The front of the Atari CX 2600-A VCS featured 4 switches. Power and Color/Black & White switches were on the left. The Game Select and Reset switches were on the right.
The front-left side of the Atari 2600-A VCS. The Game Select switch was revolutionary at the time as many games had varied options, on a single game cartridge, and difficulties associated with different versions of the game. Space Invaders had over 100 game variations to make the game play more interesting over time.
The front-right side of the Atari2600 VCS. Released in October 1977, the 2600 is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and cartridges containing game code, as opposed to non-microprocessor dedicated hardware with all games built in. It was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York in 2007.
The rear of the Atari 2600 VCS showing the right/Left controller ports, power input, 2 difficulty switches and the Channel selection switch. In 1980, the VCS was given a minor revision in which the left and right difficulty switches were moved to the back of the console, leaving four switches on the front. Code named "Stella", during development, the 2600 moniker came from one of the engineers' bicycles.
The underside of the 2600 VCS contained the serial number sticker and specs as well as access to the inside. Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell eventually turned to Warner Communications, and sold the company to them in 1976 for US$28 million on the promise that Stella would be produced. It's success was the hiring of Jay Miner, a chip designer who managed to squeeze an entire wire wrap of equipment making up the TIA into a single chip. Once that was completed and debugged, the system was ready for shipping. By the time it was released in 1977, the development had cost about $100 million.
Close up on the left side witches shows the Power switch and TV Type switch for selecting color or black & white TVs. The 2600 was originally priced at $199, and shipped with two joysticks and a Combat cartridge (8 additional games were available at launch). In a move to compete directly with the Channel F, Atari Inc. named the machine the Video Computer System (VCS), as the Channel F was at that point known as the VES, for Video Entertainment System.
Close up on the 2 right side witches shows the Game Select and Game Reset switches. During the first year of production, the 2600 was manufactured in Sunnyvale, CA. The consoles manufactured there had thick internal RF shielding, and thick plastic molding around the sides and bottom. These added weight, and because all 6 switches were on the front, this variant was nicknamed the "Heavy Sixer".
Atari CX 2600-A VCS Ports & Connections
Close up on the Atari 2600 cartridge slot where games are inserted. When consumers realized it was possible to play video games other than Pong, and programmers learned how to push its hardware's capabilities, the 2600 gained popularity. Fairchild had given up, thinking video games were a passing fad. By 1979, the VCS was the best-selling Christmas gift (and console), mainly because of its exclusive content. One million units were sold that year.
Close up on the Atari 2600 joystick port on the rear of the unit (complete with original dust from when I played it as a kid).
Atari CX 2600 VCS Images
The front of the 2600 VCS.
The right side of the 2600 VCS.
The left side of the 2600 VCS.
The rear of the 2600 VCS was quite simple. One cable connected to the back corner and connected to the RF switch attached to the television. Both the 2 controllers and the power cable were detachable from the rear of the console.
The bottom of the 2600 VCS.
Atari CX 2600 VCS Close-ups
To increase the lifespan and playability of the console, Atari designed a Color/B&W switch to give optimum graphics display on both kinds of TVs. Yes, there once was a time without color TV. Additionally, each player had their own "Difficulty" switch. This enabled players of different skill levels to play head-to-head without the more experienced player having a great advantage. Of course this meant that game designers had to incorporate this feature into their games.
In addition to the Player 2 Difficulty Switch, there was a reset switch to restart a game without having to power off the console and a "Game Select" switch. The Game Select switch let game designers create variations on each game to deep it more challenging and interesting to the consumer. Space Invaders had numerous game options from insanely fast action to invisible invaders.
The Channel Select switch on the CX 2600 is located onthe bottom of the console.
Atari CX 2600 VCS Ports & Connections
Close up of the Atari 2600 cartridge slot.
Close up view of the rear panel ports on the 2600 showing the joystick and power connection ports.
Atari 2600 Jr. Images
The Atari 2600 Jr. showing the set up along with a joystick.
The front of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the slimmer design. It was released in 1985 despite being planned for release 2 years earlier.
The front of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the cartridge slot and 4 slider / push buttons. This redesigned model (made to mimic the Atari 7800 style) was a budget-release priced below $50.
The left side of the Atari 2600 Jr. This new 2600 hardware gave a boost to software development from Atari and from a few third parties, including Activision, Absolute Entertainment, Froggo, Epyx, and Exus.
The right side of the Atari 2600 Jr. The Atari 2600 Jr case design is the same exact design that was going to be used for the Atari 2600 Voice Commander Module, designed by Milton Bradley for Atari. That unit was never released.
The right side of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the sleek front lines and recessed vents.
The rear of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the A/C power, video and controller ports as well as the Channel selection and difficulty switches.
The bottom of the Atari 2600 Jr.
Close-up of the label on the bottom of the Atari 2600 Jr.
Atari 2600 Jr. Ports & Connections
Close-up of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the slide switches for power and the Color and B&W switch.
Close-up of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing the push buttons for game selections and resetting the unit.
Close-up of the Atari 2600 Jr.'s cartridge slot.
Close-up of the Atari 2600 Jr. Video Out port and the Right Controller port. On this model the ports were identified as Left and Right as opposed to Player 1 and Player 2.
Close-up of the Atari 2600 Jr. showing one of the 2 difficulty switches and a controller port.
Atari 2600 Jr. Accessories
This is the RF box that shipped with the used Atari 2600 Jr. I purchased, although I highly doubt this is the original that shipped with the unit.
Similar to the RF box above, I'm skeptical that this is the original (or correct) AC Adapter for the 2600 Jr. It is labeled as Gemini which sounds more like Coleco's 2600-clone, but that's more likely to be a coincidence. I believe the stats shown in the image match the 2600 specs of 9V DC, 500Ma, Positive tip. Always a good idea to double check electrical specs when buying used consoles to ensure you don't blitz the console with too much or incorrect voltage. It's more fun to play than cook the unit.
Atari 2600 VCS Joystick & Paddle Controllers
The joystick packaged with the 2600 were surprisingly robust compared to other systems on the market. One nice facet was the ability to inexpensively replace it when it did break. The detachable cables enabled such replacements when the joysticks wore out.
Atari manufactured joysticks in original box - Front view. You can use the Atari joysticks with the Sega Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis, though functionality is limited. Conversely, Master System and Genesis controllers work quite well on the 2600.
Atari manufactured joysticks in original box - Side.
Atari manufactured joysticks in original box - Back.
Wireless joysticks for the Atari 2600. They look similar in style to the conventional 2600 joysticks, but the base was much taller to accomodate batteries and electronics. The receiver that attached to the 2600 console was only about half the size of the console itself.
I love that the antennas look like the whip antennas on old walkie-talkies or portable CB radios.
Not only did the VCS come with 2 joysticks , it also came packaged with 2 paddle controllers. Some game systems tried to combine both joystick and rotary dial into the same unit. Unfortunately, neither one worked particularly well. Atari made two types of controllers enabling more play options.
The one limitation to the paddle controller's dial was it had a stopping point. It did not spin freely - it was designed to go back and forth. Any driving game that went around a circular track would eventually require the dial to spin continuously in any one direction.
I vividly remember buying Indy 500 and getting a set of driving paddles. Four in all, each set of 2 plugged into one of the 2600's joystick ports. These paddles would spin infinitely in either direction. Perfect for the small circular tracks of Indy 500.
Inside the Atari 2600
The 2600 disassembled showing the internal components.
Third party 2600 Joystick Controllers
As the popularity of the 2600 soared so did the availability of third-party games and parts. These joysticks are not Atari issue and were made by another company.
View of this 3rd party joystick from above.
The Wico joysticks were the cadillac of 2600 replaceable controllers. The spring action in them was superior and they had a switch that let you choose either the traditional thumb-placed fire button on the base of the unit or the smaller fire button on the top of the stick.
The base of the Wico joystick.
Another 3rd party joystick that closely resembles the Atari manufactured one.
Atari 2600 VCS Game Cartridges
Defender (on the left) is a standard sized 2600 cartridge. Space Attack by M Network is one of the stranger size-format carts. Space Attack is the Atari 2600 version of the Intellivision original, Space Battle.
Defender and Space Attack showing the edge connector on M Network's Space Attack.
Atari 2600 VCS Accessories
This cartridge game organizer holds 8 game carts and their manuals. Both 2600 and 7800 sized cartridges will fit into it. I'm not sure about the value of an organizer that only holds 8 games, but here it is.
This unit has rubber feet so you can stack multiple ones, but the design still seems a bit limited.
With the carry-handle extended, I guess you could tote your favorite 8 games to a friend's house and hope that the handle didn't break off. Not the most robust design ever conceived.
One downside to converting your TV into a home arcade was the desire to also watch TV shows. The RF switch had a manual switch that had to be flipped depending on whether you wanted to play a game or watch a show. This meant you had to constantly fumble around behind the TV when switching from a show to a game. This wasn't resolved until the 5200 came along.
Holding a dozen games, the 2600 console and 2 joysticks, this organizer even matched the swanky wood grain feel of the VCS.
2600 VCS console organizer shown with games, console and joystick... and swanky wood grain finish. The 2600 was typically bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a cartridge game-initially Combat and later Pac-Man.
Set up instructions for the Atari 2600 just in case you still own that rounded-square TV from the 70s.
The Coleco Gemini was an Atari 2600 clone manufactured by Coleco. When Atari's lawsuit against the expansion port 2600 adapter failed due to the parts not being unique, Coleco decided go the distance and make a stand-alone Atari 2600 clone named the Gemini.
Remember the Columbia House Record Club - the only business in Terre Haute, Indiana that didn't need a street address? I returned a countless number of awful albums to them back in the day. They were a mail-order record club that automatically sent you the selection of the month unless you returned a card indicating you didn't want their selection. The only monthly selection i ever kept was Van Halen's Fair Warning (1981).
Coleco struck a deal with Columbia House to start a video game club similar to its record club. Columbia sold the Coleco Gemini as the Columbia Home Arcade through the Columbia House Video Game Club.
Atari 2600 VCS Promotional Items
Video Game Selection Center.
This device was an in-store sales tool allowing customers to play an one of the 45 games. Games were selected via buttons corresponding to numbers on the face of the device. Some gamers remember seeing such a device in a Sears retail store. An odd facet to this device is the lack of branding. I don't see the Atari name or logo which makes me think it may have been created by a 3rd party retailer. Two player controls were at opposite ends of the bos. It was set up for both joystick and paddle controls with corresponding fire buttons.
Atari 2600 VCS $139.99.
Atari 2600 ad from Skaggs Drug Centers and Alpha Beta Food & Drugs. When the VCS first hit the scene, video games were new to EVERYONE - manufacturers as well as retailers weren't sure what type of store should sell a video game console.
Can you imagine buying a PS3 or Wii at a Walgreens or CVS pharmacy? Oddly, you still find an assortment of electronics in today's drug store/pharmacies.
Through several re-branding/naming efforts within Skaggs Companies, Payless Drug Stores became Skaggs Drug Centers in 1965 and were defunct circa 1979- finally being absorbed into American Stores. Alpha Beta (also part of Skaggs Companies) was a chain of supermarkets in the United States existing between 1917 and 1995. The name referred to organizing the groceries in alphabetical order on store shelves. So, was the 2600 under "A" for Atari or "V" for Video Computer System? :)
Atari 2600 VCS - "Don't Watch TV Tonight. Play It!". (1978)
Stating that Pong was just the beginning, Atari states the 2600 is a sophisticated computerized programable unit that boasts 20 game carts. Oh, the early days!
Atari 2600 VCS - "No other video game stacks up to Atari". (1980)
AFter crating a significant number of game titles, Atari began to aggressively market the fact that the 2600 offered many varied games, most of which were created by Atari themselves. They even went so far as to say you won't outgrow the VCS - it grows on you.
Prior to 1981, software (game cartridges) for video game consoles were published exclusively by they manufacturer's of the console.
Atari 2600 VCS - Howard's Brandiscount Department Stores newspaper ad. (1981)
Another great ad depicting the array of stores that carried the Atari 2600. Seen here is a 2600 in a layout with diapers, spray paint and paper towels in a newspaper ad for Howard's Brandiscount Department Stores. This department store was part of the Gamble-Skogmo conglomerate of retail chains and other businesses headquartered in Minnesota.
Atari 2600 VCS - "Why Atari Is #1". (1982)
The Atari 2600 began to come down in price to around $100 and Atari was pushing their own in-house games as well as the single-player options convincing gamers that it's OK to play alone - no Player-2 needed.
Pac_Man for Atari 2600 VCS - "Love At First Bite".
Everyone had high hopes for Pac-Man as it neared it's home debut on the Atari 2600. Unfortunately, this amazing arcade title - that lives on even today - was quite a disappointment as the simplicity of the game still slaved the power of the 2600 making the home version quite erratic. Still, this title for the 2600 sold very well.
Imagic's Numb Thumb membership card - 1982.
I'm not sure what sort of fabulous benefits came with this card, but it was in my wallet for the duration of my youth. Demon Attack changed my view of 2600 video games along with some of Imagic's other releases. Their unique-shaped cartridges and silver mylar game-boxes certainly stood out.
During its height, Imagic ran a fan club, the Numb Thumb Club, which published an annual newsletter. Only two issues were published before Imagic's demise.
"Bible Video Game Brings Fun Home" 1983.
I'm a little dubious as to how much fun a bible game will really bring to your house, but Red Sea Crossing is an interesting title as it was independently made and released in VERY limited quantities. I believe about 100 carts were produced. Such rarity evokes a cycle of controversy whenever such a cart is "discovered".
It wasn't available in stores, but only by mail order. Often folks claim to have a copy, but the physical cart never seems to materialize. Another indicator is the lack of a downloadable ROM. Most folks who encounter such a gem would be quick to offer adequate proof of ownership which would most likely result in the release of a ROM file. Perhaps one day it will be verified and released for all to enjoy via emulators.
CVC GameLine (Control Video Corporation) was to deliver video games to your Atari 2600 via a phone line and special 2600-cartridge with an RJ-11 phone-jack on the side. This download service originated as a music service for cable companies, but legal issues left the developer with a delivery method and no content to deliver.
In the early 80's the popularity of the 2600 led them to create Gameline (with a monthly magazine) so gamers could connect and download games. These games could only be played a few times (or until the game console was turned off) before another download was necessary. All the games were from 3rd party developers, the largest being Imagic. It never caught on and was gone by 1983.
Starplex Controller, by Starplex Electronics, was an alternate joystick claiming to give a more realistic arcade experience. I'm not sure how they figured that as the lack of a joystick seems less arcade like. However many arcade games were controlled without a stick and the Starplex controller had a rapid-fire option.
GameSelex, by Starplex, allowed up to nine 2600 carts to be inserted into the storage unit. A cable ran from the storage unit to a special cart-like adapter that would allow play of any of the games via a selector dial. part of their pitch was that leaving games in the storage unit saved wear & tear on te carts and VCS by not having to push them in and out with each play. I'm not sure how well that worked out considering how massive the 2600 game library became.
Phoenix for Atari 2600 ad: Which players score is about to take flight? Quick. Figure it out. Here comes Phoenix from Atari.
Circuit City had this seemingly custom Atari 2600 display that let customers see what was available and actually play Atari games. I always thought of Circuit City as a modern box-store that wouldn't be old enough to sell the 2600. However they got their start in 1949, but under the name Wards. Wards was a series of TV stores in the Richmond, VA area that grew and over time set the standard for electronics stores through the 70s.
Evolving from TV stores, into the superstores we remember as Circuit City, probably enabled them to have such a custom Atari display. They were renamed Circuit city in 1981 and went public on the NY Stock Exchange in 84 with than name. Economic downturn led the superstores to close in 2009. The name and brand was auctioned off to the owner of Comp USA and Tiger Direct and operates as e-commerce using these recognized brands.
Data Age bought rights to many pop culture TV shows and movies with hopes for cashing in on their value in video games. The Journey game was awful and the company soon went out of business.
Starpath SuperCharger was released in 1982 and provided a large RAM upgrade to 6K and the ability to attach a tape player to the Atari 2600's cartridge slot. Via this interface, larger more graphically intense games could be loaded onto the console from cassettes.
Xonox double ender carts featured 2 games for the price of one with these dual-pcb carts that could be inserted into the 2600 from either end. Alas, 2 awful games don't equal one mediocre game. Check out our blog post about Xonox Double ender cartridges. Did you know that K-tel was behind Xonox? does that name evoke any disco dancing desires in you... ;) A German ad for Xonox games for the Atari 2600.
This retrofitted Atari 2600 has been gutted and filled with PC components. You'll notice some of the traditional switches have USB ports and indicator lights. It also bares the signature of Atari founder, Nolan Bushnell. In October 2012 Engadget offered one of these beauties in a contest.
Atari games redesigned in HTML 5 may bring back a flood of nostalgia, but they leave out a key part of the gaming experience: the classic hardware.
Hard Drives Northwest gutting a limited number of authentic Atari 2600s and stuffing them with modern PC components. Packing a Core i7 3.4GHz processor, the retro console now boasts 22,857 times more processing power than it did in its heyday, according to Microsoft's calculations - more than enough power to handle the recent updated Atari classic games. Other internals include 8GB of RAM, a 120GB SSD and a Radeon HD 6570 graphics card with 1GB of video memory. With support for USB 3.0 and 2.0, eSATA, DisplayPort, DVI and HDMI, the system is well stocked on the connectivity front.
This 1983 Wireless Joystick ad. Would have been used by an authorized Atari Dealer to advertise their retail location and pricing on the wireless joysticks for the Atari 2600. Both the location and price could be filled in as needed.
CommaVid games ad. Considered quite rare, CommaVid's main theme was re-play value. They claimed their games were engaging and became more fun to lay as your skills developed.
E.T. The Extraterrestrial game.
1983 Ram Plus ad from CBS Electronics.
1983 JC Penny ad for the Atari 2600 ($79.95) featuring this local store's Centipede Bug Off Contest at the Oak Mall in Florida. Contestants would go to the store to play for a high score - to be photographed. The highest score wins... something. Few game stores would do anything that cool in today's market.
On a side note - JC Penny is still a flagship store at the Oak Mall, which also has a GameStop.