Father Of The Video Game Console Showed Off 'Set Top Box' Idea In 1973

from the no-new-ideas dept

It is often said that there are no new ideas any more. This adage is most often applied to fiction and other forms of entertainment. However, this story shows that the adage can apply to technology as well. Ralph Baer is the often ignored but historically recognized father of the home video game console. His invention went on the be licensed as the Magnavox Odessey which later inspired Pong. However, his efforts in the realm of television accessories were not confined to gaming. Via Gamasutra, we have the following video which surfaced thanks to the German Science Spiele Museum. In this video, Baer shows off what he calls Participatory CATV via an "all purpose box" in 1973.

While nothing in this presentation would seem all that new and innovative to modern audiences thanks to the proliferation of the internet, personal computers and smart phones, back in 1973, this was a massive leap for home electronics. For instance, the creative use of encoded audio signals when ordering a product from a commercial is very similar to such common place codes such as UPC and QR codes today. And while home education over the internet today seems old hat, using your cable television subscription to achieve the same end goal is actually quite remarkable.

Another interesting suggestion that was only touched on but not discussed to great length was the idea of ad supported gaming. Today we see this in many forms whether it is free games that include advertising to bring in revenue for the developer, or games sponsored by or acting as an advertisement for a brand. Once video games became a large part of the home, we saw Baer's prediction come true. 

All in all, what this shows is that few ideas are completely new. Many times, someone else will have thought of it before you, or at least thought of something similar. A lesson that some companies should probably consider prior to using patent law as a way to kill competition.

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  • icon
    Nigel (profile), 10 Aug 2012 @ 5:54pm


    That was quite cool..... It was nice to see you a bit busier around here this week as well Zach.

    I will leave it with... " Prior art bitches"


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Nigel (profile), 10 Aug 2012 @ 6:02pm


    sorry to hog the board... I think its more accurate to suggest that some things take a natural course, hence not patentable or unique.


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      :Lobo Santo (profile), 10 Aug 2012 @ 6:11pm

      Re: actually...

      That's a good idea...

      Here's a thought: A legally defined "saturation point" where a technology becomes so simply pervasive that for the good of society the patent is annulled and all people/companies can use it at whim for no cost.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin, 10 Aug 2012 @ 7:08pm

    What about his lawsuits?

    I've often wondered what you thought of Mr. Baer, considering he wasn't able to make a buck selling his ideas, so instead set about suing those who stole them, via patent law. He's a hero to many gamers, but seems like a villain for this forum.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PopeRatzo (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 5:40am

      Re: What about his lawsuits?

      I think I can help. It's simple, really.

      Ralph Baer is a person.

      Corporations are not people.

      What is acceptable behavior in a person, is not acceptable in a golem created for the sole purpose of exploitation.


      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      E. Zachary Knight (profile), 11 Aug 2012 @ 7:53am

      Re: What about his lawsuits?

      This is what I think:

      1) Ralph Baer is an actual inventor. He invents things and then patents them. He does not buy up patents for the sole purpose of suing over them.

      2) Ralph Baer does not sue for the purpose killing competing products like Apple does. He invented some very important steps in making home video game consoles and then other companies stepped in and actually copied his ideas. They did not independently invent. They took products that used his patents, reverse engineered them and brought their own products to market without paying him a license.

      I hope that helps.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2012 @ 9:48pm

    Killing Competition

    Companies using patents to kill competition is one of the inevitable outcomes of the patent system. If the patent system could not be used for that purpose, then allegations of infringement could simply be ignored. As the law now is, ignoring an allegation of infringement results in a permanent injunction. Ultimately, that injunction is backed by law enforcement. So companies are forced into patent litigation, by the threat of an injunction.

    The costs to the public of commercial competition being lessened is one of the hidden but inevitable costs of the patent system. Many companies have been killed by patent litigation. Nobody knows what benefits might have been enjoyed by the public, had those companies been allowed to survive. Opportunity costs are economically important, even though they are very difficult to estimate.

    The choice between keeping or abolishing the patent system ultimately comes down to economic analysis. Attempts at reform have consistently failed for over a century, so attempting reform is likely to fail yet again. It is as it is. Keep or abolish?

    The analysis needs to work out the net cost minus benefits of both courses of action. The cost of the patent system appears to substantially exceed its benefits at present, with costs rising and benefits illusory. So "keep" is going to be even more expensive. However, "abolish" might be more expensive than "keep", if somebody can come up with a plausible reason why.

    The patent system is a net loser, so abolition looks good. We need to discuss whether it is or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2012 @ 2:17am

    Apple take note! i doubt if there is a single 'innovation' from Apple. they may have made an idea of someone else work better, but they didn't have the original idea. they need to think long and hard at they way they behave and react. no company can exist totally alone. sooner or later something is needed from someone else

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2012 @ 3:41am

    The title of this article is extremely jarring.

    Did he show off something called a "set top box idea"?
    Or did he show an "off set" "top box idea"?
    Or maybe he showed off a "set" "top box idea"?
    Or a "set top" "box" "idea"???

    What is this title trying to say?
    I'll have no idea until I've read the whole article.
    Please correct it to something readable.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2012 @ 10:25am

    I believe it was called the Odyssey, not the Oddessey...unless it was invented by Rod Argent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    fireboy, 5 Nov 2012 @ 1:21pm


    It's pretty amazing this guy is predicting online games 40 years ago! Some people are way ahead of their time...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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