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

Originally Posted on Techdirt.

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 also 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 Oddessey 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 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 wether 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 familiar. A lesson that some companies should probably consider prior to using patent law as a way to kill competition.

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