The story of the RCA Studio II start with Joseph Weisbecker, an engineer for RCA. In the 60s, Weisbecker was trying to convince RCA to enter the personal computer segment, while RCA was in the mainframe business. Weisbecker knew he needed a working prototype in order to have a chance to convince RCA management to invest in such a market. As such, in its own free time, he decided to build a computer using off the shelves part. In the summer of 1977, he unveiled FRED (Flexible Recreation and Educational Device). Jerry Herzog, a fellow colleague from RCA, decided to help Weisbecker turn FRED (renamed system 00) into a microprocessor as they thought it would be the best way to convince RCA to invest in the project. RCA took notice of the system 00 design and invited both men to join the Solid State Division of RCA to continue their research there.
Joseph Weisbecker continue developing new version of FRED on its own, adding new features such as a light gun, cassette player and a smaller form factor. Once in a while, RCA would allow him to bring his new creation to the research facility so that other engineers could also work on them.
The engineers finally manage to convert the System 00 in 2 chips. From there, Weisbecker created the final version of the FRED prototype, dubbed FRED 2. The design document shows that Weisbecker played with various ideas such as a modem and storage of data on vinyl, cassette and ROM.
RCA decided to use FRED 2 to develop an arcade cabinet. Dubbed FREDOTRONIC, the cabinets were using interchangeable games and were some of the first arcade to use microprocessors. Five games were created to be used in the arcade: Mines, Chase II, Computer Bowling, Swords and Scramble-Split Seconds. Sadly, after deploying the arcade in a test market, the reception was not good and RCA decided to pull the plug of this venture.
In 1976, Joseph Weisbecker decided to pitch the idea to RCA to develop a home console video game system. RCA hired Any Modla to program the games. RCA also bought games from Joyce Weisbecker, Joseph Weisbecker daughter how had developed games using the FRED prototype they had at home. With this transaction, she became the first female professional game developer.
RCA already knew the shortcoming of its system. It was black and white, the graphics were a bit crude and it didn’t have detachable controllers. RCA had plans to correct theses flaws in a future release, thinking that what they had was good enough to enter the market as is.
The first prototype was ready in March 1976. Dubbed the Videomate, the system was planned to be released before the Christmas holiday of 1976, but delay with the FCC pushed the released to February 1977. This time, the reception was positive in the test market and RCA decide to proceed with a country-wide released in April.
During this time, RCA continue working on the RCA Studio III, an improved version of the RCA Studio II. The new version had better graphics, color capabilities and a better sound, while remaining backward compatible with the previous version. Some of the later game released for the Studio II such as Biorhythm and Math fun were actually RCA Studio III games.
With the Studio III almost ready to go, RCA even start to work on the RCA Studio IV. Planned for 1979, the console would finally include detachable controller and would again increase the graphical capability of the console while being backward compatible with the RCA Studio II and III.
Although the owner of the RCA Studio II was loving their console, the device was not very popular. After a disastrous Christmas season, RCA decided to pull the plug on the console development and sold their remaining stock to Radio Shack. At this point, the RCA Studio II had sold less than 64,000 units. Radio Shack sold the RCA Studio II at a discount prices and even sold the necessary hardware to build a programming cartridge for the device.
In April 1978, a ray of hope for the RCA Studio line happens when RCA decided to license the right to the RCA Studio III hardware and games to a Far East company. The deal included all the games released for the RCA Studio II plus Bingo, Star Wars, Concentration Match and Pinball. The unnamed company then released console across Europe, Japan and Australia.
RCA decided to work on the RCA Studio IV for a few months before deciding to pull out completely of the home video game market.;