, so finding it can be difficult. (2 systems listed on eBay at the time of this publication)
- Individual cartridges can vary in rarity. Some games can be found on eBay currently for around $5 each