Atari’s new VCS isn’t a console, but it isn’t quite a computer either


LOS ANGELES—At E3 meetings this week, Atari finally showed off playable, near-final prototypes of its long-delayed, then heavily crowdfunded VCS, its modernized homage to the original Atari Video Computer System (aka the 2600). Obviously, there was a lot of discussion of what the system—which starts at $250 in a package without controllers—actually is at this point. But there was just as much focus on what it is not.

First off, representatives wanted to stress that, despite outward appearances, this is not just a retro “mini” console along the lines of the NES Classic Edition or the recently announced TurboGrafx-16 Mini (or even the long-running Atari Flashback line). Yes, the VCS will come with a collection of classic games in the “Atari Vault,” and Atari will also sell classic 2600 ROMs that work through a built-in emulator. And yes, players can buy a $50 wireless, rumbling, four-direction, “single-button” digital joystick modeled after Atari’s classic design. That comes complete with modern touches like menu buttons, an LED light ring that responds to directional input, and a stick that rotates on its axis for “paddle” controls.

But Atari representatives stressed that the VCS is a modern platform, powered by a Ryzen R1606G Raven 2 APU (roughly the equivalent of a dual-core, 4-thread Zen CPU and a Vega GPU). That can handle 4K video streams, which means it’s ready for services like Google Stadia or Microsoft’s Xcloud. Getting 4K resolution on a locally run game with a decent level of 3D detail and frame rate seems nearly impossible, though. Atari’s provided example of a “modern” game running on the system was a Linux version of Borderlands 2, a 2012 title that frankly chugged along at a pretty choppy frame rate in our hotel suite demonstration.

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