History of Consoles: Mattel Intellivision (1980)

Console: Intellivision

Manufactured By; Mattel Electronics

Availability: 1980

Original Retail Price: $299 ($832.69 including inflation


 In 1978 major toy manufacturer Mattel decided to enter the home video game market after seeing Atari’s success with the Atari VCS (2600).  Mattel formed a subsidiary called Mattel Electronics specifically to develop electronic home video games.  In 1979 Mattel test marketed their first home video console called the Intellivision (combination of the words “intelligent” and “television”) in Fresno, California, and at that time only four games were available.  After a successful test market Mattel released the Intellivision nationwide for $299 in 1980 including the pack-in game Las Vegas Poker & Blackjack.

Though Mattel wasn’t the first home video game console to challenge Atari, it was considered the first successful console to compete with Atari.  In their first year Mattel sold 170,000 Intellivision consoles, and the game library grew to 35.  At this time Mattel had worked with an outside video game development company called APh Technological Consulting to develop all video games for the Intellivision. Mattel soon realized that their profits would be maximized if they were to develop their own in-house software development group, which they soon did.

By 1982 the Intellivision console was a huge success for Mattel, and they had sold over two million consoles by the end of that year.  The sales of the Intellivision had earned Mattel $100,000,000 profit in 1982, and soon many third-party Atari developers including Imagic and Activision were also developing games for the Intellivision.  Even rivals Atari and Coleco were developing games for the Intellivision.

Similar to Atari, Mattel worked with a number of different retailers to rebadge the Intellvision including: Radio Shack’s TandyVision, and GTE-Sylvania’s Intellivision.

Like many of the video game manufactures in the early 1980’s, Mattel suffered the same fate with the video game crash in 1983, and eventually sold all rights to INTV Corp.  INTV continued to develop new games for the Intellivision up until 1991.


 There were several peripherals that were created for the Intellivision including:

Keyboard Component: 

Intellivision had planned on releasing an expansion system called the “Keyboard Component” that would essentially turn the Intellivision into a full fledged computer.  It would have brought the total available RAM up to a full 64K, and would have provided both an adapter for a printer, and a built-in cassette drive used for storage.  The Keyboard component was supposed to be released in 1981 however it kept getting delayed due to high failure rates.  Mattel continually delayed the release and it got so bad that the Federal Trade Commission started fining Mattel $10,000/day for every day that it wasn’t released.  Eventually Mattel decided to scrap the project, and Mattel ended up losing a lot of money in the process.


In 1982 Mattel introduced the Intellivioce for the Intellivision console.   The Intellivoice is a device that produces voice synthesis for select games. The cartridges during this time were limited to 4K-8K ROM, and presented limited storage for voice to be used in many games.  There were only four games released for the Intellivoice: Space Spartans, Bomb Squad, B-17 Bomber, and Tron: Solar Sailer (only 90,000 games sold).

Console Versions:

Intellivision I: 

The Intellivision I is long and rectangular with two built in controllers, an on/off switch located in the lower right, and a reset button located just left of the on/off switch.  The console has a very retro-like false woodgrain trim around the console, and it includes a built in power cord.  The Intellivison connects to the TV through an RF cord, and the games plug in on the right side of the console.

Intellivision II:  


Mattel released the Intellivision II in 1983 and was a redesigned “slimmer” and more compact version.  It now featured removable controllers and an external power supply.  The external power supply caused some issues because the AC adapter was non-standard and rans on 16.2V, so if the user were to lose or damage the AC adapter, it would render the console useless.


Similar to the Colecovision’s controller the Intellivision controllers feature a 12-button numeric keypad which include 0-9, Clear, and Enter.   On both sides of the controller are the two action buttons, and a very intuitive directional disk that can move in 16 directions.  Games would include laminated overlays that can go over the controllers to show game-specific key functions.


The Intellivision II controllers replaced the 12 buttons with a flat membrane keyboard surface.

Top Games: 

  1. Utopia
  2. Astrosmash
  3. Night Stalker
  4. Burgertime
  5. Major League Baseball
  6. Pitfall

 Technical Specsifications

    • 240 × 8-bit Scratchpad Memory
    • 352 × 16-bit (704 bytes) System Memory
    • 512 × 8-bit Graphics RAM
  • 7168 bytes of ROM:
    • 4096 × 10-bit (5120 bytes) Executive ROM
    • 2048 × 8-bit Graphics ROM
  • 159 pixels wide by 96 pixels high (159×192 display on a TV screen, scanlines being doubled)
  • 16 color palette, all of which can be on the screen at once
  • 8 sprites. Hardware supports the following features per-sprite:
    • Size selection: 8×8 or 8×16
    • Stretching: Horizontal (1× or 2×) and vertical (1×, 2×, 4× or 8×)
    • Mirroring: Horizontal and vertical
    • Collision detection: Sprite to sprite, sprite to background, and sprite to screen border
    • Priority: Selects whether sprite appears in front of or behind background.


  • The name “Mattel” comes from the combination of the two founders names Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler.
  • The Intellivision sold over 3 million consoles.
  • The Intellivision was the first console to feature downloadable games through a device called the PlayCable.  It downloaded games through cable TV.
  • The Intellivision was the first console to feature a musical synthesizer keyboard.
  • The Intellivision was the first console to have a complete built-in character font.
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About Gamester81

John "Gamester81" Lester started playing video games at a very young age. His first ever console that he played was a Colecovision, quickly followed by an Atari 2600, and his passion for video games hasn't stopped. In 2008 John decided to start a video game review show on YouTube called Gamester81 by reviewing rare and retro video game systems and games. His show quickly grew in popularity, and he became friends with many other gamers in the YouTube community. He is also one of the hosts of the All Gen Gamers Podcast which is a bimonthly podcast for people and video games of all generations. Some of John's other hobbies includes collecting Star Wars memorabilia (YouTube channel Starwarsnut77), playing classic arcade games (YouTube channel Gamester81Arcade), watching sports, and listening to music. John is a big fan of the 80's and 90's and in 2009 started a YouTube channel called NEStalgiaholic where he talks about nostalgic items and memories from his childhood. To see some of John's video's in 3D visit his YouTube channel Gamester81in3D. Favorite Systems: Colecovision, Commodore 64, NES, & SNES. Favorite Games: Donkey Kong Arcade, Atari Star Wars Arcade, Super Mario 3, Final Fantasy II, & Goldeneye 007
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