Atari’s new entry into the console market now has an official name: The Atari VCS. The device was originally teased as the “Ataribox” last year during the E3 gaming convention: A new Linux-based system providing all your favorite Atari classics along with games from independent developers. Visually, it’s a throwback to the Atari 2600 console, only with a sleeker, modern look and updated hardware. Atari calls it a “gaming and entertainment platform.”
The “VCS” in the official name stands for Video Computer System, the same name given to the Atari 2600 model prior to the launch of the Atari 5200 console in March 1982. Once the newer model hit store shelves, Atari renamed the VCS to the Atari 2600 to better differentiate it in a hardware sense from the newer, more powerful “5200” model.
With the Atari VCS, the company is looking to change the living room experience much like the Atari 2600 console did more than 40 years ago. According to Michael Arzt, Atari Chief Operating Officer of Connected Devices, that is why the company went silent and didn’t release the device in 2017: The team wanted to get everything completely right so it’s just a transformative to your TV experience as was the beloved Atari 2600.
“It was a difficult decision with the countdown underway, but we weren’t willing to go forward with even one thing out of alignment, ” Arzt said. “We hope that Atari’s fans appreciate our extreme attention to detail and are as excited about the Atari VCS as we are.”
Atari will sell the console in two versions: One styled with the classic wood grain, and one with a more modern black and red theme. Inside, the console will rely on a custom AMD processor (APU) with Radeon graphics capable of handling Linux-based games. Atari’s intent is to bring a “full PC experience for the TV.”
But the Atari VCS will be more than just a game-playing device. Like all current consoles on the market, it can also serve as a streaming device supported by your favorite apps and a highly streamed interface to make console navigation a breeze. Gamers can manage the console’s content using a modern Atari VCS gamepad, or the console’s throwback joystick controller.
“People are used to the flexibility of a PC, but most connected TV devices have closed systems and content stores. Ataribox is an open system, and while our user interface will be easy to use, people will also be free to access and customize the underlying OS,” Ataribox General Manager Feargal Mac said in a statement.
At launch, gamers will see a “large” catalog of Atari classic games along with current titles from “a range of studios.” But Atari VCS owners will also be able to access their Linux games purchased on other distribution platforms and run those games if they’re compatible with the console’s hardware.
Atari will provide more information about Atari VCS pre-orders sometime in April. Until then, the console and its Classic Joystick and Modern Controller prototypes will be on display this week during the Game Developers Conference.