MovieCart Plays Videos On The Atari 2600

The original Xbox and PlayStation 2 both let you watch DVD movies in addition to playing games. Seldom few consoles before or since offered much in the way of media, least of all the Atari 2600, which was too weedy to even imagine such feats. And yet, as covered by TechEBlog[Lodef Mode] built a cartridge that lets it play video.

It’s pretty poor quality video, but it is video! The MovieCart, as it is known, is able to play footage at 80×192 resolution, with a color palette limited by the capabilities of the Atari 2600 hardware. It’s not some sneaky video pass-through, either—the Atari really is processing the frames.

To play a video using the MovieCart, you first have to prepare it using a special utility that converts video into the right format for the cart. The generated video file is then loaded on a microSD card which is then inserted into the MovieCart. All you then have to do is put the MovieCart into the Atari’s cartridge slot and boot it up.  Sound is present too, in a pleasingly lo-fi quality. Control of picture brightness and sound volume is via joystick. You could genuinely watch a movie this way if you really wanted to. I’d put on House of Gucci.

Thanks to the prodigious storage available on microSD cards, you can actually play a whole feature length movie on the hardware this way. You can order a MovieCart of your very own from Tindie, and it even comes with a public domain copy of Night of the Living Dead preloaded on a microSD card.

We don’t see a big market for Atari 2600 movies, but it’s neat to see it done. Somehow it reminds us of the hacked HitClips carts from a while ago. Video after the break.

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Writing And Running Atari 2600 Games In Your Browser

Here in 2024, writing new games for the venerable Atari 2600 game console is easier than ever, with plenty of emulators and toolchains to convert your code into ready-to-load ROMs. Yet what is easier than diving straight into 6502 assembly code without even having to download or set up a toolchain? That’s where [Henry Schmale]’s fully in-browser Atari IDE and associated emulator (using the Javatari project) comes into play.

As [Henry] explains in a blog post, the main goal was to get a project working in Emscripten, the LLVM-based toolchain to create WebAssembly binaries with. The target of this became DASM, the macro assembler for a range of 8-bit MPUs, including the 6502. In the blog post [Henry] describes the general procedure for how he compiled and integrated DASM, as part of creating the earlier linked Atari 2600.

In this IDE a number of example programs are provided, which can be selected, assembled and run in the integrated Javatari instance. Beyond this you can write your own custom 6502 ASM, of course, but at this point you may be interested in taking things further with the versatile Stella emulator that can even run on platforms which you’d be hard-pressed to get a browser running on, never mind Chromium.

Fail Of The Week: [Mark] Makes An Atari Cartridge

Part of the magic of the movies is that the actors always know what will happen next. There never has to be a scene where James Bond orders wine, and the sommelier has to correct his pronunciation, or he miscounts his hand at baccarat. Real life is rarely as smooth. Of course, YouTube is more akin to a movie than real life, and we always wonder how many flawlessly executed projects you see on YouTube really went that well. [Mark Fixes Stuff] left no scenes on the cutting room floor, though, in his realistic portrayal of his quest to build a nice-looking Atairi 2600 cartridge. Watch it below.

Spoiler alert: In the end, it all worked out. But getting there was a series of misadventures. Starting out with [Parker Dillman’s] PCB, he put together the insides of the cartridge, including a socket for the EPROM. He then resin-printed a case. Like many of our own projects, the first run wasn’t quite the size he expected. It was probably close enough, though, but then he realized the socket made the board too tall to fit in the enclosure.

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Atari Introduces A New Old Console

Readers of a certain age no doubt remember the Atari 2600 — released in 1977, the 8-bit system helped establish the ground rules for gaming consoles as we know them today, all while sporting a swanky faux wood front panel designed to make the system look at home in contemporary living rooms.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the Atari 2600 is back. The new system, imaginatively named the 2600+, looks exactly like the original system, albeit at around 80% scale. It will also work the same way, as the system will actually be able to play original Atari 2600 and 7800 cartridges. This is something of a surprise when compared to the previously released retro consoles from the likes of Sony and Nintendo, as they were all limited to whatever games the company decided to pack into them. Of course, this probably has something to do with the fact that Atari has been selling newly manufactured 2600 games for some time now.

Although it will play original cartridges, it’s still an emulated console at heart. There aren’t a lot of technical details on the product page, but it does say the 2600+ is powered by a Rockchip 3128 SoC with 256 MB of DDR3 RAM and 256 MB eMMC flash. Some quick searching shows this to be a pretty common board for set-top gadgets, and wildly overpowered considering the meager requirements for emulating a game console from 1977. We wouldn’t be surprised to find it’s running some kind of minimal Linux install and using one of the existing open source emulators.

While the 2600+ sports the same 9-pin D-sub controller connectors as the original console, it thankfully embraces modern display technology and outputs over HDMI. Each console will come with a “10-in-1” cartridge that contains some of the console’s most popular titles, as well as a modernized version of the original single-button joystick. (Unlike the original, the 2600+ comes with only a single joystick — the other is sold separately.)

Atari won’t start shipping the 2600+ until this fall, but they’re currently taking preorders for the $130 system. We’re eager to see somebody pull it apart, as the earlier “mini” consoles ended up being ripe for hacking.

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Inside The Atari 2600

The Atari 2600 was an extremely popular yet very simple game console back in the 1970s. They sold, apparently, over 30 million of them, and, of course, these things broke. We’d get calls from friends and — remember, back then normal people weren’t computer savvy — nine times out of ten, we’d ask them to swap the controllers to show them it was a bad controller, and problem solved. But if you did have to open one up, it was surprising how little there was inside, as [Steve] notes in his recent teardown.

The bulk of the circuit board was switches, the power supply, and a TV modulator if you remember those. The circuit board was a tiny thing with a shrunk-down 6502, a 6532 RIOT chip, and a custom chip called a TIA. If you are familiar with those chips, you might wonder if the TIA had any memory in it. It didn’t. Nearly all the ROM and RAM for the game lived in the cartridge itself. Sure, the RIOT has 128 bytes of memory, but that’s not much.

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Combat Gets A Computer Controlled Opponent

If you ever spent some time playing on the Atari 2600, there’s an excellent chance you went through a few rounds of Combat. The two-player warfare game not only came with the console but was actually one of the more technically impressive titles for the system, offering nearly 30 variations of the core head-to-head gameplay formula.

But unfortunately, none of those modes included single player. That is, until [Nick Bild] got on the case. While some concessions had to be made, he has succeeded where the original developers failed, and added a computer-controlled enemy to Combat. What’s more, the game still runs on the stock 2600 hardware — no emulator tricks required. The true aficionados can marvel at the snippets of source code he’s provided, but the rest of us can just watch the video below the break and marvel at the accomplishment.

If you’ve never worked on such a constrained system, this might not seem like a big deal. But [Nick] does a great job of explaining not just what he did, but why it was so hard to pull off in the first place. For example, the console has no video buffer, so everything needs to be done during the VBLANK period where the game doesn’t need to be drawing to the screen. Unfortunately that didn’t give him enough free cycles, so he had to split his code up to run across three frames instead of just one. That mean’s the original game logic is now only running 27 frames out of the 30 per second, but he says you can’t really tell in practice.

That said, some cuts had to be made. He needed to remove the surprisingly complex engine sounds to free up some resources, and had to bump the 2 KB cartridge up to 4 KB to hold the new code and data. Turns out the 2600 could handle far larger cartridges via bank switching though, so this wasn’t actually a problem.

Given its age and limited capabilities compared to more modern consoles, you might think the Atari 2600 would be little more than a footnote in gaming history. But there’s a devoted group of folks who enjoy squeezing everything they can out of the system’s 45-year-old hardware which leads to labors of love like this one.

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A PCB carrying several Atari 2600 chips

Hackaday Prize 2022: The Baffatari 2600 Adds Atari Compatibility To Retrocomputers

Like today’s Intel-AMD duopoly, the market for home computer CPUs in the 1970s and ’80s was dominated by two players: Zilog with their Z80, and MOS Technology with their 6502 processor. But unlike today, even if two computers had the same CPU, it didn’t mean the two were software compatible: differences in memory layout, video interfaces, and storage media meant that software developed for an Atari 2600 wouldn’t run on an Apple I, despite the two sharing the same basic CPU architecture.

[Augusto Baffa]’s latest modern retrocomputer design, the Baffatari 2600, cleverly demonstrates that the difference between those two computers really is only skin-deep. The Baffatari is a plug-in board that adds Atari 2600 functionality to [Augusto]’s earlier Baffa-6502 system, which was designed to be Apple I-compatible. Since both the Apple and the Atari are powered by 6502 CPUs, only a few peripherals need to be swapped to change one into the other.

Sitting on the Baffatari board are two chips essential to the Atari 2600’s architecture: the 6532 RAM I/O Timer (RIOT) that contains the RAM and joystick interface, and the Television Interface Adapter (TIA) that handles the graphics and audio. These chips connect to the Baffa-6502’s system bus, enabling the main CPU to communicate with them and run Atari 2600 software titles. In the video embedded below, you can see several classic games running on the Baffa system.

The basic idea is similar to this RC2014 plug-in board that enables a Z80-based retrocomputer to run MSX and Colecovision titles. In fact, [Augusto] also built such a board for his earlier Z80 project.

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