New Life for the Atari 2600
May 8, 2016
A few years ago a friend of mine gave me an Atari 2600 he found at the dump. It works, but it is such a pain to use that I almost never played it. Sometimes more than a year went by between plays.
The Atari 2600 connects to the TV through an RF connection. Modern TVs don't have that anymore, so I connected the Atari 2600 to a VCR and from it to a TV set. So every time I played it, I had to turn on all three devices, make sure they were all set to the right channel, and use the remote because the VCR cannot be controlled otherwise. After you went through all that, the image I got... sucked compared to the image from composite cables.
That's why for the most part I played Atari 2600 games through an emulator, Stella, on my Mac. It was much more convenient and the image looked great. However, I always thought in the back of my mind that I was not playing on the original hardware.
A few months ago I bought an Atari 2600 Jr already modded for S-Video on eBay. I also bought a Harmony Cart,
a multicart for the Atari 2600. You just store the games in a standard SD card, insert it into the Harmony cart, insert the Harmony Cart into the Atari 2600 cartridge slot, and you can play any of the games you stored.
That combination literally brought the Atari 2600 back to life for me. I use it with a TV set I already had with an S-Video port. That TV set is only used for the Atari 2600, so I only had to configure it once. Now I just turn everything on and start playing. The image looks great (better than RF and composite, although not quite as good as my Mac's monitor). Plus other than the fact that I load the games from the Harmony cart, it "feels" like a real Atari 2600. Because it is one.
And although I still have a rather large collection of original Atari 2600 cartridges, now I don't have to go to the bookcase and get the individual cartridges in order to play them. I have all the games in the Harmony.
The Atari 2600 Jr is much smaller than the original "woodgrain" ones I always had. Plus it's compatible with all the games. I like it more than the previous versions of the console.
Playing that console again made me remember that I always thought the Atari 2600 joysticks felt "stiff". Of course, that's part of the Atari 2600 experience.
Now I play with my Atari 2600 once a week or so. I especially like River Raid and a new version of Pac-Man called Pac-Man 4K.
It was worth it to spend all that money in order to make playing with the Atari 2600, one of my favorite consoles, much more convenient.
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