Preorders for the new set-top console hit Walmart and GameStop, hoping to capitalize on retro gaming while also looking to the future with optional support for Linux and Windows.
The classic Atari brand is making yet another return, this time as a retro-styled set-top box gaming console. Originally launched as a crowdfunding campaign in 2018 and raising more than $3 million, the Atari VCS console is available to preorder today from retailers Walmart and GameStop , as well as from the company website.
Several models are being offered, with slightly different specs, designs and accessories. The Atari VCS 400 model has 4GB of RAM, and costs $249, while the 8GB 800 version is $279. A $389 "all in" version of the 800 console includes both a joystick and gamepad. The $49 classic-style joystick and $59 modern gamepad will also be sold separately.
If you want the most traditional-looking Atari experience, the version sold directly by Atari is your best bet, coming in a retro Black Walnut design. GameStop is getting the all-black Onyx design, while Walmart is getting a design named Kevlar Gold, with gold details on its front panel.
Orders from Walmart and GameStop are expected to ship in March, 2020, while supporters of last year's IndieGoGo campaign could get their systems as early as December of this year.
The Atari VCS runs an AMD processor with Radeon Vega graphics, and supports 4K video output for streaming video as well as for games. The native dashboard UI runs under an Atari OS, which the company has previously said is "based on a modified version of the Linux kernel." The system will also offer a sandbox mode, which the company says will turn the VCS into an "open and expandable multimedia PC."
In further details announced at the end of E3, the company further described the software and OS platform behind the VCS. The heart of the experience will be a new Atari 2600 emulator, designed by Rob Wyatt, a system architect who has worked on everything from the original Xbox to the PlayStation 3. Additionally, running additional operating systems will be both supported and encouraged.
The company says, "Accessing familiar operating systems like Windows, Ubuntu, Chrome OS, and others is easily accomplished by simply attaching an external USB drive that has the desired OS installed." Type A USB 3 ports on the back of the system are used to connecting external drives (the internal storage is 32GB, so you'll want to run other OSes from an external drive). In a hands-on demo with dev kit hardware, we were able to easily play Borderlands via Linux with an Xbox controller. The 8GB VCS 800 model will support 4K and HDR output, while the 4GB 400 model tops out at 1080p output.
It's a significantly different business model than the last wave of retro game consoles . Led by the Nintendo NES Classic Edition , gaming brands have been pushing small, under-$100 set-top boxes preloaded with emulated versions of classic games.
The NES Classic and SNES Classic boxes were genuine hits. The PlayStation Classic was not, perhaps indicating the limits of retro gaming demand.
By supporting both classic and new games, and giving gamers the option of having a simple plug-and-play experience, installing new software or even running streaming video apps, the Atari VCS looks to be more of an all-in-one entertainment device. From these early details, it feels a bit like the Nvidia Shield, a living room device that offers access to both PC and Android games, video streaming and much more.
More details on the Atari VCS and its features, games and hardware are expected later in 2019.
Originally published June 10. Updated June 13 with additional software details.