The Atari VCS is a fascinating concept. Instead of just being a straightforward homage to the Atari 2600, it's a PC / console hybrid instead, capable of playing more than 100 home and arcade classic Atari games as well as new titles. In addition, you can also stream your favorite shows in 4K HDR, boot the system into PC mode and install any OS, making it remarkably flexible.
If you haven't been impressed by either the PS5 or Xbox Series X (or worse, can't find any in stock), the Atari VCS could prove to be a popular product, particularly among older generation of gamers. It's ability to stream and play PC games means it won't only interests retro enthusiasts, either.
After all, the Atari name still carries a lot of kudos with video game fans, given the company's integral role in creating the home console market, and nostalgia is a powerful emotion.
But Atari's last piece of new hardware, 1993's Jaguar, was a monumental flop. Since then, the company has changed hands multiple times, emerged from bankruptcy, and been used to market social games and online gambling.
It's been a rough couple of decades for Atari, that's to be sure. But that could all change with the company's new, crowd-sourced console: the Atari VCS (the console formerly known as the Ataribox), which is due to ship in "Fall 2020" (between September and November).
The Atari VCS represents Atari's hopeful comeback into the console world, promising both access to original Atari games and new experiences, pairing the classic with the modern.
- Don't miss our hands-on first look at the Atari VCS
Atari VCS: key facts
- What is it? The Atari VCS is a modern/retro console
- How much is the Atari VCS? $389.99, and it's available to pre-order now
- When does it come out? "Fall 2020" (so between September and November)
What is the Atari VCS?
Atari first teased the Atari VCS back in June 2017 with a pretty lightweight website and a brief YouTube clip, and then finally spilled the beans back at E3 2017.
Atari CEO Fred Chesnais, who bought the company following its 2013 bankruptcy, told VentureBeat: "We're back in the hardware business." The article also claimed the device would be "based on PC technology".
The system is, as Atari puts it, "built for today". Armed with a powerful AMD Ryzen processor featuring Radeon graphics technology, the Atari VCS is a sleek device. It's designed to deliver unprecedented levels of flexibility yet capture the classic feel of the original Atari 2600.
It wasn't until July of 2017 that we got a better sense of what to expect from the Atari VCS, when an email blast to fans who subscribed to Atari's newsletter detailed some of the now confirmed specifications of the console.
The Atari VCS will be available in three models – one with a classic wood grain walnut front, another that's predominantly black, and a third model that sports a carbon gold finish. It's a striking reimagining of a gaming classic, with a slim, streamlined aesthetic. All three versions share the same, slick design, with ribbed lines and a raised back.
The Atari VCS has several modern ports on the back, including an HDMI output, four 3.1 USB ports, and an Ethernet cable port for wired internet access. The system is highly customizable in the Atari VCS's PC mode. Users can upgrade the hardware to customize their gaming experience and make the console their own.
Inside the box you'll find an AMD customized processor with Radeon Graphics technology powerful enough to run games like Minecraft and lightweight indie titles just as well as the other consoles can. It will also be able to run traditional Atari games – though it won't take much horsepower to run them.
According to a press release sent out in late September, all this hardware will help the console bring a full PC experience to the TV, including the ability to stream shows and movies, access applications (the console runs on a flavor of Linux), log-on to social networks, browse the web and stream music.
Then there's the controller – well, two controllers to be exact.
One of the aforementioned controllers is a replica of the Atari paddle you grew up with. It features a singular button and a directional joystick. Also shipping with the Atari VCS is a more contemporary controller - similar to what you'd find coupled with an Xbox One. It has four face buttons, a d-pad and two thumbsticks.
Atari VCS release date and price
Atari is aiming to ship the console in 2020, putting it in direct competition with the PS5, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S. It's available to pre-order now at select retailers in the US, but has already sold out at places like Walmart. Additional retailers and international availability will be announced in the future.
Atari VCS specs
After many months of speculation, we now know the full specs of the Atari VCS 800. Certain specifications can also be upgraded, such as the system's RAM, giving users flexibility and the scope for performance improvements down the line.
- Dimensions: 11.6” x 5.9” x 1.9” (Approx.)
- Weight: 3 lbs. (Approx.)
- OS: Atari Custom Linux OS (Linux Kernel)
- APU: AMD Raven Ridge 2
- GPU: Ryzen
- Storage: 32GB eMMC internal, unlimited external USB HD/stick, cloud (subscription required)
- RAM: 8GB DDR4 RAM (upgradable)
- Compatible Systems: Linux, Windows, Steam OS, Chrome OS
- Wireless Connections: Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n 2.4/5GHz, Bluetooth 4.0
- Wired Connections: HDMI 2.0, Gigabit Ethernet, 4x USB 3.1
- USB Ports: 2x front, 2x rear
- External inputs: Classic Joystick, Modern Controller, Microphone, Others TBD
- Mouse & Keyboard Support? Yes, USB or Bluetooth
- 4K Video w/ HDCP 2.2 Integration? Yes
- Internet Connection Required? Not for classic gaming but required to access all features.
Atari is also offering a slightly less powerful model, the Atari VCS 400, which comes with 4GB of RAM instead of 8GB, and is only capable of 1080p video streaming.
Atari VCS games
What good is a console if it doesn't have great games to play on it? Thankfully the Atari VCS will ship with the Atari Vault, which features more than 100 arcade and home classics. Additional games will also be available, though details will be shared closer to launch.
Atari says that the Atari VCS will also be able to play indie favorites and triple-A games, too.
Atari owns the rights to more than 200 different video game properties, including Pong, Missile Command, Asteroids, and Centipede. For a better hint at what to expect from the company, just check out the Atari's Greatest Hits app for iOS and Android: it offers 100 classic Atari 2600 games that you can buy in small bundles, or you can unlock the entire library for $10.
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