The Atari 2600, Analog Video, Scalers, and 240p Ambiguity

The Atari 2600, Analog Video, Scalers, and 240p Ambiguity

June 25, 2021 0 By retrogamingdev

The Atari 2600, Analog Video, Scalers, and the Agony of 240p Ambiguity

Technical dive into the reasons why scaling Atari 2600 video output can be troublesome

About the Atari 2600 (from Wikipedia):

The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) until November 1982, is a home video game console developed and produced by Atari, Inc. Released on September 11, 1977, it popularized the use of microprocessor-based hardware and of games stored on swappable ROM cartridges, a format first used with the Fairchild Channel F in 1976. The VCS was bundled with two joystick controllers, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and a game cartridge—initially Combat and later Pac-Man.

Atari was successful at creating arcade games, but their cost to develop and limited lifespan drove CEO Nolan Bushnell to seek a programmable home system. The first inexpensive microprocessors from MOS Technologies in late 1975 made this feasible. Development of the console—known as “Stella” during its prototype stage—was performed by Atari subsidiary Cyan Engineering. Atari was recovering from heavy losses in the 1974 fiscal year, and lacking funding to complete the project, Bushnell sold Atari to Warner Communications in 1976. Warner’s investment helped to hurry completion of the console following the release of the Channel F.

The Atari VCS launched in 1977 with nine simple, low-resolution games in 2 KiB cartridges. The system’s killer app was the home conversion of Taito’s arcade game Space Invaders in 1980. The VCS became widely successful, leading to the creation of Activision and other third-party game developers as well as competition from home console manufacturers Mattel and Coleco. By the end of its primary lifecycle in 1983–84, games for the 2600 were using more than four times the ROM of the launch games with significantly more advanced visuals and gameplay than the system was designed for, such as Activision’s Pitfall!.