The Coleco Telstar was a low budget pong system which was released in the USA in 1976. It was the first console to use the new General Instruments AY-3-8500 CPU chip.
Many things contributed to the console selling millions. First and foremost, it was very inexpensive, selling at around $50 (which was around half the price of some other consoles). The console was also released during a large chip shortage, however Coleco were one of the first to confirm their order so got 100% of the chips they requested, whereas other companies only got 20-30%.
Finally, although the machine was pretty basic, it was pretty good. The system had 3 built in games: Tennis, Hockey and Handball.
The system had two paddle controllers which were attached to the system. The games were in black and white though there was a beeper for sound and all games did have on screen scoring.
The first console to use the new General Instruments AY-3-8500 CPU chip, the Coleco Telstar (model 6040) was powered by a 9 volt battery.
The speaker was placed at the top left hand corner of the machine. In the centre of the machine was a settings area where the user could switch the system off and change the difficult from beginner to intermediate or pro. You also chose which game to play in this area.
In total, there were 14 variations of the Telstar released from 1976 to 1978. Apparently the first model was intentionally limited so that they could release more advanced versions of the Telstar at a later date.
The company nearly went bankrupt in 1980 due to the number of consoles it released.
The Telstar Classic (model 6045) was also released in 1976. Although it was slightly more expensive that the original Telstar, it was the exact same system. The only difference was the wooden case it was housed in.
Released in 1977, the Telstar Deluxe, otherwise known as the Coleco “Video World Of Sports”, was a wooden Telstar which was sold with a stand. This raised the system up which made the gaming experience more akin to playing an arcade game.
Like the Telstar Classic, the system itself was no different from the orginal Telstar. The picture below illustrates how similar the Deluxe was to the original (thanks to Pong Story for the picture).
The 2nd Telstar model to be released in 1977 was the Telstar Ranger (model 6046). It came with 6 games, two paddle controllers and a gun.
The games included were the standard PONG games which the AY-3-8500 was programmed for i.e. Tennis, Squash, Soccer, Practice and two gun games. This was the first Telstar released to have a completely different design from the original. It was also the first to include detachable controllers.
Still in 1977, Coleco released the Telstar Alpha (model 6030). Unlike the Telstar Ranger, this model kept the paddles on the system like the original. The main selling point of this system was the addition of a fourth game called Jai-Alai, which was basically Squash.
This budget console sold very well. It was even released in Europe as the ‘Telstar Alpha Europa’.
The Telstar Colormatic (model 6130) was released in 1977. It was very similar to the Telstar Alpha however all the games had color, which was achieved by adding the Texas Instruments SN76499N graphics chip to the unit.
The unit itself was presented in a strange woodgrain style finish (why did people in the 70s love wood in their electrical devices?). Like the Telstar Ranger, the paddle controllers were detachable.
Still in 1977, Coleco released the Telstar Regent (model 6036) was a variation of the Colormatic. With no extra grahpics chip the games were in black and white, though the controllers could be be detached from the system.
Released in 1978, the Telstar Sportsman was the same as the Regent but it also had a light gun and two gun games included with it.
The last system to be released in 1977 was Telstar Combat! (model 6065). However, this was not a PONG system. Utilising the General Instruments AY-3-8700 Tank chip, the game allowed 2 players to play the game Combat (one of the launch games for the Atari VCS, which was launched later that year).
Each player used two joysticks to control their tank. The system had 4 variations of the tank game. This was the first system by any company which was dedicated to a game other than PONG.
Released in 1977, the Telstar Galaxy (model 6150) was a unique model among the series. It used two General Instrument chips; the AY-3-8600 for games and the AY-3-8615 graphics chip to generate color. The system only had a limited release though.
It was marketed as having 48 games in color, though this is stretching the truth a little as they counted each difficulty setting as a game. The system did allow 4 players to play at once though due to having fixed paddles on the system and 2 detachable joystick controllers.
Released in 1977, the Telstar Arcade console was one of the strangest systems to be released. It was housed in a triangular case. One side resembled the original Telstar with two paddles to play PONG games, one side had a steering wheel and throttle to play driving games (called Road Race) and one side had a holster for a gun to play shooting games (called Quick Draw).
The system was cartridge based and had no built in games. A cartridge containing Tennis, Quick Draw and Road Race was included with the system.
An additional 3 cartridges were released and were available for $25 each. The 2nd cartridge had Hockey, Tennis, Handball and Target. Tennis and Hockey could be played by 2 or 4 players
The 3rd cartridge had Bonus Pingball, Shooting Gallery, Shoot the Bear and Deluxe Pingball. The 4th and final cartridge had Naval Battle, Spped Ball and Blast-Away.
Released in 1978, the Telstar Colorton (model 6135) was powered by the new GI AY-3-8500 chip. It had the same 4 games as the Telstar Alpha (Hockey, Tennis, Handball, Jai-Alai).
The paddle controllers were attached to the system itself. And for the first time, the console required two 9 volt batteries instead of one. The first one powered the machine and the other one powered the sound.
The Telstar Marksman (model 6136) was released in 1978. Powered by the General Instruments AY-3-8512 chipset, had 6 games built in. As well as the usual 4 PONG games (Tennis, Hockey, Handball, Jai Alai) the system had two gun games: Skeet and Target.
Being marketed as the marksman, there was an obvious emphasis on the shooting aspect of the system. The console came with a regular gun which had an extended sight peripheral which let you change the gun into a rifle.
All the games were in full color and just like the Colorton, two 9 volt batteries were required instead of one. Though you could just an ac adaptor.
Released in 1978, the Telstar Gemini was one of the few Telstar consoles not to feature PONG. Instead, it had two gun games and 4 pinball games. As such, the system didn’t have any paddles or joysticks.
Instead, the Gemini had a gun peripheral and the system itself represented a traditional pin machine by having flipper buttons at the left and right hand sides and a large red button at the front to launch the ball.
The console was actually powered by a chip made by Coleco itself, the Coleco MPS 7600. Although being powered by a 9 volt battery, it could also be powered using an ac adaptor, which handily fitted into the base of the unit.