After several delays, Atari's Video Computer System (VCS), formerly known as the Ataribox, is finally poised to make its way to pre-orders in April. Retro game systems are appealing, which is obvious after the run on Nintendo's NES Classic Edition. Atari's latest comes with the retro styling of the Atari VCS 2600 released back in 1977, but expands on the concept by adding new modern features like video streaming. The VCS comes in plastic or wood trim and has a modern AMD APU inside, though the company isn't ready to share details of the particular model.
We spoke with Atari COO Michael Arzt at GDC 2018 for a few more details and a closer look at the new not-quite-console. Arzt explained that the company isn't calling the VCS a console because the system isn't a bespoke platform like an Xbox or PlayStation. Instead, it is a fully functional computer that runs a Linux-based operating system with a proprietary Atari user interface. The VCS' primary interface is still either the Xbox-inspired controller or the old-school paddle, but you could also plug in a keyboard and mouse or connect them via Bluetooth if you wanted to.
VCS will come to market with several classic Atari game titles, but the company also plans to add a few newer re-imagined versions of those games. The VCS also supports any Linux-compatible game, so there is a wide array of potential candidates, but the hardware will be the gating factor. Unlike the Xbox and PlayStation, Atari didn’t design the VCS primarily to be a brute-force gaming machine; performance is more akin to a Nintendo Switch. Not all games will play at 60FPS on the system, like The Witcher 3 or the latest Call of Duty, but the company is testing some other less demanding PC titles, like Borderlands, to see if they will meet performance targets. Atari is also creating an open platform and embracing indie games to help round out the game portfolio, and the system is also 4K-capable.
The controller is clearly styled like an Xbox One controller, while the paddle comes with three buttons and an LED light ring. The rear of the (Atari)box has an ethernet port, a MicroSD slot, three USB ports, and an HDMI port. The system also has integrated Wi-Fi.
Atari still hasn't shared all of the details of the new system, though we have heard that voice commands are on the menu. In April, the company will announce when pre-orders will begin. The Atari VCS is expected to debut at $250 to $300.