When the Atari VCS was revealed in 2017, it wasn’t immediately clear what Atari was aiming for with this new console. Is it a retro system like the SNES Classic and Sega Genesis Mini? Will it be a brand new console that tries to compete with modern Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo systems? Even now, more than two years later, there’s still some confusion about the VCS.
When it launches in March 2020, the Atari VCS will be part retro console, part revival of the Steam Machine, and part streaming platform. It will also provide an open platform for both users and developers. At the very least, the VCS is an intriguing project from the company responsible for the earliest popular game systems.
When you first boot up the sleek Atari VCS, you’ll be able to access the Atari Vault, a collection of 101 Atari classics ranging from arcade to Atari 2600 games. If you only look at the VCS as a retro console, its premium price may seem more than a tad too steep. But the Atari VCS will also have a store to purchase modern games, though specific games haven’t been revealed.
As an open platform, the Atari VCS lets users install their own apps and games. Currently, Redbox, Netflix, VUDU TV, and movies will be available to users at launch. At E3 2019, Atari told us they’re aiming to have YouTube, Twitch, Hulu, and other streaming services on the console as well. Atari is still working to finalize its partnerships, but we’ll be sure to update this roundup with that information once it’s available.
An open platform also means that developers can create games and easily share them for other VCS users to play. Theoretically, you could even develop these games on the VCS itself since the console supports mouse and keyboard.
Atari wants to give users the freedom to use their VCS how they see fit. That mantra extends to the controllers. A modern Xbox One-style gamepad and classic joystick comes with the All-in Atari VCS 800 bundle. Each controller will also be sold separately, with the joystick going for $49 and the gamepad costing $59.
As mentioned already, you can also use mouse and keyboard on the VCS. Because the platform is open and supports Windows, it stands to reason that you might be able to use other modern controllers like the Switch Pro controller, DualShock 4, and Xbox One gamepad.
Atari partnered with Antstream to develop a subscription game streaming service for the VCS. Antstream Arcade is currently available on Android, offering a growing library of retro games to play on your Android-based devices. This new version of Antstream Arcade will be exclusive to Atari VCS. Dubbed the “Atari Edition,” the streaming service will offer 50 games at launch but promises to steadily grow into “the largest collection of Atari games available on demand.”
The full list of launch games hasn’t been revealed, but we know Adventure, Pong, Night Driver, Tempest 2000, Yars’ Revenge, and Atari compilations released over the years will be included.
You can try Antstream Arcade for 30 days free of charge. After the trial period, a monthly subscription costs $10. You can lower the monthly cost to $8 by purchasing a year subscription ($24 overall savings).
The Atari VCS differentiates itself from retro consoles with its hardware. Under the hood, the VCS has an AMD Ryzen processor and Radeon graphics. It’s also equipped with modern amenities like USB 3.0, HDMI, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet. It’s essentially a budget PC that runs on a Ubuntu-based OS. Why?
Well, the Atari VCS actually functions similarly as Steam Machines. As an open platform, you can boot in Sandbox mode and install modern operating systems like Windows, Linux, and Chrome OS. From there, you can install game clients like Steam or the Epic Games Store and play your existing library of games. Keep in mind that the VCS isn’t a high-end PC, so don’t expect to run the latest and greatest AAA games.
Because the VCS supports modern games, it also has HDR and 4K output. You can stream in 4K at 60 frames per second on the VCS.
In addition to installing new operating systems, you can upgrade the hardware itself. The VCS comes with either 4GB or 8GB of DDR4 RAM, but you can pop the console open and add more RAM. The 32GB on board storage can be upgraded with flash drives and external hard drives.
Those who backed the Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign will receive their Atari VCS consoles in December 2019. The crowdfunding campaign has ended, so if you didn’t contribute, you’ll have to wait until March 2020 to get your hands on the Atari VCS.
The VCS comes in three editions: The Atari VCS 400 ($250), the Atari VCS 800 ($280), and the Atari VCS 800 All-in Bundle ($380). The difference between the 400 and 800 models is the RAM. The 400 comes with 4GB, while the 800 comes with 8GB. The All-in bundle also comes with both Atari controllers ($108 value).
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