At the end of the 70s, TV game shows were hugely popular and with the advance in technology, many companies were looking to bring the excitement of being on a TV show at home. In 1978, Coleco released the Quiz Wiz, a single player electronic quiz game. Although very simple, the Quiz Wiz was very popular and other companies decided to jump on the bandwagon. Milton Bradley was one of these companies. Milton Bradley tasked its MB Electronics division, the division which produced the Micro Vision, to come up with a new concept for a quiz game. MB Electronics wanted to release something immersive and decided to improve on Coleco’s take on quiz games by adding two essential features : multiplayer and, perhaps the most innovative feature for the time, voiced questions.
A multiplayer features were very fitting for a quiz game, but it was nothing out of the ordinary. But having a fully voice quiz was to be the selling point of the console. To achieve this, MB Electronics simply encoded both data and voice on a magnetic tape. The data would be read by the device and would include the answer to the next question. The data burst would obviously not be played thought the speaker. The OMNI would use a mono speaker, which would allow to encode different message on the left and right track. For example, the question could be on the right track alongside the congratulations message, while the left track would contain a message indicating that you didn’t answer correctly. Depending on the result, the OMNI would play either the left or right side.
At the time, two popular magnetic audio formats existed : the 8-track and the cassette tape. With the release of the Sony Walkman in 1979, the cassette tapes were more popular than ever and cheaper to produce, but they had a few drawbacks. While cassette player could hold up to 120 minutes of music (although the most popular format were 60 min and 90 min respectively), it would require to turn the cassette in the middle, so effectively, a cassette tape would hold only 60 minutes per side while the 8 tracks would hold 90 minutes total, but on one side. This would allow for more content if need be. The second and perhaps the most important feature was that the 8-track tapes were not easy to copy while the piracy of cassette tapes were rampant. MB settled on the use of 8-track tapes.
The OMNI Entertainment System was finally released in 1980 at a price of $119.99.
The console was very innovative, but had two major flaws. First, its price. As the OMNI incorporated and full 8-track player, the cost of each device was very steep. The other problem was that the system offers little replay value. Since OMNI would read sequentially the tape, all questions would be played in the same order each time. While this would also be true for other games as the Quiz Wiz, the production cost of the OMNI was very high as they had to hire a voice actor. In the end, the initial price was too high to generate a critical mass that would have been necessary to justify investing in new titles, thus creating a vicious circle.
A total of 13 games were released for the system. Each game was sold for 15$.