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MB OMNI Entertainment System: The 8-Track games machine from 1980

The Omni from Milton Bradley is a product that straddles 70s and 80s technologies. At it’s core, it’s a game, an electronic quiz machine. However if you examine the way it works, it could be described as an interactive computer that reads program data from tapes.... 8-track tapes. In the video below I demonstrate what it does and how it does it…but first I have to get it working.
Playing the Omni made me think about the massive success that Trivial Pursuit achieved just a few years later. I remember that game becoming big in the UK around 1984. It's almost as though the Omni was ahead of the game...but then I thought about how much Trivial Pursuit cost (I seem to remember it being £50) and how that was considered very expensive for a board game….so at $120 the Omni never really stood a chance. 
It was also a lot more difficult to introduce new technology in the pre-internet age. I recall seeing products in catalogues back in the day and all you got was a picture with a brief description like 'electronic game'. It was often impossible to figure out exactly what some of these things did and when you factor in their high cost it made buying these new gadgets a gamble that many weren't prepared to make. The game Merlin was an example...back then I really couldn't imagine how it was supposed to be used but now after all these years it turns out that the less easily definable products like these were often the most innovative ones.
For anyone interested in looking at the way the data on a cart is laid out - you can download a five minute sample of Vincent Price's Movie Quiz by clicking here. This is one of the simpler carts with just a question step and an answer step. Jeopardy and Password+ are more elaborate.


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Reader Comments (12)

I remember seeing Videomaster star chess in the 80s. Pieces could exchange laser fire. Unfortunately you could not play chess against the computer. About this time actual pocket computer chess games arrived.
There's a write up here

August 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMr.G

Never knew such existed. Interesting to watch and the "old video" gave me a few chuckles, and once again a job well done.

August 6, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSlivy58

@ Mr.G - I remember that one too, although I never played it. Thanks for the link
@Slivy58 - Thanks old chap.

August 6, 2017 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Atari were doing something similar circa 1980 with the data recorders of their 8-bit microcomputer series. These data recorders used stereo tapes, and had the ability to route audio from the tape to the computer's standard TV output. Atari's own vast library of educational software made extensive use of cassette audio tricks.

August 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJQW

If it isn't too much trouble could your look on the box and list any patents? I have spent a fair amount of time looking at the images of the PCB and can't fully work out how it is handling such complex logic with the chips I see on the board. There don't seem to be any other pictures of the PCB or schematics on the net, so I am hoping that a peek at the now expired patents would give some insight.

No worries if it is too much bother

August 7, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJockM

My boxes are pretty scuffed up and I’m busy working on the next video at the moment so can’t get to this right now - however here are some pictures off the net

August 7, 2017 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

Awesome, thank you!

August 8, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJock

WOW!!! I do remember opening up a Big Trak one Christmas morning. Had to be the late 70's or early 80's.

August 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterChris

The Big Trak (I had one as a kid) used the same TMS1000 4-bit microcontroller that Simon, and the OMNI used (the two big chips on the PCB are that chip as well). Milton Bradley was heavily invested in the TI ecosystem. Today you would source the generic chips based on manufacturing lots to get the best price, back then it wasn't so easy. You would work with a manufacturer and bundle your purchases to get the best deal you could

August 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJock

I have double checked and there is no Patent information written on the box, in the box, or in the instructions.

August 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterTechmoan

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