The Vectrex is a truly unique home console. A mostly forgotten, but very innovative system; it is a home console capable of displaying vector graphics on its built-in CRT screen. Its vector graphics are to this day very special and uncommon, and while they still look gorgeous in person, capturing video of it is almost impossible. The system features two controller ports, a knob that controls the brightness of the screen and one for volume. These also function as the on/off switch. The base system was sold with a single controller and came with an instruction booklet for both the system itself, as well as a manual and overlay for the system's bundled game; Mine Storm. Once the system is powered on, the screen displays a startup screen with pulsating letters "VECTREX", "GCE" and "Entertaining new ideas." If no game cartridge is inserted, the game would boot straight into Mine Storm. Other notable releases for the system are Armor Attack, Scramble, Spike, Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Pole Position.
Most games for the Vectrex came with a colored 'overlay' for the screen. The Vectrex screen could only display black and white. Even though the display method was innovative at the time, the lack of color was seen as a serious limitation. That's why all games included flexible plastic overlays for each game. Color print and instructions for the game were printed on these overlays so it would give the illusion of the games being in color. It would also reduce the flickering effect of the vector drawing method. These overlays were sensitive to scratching and collectors often keep them in sleeves/envelopes to prevent serious damage.
Several innovative peripherals were released for the Vectrex. One such addons was the Vectrex Light Pen and the bundled Art Master cartridge. The Light Pen allowed for drawing on the Vectrex screen. It would plug into the second controller slot. The pen contained a sensor that would detect the bright spot of the display when it goes under the pen's position. The Vectrex draws a pattern on the screen to track the pen's location and adjusts the pattern to lock on to it as it changes position.
Another well known addon is the Vectrex 3-D imager. Essentially a 3D headset, it would enable the player to see colored 3D images on the otherwise black and white screen. The imager would spin a color disk in front of the players eyes. Half of the disk was black, and on the other side it was transparent red, green and blue. The imager would sync up with the game, and it would display images for each color for each eye in order. This would give the illusion of 3D, in a similar way that modern shutter glasses in some 3D cinemas do.
The Vectrex was developed by Smith Engineering and Western Technologies in the winter of 1980. Jay Smith of Smith Engineering had previously designed the Microvision for Milton Bradley. The initial concept for the Vectrex was pitched to developers as a handheld called the "Mini Arcade." The system would eventually end up becoming a stationary box with a 9-inch screen. The system was licensed to GCE in 1981 and in June 1982 the system was presented to the public at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. It was released in the US in November of that same year, just in time for Christmas. The system sold for a price of $199. After a mild holiday sales success, Milton Bradley Co. (MB) bought out GCE and started selling the vector based home console internationally. MB's resources ensured a smooth release across western Europe. A deal with Bandai meant the system even saw a release in Japan under the name "Vectrex Kousokusen." However, soon after the MB takeover and a first $150 price drop, the system failed to deliver solid sales. The videogame crash of 1983/1984 only lead to more disappointment for MB. A final price drop to $100 could not save the console. MB had lost millions of dollars on continued production and marketing of the console and was forced into a merger with Hasbro. The Vectrex was discontinued shortly after the merger was completed.
- CPU: Motorola 68A09 @ 1.5 MHz
- RAM: 1 KB (two 4-bit 2114 chips)
- ROM: 8 KB (one 8-bit 2363 chip)
- Sound: General Instrument AY-3-8912
- Screen: Samsung model 240RB40