After successful test marketing in 1979, Mattel Electronics released its Intellivision system nationwide in late 1980. Armed with twelve games, better graphics and sound than its competitors, and the promise to release a compatible keyboard that would turn the system into a home computer ("Play games and balance your checkbook!"), Mattel set its sights on taking down the "invincible" ATARI 2600. They got off to a good start, selling out the first production run of 200,000 Intellivision units quickly.
Mattel also released the system under different names to expand its market. The Intellivision was released in Sears stores as the Super Video Arcade, at Radio Shack as the Tandyvision I, and as the GTE/Sylvania Intellivision.
Many people bought an Intellivision with plans to turn it into a home computer when the keyboard was released. There was a huge marketing campaign behind this (one-third of the back of the Intellivision box was dedicated to the "Under Development" keyboard), but months and then years passed without the keyboard being released. Actually, it was released in a few test markets in late '81, but the price was too high and the initial reaction poor. So in 1982, Mattel scrapped plans for the infamous keyboard, but later (due to government pressure), they had to make a computer add-on anyway (see below).
Mattel tried some new things in 1982, releasing a voice-synthesis module called Intellivoice that made sound and speech an integral part of gameplay when used with compatible cartridges. Intellivision also released the Intellivision II console which was described as "smaller and lighter than the original, yet with the same powerful 16-bit microprocessor." The Intellivision II was designed for a few reasons: to lower the production cost, make repairs easier (for example, it replaced the hard-wired controllers with removable ones), make expansion easier (for the upcoming 2600 adapter and other accessories), and to prevent Coleco's Intellivision games from working on the system. Yes, Mattel actually put in a subroutine to prevent the Intellivision II from playing its competitor's games. This subroutine also prevented one of Mattel's own games from working as well. When this was discovered, Mattel claimed it was the fault of the competitors' software. This change also led to a slight timing error in some games with sound effects. Competitors soon found a way to bypass this subroutine, to get their future games to work.
In 1983, Mattel introduced the Intellivision III at CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Heralding it as their "next generation" system, the Intellivision III was supposed to feature a built-in Intellivoice, higher resolution, unlimited colors, faster sprites and higher sprite capabilities, six channel sound, remote controlled joysticks, four controller ports, more ROM and RAM, and be compatible with all Intellivision and Aquarius titles (the Aquarius was an unsuccessful 1983 Mattel home computer later dubbed "a system for the '70s" due to its obsolescence). Later, Mattel announced they were killing the Intellivision III and including most of its features into their long-awaited computer expansion, now known as the Entertainment Computer System. Mattel didn't publicly mention their top secret Intellivision IV project, which was a totally incompatible console system with all new technology.
The Entertainment Computer System (ECS) promised a keyboard, 64K of RAM (with RAM expansion modules), a music synthesizer, a data recorder, a 40-column thermal printer, and an adapter which would allow you to play Atari 2600 games on your Intellivision. The RAM expansion modules, data recorder, and thermal printer were never released and the music synthesizer had only one software title. While the 2600 adapter was a nice feature, the COLECO VISION already had one. It was too little, too late.
Despite Mattel's awful marketing, the Intellivision sold over 3 million units.
In January 1984, as the video game market crumbled, T.E. Valeski, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Sales at Mattel Electronics, along with a group of investors, purchased the assets, trademarks, patents, and all other rights to the Intellivision for $16.5 million. They formed a new company, Intellivision Inc., which was later renamed INTV Corp. In the fall of 1985, the INTV System III (so as not to be confused with the Intellivision III, the system was sometimes sold as the Super Pro System) appeared at Toys 'R Us, Kiddie City, and in a mail order catalog sent to owners of the original Intellivision directly from INTV. The new console was of the same general design as the original Intellivision, except that it was black with aluminum trim. Several new games accompanied the release of the new system, and in 1985 INTV registered over $6 million in sales worldwide. INTV had indeed revived the Intellivision, and continued to market games and repair services through the mail with great success. Between 1985 and 1990 over 35 new games were released, bringing the Intellivision's game library to a total of 125 titles.
In 1987, the INTV System IV was shown at the January CES. The new system sported detachable controllers and many other minor improvements. It was never released. In 1988, INTV reintroduced the computer keyboard adapter through their mail order catalog on a limited-quantity basis. Obviously this didn't suddenly cause NES owners to run to INTV. In 1990, INTV finally discontinued retail sales of their games and equipment and sold them only through mail order, partly due to agreements with Nintendo and Sega to become a software vendor for the NES, Game Boy, and Genesis (the company released only one NES title, Monster Truck Rally). In 1991, INTV sold out its stock of Intellivision games and consoles, and the company, along with the Intellivision, faded away. The company went bankrupt later that year, but had managed to sell three million systems during its run—no small accomplishment in the face of Nintendo's market dominance.
Even after 10 years of retail sales, the Intellivision refused to die. The rights to the system eventually found their way into the hands of the BLUE SKY RANGERS (a group of former Mattel programmers), who have erected a massive Web site to the system, its software, its history, and its programmers.
Inspired by the high degree of fan support, some Blue Sky Rangers formed Intellivision Productions, Inc. in 1995. Then, following a wait that had Intellivision fans forlornly staring at their PC monitors, the new company released INTELLIVISION LIVES, a CD-ROM compilation of 75 emulated Intellivision games for PC or Mac. In addition to the games — some of which were prototypes never available before — the CD is filled with video clips, images, Easter eggs, and more. Then, through an agreement with ACTIVISION, Intellivision Productions came out with Intellivision Classics for the Playstation, which contained 30 games in addition to interviews with original Intellivision designers.
The Intellivision Lives! CD was a godsend to Intellivision fans and rekindled interest in the system. Division Software released the INTV2PC Hand Controller Interface, a hardware device which allows actual Intellivision controllers to operate on a PC. Chad Schell offers the INTELLICART, "a device which connects to your computer's serial port to allow you to download Intellivision ROM images and play them on your actual Intellivision." INTVPROG is a mailing list for people interested in Intellivision programming and the technical aspects of the console. The fan following of this system has a strong Internet presence and is well-linked; go to one Intellivision site and you'll easily spend hours checking out all the other sites you find.