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The Microvision (sometimes called Milton Bradley Microvision or MB Microvision for short) is the first handheld game console that used interchangeable ROM cartridges.[1] It was released by the Milton Bradley Company in November 1979.[2] The Microvision was designed by Jay Smith, the engineer who would later design the Vectrex gaming console. The Microvision's combination of portability and a cartridge-based system led to moderate success, with Smith Engineering grossing $15 million in the first year of the system's release. However, very few cartridges, a small screen, and a lack of support from established home video game companies led to its demise in 1981.[3] According to Satoru Okada, the former head of Nintendo's R&D1 Department, the Microvision gave birth to the Game & Watch after Nintendo designed around Microvision's limitations.[4]

Milton Bradley Microvision Logo.png
ManufacturerMilton Bradley Company
TypeHandheld game console
GenerationSecond generation
Release dateNovember 1979; 39 years ago (1979-11)
MediaMicrovision ROM cartridges
CPUIntel 8021/TI TMS1100 (on cartridge) clocked at 100 kHz
Memory32 nibbles (16 bytes) RAM, 2K ROM
Display16 × 16 pixels resolution
Power1× 9V battery (TMS1100 processors), 2× 9V battery (Intel 8021 processors)


Unlike most later consoles, the Microvision did not contain an onboard processor (CPU). Instead, each game included its own processor contained within the removable cartridge.[5][6][7] This meant that the console itself effectively consisted of the controls, LCD panel and LCD controller.[5][7]

The processors for the first Microvision cartridges were made with both Intel 8021 (cross licensed by Signetics) and Texas Instruments TMS1100 processors. Due to purchasing issues, Milton Bradley switched to using TMS1100 processors exclusively including reprogramming the games that were originally programmed for the 8021 processor. The TMS1100 was a more primitive device, but offered more memory and lower power consumption than the 8021. First-revision Microvisions needed two batteries due to the 8021's higher power consumption, but later units (designed for the TMS1100) only had one active battery holder. Even though the battery compartment was designed to allow the two 9-volt batteries to be inserted with proper polarity of positive and negative terminals, when a battery was forcefully improperly oriented, while the other battery was properly oriented, the two batteries would be shorted and they would overheat. The solution was to remove terminals for one of the batteries to prevent this hazard. Due to the high cost of changing production molds, Milton Bradley did not eliminate the second battery compartment, but instead removed its terminals and called it the spare battery holder.


The uncovered LCD screen of a Microvision, showing screen damage.

Microvision units and cartridges are now somewhat rare.[citation needed] Those that are still in existence are susceptible to three main problems: "screen rot," ESD damage, and keypad destruction.

Screen rotEdit

The manufacturing process used to create the Microvision's LCD was primitive by modern standards. Poor sealing and impurities introduced during manufacture has resulted in the condition known as screen rot. The liquid crystal spontaneously leaks and permanently darkens, resulting in a game unit that still plays but is unable to properly draw the screen. While extreme heat (such as resulting from leaving the unit in the sun) which can instantly destroy the screen can be avoided, there is nothing that can be done to prevent screen rot in most Microvisions.[8]

ESD damageEdit

A major design problem involves the fact that the microprocessor (which is inside the top of each cartridge) lacks ESD protection and is directly connected to the copper pins which normally connect the cartridge to the Microvision unit. If the user opens the protective sliding door that covers the pins, the processor can be exposed to any electric charge the user has built up. If the user has built up a substantial charge, the discharge can jump around the door's edge or pass through the door itself (dielectric breakdown). The low-voltage integrated circuit inside the cartridge is extremely ESD sensitive, and can be destroyed by an event of only a few dozen volts which cannot even be felt by the person, delivering a fatal shock to the game unit. This phenomenon was described in detail by John Elder Robison (a former Milton Bradley engineer) in his book Look Me in the Eye.

Keypad destructionEdit

The Microvision unit had a twelve-button keypad, with the switches buried under a thick layer of flexible plastic. To align the user's fingers with the hidden buttons, the cartridges had cutouts in their bottom (over the keypad). As different games required different button functions, the cutouts were covered with a thin printed piece of plastic, which identified the buttons' functions in that game. The problem with this design is that pressing on the buttons stretched the printed plastic, resulting in the thin material stretching and eventually tearing. Having long fingernails exacerbated the condition. Many of the initial games were programmed to give feedback of the keypress when the key was released instead of when the key was pressed. As a result, users may press on the keypad harder because they are not being provided with any feedback that the key has been pressed. This resulted from a keypad used for prototyping being different from the production keypad; the prototyping keypad had tactile feedback upon key pressing that the production units lacked.[citation needed]

Technical specificationsEdit

The PCB of a Block Buster game cartridge, showing the TI3496 processor from the TMS1100 family.
  • CPU: Intel 8021/TI TMS1100 (on cartridge)
  • Screen type and resolution: 16 × 16 pixel LCD
  • Register width: 4 bit (TMS1100), 8 bit (8021)
  • Processor speed: 100 kHz
  • RAM (integrated into CPU): 64 bytes
  • ROM: 2K (TMS100), 1K (8021)
  • Cartridge ROM: 2K (TMS 1100), 1K (8021) masked (integrated into CPU; each game's CPU was different)
  • Video Display Processor: LCD Custom Driver (made by Hughes)
  • Sound: Piezo beeper
  • Input: Twelve button keypad, one paddle
  • Power requirements: One or two 9 volt batteries on earlier Microvision consoles, one 9 volt battery on later Microvision consoles
  • Power Dissipation: 110 mW (TMS 1100), 1 W (8021)


Only 12 games were made for the Microvision.

  • Launch titles - 1979
  • 1979
    • Mindbuster
    • Star Trek: Phaser Strike (later just Phaser Strike; sold in Germany, Italy and the UK as Shooting Star, and France as Cannon Phaser[9])
    • Vegas Slots
  • 1980
    • Baseball
    • Sea Duel (sold in Germany as See-Duell)
  • 1981
  • 1982
  • Unreleased
    • Barrage (intended for release in 1982)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Sfetcu, Nicolae (2014-05-04). Game Preview. Nicolae Sfetcu.
  2. ^, MICHAEL J. BARNES, ILTD DESIGN SERVICES,. "PC Timeline. The Freeman PC Museum... Largest Collection of Vintage Computers On The Web". Retrieved 22 January 2017.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  3. ^ Donald Melanson, March 3, 2006, A Brief History of Handheld Video Games Engadget
  4. ^ Barder, Ollie (December 31, 2016). "New Interview With Satoru Okada Delves Into The Hidden History Behind Nintendo's Gaming Handhelds". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Milton Bradley Microvision (U.S.)". Handheld Museum. Archived from the original on 2018-08-21. Retrieved 2018-12-02. the console itself is nothing more than controls, LCD panel and a controller chip for the LCD panel. Each cartridge contains the microprocessor, which happens to have a small amount of ROM space on it that MB loaded the game code onto.
  6. ^ "MB Microvision Handheld Games Console". Simply Eighties. Archived from the original on 2017-07-10. Retrieved 2018-12-02. In fact, it was the cartridge itself that contained the CPU, and just to confuse everyone two different ones were used.
  7. ^ a b "Milton Bradley Microvison (1979 – 1981)". Museum of Obsolete Media. Archived from the original on 2018-11-21. Retrieved 2018-12-07. The main unit was little more than a housing for the display, batteries, switches and controller, while the brains of each game was a combined microprocessor/memory chip inside the clip-on cartridge.
  8. ^ Vinciguerra, Robert (November 25, 2007). "Milton Bradley Microvision: The World's First Handheld Game Console". The Rev. Rob Times. Archived from the original on January 25, 2013. Retrieved 26 December 2013.
  9. ^ Huber, Joseph M. "Microvision FAQ". GameFAQs. Retrieved 28 April 2014.