I’ve written my share of articles and books on both the Mattel Intellivision and its ill-fated Keyboard Component and had a hand in bringing the Intellivision Flashback to market. The Intellivision is still a popular retro gaming platform today, but it’s the Keyboard Component that’s perhaps the most interesting artifact from the era. Long story short, Mattel couldn’t reliably and cost-effectively manufacture the Keyboard Component, which turned the Intellivision console into a full-blown computer, so only around 4,000 were ever made, with many of those eventually recalled. Mattel did eventually produce a mass-market computer add-on for the Intellivision, the Entertainment Computer System, or ECS, but it was far less capable (but did have a cool piano add-on). In any case, because of the rarity and expense of the few semi-working Keyboard Components out there in the world, we’ve rarely gotten direct insight into just how impressive it actually was for its time.
A person who goes by the name “decle” has uploaded two fascinating videos that capture exactly what Mattel was going for in 1979 with the Keyboard Component. The first is “Conversational French,” with Mimi’s introduction, which has an impressive animated character with speech synchronized to the mouth movements. Truly stunning:
Most home computers used mono tape or cassette drives, meaning there could only be a single data track. Others, like the Atari 8-bit series, APF Imagination Machine (itself a computer expansion for a console, the M/MP-1000), and yes, the Keyboard Component, utilized stereo, so not only could it have a data track, but also an audio track. You’ll find the most such examples of early multimedia cassettes on the Atari 8-bit, but as you can see with the impressive example above, there was some truly forward-thinking engineering elsewhere as well.
Another interesting video “decle” posted was a segment from Jack LaLanne’s Physical Conditioning. There’s not the same type of synchronization here, but again, you’re treated to an early version of computer-directed multimedia:
“decle” has a YouTube playlist for his Keyboard Component videos that features other related content well worth checking out. Not everything is there, though, so you’ll want to go to his “all uploaded” section, here.