Skip to main content

In theory, this new Atari console is going to be awesome

As nostalgia runs rampant through our consumer culture in 2018, the stewards of the Atari brand have come to GDC to show off early prototypes of a new system that looks and feels a whole lot like something you'd see on Radio Shack shelves 30 years ago. It's called the Atari VCS, and if it delivers on even some of the promises being made about its capabilities this thing could be very, very cool.

VCS stands for Video Computer System, and when I asked why that name was chosen over more iconic options like Jaguar or 2600, the response was simply "we called it a Video Computer System because that's what it is." Rather than compare this system to game consoles like the Xbox or even the NVIDIA Shield TV, Atari wanted to make it clear this gadget is built to offer more. It's a Linux-based platform with access to an Atari-made content store, and of course access to heaps of classic Atari games. The goal is to make this box a streaming platform, gaming platform, browsing platform, and so on. It's a stylized 4K-capable computer you connect to your TV, hence the name.

Of course, the real draw here, for now, is how cool it looks. If you're a fan of Atari's design language from the days of old, you're in for a real treat here. The top of the console is flat black lines against the wood grain of the front panel, and lots of ports in the back for accessories and more. It's a simple, classic look complete with a glowing Atari logo on the front that is all but guaranteed to get people to ask questions when they see it in your entertainment center.

The unit we saw wasn't actually functional, but Atari reps made it clear there would be a fan inside to help keep the internal hardware cool. Expect some of the lines up top to be vents, but don't be overly concerned about noise. At least, in theory.

Coupled with this pretty box was a pair of controllers themed to match the console. The first is something everyone will recognize right away, the classic Atari joystick. It's got some great weight to it and the joystick motion is perfect even in this early model. But the thing that really struck me was the lighting effects around the base of the joystick. These amber lights are visually pleasant and lit up to match all of the areas around the direction you tilted this joystick. We don't know how long the battery is expected to last, but we do know it's a wireless controller and currently charges via USB-C, making it remarkably future-forward for such a classic-looking controller.

The other controller is a great deal more modern and familiar. It looks and feels almost exactly like an Xbox controller, connecting via Bluetooth so it can be used with more than just the Atari VCS. The colors are themed to match the traditional joystick model, which if nothing else means you could buy this separate from the VCS and have a slick-looking Atari controller for just about everything.

There's a lot of things we don't know about this console yet. Atari is promising more information alongside pre-orders later this year, so if nothing else this is something worth keeping an eye on. And, as long as Atari is selling these controllers separately like they say, I may buy that joystick just because it's so badass.

Russell is a Contributing Editor at Android Central. He's a former server admin who has been using Android since the HTC G1, and quite literally wrote the book on Android tablets. You can usually find him chasing the next tech trend, much to the pain of his wallet. Find him on Facebook and Twitter

38 Comments
  • My wallet is ready.
  • I'll absolutely be buying one...... If it ever see's the light of day
  • I will keep my eye on this.
  • I own no gaming system because it just really isn't my bag. But I did grow up with Atari and if the price is decent I will end up with a "gaming system" that seems to be much more and is gorgeous!
  • Maybe i'll have a chance at getting my hands on this one. Damn nintendos
  • Nice! Hopefully, it will be easy to purchase at release, or pre-order.
  • Never did get the pacman blister back in the day. Maybe now will be my chance!
  • don't see the RF Modulator port to connect to my TV on channel 3 ;-)
  • Yeah, and where's the cartridge slot?!
  • Haven't really played console games for nearly 20 years but something in me wants this. I didn't even have an Atari. I had the c64. I think it's the joystick that I want to go back to.
  • I still have an Atari 2800 with a box full of original games. It did not work with the joystick I bought for it, so I'm not sure if it's been modified, or I got a bad joystick. I'll be keeping my eyes on this new one as well.
  • I wasn't aware of the existence of an Atari 2800.
  • Neither was I. It was the 2600 and then the 5200.
  • And then the 7800.
  • I had a 7800.... what a POS! It’s big claim to fame was it was backwards compatible with the 2600 cartridges. Unfortunately that was really it’s only purpose since the only thing I can remember about the 7800 is it came with like six (7800) games included in the box and I can’t remember a one of them. It also had the worst designed controllers ever conceived and thats saying a lot considering the 2600 joysticks we’re border line unusable. Look them up and then try to imagine pressing the two red buttons on the side with your thumb and index finger while palming the base and moving the joystick around with your other hand! You need at least 3 thumbs lol!
  • Isn't it also called VCS because that's what the 2600 was called before it was renamed when the 5200 came out?
  • It was the 2600 before the 5200 was released, but it was also called the VCS. Or was