A video game console is a dedicated electronic device designed to play video games. Often the output device is a separate television or a computer monitor. Once, video game consoles were easily distinguishable from personal computers: consoles used a standard television for display, and did not support standard PC accessories such as keyboards or modems. However, as consoles have become more enhanced, the distinction has blurred: some consoles can have full Linux operating systems running with hard drives and keyboards (like the Sega Dreamcast) (one university has even created a Beowulf cluster of PlayStation 2 consoles), and Microsoft's Xbox is basically a stripped down PC running a version of Microsoft Windows.
The console market has steadily developed from simple one-off games (Pong) to fully featured general purpose games systems.
Older game consoles and their software now live on in emulators as they are no longer supported by their manufacturers. However, console makers try to prevent their games from being played on emulators using copyright-like exclusive rights in mask works and a protection of encrypted media created by the United States' Digital Millennium Copyright Act and foreign counterparts.
Note that the "bitness" of current generations (32-bit, 64-bit and 128-bit) were in large part created by the console makers' marketing departments and may have little to do with the actual architecture of the systems.
Video game consoles have created a whole self supporting market for thousands of different video game accessory manufacturers who would otherwise not be able to produce their own video game consoles. These manufacturers have expanded upon the original uses for the game consoles and have even created entirely new ways to both play and use some of our most favorite video game systems.
Note: This is an abridged timeline of North American video game consoles.
ImageSize= width:575 height:300
Period = from:01/01/1975 till:12/31/2006
TimeAxis = orientation:horizontal
AlignBars = justify
PlotArea = width:90% height:90% left:0 bottom:30
width:25 textcolor:black align:center
bar:Atari from:01/01/1977 till:01/01/1986 color:8bit text:"Atari 2600"
bar:Atari from:01/01/1993 till:06/30/1996 color:64bit text:"Jaguar"
bar:Nintendo1 from:01/01/1985 till:01/01/1995 color:8bit text:"NES"
bar:Nintendo2 from:08/01/1991 till:01/01/1999 color:16bit text:"SNES"
bar:NEC1 from:08/01/1989 till:08/01/1992 color:16bit text: "TurboGrafx-16"
bar:NEC2 from:10/10/1992 till:01/01/1995 color:16bit text: "TurboDuo"
bar:Nintendo1 from:09/29/1996 till:01/01/2001 color:64bit text:"N64"
bar:Nintendo2 from:01/01/2001 till:12/31/2006 color:5thgen text:"Gamecube" shift:(-20,0)
bar:SEGA1 from:01/01/1986 till:01/01/1991 color:8bit text:"Master System "
bar:SEGA2 from:01/01/1989 till:01/01/1997 color:16bit text:"Genesis"
bar:SEGA1 from:01/01/1995 till:01/01/1998 color:32bit text:"Saturn"
bar:SEGA2 from:11/28/1998 till:03/01/2002 color:5thgen text:"Dreamcast"
bar:Sony1 from:09/09/1995 till:12/31/2006 color:32bit text:"PlayStation"
bar:Sony2 from:10/26/2000 till:12/31/2006 color:5thgen text:"PS2"
bar:MS from:11/15/2001 till:12/31/2006 color:5thgen text:"XBOX"
ScaleMajor = gridcolor:line unit:year increment:4 start:01/01/1976
ScaleMinor = gridcolor:liteline unit:year increment:2 start:01/01/1978