In 1996, Atari Corporation was "absorbed" by cheap-o hard drive manufacturer JTS. Eventually, JTS itself died and is snapped up by toy giant, Hasbro for a mere $5 million is 1998.
The last cartridge based game system was released in 1996: The Nintendo 64. The N64 was 64-bit (hence the name) and was even more powerful than its predecessor, but was never as popular despite popular titles.
In the beginning, the market was decidedly split between the N64 and the new Sony Playstation, but the winner in the end turned out to be Sony. Apparently, the public was tired of cartridges, but Nintendo thought that cartridges would be the way to go in order to thwart piracy.
In 1999, Sega attempted to regain its hold on the home game console market with the Dreamcast. Ironically, what started as Sega's best selling console, ended up being the shortest lived. Dreamcast, what I believe was the first 128-bit console, featured a 200 MHz RISC processor, 16MB of RAM and was capable of 16-bit color at 640x480. In a nutshell it was almost better than most PCs and ended up dominating the market in 1999... but just 1999.
You see, the very next year Sony came out with the Playstation 2, or PS2 for short, and did a damn good job at marketing it. Demand for the PS2 was so great; units were being sold on the Internet auction site eBay for nearly three times suggested retail. People were even conned into buying empty PS2 boxes. The PS2 also won hearts by coming with an installed 4X DVD-ROM drive that will play audio and DVD movies. Even today, the Playstation 2 is my pick (as if you asked).
Hasbro Interactive launched the Atari brand name in 1998 with a line of updated arcade classics. We saw new 3D versions of Pong, Missile Command and Centipede for both the Playstation and N64. These actually became some of my most favorite PC games too. Then, in 2001, Infogrames acquires Hasbro Interactive and it's associated companies… like Atari! Infogrames re-releases a number of Hasbro and Atari titles, but without the Hasbro logo, and uses the Atari name to release a line of sports and racing games for the Playstation2.
This past year, Microsoft entered the home videogame console with the Xbox and Nintendo once again with the Game Cube.
The Microsoft Xbox is essentially an IBM clone engineered specifically for games. It's an Intel Pentium III (which some argue is a mobile Celeron because it has only 128K of cache) 733 MHz with 64MB of DDR RAM on a custom NVidia chipset motherboard with a built in NVidia NV2X graphic chip that is faster than a PC's NVidia GeForce3. It's the same price as a Playstation 2, but the 5X DVD ROM drives ability to play DVDs is optional. Sure, the add on is only $30, but currently everyone is out of stock on them.
This unit seems to blur the line between "computer gaming" and "console gaming" and may mean that the death of the home videogame console as we know it (or rather, knew it) is nearing an end. Here's my take on the situation... Game developers writing for the Xbox are essentially writing PC games, but optimized for Xbox's high end graphics. Developers do not produce such games for PC because they do not want to alienate PC users with older, less hearty video cards. But given that the life cycle of a typical PC is only 2 years, and that the $300 that the Xbox will run you could buy a pretty serious video card, wouldn't it make sense to just go ahead and alienate those low end video card users? You're already making them buy a $300 machine for "the ultimate gaming experience". Why not make them buy a $300 video card?
As for Nintendo's effort...it is a bit of give and take. The Game Cube uses CDs, but they are proprietary 3" diameter CDs. It seems that in an attempt to thwart piracy that is a compromise between using CDs or DVDs that can be easily copied and the cartridges of Nintendo's past, they may end up digging themselves another grave. Oh well… Maybe they can get by with just "Game Boy" type consoles for the rest of their lives. They seem to have no problem doing that right. The Game Cube is under $200, and we have to remember that, but in my opinion, if Nintendo would stick with the hardware and game titles it currently has a winning formula with and combine this with a standard DVD, they may be on to something.
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