An era of high-tech toys, Part 2

Why we still love the Atari, the first mobile phone, the Walkman and more...

But of course there were gadgets before 1999, and some things retain their charm no matter how obsolete they may be. Here's a selection of some of our favourites.

Atari VCS console

The run up to Christmas has seen Dreamcast mania sweep the country, a it's hard to imagine Christmas without some kind of new uber-gaming machine vying for the top spot on Christmas wish lists. However the multi-billion dollar gaming industry started properly just 23 years ago, with the launch of that symbol of the '70s, the Atari.

First out in 1977, this classic console was designed by the man who gave us the pleasures of Pong. Costing just over £100 it was a chunky machine made of black and brown fake wood plastic.

A cartridge slot for the games themselves sat in the middle, surrounded by four switches: power, game reset, game select and colour/black and white. At the rear of the machine was a switch to change the difficulty levels of games.

The console ran on a 6507 microprocessor with a 4K capacity and came bundled with two joysticks, two paddle controllers for horizontal movement (remember Missile Command?), a television/game switch box, and the game Combat.

Sony Walkman

1999 has seen audio technology come along in leaps and bounds. The major players, including Sony, have finally got around to developing digital music players, the first DVD-Audio player went on sale in Japan, and MiniDisc became a firmly established mainstream format.

There's just one company to thank for the personal music revolution, and that's Sony.

In 1979 Sony launched it very first Walkman, giving birth to a whole new genre of musical devices. Called the Soundabout, the very first model came with two headline jacks and an orange "hotline" button. If two people were plugged into the player pressing the button meant that you could talk into the microphone and the other person could hear you through the earphones. These features were dumped soon after when the company realised that it was the music-on-the-go people were after, not instant messaging.

In two months the Soundabout sold ten times Sony's original forecast of 5,000 units per month. It weighed 14 ounces and, according to the original press release, was perfect for use "while roller discoing".

Sony video recorder

This Christmas is when DVD is set to really take off in the UK. Or at least that's what the experts have been saying all year. However it will be at least another four or five years before it overtakes VHS, and still longer before it finally kills it off.

The idea of taking the cinema to the home, which with today's home cinema systems is a reality, began 35 years ago with the launch of Sony's CV-2000 Video Tape Recorder.

Although Ampex had launched a colour video recorder seven years earlier, Sony's was the first model aimed at the consumer market -- CV stood for "consumer video". Sony's machine weighed 70lb and came with a built-in monitor that popped up for viewing the flickering colour picture. It even had a timer recording feature built in. No information on whether anyone could actually work out how to set it though.

Ericsson mobile phone

Predictions are flying thick and fast that within a few years more people will be accessing the Internet through a mobile phone than via a PC. The number of people who own a mobile are on the way to overtaking the number of those who don't. Today's phones are tiny, stylish and work all over the world. Well, most of it anyway.

Phones are also becoming extremely smart, with some predicting that smartphone devices will replace PDAs altogether. The first stage of this revolution is with us already, with the launch of Orange's WAP phone and services. Going into the new millennium, we can look forward to mobile data transfer rates, in the run up to 3G, that will put today's PC modems to shame.

So spare a thought for the owners of the world's first, slightly less than convenient, "mobile" phones. Ericsson came up with these monster sized devices in the mid-1950s when a doctor-on-call and a bank-on-wheels became the first owners of phone-equipped cars.

The complex apparatus consisted of a receiver, transmitter and logic unit mounted in the boot of the car, with the dial and handset fixed to a board hanging over the back of the front seat. The phone was powered by the car's battery, meaning that a couple of calls could leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Part 1: Top gadgets of 1999

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