The Atari VCS represents the iconic gaming brand's return to the console market. It's an intriguing approach, to be sure. It combines both PC and console sensibilities, and it's meant to showcase arcade and retro titles as well as modern games. It's also capable of streaming movies and TV in 4K.
The last time Atari took the reins for a console was in 1993 with the Jaguar. The system was a commercial and critical failure, essentially, and the Jaguar hasn't stood the test of time. Since then, Atari has both stood behind a variety of new console releases, dipped into and out of bankruptcy, and eventually faded somewhat into obscurity.
Now, with the new Atari VCS, this could be the company's biggest chance at a comeback. The system, slated for a Fall 2020 release, could end up revitalizing the company's place in the industry. With original Atari games, modern conveniences, and plenty of surprises, the Atari VCS might be the way back into gamers' homes that the business has needed for years
Atari VCS cheat sheet: What you need to know
- What it is: A modern PC/console hybrid with retro sensibilities
- Release date: Fall 2020
- Price: $389.99
- Key features: Game streaming via Antstream Arcade, mouse, keyboard, and controller support, open platform for users to install their own apps and games
- Key games: Atari compilations including titles like Pong, Tempest 2000, Centipede, and Asteroids. The Atari VCS will also be capable of playing triple-A titles and indie games as well.
Atari VCS release date and price
According to Atari, the console is shipping in Fall 2020. Seeing as it's nearly November already, that gives the system a late, end-of-year window to debut between now and December. It will be competing with systems like the upcoming PS5 and Xbox Series X.
You can preorder the Atari VCS right now in three different colors for $389.99: Black Walnut, Onyx, and Carbon Gold. This price is for the All-In Bundle, which includes the Atari VCS 800 System, the Classic Joystick, and Modern Controller. Preordering means you spend $10 less than the MSRP of $399.99. You can pre-order from Walmart (opens in new tab), GameStop (opens in new tab) and Atari's website (opens in new tab).
If you prefer, you can opt for the Atari VCS Base System, which doesn’t come with an additional controller, but you only have to pay $299.99, which is a much more palatable price.
Atari VCS games
Most of what the Atari VCS seems to be focusing on at present are a selection of classic games ripped straight from the arcade. The console will ship with the Atari Vault streaming service, which comes packing 100 arcade and home titles like Centipede, Asteroids, and Missile Command. Considering Atari has a massive collection of classic games up its sleeve, you can expect to be able to play a wide variety of games, all appropriate for the entire family, with this service.
The Atari Vault will utilize a subscription service by way of Antstream Arcade to provide its titles. It'll offer 50 games at launch and will offer a free trial of 30 days. Beyond the trial period, users will have to pony up a monthly subscription of $10 per month or a yearly subscription, which lowers the monthly cost to just $8.
Atari plans on supporting both triple-A and indie releases as well going forward, though there apparently aren't any titles confirmed in that regard just yet. There's been no real word on developer support or any interested parties working with Atari at this time, either. From what Atari has revealed over the course of the past few months, it seems there are several developers already creating experiences for the system, however.
Atari VCS features
Not only can the Atari VCS handle retro and modern gaming, but it's powerful enough to be an open platform on which users can install their own apps, games, and other utilities. At launch, Netflix, Redbox, VUDU TV, and several other apps will be available, with more to follow post-launch, including YouTube, Twitch, Hulu, and more, according to Digital Trends.
More than a console that can play games, the Atari VCS appears to be set to function more like a set top box than anything else, given how simple it is to do all the things that make others so desirable. The VCS could end up replacing platforms like Apple TV or Roku boxes in some homes if the functionality is there after launch and beyond.
Atari VCS specs
Dimensions and weight: 11.6 x 5.9 x 1.9 inches, 3 pounds
OS: Atari Custom Linux OS
APU: AMD Raven Ridge 2
GPU: Radeon Vega
Storage: 32GB eMMC internal, unlimited external USB HD/stick, subscription-based cloud storage
RAM: 8GB DDR4 RAM - optionally expandable
Compatibility: Windows, Linux, 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, USB 3.1 (x4)
External inputs: Classic Joystick, Modern Controller, Microphone, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and more
The Atari VCS is more akin to a powerful computer than a console. It includes an AMD Ryzen processor with Radeon graphics as well as an Ubuntu-based OS that helps ensure you can run whatever you need on it. It's more like a PC than you might think, with plenty of ports like USB 3.0, HDMI, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ethernet options for the sake of connectivity.
With HDR and 4K output, you can even use the system to stream at 60 frames per second in 4K should you choose to use it primarily for viewing TV and movies. Users can tinker with the Atari VCS to install new OS options should they prefer as well as add more RAM, external hard drives, and other augments to customize it to their liking.
Atari VCS controllers
The Atari VCS supports two official controllers: the Joystick, which is built like a classic Atari joystick from the past, and a Classic Controller, which more resembles a modern controller that you'd see on other systems. Both are sold separately, with the joystick running $49 and the classic controller netting around $59. However, neither are required for use with the Atari VCS. Users can instead opt for mouse and keyboard or even additional controllers from other platforms, due to the systems' open nature.