Atari is introducing a brand new console to the market – its first for many years.
Formerly called Ataribox during an initial funding stage, it was renamed the Atari VCS – a throwback to the original name of the Atari 2600 in the 1970s.
It is confirmed to come with a Classic controller, that looks and feels like the original rubber joystick, plus a more modern gamepad. And there are many more features beside.
Here then is what we know about the box so far.
Atari VCS specifications and design
The Atari VCS has a design inspired by iconic Atari products, a bit like the Atari 2600/VCS from the 70s and early 80s that it now shares a name with. It is slimmer and more set-top-box in stature, however.
It is claimed that the console will bring a “full PC experience” to your TV – hence the adoption of the “Video Computer System” part of its name. It’ll offer apps and access to streaming, social, web browsing, music listening and more, including services such as Netflix and Spotify. A game streaming service is thought to be part of the system too, to give access to full, modern PC titles.
In terms of inside the box, there are actually two different models, a 400 System and an 800 System. The latter has slightly improved specifications.
The current full spec list is as follows:
- CPU: AMD Raven Ridge 2
- GPU: Ryzen
- RAM: 4GB DDR4 (400 System), 8GB DDR4 (800 System) – both are upgradeable
- Storage: 32GB eMMC and support for external HDD
- Connections: HDMI 2.0, 2.4/5GHz Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, Gigabit Ethernet, 4x USB 3.1
- HDCP: HDCP 2.2 compliant
- Operating system: Linux OS based on Ubuntu (Linux Kernel 4.10)
- Power: Low TDP architecture
- Weight: 1.36kg
- Dimensions: 312.42 x 149.86 x 50.8mm
Atari confirmed in April 2018 to Pocket-lint that the VCS will support 4K resolutions, HDR and 60fps gameplay, but the most recent specs reveal that will be available on the 800 System only. The 400 System will be 1080p.
Atari VCS controllers
There will be two controllers initially available for the Atari VCS: a Classic Joystick modelled on the original Atari CX40, and a Modern Controller, that looks similar to the Xbox controller that has inspired many manufacturers in the last few years.
Where the Classic Joystick differs from its original is that it is fully digital. Its centre stick snaps back to the middle when not pushed, while the fire button does indeed fire when pressed.
However, its biggest new feature is that the stick can also twist. It rotates so can double as a paddle controller for many of the classic Atari games, such as Breakout and Missile Command.
The Modern Controller, as you can expect, offers more functions and is suited to current game releases.
Games and user experience
Atari VCS will launch with Atari Vault, a 100-plus game collection of classic Atari games like Asteroids, Centipede and Missile Command. It will also support “current titles from a range of studios”. We’re not sure exactly how the latter will work yet but, because the operating system has an open nature, but Atari said players will be able to access and play games from other platforms.
It has confirmed that there will be a cloud game streaming option, but we’re not yet sure who the partner is. Both Microsoft and Google are working on cloud gaming platforms that each could be tagged the “Netflix of games”.
One game we have been told is highly likely to make it onto the box at launch is Tempest 4000 – the remake of the classic Atari arcade game.
The user interface adopted by the Atari VCS will be customisable. But, from the box it will look distinctly 70s and 80s, inspired by the time the original console was around.
Screens of the test version released by Atari show a tile-based structure that makes it easy to find the games you want to play instantly.
It’s not that far removed from the latest UI of the Nvidia Shield TV, for example.
Release date, price and pre-order deals
The console first went on sale via a hugely successful IndieGoGo crowdfunding campaign.
The prices offered during the crowd funding phase are no longer offered, so the actual retail price of the Atari VCS 800 System is $389.99. For that you get the machine plus a Classic Joystick and Modern Controller. There is no official UK price as yet and currently no way to pre-order it outside of the States.
The Atari VCS 400 System base model will cost $249.99 on launch, while a separate Classic Joystick will set you back $49.99 and a Modern Controller is priced at $59.99.
The Atari VCS is available in black walnut, onyx or kevlar gold. Sadly, the version with the wooden effect that most closely matches the original Atari 2600 was an InidieGoGo backer exclusive and no longer available.
Although shipping was originally planned for 2019, it has been put back to next year. The official website says “early 2020” although the Walmart listing is more specific on the release date. It claims the consoles will ship on 20 March 2020.
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