Vectrex

The Vectrex was a console release during the second generation of video game systems which was developed by Western Technologies/Smith Engineering which used a vector based display. After the consoles development it would later be picked up for licensing and distribution first by General Consumer Electric (GCE) and then by Milton Bradley after their company bought General Consumer Electric out. The Vectrex was released into the video game market during November of 1983 conveniently right before the holiday season and its launch price was $199 which would be approximately $450 today. As Milton Bradley gained control of the system and its international marketing the price of the console would steadily decline to $150 and eventually $100 shortly before the crash of the video game market during the year that it was released. Due to its unfortunate release time in concerns to the video game crash the Vectrex did not see a long life in the marketplace and eventually disappeared altogether during the early portion of 1984. The Vectrex stood out from other consoles of this generation because it includes a fully integrated vector monitor which used vector graphics while the other consoles of the time required a television set to be attached to for the display. The Vectrex used monochrome graphics and the use of colored overlays in order to simulate colors, static graphics, and other decorations. The idea to use Vector displays came from the arcade games of the time which were using them combined with a licensing deal between GCE and Cinematronics allowing the GCE to include the displays in a variety of their top notch arcade games such as Space Wars and Armor Attack. The Vectrex console like many other contained a built in game which was similar to the game we today know as Asteroids however the Vectrex release was called Minestorm. The Vectrex console was not only launched in the U.S. but also in Japan under the name Bandai Vectrex Kousokusen.

Vectrex Console History:

In 1980 the dream which would become the Vectrex console was conceived by John Ross who was employed at Smith Engineering at the time. John Ross began to assemble a team to work on his brainchild by bringing Mike Purvis, Tom Sloper, Steve Marking in on the project. The group approached a surplus warehouse by the name of Electro-Mavin in Los Angeles where they located a 1″ CRT from a heads up display and the inspiration that a small electronic game could be played on it started the fire that would result in the Vectrex. The team developed a  demonstration version of a vector drawing cathode ray tube display using a television’s deflection yoke connected to the channels of a stereo amplifier which provided music and sound effects. An additional auxiliary yoke was added in order to ensure that the raster television’s horizontal fly back voltage system kept running. This prototype was initially imagined as a handheld console under the name Mini Arcade but after Smith Engineering did some market tests the handheld screen became a nine inch television monitor and tabletop.

By 1981 the console was eventually licensed by General Consumer Electronics and after a short time of software and hardware development the Vectrex was finally born leading to the systems unveiling in July shortly before the Summer Consumer Electronics show in Chicago. The console was then released to the public in November just in time to be available for shoppers during the holiday season which led to such successful launch sales that Milton Bradley bought out General Consumer Electronics in the early part of 1983. With the purchase by Milton Bradley the system had far more resources to support its distribution allowing the console to be released in Europe as well as Japan through a deal with Bandai. Things were going great for Milton Bradley and the Vectrex until the video game crash occurred making the purchase of the console a very damaging mistake to Milton Bradley forcing the company to merge with Hasbro during 1984 and the discontinuation of the Vectrex shortly thereafter. The overall damage done to Milton Bradley financially ended in the loss of tens of millions of dollars which the company had desperately needed. Once the rights to the console had finally made their way back to Smith Engineering the company began to formulate the idea of re-releasing the console as a handheld game system however Nintendo released the Gameboy in the 1990’s before this could materialize and the plan collapsed leading Jay Smith the head of Smith Engineering to place the entire Vectex product line into the public domain.

System Features:

The Vectrex was the very first home video game console to incorporate a built in vector based display screen. The Vectex was also the very first system to offer a 3D peripheral called the Vectrex 3D Imager which was release four entire years in advance of the next 3D peripheral system addition to the Sega Master System’s SegaScope 3D. Due in part to an unfortunate release shortly before the collapse of the video game market during the crash in 1983 the Vectrex was not  very commercially successful, the system does retain a number of loyal fans to this day as well receiving praise for its game library, durability, and unique controller design.

Design:

The computer and vector generator which were used in the Vectrex were created by Gerry Karr, and his computer system handles most of the major functions of the console including running the game’s required code, responding to user control inputs, running the sound effect generator, and directing the vector generator in order to create the on screen drawings. The vector generator is an analog design using an x and y axis. The computer sets the necessary integration rates using a digital to analog converter. Karr’s computer also directs the integration timing by momentarily closing electronic analog switches inside the operational-amplifier based integrator circuits. The system also uses voltage ramps which are produced in order for the monitor to move the electron beam across the face of the phosphor screen of the cathode ray tube while another signal is used to modify the brightness of the line. The cathode ray tube used in the unit is produced by Samsung and is a monochrome unit and is unmodified from how it was originally produced for black and white television sets. The brightness of the Cathode Ray Tube is controlled using circular knob which is located on the back of the display. The vector CRT display used in the Vectrex is only different from standard CRT displays in its control circuits. The Vectrex model replaces the traditional sawtooth waves to direct the internal electron beam in its raster pattern with computer controlled integrators which move linear amplifier to drive the reflection yoke. The Vectrex yoke uses a standard television core and the high voltage transformer also uses a traditional core and bobbin. There is however additional circuitry to turn the electron beam off if the Vectrex was to fail in order to prevent the burning of the screen’s phosphor. Early units suffered from a buzzing which had to do with the speakers interaction with the on screen graphics and was eventually resolved in newer models.

Peripherals:

The 3D Imager turns the 2D black and white images created by the Vectrex into colorful 3D experience by spinning a disc in front of the viewers eyes. At any time only one eye will be capable of seeing the display. The disc is spun by a motor and the early model was housed in a Viewmaster. The 3D illusion is enhanced by adjusting the brightness of the objects while dimming the background. The device was designed by John Ross and uses similar principles to todays 3D shutter glasses.  The light pen allows the users to draw images and indicate on the screen using a photo-detector that can locate the bright spot on the monitor when it moves past the screen. The light pen was also created by John Ross.

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