A Modern Classic : What can we expect from the Atari VCS?

It's had a complex gestation, but this 2020s take on a retro machine will finally be arriving in the near future

atari vcs

Tuesday, 10 November, 2020

Crowdfunding is a double-edged sword.

On one hand, it gives companies vital development funding for projects that might otherwise never see the light of day, while investors receive priority access and a sense of ownership.

However, crowdfunding projects are prone to delays and setbacks.

The complex and frustrating gestation of the Atari VCS console is a classic example of investor patience being a virtue.

First announced in summer 2017 and listed for pre-order two and a half years ago, Indiegogo investors are still waiting for this multifunctional media centre to arrive in their homes.

Following the latest lengthy delay (this time Covid-related), VCS units are now bagged and ready to be distributed, and the machine is on pre-order sale directly from the manufacturer.

So what can we finally expect when Atari VCS consoles finally begin arriving in the homes of investors and gamers?

VCS – more HDMI than VHS?

To begin with, put aside any preconceptions about the limitations of retro gaming consoles.

Yes, the Video Computer System can play a hundred classic Atari games like Centipede and Asteroids, and stream a thousand more.

Yes, the VCS 800 Black Walnut edition is designed to resemble something you’d plug into a Ferguson TV beside a record player.

And yes, it comes with a classic red-button joystick, albeit incorporating Bluetooth and haptic feedback alongside secondary shoulder buttons and LED directional illumination.

However, this is much more than Atari’s take on the ZX Spectrum Vega or the Sega Mega Drive Mini.

The presence of Ethernet, HDMI and USB ports demonstrates that the VCS is designed for modern connectivity.

This is intended to be a multimedia hub, with the flagship 800 sporting 8GB of RAM and outputting 4K resolution at 60fps.

Admittedly, those specifications won’t trouble Sony’s forthcoming PS5 or Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, but they’re comparable with the current generation of games consoles.

That iconic joystick is joined by an Xbox-style wireless controller, which can support far more complex games.

Dual-band WiFi and Bluetooth ensures compatibility with most PC peripherals (including a keyboard and mouse), for games requiring truly precise input.

The VCS’s proprietary interface is based on Linux, compatible with this platform and also Windows, Chrome OS and Steam.

Technically proficient owners can install their own OS, including Windows 10. That could transform this into a dual-boot machine functioning as two games consoles in one.

Available games are presented in a tile format. You can play classic titles offline, but you’ll need to be online to receive full system functionality, such as cloud storage.

Can I have one?

Not yet. Buyers in the UK will have to wait a while longer than their American counterparts.

At present, you can only order a VCS if you live in the States, though consumers in Australia and New Zealand can pre-order a console through selected domestic stockists.

There is no information about a UK release date as yet.

Neil Cumins author picture


Neil is our resident tech expert. He's written guides on loads of broadband head-scratchers and is determined to solve all your technology problems!