Intellivision FAQ Section 1.0 History

Intellivision Master Component model 2609

The Classic Intellivision FAQ

Composed, arranged, and produced by Intv Prime, Artifact Productions Division

Overview History

At the end of 1979, Mattel Electronics (a division of Mattel Toys) released a video game system known as Intellivision along with 12 video game cartridges. Poised as a competitor to the then king of the hill Atari 2600, Mattel Electronics called their new product "Intelligent Television" , stemming largely from their marketing plans to release a compatible computer keyboard for their video games console. Mattel’s marketing was anything but intelligent and almost destroyed the company by 1984. In one sense the system was very successful, with approx 4 million units (maybe 5 including variant consoles) sold and 125 games released before the system was discontinued by INTV Corp. in 1990.

The original Master Component was test marketed in Fresno, California in late 1979. The response was excellent, and Mattel went national with their new game system in late 1980. The first year’s production run of 200,000 units was completely sold out! To help enhance it’s marketability. Mattel also marketed the system in Sears stores as the Super Video Arcade, and at Radio Shack as the Tandyvision One in the early 1980’s.

1980 was a turbulent year for the Intellivision. Mattel announced that an "inexpensive" keyboard expansion would be available in 1981 for the master component to be dropped into. This was to turn the system into a powerful 64K home computer that could do everything from play games to balance your checkbook. There was a great deal of marketing money and press coverage devoted to this unit; a third of the box for the GTE/Sylvania Intellivision describes the features of this proposed expansion. Many people bought an Intellivision with plans to turn it into a computer when the expansion module was released. Months, then years passed and the original expansion keyboard was released only in a few test areas in late 1981. With the price too high and the initial reaction poor, the product was scrapped in 1982 before being released nationwide.

1982 saw many changes in both the video game industry and the Intellivision product line. A voice-synthesis module called IntelliVoice made sound and speech and integral part of gameplay, through the use of special voice-enhanced cartridges. The Intellivision II was also released this year, which one company spokesperson described as "smaller and lighter that the original, yet with the same powerful 16-bit microprocessor". The new console was more compact than the first, and its grayish body made it look more like a sophisticated electronic device than the original design.

1983 brought more promises from the folks at Mattel, the most significant of which being the Intellivision III. This was shown off at the January 1983 CES show, and lauded in the video game mags for many months afterwards. In June of 1983 at the Summer CES show, Mattel announced it was killing the Intellivision III and including most of its high-profile features into their long-awaited computer expansion, the Entertainment Computer System.

Probably the most ambitious effort the Intellivision team had undertaken, the Entertainment Computer System was comprised of a computer keyboard add-on, a 49-key music synthesizer, ram expansion for the keyboard add-on to expand it to a full 64K RAM and 24K ROM, a data recorder to store programs, a 40-column thermal printer, and an adapter which would allow you to play Atari 2600 games on your Intellivision. The RAM expansion modules, data recorder, and thermal printer never made it past the drawing board, and the music synthesizer had but one software title to take advantage of its capabilities. While the 2600 adapter greatly expanded the library of available games, much of the steam this generated had already been stolen by Coleco’s own expansion module.

1984 would spell the end of the original Intellivision as the world knew it. Terry E. Valeski, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Mattel Electronics, along with a group of investors, purchased the assets, trademarks, patents, and right to the Intellivision in January of 1984 for $16.5 million dollars. The purchase was backed by financing from Tangible Industries, a division of Revco Drug Stores. The newly formed company was originally called Intellivision, Inc., and later renamed INTV, Inc., after Valeski negotiated all rights from Revco in November of 1984. During the next two years, the new company would lie dormant while plans were being made for a re-emergence.

In the fall of 1985, the INTV System III (also called the Super Pro System) appeared at Toys ‘R Us, Kiddie City, and in a mail order catalog sent to owners of the original Intellivision direct from INTV. The new console was of the same general design as the original master component, except it sported a fresh black plastic shell with brushed aluminum trim. Several new games accompanied the release of the new system, and 1985 would register over $6 million dollars in sales worldwide, indicating that INTV Corp. had indeed revived the Intellivision. INTV continued to market games and repair services through the mail with great success. Between 1985 and 1990 over 35 new games were released, bringing the Intellivision’s game library to a total of 125 titles.

Many more changes were to come during the final six years of Intellivision’s useful life. In 1987, an improved master component called the INTV System IV was shown at the January CES, which sported detachable controllers and a timing device. Unfortunately, this never saw the light either. In the fall of 1988, INTV re-introduced the computer keyboard adapter through their mail order catalog on a limited quantity basis. In 1990, INTV discontinued retail sales of their games and equipment and sold them only through the mail channels. The change in marketing was due to agreements with Nintendo and Sega to become a software vendor for the NES, Game Boy and Genesis. In 1991, INTV sold out its stock of Intellivision games and consoles, and the company gradually faded away. The original incorporation was dormant for years.

To make a list of the innovations Intellivision brought, those could be considered as the first 16-bit game console, as it has a 16-bit microprocessor, it was the first home console and one of the first video games to use a tile based playfield, it allowed for the display of detailed graphics and colour with very little RAM, was the first game console to provide real-time human voices in the middle of gameplay, courtesy of the IntelliVoice module, the first game controller with a directional thumb, the first to offer a musical synthesizer keyboard and World Series Major League Baseball (1983) is considered to be the first sports simulation video game with a number of specific innovations such as multiple views of a 3D calculated virtual play-field, statistical based game-play using real historical baseball player statistics, manager player substitutions, play-by-play speech, and save games or lineups to tape storage

Section 1.0: History

Introduction to the console and summary information.

  • 1.1 Administration of this FAQ
  • 1.2 Historical statistics
  • 1.3 Competing game platforms

1.1: Who made this FAQ?

The entire classic Intellivision community made this FAQ! Intv Prime has assembled and curated the info, but is not the core source.

These bits have been collected from the early 1980s to 2023 (so far).

When there is more to see, Intv Prime will work to add it!

1.1: Who can I contact?

Visit, or send an email to the contact address, note the section (eg 2.5 for controllers), and we will work with you to make an update. The community makes this better!

1.2: When was the Intellivision designed?

The console was officially announced on December 3, 1979, which has come to be called "Intellivision Day".

(Walter Ives)>Monday, December 3, 1979. On the previous Saturday Chandler and a crew loaded a rented U-Haul with product and point-of-purchase displays at Mattel in Hawthorne and drove 250 miles north to Fresno set up in Gottschalk’s seven department stores. Sales were slated to begin on Sunday but they were running late, the drive took longer than expected and there were other hangups, so they had to push setup, which was to occur after store closure, to Sunday evening.

Units began shipping to retailers in many smaller markets in February 1980, even before the March launch events in the major markets of Los Angeles, Chicago and New York. In Charlotte, the Circuit City stores on Freedom Drive and Independence Blvd. had Master Components in stock by spring break in April, right after Easter. But there weren’t enough units in the distribution channels to justify a concerted nation-wide advertising push—that’s what was scheduled for late 1980.

The Intellivision was introduced in Germany 3rd week of 1982 at the Hifivideo expo in Düsseldorf..

1.2: How was Intellivision rolled out and released?

The test market results were not good enough to convince management it the product would be a huge success, but good enough to continue. Conducting a nationwide launch was never the plan, and console inventory was never built up to sufficient levels to support that. Instead, product was rolled out into other markets starting the next March. This was practical because the product was being manufactured by Sylvania in the United States rather than being received in a single huge long lead-time shipment from Hong Kong and Sylvania could adjust its production to match actual demand. Roll-out began at major department store chains in three cities, The Broadway in the Los Angeles area, Marshall Field in the Chicago area and Macy’s in New York.

1.2: How many Intellivisions were sold?

Fact Value Note
Quantity of consoles sold 3,000,000 approximate
Quantity of cartridges sold 5,000,000 approximate
Sales in $USD (1979-1984) 100 approximate

1.2: What were initial Intellivision games?

Poker & Blackjack, Math Fun, Armor Battle, and Backgammon were successfully test marketed in 1979 in Fresno, California as launch titles. 1980 was the major worldwide release in Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago.
Retailers had to train for 18 hours over 3 days to understand the system.

1.2: What is the Intellivision timeline?

  • 1979 – Intellivision is test marketed in Fresno, CA, USA.
  • 1980 – Mattel Intellivision released nationally, Computer Expansion announced
  • 1982 – Computer Expansion Module scrapped due to high cost and poor response
  • 1982 – Intellivoice released
  • 1983 – Intellivision II released
  • 1983 – Entertainment Computer System released many peripherals announced
  • 1983 – 2600 System Changer released
  • 1983 – Intellivision III announced
  • 1983 – The videogame market begins to crash
  • 1983 – Intellivision III dropped
  • 1984 – The videogame market bottoms out
  • 1984 – Mattel sells the Intellivision rights to VP Marketing T.E. Valeski and investors, forming INTV Corp.
  • 1985 – INTV III released, along with new Intellivision titles. Aggressive marketing adds $6 million sales
  • 1987 – INTV IV announced, to be scrapped later
  • 1990 – INTV Corp. discontinues retail sales, markets through mail only
  • 1991 – INTV Corp. sells off its remaining Intellivision stock


1.2: Who created the Intellivision?

At Mattel Electronics, Dave Chandler "Papa Intellivision" designed the hardware. Glenn Hightower designed the core firmware and software. APh was contracted by Mattel Electronics to create initial games.

1.3: How does the Atari VCS compare to the Intellivision?

The VCS (Video Computer System), later called the 2600, is a simple home video game created by Atari in the mid 1970’s. It retailed for USD $199 (equivalent to $849.88 in 2020) and became the dominant home system in the second era of home video games. The low graphic resolution, simple control and play, and lack of sophistication made it the perfect foil for Mattel to market-against with the Intellivision.
The Intellivision was under development years before the VCS came to market, and Mattel Electronics did not consider it a competitor (VCS initially sold poorly) until sales of Atari "Space Invaders" catapulted the VCS to commercial success.
The VCS uses off-the-shelf and low-cost volume components, compared to specialized hardware in the Intellivision.

1.3: Is Atari 5200 better than Intellivision?

The 5200 was Atari’s attempt to create a system that would unseat the Intellivision, and copied several of the features after the Mattel showed success in outshining the Atari VCS/2600. The 5200 controllers resemble the Intellivision form factor with an integrated keypad, and uses overlays. The original 5200 also featured four built-in controller ports, only possible on the Intellivision with the ECS (see section 2.3). Atari released the Real Sports series of games for the 5200 that strongly resembled the Intellivision franchise sports titles. Atari sold one million 5200 units by leveraging the Atari name and using the best ideas of the Intellivision. Unfortunately for Atari, the controllers were even harder to use for newbies than the Intellivision controller (the controllers don’t self-center among other issues), and Atari had diluted the market with the 5200, 2600, and large string of 8-bit computers (note the 5200 strongly resembles an Atari 400 without a keyboard).

Attribute Intellivision Atari 5200
CPU General Instruments GI-CP1610 1.79MHz. Atari Customized MOS 6502C 1.79MHz.
Graphics Mattel STIC. 3 modes, typically 159×96@8 colors. 8 1-color 8×8 sprites. ANTIC and GTIA chips. 14 modes, typically 160×240@4 colors. 4 1-color 8×8 plus 4 1-color 2×2 sprites.
Sound General Instruments GI-AY-3-8912/14 chip 3-voice plus 1 noise PSG. Atari POKEY chip 4-voice PSG.
Controllers 16-direction d-pad disc, numeric keypad, side buttons 8-direction analog joystick, numeric keypad, side buttons
RAM 1 kbytes. 16 kbytes.
ROM 6 kbytes ROM (mix of 10-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit access). 2 kbytes (expandable with a cartridge).

1.3: Is Colecovision better than Intellivision?

Attribute Intellivision Colecovision
CPU General Instruments GI-CP1610 1.79MHz. Zilog Z80 2.5MHz.
Graphics Mattel STIC. 3 modes, typically 159×96@8 colors. 8 1-color 8×8 sprites. TI TMS9928A. 256×192@15 colors. 32 sprites.
Sound General Instruments GI-AY-3-8912/14 chip 3-voice plus 1 noise PSG. TI SN76489.
Controllers 16-direction d-pad disc, numeric keypad, side buttons 8-direction analog joystick, numeric keypad, side buttons
RAM 1 kbytes. 1 kbytes.
ROM 6 kbytes ROM (mix of 10-bit, 8-bit, 16-bit access). 16 kbytes video RAM, 8 kbytes ROM.

Compromises exist in Colecovision game versions (eg not capable of showing 4 sprites on same line without flicker). The "superior system" label depends on the games played and the time the games are played. The ColecoVision clearly has the best home-arcade ports of the 1980s, while the Intellivision had better-playing and controlling sports and party games. Not including arcade ports, the number of original Colecovision games with replay value is relatively lower than Intellivision.

Cartridges between the two are not compatible.

Stamp: 2023-11-26T03:29:17

Intellivision is a trademark of © Intellivision Entertainment, Inc. Intellivision, Blue Sky Rangers Inc, the Intellivision logotype and the Running Man logo are registered trademarks ® of Intellivision Entertainment, Inc. Other trademarks are the properties of the trademark owners. Use of these trademarks is for historical and contextual purposes only and do not imply any endorsement or connection with IE or its properties.