VideoBrain Family Computer 
Introduced:December 1977
Released:March 1978
CPU:Fairchild F8 @ 1.79MHz
Memory:1K RAM
Display:16 colors to TV (RF 3 or 4)
 400 x 160 graphics
 "1000 characters" of text
Ports:joystick, expansion
Storage:optional cassette recorder
OS:optional APL/S

Congratulations! You have joined the computer revolution with a high-quality, reliable product of the future. No longer is the awesome power of a computer available only to giant corporations, NASA, and the IRS.

Mnaufactured by Umtech, the VideoBrain exploits the miracle of microelectronics to squeeze the power of a big, expensive computer into a $500 home appliance smaller then a portable typewriter.

VideoBrain's heart is the amazing "computer on a chip" you've read so much about. This high-technology breakthrough packs 10,000 transistors on a pure silicon wafer half the size of your fingernail. This tiny chip, called a microprocessor, performs 500,000 instructions without a mistake in a single second.

Using this sophisticated technology undreamed of a few years earlier, VideoBrain brings incredible power right into your living room to help you manage your money, educate your children, and have fun with the family.

Described as "the first entry-level home computer", the VideoBrain is considered the first computer to use ROM-based cartridges for instant program loading. They are not cassettes tapes and don't have any moving parts. They contain pre-programmed ROM chips, and after inserted into the cartridge slot, are loaded into the memory when the system is turned on.
Fairchild engineer Jerry Lawson is credited as the inventor of the first ROM cartridge, which he created for his Fairchild Channel F home video game console.

There are very few known-to-exist cartridges for the VideBrain Family Computer:
  1. EN01 - Gladiator
  2. EN02 - Pinball
  3. EN03 - Tennis
  4. EN04 - Checkers
  5. EN05 - Blackjack
  6. EN06 - Vice Versa

  7. ED01 - Music Teacher 1
  8. ED02 - Math Tutor 1
  9. ED03 - Wordwise 1
  10. ED04 - Wordwise 2
  11. ED05 - VideoArtist
  12. ED06 - Lemonade Stand: A Business Simulation

  13. APL/S - The Computational Language
  14. VB-81 - Financier
  15. VB-1000 - Money Minder

  16. CM01 - Timeshare
  17. ST01 - Demonstration

Unlike most computer and game systems, you do not have to turn the VideoBrain off to insert or change cartridges.
Simply slide the cartridge into the cartridge slot, close the door, and press MASTER CONTROL.
The cartridge will begin after the title is displayed for two seconds.
Since the system doesn't need to be powered-down, the system clock and alarm are not lost as long as the system remains powered-on.

The keyboard can best be described as unfriendly - there are very few keys - only 36, and they are too close together to type comfortably.
The number keys and special character keys are all shared with the letter keys.
The MASTER CONTROL returns the current program to it's starting point (reset).
But the self-calibrating joysticks are very nice, and flow smoothly. There are ports to allow four joysticks to be used at once, but I am not certain if any existing programs utilize more than two.

The VideoBrain doesn't really do much by itself - there is no built-in operating system or programming language.
If no cartridge has been inserted, the system offers the user the option to run:
  • Text - type text on the screen - up to seven lines of 16 characters each.
  • Color - displays multi-color bars so you can calibrate your TV set's colors, if you know how.
  • Clock - but there is no battery back-up - the time is lost when the system is turned off.
  • Alarm - alerts the user once the system time matches the alarm time.

  • There is one programming language available for the VideoBrain, but it is not BASIC like most other early computers.
    The Computational Language cartridge allows the user to write programs in the "simplified" APL/S programming language, a dialect of APL programming language.
    Widely supported by IBM, APL was used mostly on mainframe and other large computer system from the 1960's onward.
    IBM's first portable computer the IBM 5100 from 1975 could run both BASIC and/or APL.

    There are no standard serial or parallel ports on the VideoBrain, just four joystick ports, and one expansion port, which only accepts the optional external Expander 1 module.
    This I/O Interface box provides two RS-232 serial ports, and connections for a cassette tape drive to load and save user data.

    The only other expansion available is the Expander 2 module, which provides a 300 baud acoustic modem for telecommunications use, and is accessible only by the "Timeshare" cartridge.
    The Expander 2 module plugs into the Expander 1 module.

    On February 10, 1978, the VideoBrain was a guest star on the Today Show with Jane Pauley.
    Later that year, in November, the VideoBrain is advertised in Popular Science magazine.
    Exactly one year later in November 1979, it has been discontinued and surplus systems are being liquidated for $164, and eventually for just $88 in May 1980.

    The VideoBrain was sold mainly through magazine advertisements, but some Northern California Macy's stores stocked it for a short time.
    It wasn't very succesful, and the company went bankrupt after just a year and a half of production.

    The VideoBrain was designed by David Chung and Albert Yu.
    David Chung previously worked at Fairchild Semiconductor, and is the inventer of the Fairchild F8 processor, which powers the VideoBrain. In 1976 he became the Vice President of Engineering at Umtech, Inc., the manufacturer of the VideoBrain.
    Albert Yu came from Intel's integrated circuits department. In September 15, 2005, Stanford University interviewed Yu as part of their Silicon Genesis interviews.

    Related Links

  • Wikipedia
  • Home Computer & Video Game Museum
  • AtariProtos
  • "Old Computer Museum"
  • Business Week - Dec 26, 1977

  • VideoBrain EN01 - Gladiator

    VideoBrain EN02 - Pinball

    VideoBrain EN03 - Tennis

    VideoBrain EN04 - Checkers

    VideoBrain EN05 - Blackjack

    VideoBrain EN06 - Vice Versa

    VideoBrain ED01 - Music Teacher 1

    VideoBrain ED02 - Math Tutor 1

    VideoBrain ED03 - Wordwise 1

    VideoBrain ED04 - Wordwise 2

    VideoBrain ED05 - Video Artist

    VideoBrain ED06 - Lemonade Stand

    VideoBrain VB-81 - Financier

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